Dark and funny. Strong Language. 3,000 words.
|Please read previous chapters first.
Uk spelling and terminology.
The World needs Science and Science needs Women
We need You
What is the purpose of life? A question we often ask, but is there an answer?
Amoeba to Zebra, nature designed us for one reason and one reason alone – to reproduce. But is that it? Is that all you want to accomplish with your life?
Action. Dedication. Inspiration.
I’m Doctor Susan McDonald, PhD. and I am a scientist. Right now, around the world, science is making bad things good and good things better. Imagine it, instead of the Sahara Desert, the Sahara Gardens. Volcanoes that only erupt on New Year’s Eve. Cucumbers twenty feet long. The end of disease. The end of famine. Maybe one day even the end of death.
Science is the future, the next step in our evolution. You can help make it happen.
For more details go to www.WomenInNewScience.com and register for your free information pack today.
BE SOMEBODY SPECIAL – BE A SCIENTIST
A rhombus of light edged through a gap in the curtains and irritated Colin awake on the sofa. His work clothes were tight and scratchy around his neck and waist, and damp under the armpits. He sat up and Susan’s smiling face flashed through his mind, but whether from a memory, or a dream, or a television advert, he wasn’t sure. He tried to recall the last time he’d made her smile, but a sharp pain spiked him through the right eye. He staggered into the kitchen, turned on the tap and splashed water over his face and hair. It trickled under his collar before he could blot it with his sleeve. No good, his mind complained, no good.
He fumbled around the phone and keys in his pockets until he felt the tap of foil under his fingernails and pulled out a blister pack of painkillers. Stuck to the underside was a small square of paper. Colin peeled it off to take a closer look. It was covered in tiny writing: Gordo, Lurch, Zane ... a list of all the team leaders on the Hibernian project. He couldn’t even remember making the list, and now, looking at all those names, the enormity of the task, the amount of effort it would take, and the likelihood of it actually yielding results, sat in his stomach like a tapeworm that fed on foolish hopes. A big fat one. His hand closed to scrunch up the piece of paper, but an image of Susan shaking her head and rolling her eyes at his lack of perseverance was enough to make him fold the paper neatly and put it back in his pocket. The searing pain behind his eye also returned. He popped the last two pills out of the blister pack and swallowed them. He needed to clear his head and focus on his plan.
Like most back doors, there was a knack to opening the one in the kitchen. Pull up the handle to take the weight off the bolt, press against the base to correct the alignment, rattle the key to find the sweet spot. Colin jerked, stamped and twisted his way outside and took a gulp of cold air.
‘… one and two. And one and two. And one …’
The laboured counting came from beyond the fence on the left side. Colin placed a foot on the beam running along its bottom and stepped up to rest his forearms on the top.
‘Morning, Raffo,’ he said to his grunting neighbour.
‘Yes,’ Raffo said, dressed in shirt and tie, and smartly-pressed slacks, feet planted on the paved patio area around his back door, hands raised to shoulder height, swinging his arms side to side. ‘It is.’
The sight of Raffo limbering up was a familiar one. Most mornings, weather permitting, he spent twenty minutes stretching in preparation for his ridiculous hobby. When they first moved in, Colin woke especially early to watch from the back bedroom. Susan would scold him for being mean, but Colin considered few things in life as amusing as a fat man doing star jumps.
An unstrung bow leaned against the wall of Raffo’s house. A circular target hung on the fence down the bottom end of the garden. Colin nodded toward the bow. ‘You must be getting quite good with that thing. Can I have a go?’
‘I don’t think that would be wise. It isn’t a toy.’
Mottled pink blotches swarmed up his cheeks and progressively reddened the closer they got to his orangey-brown hair. Without any encouragement and nobody to force him, Raffo’s commitment to his daily ritual started to look less comical and more driven and focussed.
‘Noticed the lights on the roof last night,’ Colin said. ‘Must have been tricky to install.’
An adjustment to widen his stance, and then Raffo began windmilling his arms in giant circles. ‘Simple when you know how,’ he said through whirling limbs.
‘You ever think maybe with all that security people are going to think you must have some pretty valuable stuff to protect? You might even attract the kind of people you’re trying to keep away.’
Raffo lowered his arms and tilted his head in Colin’s direction. Snorts of air rasped out of his flaring nostrils. ‘Anyone who manages to circumvent my Stage One defences will still have to contend with Stage Two,’ he said, and started doing star jumps.
Colin swallowed hard and kept a straight face. ‘Sounds a bit ominous. Nothing dangerous, I hope.’
‘Of course not,’ Raffo said. ‘All my measures are non-lethal. In Stage Two.’
The motion-sensitive light array, the automated central-locking, the computer software that controlled it all — who was to say it was all a massive waste of time and effort? Maybe the buffoon was more cunning than Colin gave him credit for.
‘I suppose you heard about what happened with the Hibernian logo,’ Colin said as he slipped a hand into his pocket and grabbed around for his phone.
‘Indeed,’ Raffo said.
‘Must have taken some doing. Quite clever, really. On a technical level, I mean.’
‘Pfft,’ Raffo said. ‘A simple enough task .’
‘You think so? Archie reckons it must have been an inside job. Had to be one of the team leaders. No one else had the know-how or the access.’
‘Then Mr Pelago is being naive. Anyone with a mobile phone and a rudimentary knowledge of coding could be responsible. They’re hardly the most rigorous security protocols one would have to bypass, are they? Just look at the people who designed them.’
It was a fair point. Colin brought the phone up to just below the lip of the fence. Raffo was a good few feet away so he didn’t know what kind of recording quality to expect. ‘I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet. What does the rabbit say?’
‘The vulgar thoughts of a puerile mind don’t bear repeating, I assure you. You should consider yourself lucky.’
Getting Raffo to say the phrase ‘Go fuck yourself’ was going to prove tricky, but perhaps Colin could get him to say each word separately. ‘You should consider yourself lucky’ had given him ‘yourself’; now he just needed ‘go’ and ‘fuck’.
‘I might bunk off work today. What do you think? Should I stay or should I go?’
‘Whatever you feel is best.’
‘Not much going on at work at the moment is there? You going in?’
‘Yes you’re going in, or yes, there isn’t much going on?’
‘Yes to both.’
If it was this difficult to get him to say ‘go’ how the hell would he get him to say ‘fuck’? And how would he get anyone else to say it?
‘If red light means stop, green light means ...?’
‘Proceed in a timely manner. Are you feeling all right, Colin? You seem rather hyper.’
The phone had enough memory for eight hours of recording. At this rate he was going to use it all.
‘I’m fine.’ Colin rubbed his temple. ‘Just got this wicked headache. Feels like the right side of my brain is melting.’
‘The right side of the brain is overrated,’ Raffo said. He placed his hand on his hips and began performing knee-bends, accompanied by gruesome-sounding knee-pops.
‘We only use ten per cent of our brains though, don’t we?’ Colin said. ‘Imagine what we could do if we used the other ninety. All sorts of Jedi shit, probably.’
Raffo stopped his squats and folded his arms under his fleshy chest. ‘Don’t be a simpleton.’ Arms still crossed, he moved his hips in a circular motion. His vast stomach jiggled in mesmerising gyrations.
Colin wiped away a smirk with the back of his hand. Raffo at his most pompous was Raffo at his best. The fat git. The idea that this person spent his free time hacking into websites suddenly struck Colin as completely ludicrous. He just wasn’t the criminal type. Colin slipped the phone back into his pocket. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We use a hundred per cent of our brains. We only use ten per cent at any given time, but every part has its function.’
‘So, why don’t we use all of it at once?’
‘Because the heat generated would make the top of one’s head burst into flames, which would most likely prove fatal.’
‘Yeah, most likely. Make a good YouTube video though.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it would prove very popular,’ Raffo said. He walked over to where the bow stood against the wall and picked it up. On the ground was a quiver full of arrows and a small black pouch. Raffo bent down and took a coiled string out of the pouch and in one easy motion hooked it to one end, flexed the bow, and fixed it to the other. ‘I must say, you look terrible, Colin. Pale. Limp. Red-eyed. Either you have been drinking heavily or you have been crying like a woman. I wouldn’t like to guess which. I take it there’s been no word from Susan?’
‘No,’ Colin said. ‘I expect she’s off having a wonderful time getting fucked senseless.’ The bitterness of his words caught him by surprise, like being played back a recording of yourself screaming, ‘I am not fucking angry!’
Raffo twanged the bowstring, placing his ear nearer like a musician tuning his instrument. ‘You might consider that the overwhelming sense of loss and heartbreak you feel are really no more than miniscule biological secretions in reaction to a series of stimuli. The emotional turmoil you are experiencing is caused by the balance of chemicals in your brain. It’s the body’s most fascinating organ.’
‘Sure,’ Colin agreed. ‘It’s in my top three.’
Raffo tested the bow’s give. ‘When you speak or think of her, when you see things that remind you of her, it triggers the release of one hormone, inhibits the release of another. The truth is there is no such thing as happy or sad, only degrees of tilt. And if Susan’s infidelity results in pushing the balance into a hurtful place, you should remember that chemistry is a process that can be reversed. All it could take is for you to go fuck someone yourself.’ He bent over to get something out of the black pouch. His giant, pumpkin-shaped buttocks threatened to burst out of their meagre cladding.
Colin stepped down from the fence and pulled out his phone to check if he had inadvertently left the recorder running. He hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. However odd a person Raffo was, Colin was certain he wasn’t the type to waste time with sweary rabbits. He glared at the house. The house he lived in with Susan. The thought was enough to burst the pain in his head into a thousand points of dread. He hated that house, but then he hated every house in the street. He hated the pavements, the trees, the lampposts. He hated the cats sunning themselves on the garden walls with their eyes closed. Raffo was right. The all reminded him of her, and they made him tilt the wrong way. He had to get out of here, away from the smell of her. Her favourite mug. The endless variety of shampoo bottles.
He took out the scrap of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. He would start at the top of the list and work his way down. If he was methodical, if he took it one step at a time, he would be done by lunchtime. He just had to put one foot in front of another. As simple as walking through a door.
Colin went back inside the house and pulled and pressed and twisted the door closed.
Red at the centre. A little faded, a little worn. A little wet with the morning dew. The long, stiff shaft buried deep, pushed in hard, right in the middle.
Raffo pulled another arrow from the quiver hanging behind him. The sash cut across his chest, pinning his favourite blue tie against a crisp, white shirt. He nocked the arrow. He placed his polished black brogues shoulder width apart, standing side on to the target, drew back the string, held it as he held his breath, and then loosed them both as one.
Another bull’s eye. No more than he expected. Focus was the key.
Most people lacked the ability to empty their minds of everything but their objective. Most people didn’t even have an objective. Raffo put this down to a mixture of laziness and a poorly developed neo-cortex, probably due to weak genes. When he saw the general population struggling up and down the High Street, hunched over, clutching their bags of shopping, it came as no surprise to him that these claw-fisted goblins limited themselves to what to order off a take-out menu or which numbers to choose for the lotto. Why jump for the stars when you’d only hit your head on the ceiling?
What they lacked, Raffo sought: a disciplined mind. Once you could get the brain to do what you told it (whether it agreed or not), who knew what secrets might be found inside its crevices and folds?
He sucked in the morning air through wide, quivering nostrils. Somewhere, burnt toast fumes escaped through a kitchen window. He stilled his thoughts, his breathing measured and smooth, drew back the string ...
The public library on Silver Street had provided Raffo with his first dose of knowledge. He studied all the great thinkers. Descartes to Nietzsche. Spinoza to Sartre. All in the original texts, because how else could one appreciate the subtleties of genius except in their own words? The lyricism of French, the precision of German, the gravitas of Latin. Raffo didn’t actually speak any of those languages, but there was more to understanding than knowing the meaning of words. He absorbed truth the way bread absorbed milk – without the need for a dictionary.
Great thinkers revelled in being enigmatic and impenetrable, but complexity did not suit the 21st century, or Raffo. Why? What? Where? How long is a piece of string? All answers available online. And on the web they didn’t come with vague metaphysical theories, they came with instructions. Simple, straightforward actions derived from clear, well-defined goals. Taking aim. Hitting targets.
Through the Internet, Raffo found ideas – hidden, buried, pushed out to the margins – defying conventional wisdom, sometimes even belief. Incredible experiments prohibited by international treaties. Blueprints for contraptions so outrageous even Heath Robinson would balk at the improbability of their design.
He collected it all together until he had what he needed to begin his project – a project to change the course of human evolution. But he had to wait for the final piece. Susan.
Raffo re-gripped the bow by its belly, moulded to the contours of his curled fingers. A classic one-piece. Wooden core, no carbon limb composite, none of that lightweight foam rubbish. Raffo didn't even have a bow sight or stabilizers. He bore only contempt for those Olympic archers, with their undulating recurve bows and their Berger buttons. Duel prong rests, draw check mirrors, string peeps and clickers. The fools. They didn’t realise that the simple bow and arrow was the pivot around which the whole of human history had turned. Just a stick and a string.
For a long time in human history, like animals, only the strong prevailed. But with the advent of the bow and arrow even the puniest hand could deliver a poke with death’s middle finger.
Suddenly the alpha male – big, strong, smug – could go take a running jump into the nearest active volcano. Any runt could drop him from a hundred yards away, leaving his stupid Neanderthal chums to run around howling like gibbons.
It changed people, enabling those forced to forage on the outer edges to get something from right in the juicy red middle.
A tight clutch of arrows peppered the centre of the target. Raffo observed the grouping through the electronic zoom on his ex-Russian Air Force targeting goggles. Military grade microchip technology triangulated data from the angle of his gaze and the tilt of his head, creating a digital map in the heads-up display. Reticules marked objectives and identified the optimum trajectory. When Raffo pointed the arrowhead at the target, at just the right angle, the word ЗАПУСК flashed in white across the top of the display. He didn’t need to know what it meant to know what it meant – the results spoke for themselves.
The Internet not only told you everything, it also sold you everything.
Meanwhile Olympic archers fiddled with their gears and pulleys. The idiots.
Raffo removed the goggles and dropped them to the ground. He stretched his face from grimace to grin. The blood tingled back into his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. He raised the bow with an easy confidence. His chins converged as he pushed them down into his chest. He slowed his breathing and extended his focus down the garden, all the way to the bull’s eye. And then he just let go.
The arrow sliced through the air, over the target, high over the next garden, still rising.
Raffo rose onto his toes to follow the trajectory, but it had already disappeared from view. The sound of shattering glass, and then a scream, filled the morning air. Raffo scooped the goggles off the ground and darted back inside.