Archive for February, 2019

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

Tipitia was standing in deep thought by a window on the sixth floor of the university tower, it was by the Archeology Department elevator. She did not notice a shadow behind her, then a gentle voice said,

‘I do believe you have discovered one of my little secrets.’ It was Professor Farnum. The view from the window was across the city, and from their position on the university campus to the south of the centre the view was stunning, especially in sunlight: the white buildings shone in the light. Smoke rose from last night’s fires around the city centre.

‘The queen of the city.’ she murmured.

‘I always come here when I need reminding why we are doing this.’

‘Why? Professor?’

‘All the sacrifices. I have a theory,’ he said as they walked into the department, ‘that there are seven challenges in our profession.’

‘Challenges? Professor?’ she was gradually tuning into the conversation, and away from her private thoughts.

‘Some are just simple, basic things, like just getting through the undergraduate course. It isn’t the workload, not the intellectual struggle, No, that comes later; at undergraduate level it is just the challenge of sticking at it. Of not giving in and… well, you know the drop-out rate at this university as well as I.’

‘You always have seemed so…’ she looked for the word with the right shadings,

‘Committed?’ he offered. No, that was not quite the one.

‘Have you wondered why I do not do field work any more? Surely there have been rumours?’

‘I had thought it was the volume of administration, running a department in these times.’

‘And you have indeed shouldered your part of that,’ he said. ‘I call that challenge number five. No, it isn’t all because of that.’ He was ushering her into his office; the view was into the university quadrangle and the anonymous concrete admin section over the way.

‘You must have heard of the Sudan debacle?’

‘Yes, sir; well, as much as was needed.’

‘It was the tenth day, and we were struggling to fulfill our obligations; findings were few, and low quality. I had co-opted local children who were hanging around, getting in our way, you know the sort of thing. They were carrying baskets of diggings away from the sorting table, when one little girl, she must only have been nine or ten, suddenly collapsed. She died on the spot.’

He was silent for a good while; Tipitia sat quietly.

‘Apparently,’ he continued, ‘she had been up from before dawn, traipsing three miles, with a big… plastic container, to the spring, and then returned with it full and strapped to her back. Another three miles. Every morning. The boys, of course… it was the girl’s job. And our transport standing idle. Our own water supplies….’

He was silent again. ‘Tim Johnson was with us… you’ve heard me talk of Tim, our best field worker. He quit. Didn’t finish the dig, I… don’t know if he blamed me….. I heard about him some years later, he had been working with an Aid company. He had been kidnapped by rebels. They found him, what was left, a month or so later. That was my last dig, too.

They sat for a while avoiding each other’s eyes.

 

‘You never married, sir.’ she said. The tension eased a little.

‘Ah, no. Came near it once; very near. Anthropology research student at St Columb’s. Ah yes.’ He opened a drawer in his desk, brought out a framed photograph. Tipitia caught the colours of an academic gown with Masters cap and collar. Black hair… she peered closer.

‘That’s Professor Hernandez!’ she said. ‘She has always been my role model.’

‘Janis, yes,’ he said, and a surprisingly intimate light came into his face.

‘Challenge number four.’ he said.

‘Why a challenge, sir?’

‘Who knows if either of us would be where we are now, if…’

‘You gave up your marriage.’

‘It may not have come to that.’

‘But she is married now, sir.’

‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘But her husband is not an academic; there is no… conflict.’

 

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from my ebook Queen of the City
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

‘What do you mean?’ asked Carmichael. His alertness was topping the scale, but he fought to remain calm, unperturbed. He felt his fellow travellers struggling inside.

‘Come on, now. This is First-Home stuff. You must know this.’

A lot was going on inside Carmichael, and he fought for an even demeanor.

Ok,’ he said. ‘Well, just play along a moment; why don’t we… run through the story again — memory got a little scrambled in transport.’

‘Well, it’s the Seven Worlds’ Quest.’

‘Of course it is. And?’

‘First world — you know, our first home of course.’

‘Then the second is… here?’

‘Obviously.’

‘Third?’

‘Well, they’re still working on that. It should be that place, there,’ he pointed with a hand not divided into fingers, at screen in the wall, and the Earth came up. ‘I suppose that is where you were due to go. Supposed to be continents and… but they keep shifting around, they can’t get them to hold still long enough, you know. They seem to be having trouble getting the time scale to settle down, I think. Then there’s all that, ugh, water. Most of it is, really. Pretty yucky. And there are those, you know, plants, and stuff. Not very inviting.’

‘Earth.’

‘Earth, you say. Seems more…’ he shuddered again, ‘water. Well the one after that will be that red one there.’

‘Mars.’

‘That what you call it. You are making this up.’

‘No, no. Go on.’

‘Then the biggy.’

‘Jupiter.’

‘Ju… ter.’

‘Then Saturn, er, rings?’

‘Yeh, yeh. Next though… you will not guess what that is. Go on, guess.’

‘Uranus.’

‘U-a-sus — means nothing to me. No. Guess. You can’t. Because you can’t see it, that’s why. That one is it, the ultimate mystery of all life.’

‘Ok, we’ve… I’ve got all that. It’s just, well…’

‘That’s the Quest.’

‘There are more than seven.’

‘M…more than….’ It was the nearest he got to a question.

‘Well, yes, there’s Neptune and Pluto, even, maybe, it is debated, though the arguments against are…’

‘Another….  More than seven?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Someone always gets it wrong. Don’t they. We’re brought up on this stuff. Our Noble Quest. And now you say… there’s more than seven. They spoon-feed us this great noble quest. They purposely give the wrong information. They really want us to fail, behind all the big ideals.’

‘Look…’

‘I feel ill.’ he said. His colours were all swirling, churning.

‘Give him a few minutes.’ a voice said inside Carmichael.

‘He needs a nice cup of tea.’ said the tea voice.

‘We need to know…’ a soft voice began, and 

‘… how to get home.’ another voice butted in.

‘Tell us, tell me, about world, er, three.’

‘They’re still working on it,’ he said, faintly. ‘Can’t quite get it right, yet. Sort of thing.’

‘Oh? Who is?’

‘The Mariners. Still hunting out the warm clothes, you might say. Going to be pretty cold, and, er, wet. Very wet. Ugh.’

‘Hm.’

‘They’d better hurry up though.’

‘Oh, and why is that, then?’ his sense of irony was piqued.

‘Well, you can see. Look.’ he gestured all around. The walls were briefly transparent: they looked at a featureless landscape.

How did he do that? Carmichael was intrigued.

‘We’ve ruined this place. Like we did the first one. They used this place as a dump for waste, spoil; then it turned out we had to live here because the first had become worse. It’s even worse there, now though. I went back summer hols before last. Visit the old place. Never again. All the heavyside’s gone now. Freezing and I mean freezing, on the dark side, the poles, that sort of thing.’

‘Can you just.’ the sober voice whispered, ‘ask him how he got there?’

‘Yes, ahem, how did you get there? You know, old home?’

‘Oh, the shuttle. The vacuum shuttle.”         ‘

‘And can you use it to number, what is it, three?’

‘No. Well, they’ve talked about it. And, well, no one knows what’s there. We could just plonk down into… anything. Might be big scary monsters.’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m not supposed to say this, but, well, they did try it. Made a bit of a mess of the place.’

‘What… sort of a mess?’

‘Oh, you know… mass extinction kind. Ahem.’

‘When… when was this?’

‘Ages ago. About six. So far.’

‘And after the first two or three… mass extinctions. They kept on trying it?’

‘Well, you know, little loss, really. Boiling seas, acid seas, frozen seas, no seas. It’s only water. Ugh. What’s water anyway.’

‘Yes, er, quite.’