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 –

Advertisements

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.

Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple

One of the earliest memories I have is of those little china animals that used to come out of Christmas crackers. Do you remember them? They were awesome. I particularly remember a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, and a cheeky little red squirrel. I loved those little animals. I coveted those little animals.

When I was about seven, I collected these, and other miniature things and kept them all in a shoe box. (Weirdly, there’s totally a children’s story hidden in that sentence, isn’t there?) I would take those animals out of the box and, feeding what was probably early onset OCD, arrange them in a variety of ways: colour order, height order, alphabetical order… and then one day, I have this very clear memory of using them to put on a show for my dad.

Someone had given me a book of nonsense verse and there was a particular poem – I wish I could remember it – that tickled me. So I used these little china animals to act out the poem. I distinctly remember the poem calling for an old man, so I made a beard for the horse out of cotton wool. I think he had to fall down some stairs. (It wasn’t ‘You Are Old, Father William’. I’m almost sure it was an Edward Lear poem, but I’m damned if I can remember it now!)

What I did was tell a story through acting.

A few days ago, I put up a lament on Facebook about how I was sad that due to Life taking over, I had to drop acting as a career choice and enter the real world. I love acting. I think it’s why I enjoy live role play so very much. The chance to be someone else and put Sarah on the shelf for a while. Since I put that post up, I’ve had a number of wistful thoughts about the subject and this morning, the Thought Train pulled into Epiphany Station and I realised that there are many similarities between acting and writing.

In both cases, you’re telling a story. A play is a story. It has characters, it has plot, it has exposition, it has Events. You convey emotion. It has dialogue. I love writing dialogue, I have to admit and I think that’s a direct result of the acting, of actually picking up words on a page and breathing life into them. Use of punctuation can inject a comedic pause, or add tension every bit as much as missing a beat can do. Writing something like this:

“I don’t know why I did it,” he said. There was an awkward silence.

“But I did.”

…has the same effect as inserting a dramatic pause. (Dramatic paws. RAAR. Sidenote explanation: one of the course books when I was studying drama originally had the best ever title. ‘Acting and Stagecraft Made Simple’. It was so much use that we called it ‘Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple’. It waxed eloquent about the use of the dramatic pause. Which naturally evolved into paws).

A lot of people enjoy books filled with long descriptions of people and places. I prefer those that give you the bare minimal description – enough to fire your imagination – and plug the gaps with excellent dialogue. Terry Pratchett was a master of comedy dialogue. When his books were adapted so masterfully by Stephen Briggs for the stage, they worked perfectly. I prefer to let my imagination hear what’s going on. Again, I think that’s a side-effect of my inner Thespian.

I love learning lines of dialogue. I can recite great long passages of it from a variety of things. Shakespeare, TV and radio shows, films… I had a bet with someone once that I couldn’t learn and recite ‘The Jabberwocky’ in an hour. I won the bet and never forgot it. I can still remember my lines from the school Mummers play that I was in when I was… nine. I used to learn my lines AND the lines of other people. I remember once that during a performance of The Winslow Boy, the chap standing opposite me completely forgot his lines. The prompt, who was half-deaf to start with and lived in a hollow piano (true. This is true. I can’t even…) wouldn’t have heard his pleas for help, so in order to keep things going, I just warped his lines into mine and he picked up the thread without any of us missing a beat. Improvisation fun times. (Again, I cite LRP, yer honour).

Directing is something else entirely. As a director, you are even more in charge of the story telling. It may be hard to believe that having someone standing in a particular place, or wearing a certain expression, or maybe letting their fingers brush wistfully over a bottle on the side can make all the difference to conveying personality quirks, but it really, really does.

I’ve not done much in the way of directing. I think part of me is terrified of the concept. Having been an actor, getting plucked from where your feet naturally take you when saying a line and being told to stand over there, it fills me with cold dread to make those calls. I happily invite thoughts from people who direct. How hard is it to make that transition from reacting to the lines you’re speaking to reacting to watching those lines being spoken?

On stage, characterisation is about more than how you act and how you say the words. It’s about what you don’t say. About what you barely hint at. It’s those things that make a character accessible, believable. In books, such quirks could be people who chew their lip when they’re thinking. In a book, you can convey inner processing more easily than you can on stage.

The more I contemplate this subject, the more I realise that my acting energies channel themselves now into my writing, into LRP events, into online role play fora… so maybe the actor in me isn’t lost forever. Maybe the actor in me is simply approaching the art in a different way.

Silver, Silver Everywhere

In conversation with someone recently, I was asked just how many Silver Skulls stories I’d written over the last few years. I pondered, and thought about it and said ‘I dunno. Maybe two or three?’ (I know. Eloquent, right?)

On reflection, and on closer examination, I realised I actually did a whole lot more than that. So I thought I’d get the shiny lads compiled into one place, with handy, easy-to-follow links. You know, should you fancy buying them or anything. Also presented with the blurb.

The first Silver Skulls story I wrote was Primary InstinctThis story also represents my very first published story ever, anywhere and I’m still a little bit proud of it. I’d completely re-write it now, of course, but it was the first outing for my main Silver Skulls sergeant, Gileas Ur’ten, who’s been the basis for so many more stories since. Primary Instinct turned up in the first edition of the short-lived, but frankly awesome Hammer & Bolter, and then again as part of the ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ anthology. It’s also available as its own little ebook, here.

primary
“Investigating a crashed ship in an alien jungle, the Silver Skulls encounter monstrous aliens that threaten even the mighty Space Marines. When a battle-brother dies, his corpse desecrated, they discover a horrifying truth about the vile beasts.”

After this, there was a pair of stories that work back-to-back to make one longer, bigger story. Action and Consequence, followed by Cause and Effect appeared in Hammer and Bolter issue 5 and 8 respectively. They are, of course, also now available as their own ebooks – Action and Consequence and Cause and Effect.

A&C.jpg

With alien raiders preying upon their recruits, the Silver Skulls embark on a campaign of retribution – but the need to protect the human captives complicates the mission.

ce

Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten of the Silver Skulls leads a mission against the eldar, unaware that the outcome will decide his future, as the Masters of the Chapter choose a new captain.

This was the point at which I realised just how much I loved these guys. The Silver Skulls were different. They weren’t a first founding chapter, they weren’t well documented and I had a certain amount of free rein to do with them what I fancied based on the clues hinted at within the existing rulebooks. That was when I pitched The Gildar Rifta novel which became a part of the Space Marines Battles series, which had THE most glorious cover art and which didn’t feature Gil and his squad. I missed them, but it was OK. Because I fell head over heels for my Techmarine in that book.

The Gildar Rift has been translated into at least two other languages that I know of – French and German – and it still humbles me that Words Wot I Wrote have been translated and shared with others for whom English isn’t their first language. You can check out The Gildar Rift here.

tgr

In the depths of space, the Silver Skulls take on the might of Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs.

That blurb is just not gripping, is it? Here, have the story summary as well.

When the ancient warship Wolf of Fenris emerges from the warp, Imperial forces find that it has been overrun by the dreaded Red Corsairs. However, this is no mere raiding party – Huron Blackheart and his entire renegade fleet soon follow, intent on conquering the Gildar Rift and tightening their grip on the sector. Lance batteries and torpedo salvos burn fiery contrails through the void, and only Captain Arrun of the Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter can halt the renegades’ advance. The fate of the Rift will not be decided in the heavens but on the surface of Gildar Secundus below.

Get those exciting words! Emerges. Overrun. Fiery contrails. FATE.

I love that story. I don’t care.

Then, there was another short story called The Pact, which appeared in Hammer and Bolter 15. But that appears to have vanished from the face of the universe, at least in terms of availability on the BL site. Well, whatever, it introduced the Talriktug, the elite Terminator squad headed up by Kerelan. They were kicking about on Lyria, which was the original homeworld of the Silver Skulls and were forced to chum up with the least likely of people. Also starring was Bhehan, a young Prognosticator who shows up elsewhere in this timeline.

In lieu of a link, have this opening quote.

“And the stolen voices of his venerable kin will welcome him, embrace him and bear him to the heart of our scarred past, the first home of the Argent Order. There, the ashes of the great destroyer lie mingled with the fading embers of our birth, two banners falling as one to call him back. Back to the beginning. Then will the past be revealed.”

– From The Orthodoxy of Varsavia, Author Unknown

221.M34

Next came the super-short story, Skin Deepwritten for the Black Library for one of their special series. Either one of the Christmas advent stories, or a Summer of Reading story. I completely forget which. I’ve slept since then.

Skin Deep can be found here.

skin-deep

Amongst the Silver Skulls, great deeds are commemorated with victory tattoos. Lord Commander Argentius, Master of the Chapter, visits the aged Cruor Primaris to have his latest exploits added. But Argentius is uneasy and as he talks with his old friend, he bares his soul as well as his tattooed body.

And that brings us right up to date, with Silver Skulls: Portentsa stand-alone novel featuring (hooray!) Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten and with additional appearances by Bhehan and the Talriktug in all their formidable glory. I really enjoyed writing Portentsbecause I was able to incorporate a lot of the ideas about the chapter I’d long been harbouring – and best of all, because I got to write about Varsavia, their home world.

Hint: it’s an ice ball. Don’t go there.

Portents can be found here.

Again, the blurb is a bit short, so I’ll include the story description, too.

silver-skulls-portent-flat

Combating an insurrection backed by the Traitor Legions, the Silver Skulls may be being manipulated by the very powers they fight against…

The Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter deploy on the world of Valoria Quintus to combat an insurrection backed by the dread forces of the Traitor Legions. Sent there by the visions of their Prognosticars, the mysterious psykers whose premonitions decree the path forged by the Chapter and the wars that they wage, they expect victory to be swift and easy. But they have not reckoned with their own allies, the servants of the Inquisition who are interested in the Prognosticars, their importance within the Chapter and the possibility that the Silver Skulls may be being manipulated by the very powers they fight against…

So there you have it! The full, complete list of all the Silver Skulls stories that fell out of my brain over the last few years. It’s genuinely surprised me just how many of them there actually are…

 

 

 

Growing Old Disgracefully

As a woman in her forties and who can no longer use the excuse that I’m not old enough to know better, I’m going to come clean about something.

Basically, I no longer care what the world at large thinks of me.

This isn’t to say that I’m Sticking It To The Man (whatever ‘it’ might happen to be at that particular time). No. This is me saying ‘I defy your expectations of how a woman in her forties should look/act/exist’.

There have been a couple of things doing the rounds on social media: the first was an item written by some stripling of a child stating that women over 30 shouldn’t be seen wearing certain items. Amongst these were hoop earrings, just to give you an idea of how banal this opinion actually is. Myself, I have no need of hoop earrings, unless I’m planning on transporting parrots, but I get that other people like them. I recommend wearing them large enough to teach poodles to jump through, just to get at that so-called fashion writer.

To counter this, and much to my extreme amusement, an article appeared on my feed yesterday  which was headlined as ’24 Things Women Over 30 Should Wear’. I recommend a look – here. Every suggestion is perfect.

But it got me to thinking that society has these ‘norms’ to which it expects us (and when I say ‘us’, I frankly mean ‘women’ to adhere at certain stages of our adult lives.

Aged 18-25? Why, you’re perfect as you are. You are the perfect demographic. Do what you like. Go where you want. Wear an old bin bag for all we care. The worst we can do for your demographic is to shake our collective heads and say ‘ah, the yoof of today’. But all our fashion articles, all our holidays, all our marketing is aimed in your direction.

Aged 25? You’re a quarter of a century old. Think about it. Quarter of a frickin’ century. Best start thinking about growing up now, because it’s a downhill slide to thirty from here. In fact, the next few years of your life will become consumed by the dread that you’ll no longer be a twenty-something. It’ll be the end of the world as you know it, because everyone knows that once you hit thirty, you’re Past It. (There’s that elusive ‘it’ again).

You are no longer relevant. You have moved, the gods forbid, into the next age group tick box!

When you reach the dizzying heights of 29, you’ve accepted your fate. Thirty, you say confidently, is the new twenty. This is all well and good and frankly I find it an admirable approach, but what you’re going to encounter is a subsection of society that immediate begins wearing Frank Bough style cardigans once they turn thirty. That same subsection that starts to go to bed early for no reason that’s what they assume ‘old’ people do. Those people will shake their heads at your tales of your wild night out, where you drank beer straight from the tap, or bounced on a kid’s bouncy castle in the rain, or played on your PS4 all weekend. Shame on you. Shame. You should have been doing the housework, or spending sixty hours in a B&Q trying to find just the right tiles for the bathroom, not going to Ikea and deliberately going the wrong way around the one-way system because it winds people up.

Partway through your thirties, you’ll undergo a repeat of what happened at 25. You’re nearly 40. FORTY, for God’s sake! What’s even the point of being forty? But wait! It’s going to be OK, you’ve got that Frank Bough cardigan that your friend got you for your thirtieth. Now you really have to knuckle down and do the things society expects of you. Maybe join the WI. Maybe consider buying matching coffee mugs and being really really proud of them. Because you’re in your forties. And here, my advice and experience of what societal ‘norm’ for my age group comes to an end, because it’s all new from here.

Truth is, I’m not long for my forties. Soon, that first number will be a ‘5’, and I no longer care about it. I just hope that I make the most of what time I’m actually given on this ridiculous planet.

For most of my thirties, I worried incessantly about being forty, but then it stopped. Because here’s what I realised.

Time is a constant. We can bemoan our mortality, but there’s sweet Fanny Adams we can do about it. No amount of creams or magic potions will stop the aging process. People have become so fixated on what the exterior is like that they forget, by the age of thirty five, to have fun. They let their insides rot away. They lose the ability to play, to imagine, and to enjoy the miracle of being alive.

There’s such a difference between being an adult and being grown up. Being an adult is a certainty. It’s a physical thing. We only measure it in years because that’s what society expects of us. Being an adult is knowing when you have to pay your bills, knowing when you have to sacrifice a holiday because the roof needs retiling, or giving up your hard earned cash to your offspring because you love them and want them to be happy. Being an adult is knowing when you need to be silly, to fill your life with love, laughter and ludicrousness. Being a grown-up is accepting your mortality and waiting, sternly, drinking tea from your matching mugs, whilst tutting at the state of your peers, who are rolling about in mud, dressed as fantasy characters and playing make-believe.

Being a grown-up is utterly dull and I want no part of it.

It’s my life. Those I invite on board the roller coaster are there because I want them. You don’t like the sudden drops, or the inversions? Then go play on the swings. This is my party. Happy to just roll with the world? Then welcome on board. Person who makes the best train noises wins this lollipop!

Caveat: I may have done some of the seemingly childish things on this list and I regret none of them.

Dear Mum (2015 Edition)

Dear Mum

And around it comes again. Fifteen years since we lost you, fifteen years that have gone by both in a rush and which have dragged. So many changes, so many good times, so many lows.

Life, they say, goes on after you lose someone and that’s certainly true. But the pain – whilst it may fade – never really goes away. When Jamie collected his GCSE results, when he did so well, I was heartbroken that you weren’t there to share in his success. I was sad that you will never get to meet him as he is now: a nice, sweet, kind young man with a wicked sense of humour not so far removed from yours.

I have been quite low these past few days with the build-up to today. I know it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to make myself sad before the event, but I’ve woken up this morning and after a moment of reflection have realised that I’m actually OK today. OK doesn’t mean I don’t miss you, I miss you several times a day, every day. What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to talk rubbish on the phone with you again. But I learned a long time ago that lingering on ‘I wish’ won’t help the healing process.

Struggling to find my Christmas head this year. However, as it’s… Today… the tree will go up tonight. I suspect that may help me locate some of my Christmas cheer. It’s for you. It’s always for you, and Jamie always insists on having that little fibre-optic tree you bought for him the year you died. He puts it up in his room and in his own words, ‘it’s like having a piece of Nanna with me’. For a boy who wasn’t even two when you died, that’s immensely touching.

This year’s not been without its highs and lows, but when you do an annual letter, you start to realise that’s not so unusual. I’m hoping it’ll end on a high, because I’m quite fed up of being sad. Some stuff happened over the last twelve months that’s really dented my sense of self-confidence and it’s a hard thing to come back from… but I’m trying.

Fifteen years.

Gosh.

But… I will put a smile on my face and work through today, as I’ve done every year since December 10th, 2000. For the people around me it’s just another day, and that helps to put things into perspective. But for this moment of heart-pouring, of letter writing and communication with memories, it’s just you and me.

Love you, mum. Always did, always will.

Happy Christmas!

 

Sarah

xxx