You Have a Woman’s Hands!

So the new Doctor Who is female.

This has, as you can perhaps imagine, generated a deluge of responses on that great and reasoned platform for discussion, social media. I have seen responses ranging from someone saying quite plainly and simply that they now have little interesting in watching the show if it has a female lead – which while disappointing is, at least, honest – to the response of ‘as a father of daughters, I approve’.

That last comment, for reference, was made by Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor Who.

For my money, I think that that new incumbent, Jodie Whittaker, is an excellent actress and I look forward to seeing if she can bring something new to the show. I hope, most sincerely, that the writing improves to do her talent justice, because the writing has been so horribly hit and miss since the show’s revival.

But of course, people are conveniently avoiding that discussion. Right now, it’s more about the gender issue. I have seen people on both sides of the divide saying some fairly horrendous things about the other side. It was curious to note just how many women were seemingly against the decision. Now, I’m sure that one of those reasons might well be that ‘women like to enjoy looking at pretty boys’, but let’s be honest, with the exception of David Tennant, none of the ‘New Who’ actors have been eye candy, have they? No. All that effort went into pretty, vapid assistants.

The fact that the last companion, Bill, was gay upset a lot of men. It’s the Doctor Who production team’s endless agenda, they cried. I found Bill to be one of the most enjoyable companions of the New Who to date (although still nowhere near the brilliance that was Catherine Tate).

So the eye candy argument is obviously a thing, although not one I particularly care to subscribe to. For me, my biggest concern as a woman is that Jodie Whittaker will be used as a scapegoat if the writing doesn’t improve. “Of course it’s crap,” someone will say, a little further down the road. “There’s a female Doctor.”

I believe the writers may have erred by banging the Missy/Master drum just a little too loud during the last series. All the heavy hinting that #13 would be woman (‘perhaps the future is all female’, ’let’s hope so’ is hardly subtle) meant that when Jodie’s announcement came, it was less of a shock, but every bit as controversial.

The time is right for change, says one section of the internet – men and women alike. A Doctor to represent the changing face of society.

Women can’t fly spaceships, argues another section of the internet. A woman can’t solve the kind of issues the Doctor faces, they continue, even though we all stopped listening after their first declaration. Their comments slither like little poisonous snakes into every discussion on the topic. Doctor Who can’t be a woman. It’s the worst thing ever. The entire economy of the first world is going to collapse as a result of this farcical decision.

Alright, perhaps that last bit is me being facetious, but you get the idea.

And then there was this comment.

She’s not even that hot. They could have cast someone better-looking.

What. The. Actual. Fuck? (That one WAS a male comment, by the way. I suspect that Bill would have disagreed and part of me hopes that #13 gets to meet Bill in some form. I have this lovely thought in my head that the Doctor’s regenerations are somehow influenced by the time they spend with their companions).

People are passionate about fandoms, I get that and I understand it. But when the line is crossed, when it stops being about the fandom and starts becoming personal, then there’s a massive, massive issue.

I have experienced this – on a minute scale – when I was contributing to the Warhammer pantheon of tales. Let me caveat this from the start with the statement that the majority of feedback, reviews and comments I received from the beginning were overwhelmingly positive. Even though I’m not writing for BL now, I still love the setting and the people.

Positive things included the two girls at Games Day who said that thanks to me, they felt like they could have a go at writing sci-fi/fantasy stuff. The shop manager who told me he liked it when I visited the shop, because it made other female customers feel less intimidated about coming in. All the friends I’ve made.

But there were… horrible things. I have long since deleted the toxic forum and Facebook PMs, Tweets and so forth I received over the time I wrote for the Black Library because believe you me, nobody needs that in their life. But you don’t forget them.

Let me give you a sampler of some of the things that were said to me. They seem oddly comical when taken out of context, but I want you to appreciate that they were most definitely not meant to be. They were the choice phrases out of what were bodies of aggressive text.

“I see you are writing for BL. Don’t. It doesn’t need women’s points of view.”

“Unless Space Marines start having periods, there’s no need for you to write stories.”

“So I suppose they’ll all be handsome, now, then.”

“What do you know about being a Space Marine?” I’ve often wondered about this. Who DOES know about being a fictional, genetically-enhanced superhuman?

And those were just the things directly attributed to the writing. There were more personal comments, too, which I’m not going to repeat here, but suffice it to say that they weren’t pleasant ones.

I stood behind two guys in Waterstones back when The Gildar Rift was first released. One was reading the back-cover blurb and I was watching, feeling that strange sense of delight that comes when watching someone look at your baby. Then his friend tapped on the cover.

“Wouldn’t bother,” he said. “Written by a woman, innit?”

The baby was put back on the shelf.

I didn’t say anything, of course I didn’t. In hindsight, I probably still wouldn’t have said anything. But I was…

Wow.

Whatever that feeling is, I felt it.

In any fandom, there is an element of toxicity. When it bubbles to the surface, it reveals an ugly, unpleasant side to what should be something enjoyable. It’s the same with Doctor Who. I think Jodie Whittaker is going to have a lot worse than I did and I’m embarrassed on behalf of those of us who love the show and its concepts. I’m ashamed on behalf of my own species, both male and female who are so vehemently against her taking the role and who have condemned her before she’s even had a chance.

She won’t be in for an easy ride. She’s smart, however, and isn’t on Twitter. I dread to think what sort of abuse and threats would have been hurled her way already. That is not right in anybody’s books. If you think threatening and insulting someone just because they’ve got the wrong chromosomes for your beloved fandom, then frankly, sling your hook.

I think, given the right scripts and an appropriate companion (alien would be brilliant), she will prove people quite wrong. She will open up the fandom to a new generation of little girls who can have a fantastic role model.

Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all.

Good luck, Jodie. SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.

And That’s How the West Was Won…

I’ve been quiet. Sorry about that, although I’m almost entirely sure nobody actually reads the weird-ass stuff that I put on the blog. I’ve been quite busy, though. Which is nice.

I thought I’d pop by and do a quick update, though, because there’s just so much going on lately. Also, and you know, don’t keel over with shock at this revelation, but we are finally getting a much-needed holiday in September of this year. It coincides (give or take a few days) with our tenth wedding anniversary, and after the immensely complex year we’ve had, with Near Death Experiences (NOT an exaggeration), a break is going to be very welcome indeed.

One of the things I’ve been busy with is an involvement in the planned re-launch of a cracking little tabletop game that goes by the name ‘Wild West Exodus’, and which you can read all about here. WWX, for that is the acronym by which I shall refer to it, is a corker of a game, with an increasingly developing rich and delightful alternative world background. The production miniatures are utterly glorious and really nice to paint. I have been a huge Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp fan since I was about 12 and I watched ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ with my dad. Then along came ‘Tombstone’, arguably my favourite film of all time, and everything Val Kilmer brought to the character, and Denis Quaid’s equally glorious take on it.

I’ve had a long-held ambition to go to Arizona, to visit Tombstone and to see the O.K. Corral.

Guess where I’m going in September?

So when I discovered WWX and found I could make a Lawman posse that included Wyatt and Doc, it was a no-brainer, really. Look, look, here’s my Lawmen posse! (Not all painted yet, but here they are).

posse.jpg

They’re your huckleberries.

As well as Some Secret Stuff, which I am really hoping to share more details about with you soon, I’ve also been writing a few flash-fics for the WWX blog and thought I’d collect all the ones I’ve done so far and gather them here, like a bunch of fluffy bunnies or whatever, for you to pop over and take a look at.

1 – The Storyteller – in which we learn a little about a fine chap by the name of Broad Arrow Jack.

2 – Harvest – in which we meet the supremely creepy Countess Augusta Byron

3 – A Gentleman’s Disagreement – in which we share a moment with those most glorious of Lawmen, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

4 – Dead Man’s Hand –  in which we discover what becomes of Wild Bill Hickok in the alternative world of WWX.

5 – Seeking Guidance – in which a young Walks Looking of the Warrior Nation seeks out her spirit guide.

If…

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

— Rudyard Kipling

Today, February 13th, 2017, my son turns eighteen.

This is an expected turn of events and hasn’t actually come as any sort of surprise, other than the fact that I’m fairly certain he was only born a minute ago. Seriously, the time has flown over and in the last eighteen years, I’ve been through all sorts of life-changing events that have made me into the slightly wrinkled, greying person that I am today.

I separated from my son’s father when The Lad was about three years old and it wasn’t an easy time for any of us. However, despite what were obviously our differences, his dad and I have remained completely amicable and civil, always putting The Lad’s needs first. I receive comments all the time about what a nice kid he is, so between the four of us (both of us have since re-married), we’ve produced what amounts to rather a splendid human being.

When we first separated, The Lad’s Dad was anxious that I might take the opportunity to pack up my things and our son and move back down south to my family. He was rightly anxious because he didn’t want to miss out on seeing his son grow up. It was never my intention to go anywhere, and so I remained in the north east and we had an excellent week on-week off, 50-50 sharing arrangement. Over the years, I’ve asked The Lad many times if he was happy with the arrangement and he’s always said that he thinks it’s brilliant.

So during these early days, I did my best to reassure The Lad’s Dad that I would never take him away, and I made a promise that on The Lad’s eighteenth birthday, he would take his Dad out for a pint. It sounds whimsical and silly in print, but I can’t convey enough how much making this promise meant to me. I made a promise. Just because The Lad’s Dad and I are no longer married, doesn’t mean I’m not inexplicable fond of him, neither does it mean that I make a promise lightly.

Tonight, The Lad is keeping that promise and it’s absolutely the best thing in the world. I have managed to raise a human being who appreciates feelings and understands obligation, even when it’s fulfilling a promise made by someone else and not him. He’s an extraordinary person and I often feel surprised that I was partly responsible for his creation.

The morning he was born was much like today: grey, overcast, drizzling rain. A standard February morning on which a child came into the world. Admittedly, he came into the world eight weeks ahead of schedule which is ironic really, because he’s rubbish at timekeeping now. It was all terribly scary and not without honest assessments from paediatric consultants who stated, in no uncertain terms, that they couldn’t honestly say if he would make it through his first day. By midday, he’d stuck two fingers up at them (metaphorically, obviously) and had turned around to such an extent that they admitted surprise. They clearly knew nothing about my paternal family’s stubborn streak. I knew he’d be fine. Actually, I was out of my head on morphine, so I was convinced that down was up and that I actually liked Marmite after all, so it was a case of believing anything.

I remember that I didn’t see him for about ten hours after he was born as he was whooshed off to the SCBU whilst I lounged around in recovery and later the maternity ward, languishing in a state of drug-induced bliss and semi-unawareness that anything was really happening at all. When I did finally get wheeled down to SCBU, I remember three important things:-

  1. The old hospital in Durham was built on a hill and I remember thinking ‘cripes, if they let go of this wheelchair, I’m going to careen down this hill and maybe get up speed enough to jump two double-decker buses’ (see also ‘Morphine visions’)
  2. The SCBU was, frankly, fucking terrifying. It was full of tiny babies, busy neonatal nurses and machines that went ‘BING’ at frequent intervals and at quite considerable volume. I remember once, whilst visiting The Lad asking, in alarm, what a particular noise was. It was the microwave in the kitchen.
  3. The Lad was in an incubator, like the eggs we hatched at secondary school, with a UV lamp and extra oxygen that made him super-pink. He was hooked up to a bunch of machines (that went ‘BING’), and with tubes up his nose. I was told I could hold him if I wanted. Which I wanted. And it was like cuddling a video. But I fell in love with him there and then and that, at least has never changed.

Over the years, I’ve watched The Lad grow and blossom from an earnest and over-serious child, to an articulate, thoughtful and occasionally stubborn young man. He is almost entirely self-sufficient, able to cook, clean, iron and occasionally he even remembers to put the loo seat down. He is hoping to go to University this year – as long as he gets his finger out and studies properly, although to give him credit, he finally seems to understand how important this aspect is.

Yes, it’s been a roller coaster eighteen years from premature baby to grown adult, and sometimes it felt as though the safety harnesses were going to fly off and the ride would fling us out into the queue, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Wait. That’s not entirely true.

If I could change one thing, it would be to have my mother here to celebrate with the rest of us. We lost her when The Lad was only two years old and so he has no real memories of her. I would change that aspect of today, definitely. It’s the only sad bit among all the reasons to be happy, though, and for that I am very grateful.

I think I am very lucky in the relationship that I have with The Lad. We seem to harmonise more than we clash. We share a sense of humour, we share a taste in music (mostly) and because his personality is so like mine, I know when to push and when to give. A couple of years ago at LRP, one of the photographers (who is, incidentally, also one of the most gloriously lovely human beings I know) captured a candid shot of myself, The Lad and The Husband. I adore it, because I think it completely captures our mother-son relationship.

This blog post is completely dedicated to The Lad. You are, today, a man, my son. The world is your mollusc. Take it out of its shell and enjoy its slimy amazingness.

I love you.

Mum.

familylrp

I love The Lad. The Lad loves his mum. The Husband loves his chips.

The Play’s the Thing

Having just joined the local am-dram society in the never-ending attempt to pick up that part my life after it was truncated at the age of 18, I found myself idly trying to recall some of the most fun roles I’ve had on stage. There’s been loads of rehearsed readings, but I’m excluding them. So I’m committing the following list of favourite things to the blog.

Catherine Winslow – ‘The Winslow Boy’

Why memorable? For the curtains. The marvellous curtains. There’s a line in the play when a super-fussy journalist comes to the house, ostensibly to talk about a crisis that’s ripping this lovely family apart, only to be distracted by the curtains. The girl who played the journalist delivered this line with such delight that it cracked us up every time in rehearsals and even now, whenever I hear someone admiring curtains, I start to giggle.

Also memorable for the poor chap, very hard-of-hearing, who called for a prompt (who was sitting inside a hollowed-out piano, no word of a lie) and couldn’t hear it. Line became ‘I can’t hear a bloody word’.

Further memorable for the two elderly ladies who stopped me after the performance and said that they’d hoped my character and the barrister were going to Get It On.

Sorrel Bliss – ‘Hayfever’

Why memorable? Because I played opposite the same guy who’d been the barrister in ‘The Winslow Boy’ and our characters DID sort of get it on. The two elderly ladies were delighted. Also memorable for the barometer that kept falling off the wall.

Toinette  – ‘The Hypochondriac/The Imaginary Invalid’

Why memorable? Oh my good heavens, this was easily the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Pretending to be a doctor, false moustache and all and assuming a big, booming voice. Nearly breaking some poor guy in the audience who laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe with my choice to deliberately leave that moustache on when I came back in as the maid. This was a joy from start to finish, this play.

Guard – ‘1984’

Why memorable? I got to be mean. Also, doubled up as the Main Villain’s Assistant. This was the first play I’d done for a few years, and I enjoyed it enormously.

Bernice Billet – ‘Sand Castles’

Why memorable? Kites were involved. Also, it was a very funny play. All about beach hut politics and the sad existence of the upwardly mobile and downtrodden.

Chelsea Thayer Wayne – ‘On Golden Pond’

Why memorable? WHAT a role to play this one was. Brilliant. Emotive. Sad. Glorious. Terrible attempt at an American accent. Also referred to throughout rehearsals as ‘On Golden Syrup’.

PC Conklin – ‘Rumours’

I don’t remember an awful lot about this one other than someone complimenting me on my comic timing and delivery of what was, conversely speaking, one of the smaller roles. It was good fun though, I DO remember that. Not every day you get to be a severe (yet tiny) police officer.

Muriel Tate – ‘Plaza Suite’

Why memorable? For the absolutely terrible American accent – probably worse even than the one from ‘On Golden Syrup’. Also, vodka stingers. Also, also, the sense of outrage I felt at the character for being so bloody stupid and gullible and letting the ‘amazing Jesse Whateverhisnamewas’ win her over.

Two Aliens

This probably needs a little explanation.

Over Christmas, Casting Call Pro posted up a call on Twitter. Nothing unusual about that, no, not at all. But this one caught my eye for the sheer comic potential it presented.

two-aliens

Encouraged by the very lovely Alisdair Stuart, who is a bad influence in the first degree, I passed some facetious comment about it and was duly encouraged into writing a short story. It was Christmas. I was at the in-laws, being stupidly lazy, so I said I’d think about it.

So I did.

And… I did.

And here it is. In all its ridiculousness.


TWO ALIENS

David Gendaro (nee Green, known to his immediate friends and family as ‘Stinky’) was an actor. That was perfectly acceptable and nothing at all to be ashamed of. He had recently completed a series of TV commercials in which he had repeatedly visited a petrol station to buy various things that were not petrol. Milk, bread, biscuits, nappies… the idea was to show that even in this busy day and age, even the most harassed New Parent could find the solution to all their emergency provision needs. Hooray for the all night garage! That was the message.

The campaign had achieved moderate success, although the last one had generated a certain amount of dissatisfaction amongst a sub-set of Internet types. They’d not liked David’s character buying the nappies as it finally gave the game away that he was a harassed New Parent and not, in fact, there to get into the pants of the girl who worked there. They’d heavily played off the coffee love affair trope and it had worked.

People had even written fanfic shipping them.

People, David thought as he browsed down his Twitter feed, were strange creatures indeed.

So the ad run was complete, and for now, at least, he was back on the treadmill of hunting for the next big job, which would undoubtedly be the one that launched him, like a rocket on November the Fifth, into the Big Time. In the meantime, however, there were bills that needed paying and food that needed buying.

‘Two aliens. London’.

The Tweet caught his eye simply because it seemed mildly amusing. Then he read it again and found himself curiously attracted to the concept of prosthetics and a disguise so heavy that even his own mum wouldn’t know it was him. Early in his career, he had donned a heavy, faintly vile-smelling body suit and a wig of iron-grey hair to play an old woman in a Fringe production. He’d enjoyed the experience, even if most nights he had acted the play out to an audience that largely consisted of six hateful theatre critics, three old ladies in the front row who repeatedly said ‘WHAT’S HE SAY’ and a man from the USA who had thought it was a comedy.

He’d had better runs than that. Worse runs, too, but dwelling on that sort of thing was a sure-fire way to completely mess with your head.

‘Two aliens. London.’

Ah, why not?

* * *

The interview was held in the tiniest theatre David had ever been in, and he’d performed in some strange places. Not to mention the even stranger places he’d acted from whilst on stage. A memory broke the surface and expelled itself through the blowhole of thought. That ‘progressive’ director who’d insisted David deliver Hamlet’s soliloquy whilst sitting on the toilet, with his hose round his ankles. It’s where I have all my most philosophical moments, had been the reasoning.

Nobody had appreciated the modernist take. Nobody had appreciated the ‘to pee or not to pee speech’. It was revolutionary. It was ground-breaking. Nobody had so much as applauded.

Bloody heathens.

This particular venue was sited above an old warehouse in North London. It was straight out of the 1950s: all solid brick and external fire escapes. If ever someone wanted to stage an outdoor production of ‘West Side Story’, this was the ideal spot.

It was a particularly chilly December morning and David burrowed deeper into the snuggly warmth of his scarf and turned up the collar of his overcoat against the onslaught of the cold. He’d exited the Tube station and walked up the street without attracting any particular double-takes, although maybe in this part of town, people didn’t watch commercial television.

His upbringing had been strange. His father had refused to allow anything but BBC in the house. David had snuck round to a friend’s house after school once and had been introduced to the delights of commercials. Funny, insightful, creative, downright weird… he’d loved everything about it. ITV had the sort of decadence that he could not ever have imagined. He would dream of young ladies painting sunflowers in the rain whilst enjoying a bar of chocolate. That may, of course, have had more to do with teenage hormones than any particular excellence of advertising.

A sudden gust of wind took him by surprise, almost knocking him from his feet and he ducked gratefully into the shelter of a doorway. A dark shadow passed over the street; a rogue cloud, perhaps? He could not see from this angle. It was brief, however, and the light, grey and grainy as it was, returned swiftly. David resumed heading towards the building where the auditions were being held.

The woman on the reception desk seemed pleasant enough, even if she did stare at him a little strangely. She was a plump, smiley and motherly-looking soul who boldly eyed David up and down. He felt his ego puff up just a little. Looks of admiration, even from the older generation were good for his confidence.

She said nothing. Just continued to stare.

The sense of being admired passed into an uncomfortable and awkward silence and after a few moments longer, David felt the need to prompt her.

“The auditions?”

“Oh! Yes, sorry. Upstairs. I must say, that’s an extraordinary costume you’re wearing. Can’t even see the seams. Excellent.”

He wasn’t sure what to say to that. He settled on a vague noise of gratitude and headed up the stairs. He had settled, as he always did, on casual smart for his audition. He wasn’t wearing a ‘costume’.

What a very strange thing to say.

* * *

All the years he had been in ‘the biz’ had never diminished the thrill David got at auditions. The sense of camaraderie that permeated the underlying and primal scent of job-seeking actors prepared to hack one another’s limbs off for a shot at a part. He’d always liked the waiting. In business, it was called networking. In acting, it wasn’t so very different.

He headed up the narrow staircase from the reception and pushed open the door. He stepped through.

He looked at what he found there.

As the door opened, several heads raised and looked in his direction.

In at least one case, several of those heads were attached to the same body.

David’s first thought was that he had really not put any real thought into this audition at all.

His second thought was that he must be in some sort of reality TV show. He half-expected someone, some minor celeb or other, to pop out from behind a pillar and laugh uproariously.

No popping occurred.

His third thought was that he hoped again that he was in a reality TV show. He hoped this most fervently and with every possible fibre of being.

David’s eyes roamed around the assembled masses waiting to be seen. He felt the most incredible urge to laugh loudly and hysterically. But no sound would come.

He saw an open fire escape door that led out onto a metal walkway. A fug of smoke drifted in through the open orifice and David felt a sudden and fervent desire to take up smoking. He made his way through the crowd, feeling uncomfortable, anxious and decidedly lacking in the extra limb department.

The fire escape was presently occupied by one other person. Person?

A silence descended as he considered whether or not to turn round and run, as fast as his legs could take him. It wasn’t in David’s nature to judge others on their appearance, but there was something so…

big…

…about this person. David felt positively tiny. Before he could make a choice, however, his unexpected companion turned to him, deadlocks swinging with the motion.

“Do you have a light?”

It was a cultured voice; the voice of someone who had received an excellent education. Someone who had been granted many of the advantages denied to those with less wealth.

David stared. Finally, his voice found its way out through his lips.

“No, sorry. I… quit.”

“Good for you. I probably should. You here for the auditions?”

“Yes. Look, I’m really sorry and you must get this all the time… but I’ve seen you in films. Right? I mean, you’re like, really famous and stuff?” The mandibles on his companion’s face twisted in what might have been a smile.

“No need to apologise, I get that all the time.”

David felt embarrassed. “Why… are you auditioning? Surely you must be in demand?”

“Naw, Hollywood lost interest when CGI got better. Not much work for me after that. Not realistic enough, apparently. And as to why I’m auditioning… I need to prove I can do more than say ‘you want some candy’?” The Predator’s mandibles clacked in a vaguely disgusting manner. It reminded him of Gran, how she used to suck her teeth. Only this particular noise-maker was much taller, much stabbier and much more terrifying.

Well, a little more terrifying.

The Predator turned away and looked out into the grey afternoon. “I want to play Prospero, some day. That’s my dream. Or maybe King Lear. Blow winds and crack…”

“Sorry, I need to pop to the bathroom,” said David hurriedly and darted back into the waiting room.

It was no better there. Since he had gone out onto the balcony, more oddities had arrived. Here, there was something he recognised as a Dalek. In person, they were ridiculously clumsy, clattering around the uneven floor like a Mothercare buggy with a wonky wheel. He passed the pepperpot tyrant who was muttering its rehearsed speech under its breath and reminding itself, with true… Dalekness what it had to do when auditioning..

Enunciate. Enunciate.

This was too much. David decided there and then that perhaps the whole ‘Two Aliens’ thing was most assuredly not a gig he was suited for. His decision to run for the hills was compounded when he was confronted by the smallest of aliens, darting about like a mad thing, only to be scooped up by the biggest, most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life. It was all gleaming, onyx skin and Olympic cycling helmet shaped head.

With a surfeit of razor-sharp teeth.

It scooped up the little alien and wiped at its slime with a handkerchief.

“Muuuuuuuuuum! You’re EMBARRASSING me!”

The Predator came in from the balcony at this point and its eyes met those of the doting mother.

Wisely, David quietly stepped out of the room and closed the door a millisecond before all hell broke loose. He could hear sounds of alien shrieking and snarling, and picked up his pace down the stairs. He burst out of the side door into the street, only to be overtaken by a Dalek which had clearly found its stair-wheels and raced past him.

Expediate! Expediate!

When even a despotic Dalek didn’t want to stick around for the show, you knew you’d made the right decision.

A noise above his head made him look up. Above his head on this dingy little back street, he was mesmerised as the base of the enormous alien spacecraft that had darkened the street earlier opened up, its metal construction unfolding like some bizarre space lilly.

He stared into the light.

The light stared back. It shifted and pulsated, light gathering in the corners of the vast chasm that had opened up. There was a sudden, intense heat and David closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable Independence Day moment.

So this is it, he thought, channelling, in a random moment, that most non-alien of science-fiction heroes. We’re going to die.

Then, nothing.

And definitely not the gig.

– END –

Interlude

Another of my SWTOR stories, this time a break away from the endless angst of being a former Jedi-turned soldier, who still retains the power of mechu-deru. Not always to best effect…

* * *

There were few things in life more startling than a power droid whose expressive ‘GONK’ing could genuinely be likened to singing. Over the past few weeks, Gileas had grown used to the variance of pitch that suggested his charismatic little power droid was doing just that. In fact, it had reached a point where he even found it quite endearing. J’us certainly liked it: the spukamas kitten was a frequent passenger on Spyro’s casing, riding the stumpy legged droid around the apartment. The singing didn’t seem to bother the cat in the slightest.

But the dancing? That was something new.

His room in the two-bedroomed apartment that he and Nebulae shared was an untidy, chaotic junkyard of parts and equipment. Generally, he kept the door closed. Even the naturally untidy Gileas was faintly embarrassed by the sheer levels of horror evident in that room. But when he was not on shift, he enjoyed nothing more than sitting on the end of the bed, tinkering with whichever project was occupying his time. Inevitably, Spyro would join him, occasionally dispensing tea that was too hot to drink. ‘I am certain,’ Gileas occasionally commented, ‘that I didn’t retro-fit that droid with the heart of a sun.’ But that was certainly the standard temperature of the tea that came out of it. Undrinkable at point of delivery, by the time Gileas could manage a tentative sip, Spyro had dispensed a second.

Gileas’s junkyard of a room was thus also littered with plastic cups from the droid.

It had been a cute idea at the start, fixing up the droid so that it provided tea on demand. But as with most of the droids who came through Gileas’s extraordinary care, the damn thing had taken on a personality. Now, providing tea was its prime directive. If it could not dispense tea it had no purpose. He’d gotten used to it of course, and Nebulae’s boundless capacity for tea consumption sort of balanced it out. Spyro was a member of their little set up.

But the dancing? Yes. That was definitely something new.

The little droid stood in the corner and had been inert since the last round of tea production, leaving Gileas in relative peace to work on the protocol droid that a noble of House Organa had brought to him for repairs. Cursory examinations and diagnostics revealed a minor bug in the programming that was easy enough to iron out. Dismantle the neural circuits, re-programme them and rebuild. Simple. For company, he tuned the apartment comms feed to a radio station that played music.

He was halfway through the job of dismantling a droid brain when he noticed the movement. Spyro was shifting from one stumpy leg to the other in a motion that was undeniably in time with the rhythm of the music. With every movement of its chassis, the little droid emitted a little GONK of delight.

It was mesmerising. Completely distracted from his task, Gileas turned to watch this interesting new twist to the power droid’s ever-growing collection of eccentricities.

Shift, GONK, shift, GONK, shift, GONK.

Absently Gil reached for a treat. Before she had left that morning, Nebulae had provided him with a plate of sweet, sugared doughnuts. She knew his metabolism well and also knew that when he was working on a project, eating became a lesser problem. Also, Gileas had a love of doughnuts that was bordering on legendary. He closed his hands around one of the cakes and ate it with great enjoyment as he watched Spyro’s entertaining jig. The song ended, the next one began and it appeared that the power droid didn’t like the new tune. He squatted down on his little legs and dispensed another cup of undrinkable, lava-hot tea.

Gileas ate another doughnut, watched hopefully for a dancing encore and didn’t get one. He sighed and turned his attention back to the protocol droid. Spyro steadfastly refused to repeat the dancing and Gileas knew Nebulae wouldn’t believe him.

He would not learn until three days later just what the practical cost of allowing himself to become distracted during work on a neural interface would be.

Three Days Later

‘Sergeant L’Amedaro? Would you take another look at my protocol droid?’ The Organa nobleman was a balding, middle-aged man whose brow was creased by a perpetual worry frown. The young Praetorian looked over his shoulder at the approaching protocol droid and felt his heart sink just ever so slightly at what he saw.

‘What seems to be the problem this time?’ Gileas asked the question, despite knowing precisely what the answer would be. He could tell just by looking at the protocol droid what had happened.

He should have known. Droids plus Gileas plus mechu-deru plus distraction equalled a protocol droid in distress. The poor thing was trying, unsuccessfully, to cram doughnuts through its mouth grille. It raised its golden face to Gileas and he swore that there was misery in its eyes, a craving denied.

‘I like doughnuts,’ it said sadly.

‘Of course you do,’ said a guilty young Gileas. ‘Of course you do.’

The Occasional Diplomat

Whilst doing a little hunting for something, I found this story for my Star Wars: The Old Republic Sith Warrior and it amused me to re-read it. Thus, I thought I’d share it here. 🙂

* * *

Lord Oskar Constanzio would never become a Darth.

Arcarius based this assessment not on the man’s abilities which were no doubt good enough to have seen him rise to his current position. Rather, his judgement was based on the man’s current state of health. Constanzio was amongst the most corpulent individuals that Arcarius had ever encountered. And unlike, say, Master Devlo’nir Per, Constanzio’s rolls of blubber did not just hide muscle. They swamped muscle. And he stank. Of alcohol and vomit. His life of excess made Arcarius sneer inwardly but he did not allow it to cloud his senses.

He had been Constanzio’s guest for only a day or two before the grotesque Sith noble had dropped the first insult.

‘So you’re the apprentice that fool Thyrus abandoned, then.’

For a moment, Arcarius had been so startled to learn that Constanzio was even capable of being sober long enough to hold an intelligent conversation that he had been unable to respond. When he had finally answered, it had been with a studied indifference and an underlying threat that invited Constanzio to press at the sore a little further. Wisely, the fat Lord had let it go.

‘The time spent with my former master was regrettably short, my lord, but I assure you that none of the skills he taught me have gone to waste.’ Arcarius’s cybernetic fingers danced on the hilt of his left blade. Constanzio’s many chins wobbled as he laughed and waved a hand in amusement.

‘I like you, Duke Getharion,’ he said, his choice to use the apprentice’s newly acquired title demonstrating his approval. ‘And for that reason, I agree to let this discussion move onto the next level.’

But first, he’d needed to eat.

Watching Constanzio feed was an education. He consumed dish after dish of over-extravagant dishes that Arcarius’s long damaged taste buds could barely enjoy. He waxed lyrical about bottles of wine – sensibly and tactfully complimenting the case of Lessian red that Sidre had dispatched along with Arcarius – and almost wept over a dessert of iced fruits with a Corellian rum flavoured cream. He worshipped his stomach.

At the end of the first week, every effort Arcarius had made to engage Constanzio in discussion about the loyalty of his house and troops was brushed aside for other social niceties. The insults, subtle but barbed, were frequently introduced into the conversation. All of them personally customised and some of them genuinely creative.

So how did you clear your name after murdering your mother?

What really happened with the eldest Getharion son and his treachery?

How are you finding the life of a discarded apprentice is treating you?

Arcarius didn’t rise to Constanzio’s bait. Not once. His patience and temper were kept on a tight rein. In his head, he allowed himself the luxury of imagining that tight rein as a garrotte tugged around the lord’s neck. Instead, he remained polite and courteous, engaging in political debate when Constanzio felt the need to do so and set aside the purpose for his visit. He found, after a while, that his first impressions could not have been further from the truth. Constanzio was hiding a sharp mind and astute political awareness behind his vast girth and slovenly lifestyle.

‘This one will likely be different,’ Sidre had told him before he had departed Alderaan. Arcarius had wondered then at the amusement in her eyes. Not all diplomatic trips were handled the same way and this was a case in point.

So Arcarius did something he was deeply unused to doing. He relaxed. Not so much that he let his guard down, but enough to trust himself to speak more openly, more honestly. And over another few days, Constanzio warmed to the taciturn young apprentice. Enough that he finally agreed to negotiate terms.

That was when it came to a head. It began surprisingly playfully.

Constanzio called it negotiation. Arcarius called it an insulting offer. Constanzio said that Arcarius was in no position to say such things. Arcarius sneered and suggested that perhaps the lord would prefer payment in pies. Constanzio countered with a claim that Arcarius was Sidre’s lapdog. Arcarius returned with a scathing comment about Constanzio’s fallen standing within the Empire. Then Constanzio had insulted Sidre. Arcarius had coolly suggested it would be wise and honourable for Constanzio to retract his comment. Constanzio had demanded that if Arcarius had any honour, he would stand and fight for it.

The banter stopped and Arcarius no longer cared to play diplomat. The challenge was duly issued. And Constanzio accepted.

The lessons learned were not just Arcarius’s. He learned that even a Sith Lord who had allowed his body to become less of a temple and more of a pleasure dome was capable of holding his own in a duel. He learned that vast girth did not necessarily render a Sith useless. He learned that an apprentice challenging a lord directly was a matter of great amusement to Constanzio. And as the sabre blade opened up and cauterised the wound across his face, he learned that he had underestimated Oskar Constanzio.

But in return, he gave two important lessons of his own.

The first was to demonstrate to Constanzio that Arcarius Getharion’s loyalty and honour was never to be called into question. The second, delivered as his offhand sabre had severed Constanzio’s blade hand at the wrist, had been that Arcarius could easily win. In this case, the apprentice’s challenge could end the challenged. A long moment of tension passed between the two Sith.

It would be so easy to end him now. Take his title. Move that step closer to your ultimate birthright…

But that would be in defiance of my explicit orders.

They had stared at one another for long minutes and then Arcarius had switched off his sabers.

‘You have a last chance, my lord,’ he said. ‘But only out of deference to my master. Understand that. And be grateful for it.’

‘You do have a spine, then.’ Constanzio beamed with delight, despite his wound and that was the end of it. Lord Oskar Constanzio formally apologised. Graciously, with only the tiniest hint of disappointment, Duke Arcarius Getharion accepted the apology.

Sobriety came swiftly to Constanzio. Sobriety and a startling good humour.

‘We should have done this at the start, boy.’ As the med-droid had been dealing with the amputation, Constanzio had continued his conversation as if he’d merely scraped a knee. ‘But you were an amusing distraction. You have what you came for. And give Sidre my fondest regards.’

Arcarius had not expected that. But his moment of brief smug satisfaction was crushed in the wake of the message that had been waiting for him from his master when he had returned to his ship.

The House has fallen. I need you here. Come home.