Writing Prompt: Queen Elizabeth celebrates her hundredth birthday by sharing her ‘biggest surprise!’ on worldwide television.

“Not bad for your first Outside Broadcast” said Trevor, and Faz had to agree. She grinned up from her monitor at the avuncular Trevor, who was so Old School BBC that his cardigan had leather patches on the leather patches on the elbows and was never seen without a mug of tea.

“I know!” she said, running down the checklist for the tenth time in as many minutes “Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Her Majesty’s Centenary Broadcast! That’s what I call work experience!”

“You’ve earned it,” said Trevor, wandering back to his own post in the outside broadcast unit “best of the new intake, been saying so for months…”

Beside Faz, Andy the Unpaid Intern was chewing a pen.

“She’s supposed to be making a major announcement today” he said, around the pen, his brow furrowed “what’s the betting she’s retiring?”

“Never happen!” said Trevor.

Faz shrugged. She adjusted her hijab, a rather nice pearlescent gray number her Dad had given her, the better to deal with headphones and settled back.

“I don’t think she trusts Charles” said Andy.

“She’ll never quit” said Faz, “have you seen how good she looks for a woman of one hundred? My nan’s only sixty five and she moves way slower than the Queen.”

“I bet your Nan would move like she was on rails if she’d had the same health care as Her Maj” said Andy.

“Dangerously republican talk, young Intern” rumbled Trevor as he checked and rechecked cables and connections. Andy did his best to look shamefaced, but flashed Faz a grin, raised a fist and mouthed “viva el presidente!” She smiled and went back to work. Outside, technicians were arranging cameras and microphones and the Producer, Director and very likely a number of supernumery people just along to see the inside of Buck House would be back soon. She’d have to focus.

***

Elizabeth sat in her study, at the curved and carved desk where she’d answered letters and conducted business for over seventy years, and pondered. Daylight flooded in through the tall windows to her left, picking out the pictures and photographs of ancestors, friends and family. Even the man in the gray suit was part of the furniture now. They changed every few years, but they were always there. A Saville Row reminder of Duty, as if she needed reminding.

“There’ll be an awful fuss” said the man in the gray suit.

“There’s always an awful fuss” said Elizabeth, brushing her hand over the speech she’d prepared.

“Ma’am, are you sure this is wise?”

Elizabeth fixed him with the glare. The glare that had made Prime Ministers stutter and stammer or, like Cameron, stop talking entirely.

“I have been doing this for so long now,” she said, her voice even and quiet and dangerous “that I no longer care about the wisdom of things. The People deserve to know some of the things that have been hidden from them out of a habit of secrecy. And I have put up with the Republican nonsense, all their comments about me being a parasite and contributing nothing, for so many years. Well it’s about time I put a few things into the public domain.”

“Your Majesty” said the man in the gray suit “once this particular surprise is out there, we’ll not be able to undo what you’ve done. Of course we’ll ride out the storm….”

“See that we do” said Her Majesty, standing and ending the conversation.

***

The BBC One Channel ID, currently planets orbiting a star for no comprehensible reason, was replaced by an image of the Royal Standard flying over Buckingham Palace.

“And now on BBC one, all other UK channels, and to an international audience of hundreds of millions, on the occasion of her one hundredth birthday, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second will address the Commonwealth.”

The announcer sounded suitably grave, thought Faz, as she kept an eye on the feeds to the broadcasters outside the BBC network. On the screen, the Queen sat behind a suitably imposing desk. Faz knew that she’s move out from behind it and sit next to a fireplace for a cosy chat with her subjects, and then she was supposed to make announcements. She’d been given an outline of what Her Majesty was supposed to say. The director and producer were in muttered conversation when there was a knock at the door. Andy opened it to be met by three men in gray suits. One of them, an elderly man in thick black framed glasses, stepped inside and tapped the director on the shoulder.

“Alright, son, out you go. And him” he gestured to the producer “everyone else can stay and get on with it. Off you go.”

“Now wait a minute…” said the Director, a long time associate of Jeremy Paxman and therefore not easily intimidated. One of the two younger gray suits reached inside his jacket and produced a wallet, which he opened to display what Faz assumed was a warrant card.

“Go on, son” said Black Frames gently “go away. Find yourself a cup of tea or something.”

Both left, too shocked to say much. Black Glasses sat down in the director’s chair.

“Who’s running the book?” he said. Everyone looked at everyone else. “Oh come on,” said the man in the grey suit “someone is. Odds on she’s abdicating. Ten to one she’ll say in favour of William. Hundred to one she really did kill Diana, thousand to one she did it herself and a million to one she really is a space lizard?” He paused. “None of you? Blimey. What is the world coming to?”

The Queen had reached the portion of her address the BBC had titled “hello commonwealth” and she was recounting the successes of commonwealth nations. The two younger gray suits had taken over the producer and director roles, although one of them was standing to do so since Black Glasses seemed disinclined to leave his seat.

“Do you know what she’s going to say?” asked Faz. Black Glasses smiled at her.

“I do. I don’t think anyone would guess it. Not in a million years.” He looked at one of his companions. “What do you think, Reggie? Has anyone got it right?”

Reggie flicked a glance at his elder.

“No, Harry. No one has.”

“There,” said Harry turning his attention back to Faz. “Although I suspect it might be of particular interest to you.”

Faz turned to Andy and shrugged. Andy shrugged back, but in the privacy of her own head, Faz began to wonder if the head of the Church of England and the Defender of the Faith had turned to Islam. Faz began to pay close attention to what the elderly woman in the tiara was saying.

Elizabeth settled back into the chair.

“As some of you will be aware, I have promised to reveal something surprising today. When I think back over my long years of service to this country…”

***
In his mum’s house in Liverpool, John Stoney sighed.

“Long years of service my arse” he muttered, and caught the flat of his nan’s slipper across the back of his head.

“Respect!” snapped the formidable Grandma Stoney.

***

“…many service personnel to whom we owe our freedom, our way of life and who are, in the main, unsung heroes. During the Second World War it was my honour to serve in an auxilliary capacity…”

“Did she really?” asked Faz. Andy nodded.

“Yeah. She was a mechanic. Google her later.” Andy’s attention was fixed on The Queen, hanging on her every word.

“…the capabilities of this nation, which too often also go untold and unremarked upon. What I am to tell you tonight will sound unlikely to many ears, even outlandish, but it is all absolutely true. Great Britain has for many years been able to field a military asset that many would describe as a ‘super hero’.”

***

“You are fucking kidding me!” said John Stoney, ducking instinctively. The slipper did not appear.

“What does she mean?” asked Grandma Stoney.

***

In the outside broadcast truck, Harry sat back and closed his eyes.

“Story time,” he said “Jackabloodynory.”

On the screen, Elizabeth looked at the floor and then back at the camera.

“I do not know the full history behind this remarkable project, only that it goes back to the reign of Elizabeth the First and her adviser John Dee. I am given to understand that Dee’s researches created something we nowadays might call a ‘super-soldier’ serum, a treatment which, when applied to the right subject, gave that person abilities beyond the human scale. It has been a closely guarded Crown secret ever since, and there has not been a time when the person in receipt of that treatment has not fought for this country.

A quirk of the treatment means that it is only effective on women. Thus, the superhuman agency of the Crown has always been referred to as Britannia.”

Andy was staring, slack jawed, at the monitor in front of him.

“The superman exists…” said Harry “..and he’s got tits.”

“Breasts” said Faz, barely above a whisper. The Queen was talking about how Britannia had always been a representative of the nation in times of crisis. There was footage of the Royal Marine Commandos training during World War 2, and with them someone obviously a young woman carrying a hoplite shield and trident, and wearing a Corinthian helmet which rather effectively doubled as a mask. The black and white footage showed her engaged in combat practice, taking on and beating commando trainees with grace and power.

“Over the years, the identity of the woman operating as Britannia has been held a closely guarded secret, but she has always been at the forefront of events” said the Queen. The image changed to footage of the seige at the Iranian Embassy in 1980. Taken from a different angle than the normal footage shot by news teams, it clearly showed a woman in pale gray combat clothes but wearing the helmet, shield and trident entering the building slightly in advance of the SAS. It cut again, to footage of Helmland. British troops are watching several young Afghan girls at play. One of them has a stick, a makeshift shield and a hat. The soldiers seem amused, but when the young girl adopts a combat pose they stand to attention and salute.

“It is long past time that the existence of Britannia was made public. It is long past time that the truth about our capability were known, and time perhaps that the symbol of this nation were more than just a weapon to point at enemies of the state” said the Queen.

“The process that creates Britannia is unique. The people who can undergo the treatment are also unique, and from a very specific lineage. We are extremely careful about who we select for the role. They must have the highest committment to their duty, they must understand above all things the importance of service, and they must be willing to sacrifice everything – recognition, family, love, any hope of a normal life – to take up the mantle.

“The process has a side effect. It greatly prolongs life, and youth, but this inevitably costs the person who takes up the role any kind of normalcy. They will watch their loved ones age and wither long before they themselves feel the chill of old age. And they will ultimately be alone, because there is only ever one Britannia. This is a lonely truth. But the truth is…”

The Queen looked down at herself, at the floor, for a long moment. Then she looked directly into the camera. Her jaw clenched. She hooked a thumb into the skin of her neck and in a moment that caused gasps the world over, appeared to slit apart the skin of her face to reveal…

…that face was nothing more than a mask. In a moment, seventy years of age fell away from her as Elizabeth Windsor demolished the remains of the prosthetic mask that hid her true features.

“..the truth is, I am Britannia”.

“Disney are probably going to sue” said Harry, but Faz couldn’t help noticing the pride in his voice.

[WP] A mage, on a whirlwind trip through space and time arrives in the old west. He decides to prove that his spell-slinging is the equal of any gunslinger, alive or dead.

This is actually a sequel to a story I haven’t finished writing yet.  I’m a terrible person.  Reave Cannon features in The Paranormal Cowboy Story With No Name, but this is set some time later when he’s on his way home from whatever happens in that tale.  It therefore contains spoilers for something which you can’t have read yet because it doesn’t exist, exactly.  I hope you appreciate the paradoxical nature of that warning and please remember not to cross the streams.

***************************************************************************************************************************

Reave Cannon sat on his horse and watched the interesting spot form a couple of feet above the desert scrub about half a dozen yards in front of him. He sipped water from his canteen as the spot became the outline of a man, edged in hard white light but containing forms and patterns that shifted and strained unreasonably. He thought about leaving, but the horse seemed to be hypnotised. He shrugged. It had been a strange year, he shouldn’t be surprised when the very air turned bizarre right in front of him.

With a speed that would have shocked anyone else, the uncanny shape flexed, snapped into a portrait rectangle and became stable. The air steamed around it. A chill blew from it. And then there was a man standing in it. Reave pushed back his hat.

“Of course it’s a doorway” cursed Reave “why in the hell would it be anything I could ignore?”

“You!” said the figure. The man was wearing a wide brimmed soft hat that shaded his eyes. His shirt was untucked and fell clear to his knees, which were also where his boots ended. His arms were bare and covered in strange brands. Reave doubted this meant he collected cattle.

“Mornin'” said Reave in an effort to be neighbourly.

“I am come to face the greatest warrior of this place. Take me to him!”

Reave thought about this for a moment. Sheriff McClure over in Snakehead was a hardass, and Black Jock Scott was known to be a stone killer, but he was back in Deadwood. That sort of left Walter Limpquist, the Marshall from Two Rock.

“Sure thing, sir” said Reave. “If you’ll follow me?” The man stepped forward, waved his hands, muttered a few angry syllables and then stepped into the air. He walked to where Reave’s horse (currently called Horse while Reave tried to think of a better name) stood, sat cross legged on thin air and looked expectant. Reave reminded Horse it was time to move, then gently persuaded him into a trot and finally the loping canter that ate up the miles without really tiring either of them. The man kept pace without apparent effort.

“Tell me what is so renowned about this mighty one of yours” insisted the man, out of nowhere.

“Well,” said Reave “He’s quick. Fast. You know.”

“Is he renowned?”

Walter Limpquist wasn’t a name easily forgotten, so Reave felt no shame at all saying he was.

“Is he often challenged?”

That was actually true. Quite a few people heard the name Walter Limpquist, US Marshal, and thought they’d be able to bag themselves a U.S. Marshall. To date, no one had succeeded. Plus, if Reave remembered Walter correctly he sometimes forgot how to tie his shoe laces or became so hopelessly entangled in bed that he’d been forced to marry in order to have someone on hand to rescue him.

“Often challenged” said Reave “never bested”.

“This will be sport indeed” said the man, and though he spoke more, at length, it was at this point Reave Cannon stopped caring or listening.

***

Two Rock had three streets now, which was a whole street and a half more than the last time Reave had been there. He stood outside the Marshal’s Office while the Man went through his speech again.

“Are you sure this is the proper form of words?” asked the man.

“Yessir” said Reave. “The correct words. As they should be spoke.”

“Excellent. Then I shall begin.”

The man walked to the door of the Marshall’s Office and battered it with a branded fist.

“Marshall Walter Limpquist, I’m calling you out!” he bellowed.

After a moment, the door opened and Walter Limpquist stood in it, wearing a pair of pale brown denim dungarees, a grey undershirt and his hat. He was blinking, barefoot and grey haired. He struggled to slip on a pair of wire framed spectacles, and having got them in place he goggled at the stranger.

“Calling me out? Great Mary, is it noon already? Reave Cannon! I see you lurking. This is your nonsense I assume.”

“Man’s called you out” said Reave.

“Yes! I have called you out! Pit your puissance against mine, mighty warrior.”

Reave coughed.

“That is…I mean to say…” stuttered the man. he swallowed and looked Walter in the eye. “They tell me you used to be fast” he said. That did it. Walter’s head snapped straight, his eyes focussed as if seeing the man for the first time.

“They talk a lot” said Walter. “They don’t always talk true.”

“It is the same in my world also” agreed the man “but you shall face me today and we shall discover if you do possess speed. Come. Bring your six guns and pit them against my war thirsty arcane power.”

“Just one gun” said Walter as he stepped back into the office. There was the sound of rummaging. He came back out with a sawn off double barrelled shotgun, open to accept shells, which he promptly dropped.

“Oh, damn, look at the…” Walter knelt down to pick up the gun and shake dust and grit off it. Then he had to be helped to his feet by Reave Cannon. Reave backed away slowly. Walter attempted to load a shell. It slipped out of the barrel while he was trying to remember where the other shell had gone. Eventually he had both shells loaded and attempted to holster the gun. He wasn’t wearing a holster, so the weapon ended up tucked in his dungarees but with what was left of the stock hanging out at a right angle to the barrells. Walter looked at the branded man and smiled, which turned to dismay as the sawn off slid slowly and gracelessly into his clothes and down one denim leg. By the time he’d hopped around and retrieved it both shells had worked their way out again and the branded man could only watch and sigh as he struggled to load it a second time. Finally, with both rounds seated correctly Walter snapped the weapon closed.

“Now then…” he said “….eh…where were we?”

“They said you used to be fast” said the branded man, with the sort of weariness that comes from having wasted an entire afternoon waiting for a cancelled bus. He’d gone from being poised to unleash his power to standing with his shoulders slumped and a look of profound disappointment on his face. Walter emptied both barrels into his chest, flicked the weapon open and had another two shells loaded before the startled corpse had hit the floor.

Walter looked at Reave.

“Last time you were through here, you were chasing something. Catch it?”

“Mighta” said Reave. “Last time I was through here, this place was smaller.”

“Urban sprawl” said Walter in the same tone a man might use to describe the contents of an overflowing privy. “Used to be you could step out onto the street and see the whole town. Now, you got to go to the end of the street and turn a corner.”

“That’s progress.”

“Ain’t to my liking. Who was this man?”

Reave thought about the way the man had stepped into the world from somewhere else, his effortless levitation, the uncanny brands that covered his skin, the aura of certainty radiating from him and the eager way he’d spoken about conflict.

“Just some asshole” said Reave Cannon. Walter nodded and they went to find someone who would sell them whiskey.

Writing Prompt: The Doctor Regenerates as a Woman.

A quick intro: Of course, Mr. Moffat beat everyone to this punch in The Curse of Fatal Death.  It’s still a fun idea to play with.  The real fun comes later, when The Doctor works out that women are often not taken seriously by patriachal societies.  How would that play out, when The Doctor isn’t deferred to as a natural authority figure ?

******************

The Doctor picked himself up off the floor and fixed his stare on the timer.

“You’ve all got ninety seconds to get to minimum safe distance” he said “so if I were you I’d start running.”

They ran, and he let out a breath. They’d never make it unless he did something about the rapidly building overload, but of course the only way to do that was to isolate the charge to a relatively small area. This room, for example. He sighed.

“Can’t have anyone else hurt by a madman’s ambition” he said.

He flipped the switch, an act so simple it was barely worth mentioning, and tried to remember the things he’d learned about being caught in explosions. Go limp, that was a good one. Try to protect your head, that was another one. Don’t be there when the thing goes off. That one was excellent.

“Oh well,” he said “it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

The room exploded.

***

Annie skidded to a halt, grabbing the Guard Sergeant by the cloak and hauling him to a halt too.

“That wasn’t anywhere near the size of explosion the Doctor promised.”

The Sergeant looked back at the rising pall of smoke.

“Big enough, I think, if you were caught in it.” Annie saw the worry lines and treated him to a smile,. A big one, full of the confidence she wanted to feel.

“He’s got out of worse. The last minute is when he’s at his best. Come on. We need to find him.”

They turned, the Sergeant after a moment’s hesitation, and ran back the way they had come.

***

The Doctor drifted back to consciousness and discovered that everything that hadn’t been hurting before was hurting now. Pretty much all of him hurt, and hurt badly enough that he knew what was coming next. He hoped it would happen soon, before the shock wore off and the pain really kicked in.

“Doctor?”

Ah. Annie. Excellent.

“Over here” he said, then he coughed and tried again with a little more energy. Her face appeared above him. She smiled, but couldn’t disguise the horror in her eyes. Ah. It was bad, then.

“Doctor..?”

“Annie,” he said, straining to get his voice above a whisper “would you please get me to the TARDIS? This really isn’t as bad as it looks…”

It was worse. Every step was quite extraordinarily painful.

“I fell off a radio telescope once” he said, by way of conversation. The Guard Sergeant, who was carrying him, tried to look interested.

“Oh?”

“Didn’t hurt as much as this” said the Doctor, and passed out. He woke up again as he crossed the threshold of the Tardis.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” he said, staggering to the console on legs that should not have supported him.

“What happens now, Doctor?” Annie was beside him, good old Annie. “Do we get you to a hospital? Is there a sickbay? What?”

The Doctor felt it start. Just a tingle, a warmth at first.

“No time” he said “stand back. This might be a bit…”

And with that, something swept over him like chili on eyeballs, like dipping a bare hand into molten metal. The Doctor closed his eyes as it washed him away and his last thought was that something was different.

“…explosive”. The incandescent energy faded and The Doctor leaned against the console. The hand that was doing the leaning seemed unfamiliar – which was in itself exactly as expected – but it was an awful lot slimmer than before. The fingers seemed…The Doctor struggled to find an appropriate word…delicate?

“Oh” said Annie. She seemed taller. She was wearing a look of complete confusion, which The Doctor recognised as the after effects of a human seeing regeneration for the first time.

“Don’t worry” said The Doctor, and then stopped talking. The voice changed along with the face, of course, but even with new teeth there were some constants. Not now, it appeared. The Doctor looked down at himself and then began to revise some opinions. She looked at Annie and smiled.

“I’m as surprised as you are” she said “but it’s still me. I’ve known this could happen, of course. When the trauma is bad enough. When…well, in other circumstances.” She flexed her fingers, reached up to play with her hair.

“Ooo. Quite short. I think I like it. Well? What do you think?”

Annie clearly wasn’t getting traction on this. She couldn’t remember if humans were always this slow.

“Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“You’re a…”

“Female. Yes.” The Doctor paused. “You’re not finding that overwhelmingly attractive, are you? Because I should say that I’m still settling into the concept myself and I’m not sure I’m relationship material right now. Maybe in a decade or so. Oh, I’m babbling. I do hope that’s not a permanent feature.”

The Doctor turned back to the console and put the ship in flight.

“Three things. One, I need a change of clothes. I feel like I’ve been dragged through an explosion backwards. Two, I think I want something to eat. Something crunchy. Something I can bite. Three, what is it?”

“Doctor…why are you a woman now?”

The Doctor turned around and put her arms on Annie’s shoulders. They were face to face.

“Why are you a woman? ” asked The Doctor “why does what I look like play a part in what I do? I mean, have you ever really known me care about how I look to other people? As long as you aren’t breaking any local laws or taboos…and, well, sometimes even then, because getting arrested can be good. Do you see what I mean?”

“No” said Annie, who felt like someone had turned a firehose on her, “and yes.” The Doctor met her stare. The Doctor’s eyes were green, Annie noted. They’d been rather nice brown eyes before. She pulled back.

The Doctor looked crestfallen.

“It’s me, Annie. It’s always me. Stick with me, I’ll show you.”

[WP] Modern man time travels back to the dark ages and has a smartphone with him. All smartphone features, including the internet still works. How does people in the dark ages react to this mysterious time traveler and his hi-tech gadget?

It was an accident. The universe loves those, leaves them waiting for hapless creatures to blunder into all over the place and then sits back and chuckles at the result. The first thing that Mo knew about the accident was the bright flash of light and the feeling that he was very tall and also very far away at the same time. Then he was standing in the cool dappled light of a woodland instead of the cool l.e.d. light of the experiment chamber.

“oh no” said Mo, and had a little sit down.

Mo sat in the pale green sunlight, listening to the wind moving the canopy about and went through his worldly possessions. One lab coat, white. One biro, chewed. His wallet, duct taped. Fifteen pounds in cash, an ATM card, a couple of loyalty cards, his credit card. The clothes on his back, a cheap watch on his wrist and in his trouser pocket half a pack of cigarettes and his phone.

He pulled the phone out, snug in its much abused protective case, and woke it up. He flicked through to the contacts, tapped the lab and waited while it rang. The pleasant, bland voice of the receptionist babbled far too quickly through a greeting.

“It’s Mohinder,” he snapped “put me through to Julie Tresham right bloody now.”

He waited, kicking at the soil, while his labcoat slowly attracted stains from the surrounding plant life and mud.

“Julie!” he snapped “where the bloody hell has your pack of clowns sent me? What on earth were you doing?”

Then he blinked and held the phone away from his ear as the background noise of wild celebration faded. Tentatively, he tried listening again.

“No,” he said “no I haven’t been disintegrated. But you have moved me somewhere. No, I don’t know where. A wood.”

He paused, frowned.

“I have no idea which wood. The country is covered in them, Julie. Just help me sort out where I am. Yes. Yes. No, not even a headache. No. For…Julie, please calm down. Look, I’ll check Google Maps and…yeah, then I’ll call you back.”

He ended the call, flicked his way to the Maps app and opened it. He waited for the map to open, but after a minute or so it told him it couldn’t find his location and then quit.

“Balls” he said and went to the settings to make sure the GPS was on.
It was.

“Bloody 3g” he said. The phone rang.

“Hello? Julie. No, no idea. GPS isn’t working and it’s not picking up any nearby towers. No idea. Freak local condition? Anyway, I’m going to walk west until I find something useful.”

He walked west for quite some time and eventually came to the edge of the woods. He was contemplating the view, which didn’t contain any buildings, pylons or signs of roads, when he heard footsteps behind him. Mo turned to find a man a few yards away picking up sticks in the periphery of the woods. He was wearing a hooded cloak, which Mo found odd, and seemed to have a large knife in his belt. The rough looking tunic, the boots, none of them were anywhere near modern looking. Mo decided the man was probably one of those beardy weirdy hobbyist living history types. He checked Google Maps again.

“Halettan utscytling! Hwon sy innan thin yrsebinincel?”

Mo turned to find the man leaning on a staff with a bag of sticks over his back. He was eyeing Mo’s phone with evident interest. Mo closed the maps and went to Google Translate.

“I’m sorry?” he said “Could you repeat that?”

The bearded man looked baffled.
“Thu beon fram feaorlond gif thu neacnawan getheode urelendisc” he said. Google translate had no idea what to make of it.

“Do you speak English?” asked Mo. The man grinned, his eyes lighting up in recognition.

“Gese! Englisc!”

“Bloody foreigners” said Mohinder under his breath. “Can’t even pronounce it correctly.” He smiled. “Are you from Eastern Europe?”

“Ic neacnawan” said the bearded man, looking crestfallen “ac thu gad geoc. Thu cymst” he said, beckoning, “thu cymst ethel mid mec.”

Mo shrugged and nodded, and followed. He tried the GPS again.

“Thin yrsebinincel negethensum swa beon gehyhtendlic” said his companion as they trudged.

“Whatever” answered Mo.

Mo could smell the village, or more accurately the animals penned in and around the village, before he heard them or saw them. It was a smell he associated with the few farmyards he’d visited. It wasn’t unpleasant, as such, just very present. As he got closer, there were other more human smells too. Woodsmoke, for one. He was puzzled by this. It was a fine day, who’d be needing a fire?

Then he saw the buildings.

“You’re kidding” he said.

Even though he was a theoretical physicist, he’d watched enough Time Team to recognise wattle and daub construction when he saw it. Mud huts. Well, mud houses, really. And there was a larger building towards the centre which seemed much better constructed and decorated. His companion was leading him there, past groups of people who eyed him curiously as he passed them.

Aethelstan took the stranger to Aelfryth, on the basis that Aelfryth was in charge and had travelled quite a bit. Aethelstan liked Aelfryth, who was not afraid to stand in a shield wall and was generous with his hospitality and gift giving. There were far worse kings to have. He took the stranger to the hall and approached Aelfryth’s seat at the far end. The boss was talking with a few of his Housecarls, so Aethelstan waited for them to finish their conversation before respectfully greeting his leader and introducing the problem of the stranger.

“He looked lost, and you can see the clothes he’s wearing. I thought it best to bring him to you before something eats him” said Aethelstan. Aelfryth, who was normally quick to decide and quicker in action, studied the man closely.

“You say he speaks no word of our language?” he asked.

“Well…” said Aethelstan “…he speaks words that feel like ours. You know how sometimes a kenning will go from making no sense to making complete sense?” Aelfryth nodded. “Well, sometimes he says words and it’s like he’s heard people speaking like we do but not properly. But mostly it’s some foreign tongue. Where do you think he’s from?”

Aelfryth frowned.

“By his skin, a long way east of here.”

Aethelstan grinned.

“Boss, everywhere is east of here! Also, he has a little box that he plays with and sometimes talks to. I think he might be a bit…simple.”

Aelfryth stood, walked to the dark skinned stranger and clapped him on both upper arms.

“Welcome and well met, stranger. I am Aelfryth. You are guest in my hall and you shall eat with me tonight, rest here and tomorrow we shall see what we can do to find where you belong. If you can understand me, well and good. If not, be at ease. We are friends!”

Mo blinked at this. The body language, welcoming and friendly, was clear enough, but he had no idea what to do about it. He nodded and smiled, which seemed to produce a good reaction, and was lead to a chair, given a beaker of something he didn’t want to drink and left alone while a lot of other people talked and wandered around. He thought about calling home. He thought about calling a cab. He thought seriously about calling his mum. He picked up the phone, woke it and called Julie.

Julie picked up her phone and shushed everyone around her.

“Hi Mo!” she said “it’s really good you called. How are you?”

She listened for some minutes, scribbling notes on a tablet and firing them off to people.

“Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news,” she began “which would you like first? OK, the good news is that we know why you can’t get a GPS signal and we’re pretty sure we know what happened to cause the accident.”

She nodded.

“Well, that’s the bad news. It’s not so much where you are as when. That’s right. Drink? What does it smell like? Well if it smells a bit like honey and piss it’s probably mead and you can drink as much of it as you can stand. Just don’t touch the water.

“No, some time between 840 and 1060. We’ll try to get more accurate. In the mean time, turn your phone off to conserve the battery. If we can’t call you, we won’t be able to…”

Julie put her phone down
.
“We’ve lost him” she said. “The line died.”

“But” began Doctor Halberstrom “without that as a signal guide, we have no hope of retrieving him!”

Julie stood.

“We have to do better than that,” she said “we can’t just leave him there!”

 

***

 

At another lab, in another university, two archeologists stared at a piece of paper and then at each other.

“Did you leave the setup for this test to undergrads?” asked one. The other shook his head.
“Then would you mind telling me how this fine example of Anglo Saxon man could possibly have spent his early years in Mumbai?”

“Are you sure we’re looking at the right samples?” asked his colleague.

“Definitely. Look, this is either proof that dark ages Britain was trading with India or someone screwed up. Which is more likely?”

There was an academic pause.

“Let’s just never talk about this again” said the distinguished professor of Archeology, sliding the remains back into their box and carefully not labelling them with any care.

Writing Prompt: An orc struggles to assimilate into the modern business environment.

Day 1
“Where are the whips?”
Sharon sighed.
“I’ve already mentioned this, Mr. Nak, but since you ask we do not employ whips here.”
Mr. Nak, a shade under seven feet tall and entirely composed of lean and efficient muscle, leaned down to look her in the eye. She’d people with similar gleams in their eyes when dealing with the Board. Fangs were new, though.
“I can get you whips” advised Mr. Nak “if you need them.”
“We shan’t be needing whips, Mr. Nak, now let’s move on to your orientation.”
Day 2
“When I was only a pup, I ate the eyeballs of one who claimed my mother was a coward. I tore the spine from a horse in motion to prevent the escape of a rider and I have faced the wrath of the Dark Lord and lived to tell about it!”
The group fell silent.
“To be honest,” said Sharon “it’s going to be tough working out which of those statements was the lie and which were the two truths.”
Nak put his head on one side.
“Is that so?” He scratched the back of his neck. “It all seems simple to me. I mean, no one survives the wrath of the Dark Lord.”
“Well in that case, I think that’s the lie” said Steve, the new accountant. Nak threw back his head and bellowed a laugh.
“You fall for any ruse! I would slaughter your whole clan you are so stupid! You cannot ripe the spine from a running horse! Who would be foolish enough to try such a thing! To stop a fleeing rider, you lie in the path of the horse and slash the belly as it goes over. The horse dies! The rider stops! And you get a tasty snack!”
Steve almost made it to the waste bin before he threw up. Almost.
Day 3
“I have never favoured the axe” said Mr. Nak, perplexed. “Why should I bring an axe to the office?”
“We just thought…” said Norman, who worked in I.T. “that, you know, you…might?”
Mr. Nak thought about this quite carefully.
“One the one hand,” he said eventually “the axe is not a great weapon for dealing with armour. For that, I like the warhammer, or a simple thin dagger. On the other hand, if you make assumptions about a person’s culture based on stereotypes and biased reporting, you run smack into the company Equality and Diversity policy.”
“I…I…” said Norman, aware that a middle manager had lost her job in an unguarded moment’s frustration when she dropped the N-Bomb.
“Dat” said the Orc, with a fearsome and toothy smile “racist.”
Day 5
“I think the key, going forward, is to leverage our market position by synergising across our core values and upscaling into blue sky markets. How does everyone else feel?”
“Well,” said Mr. Nak “speaking as someone new to the business, I can see several bleeding edge opportunities that just scream our mission statement. We need to grab that vision with both hands.”
After the meeting, Sharon took him to one side.
“How’re you doing?” she said. Mr. Nak adjusted his tie and sipped some coffee.
“Really well, Sharon. I feel like I belong.”
“Oh? Excellent. What made the difference?”
Mr Nak smiled.
“When I heard someone talking about creating market space by utilizing a cross discipline synergy to reinforce the company values at a workface level. That was the moment when I realised where you keep the whips.”

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Writing Prompt: After arriving at Hogwarts, the hat has sorted you into Slytherin, you then learn this means you won’t be trained in magic

The easiest years of my life, that’s how I remember my first three years at Hogwarts. No one expected anything of me, or anyone else in Slytherin. We had extra lessons in things like The History of Magic, Muggle Studies and the like, but in year one and two these lessons aren’t exactly taxing.
Things got a bit more stressful in year three, because by then the teaching staff had worked out there was no way we could pass any OWLs, but there was also no way that we could be integrated back into the Muggle community to do GCSEs. That was a bit of a poser.
At about the same time, the other big problem surfaced. Some of the brighter Ravenclaw kids had worked this out the same time we did, but the staff didn’t cotton on until it was basically too late.
Puberty started arriving. And Magic will out, as they say.
If you’re a Slytherin, it means you’re bright. Not as head in the clouds intelligent as the Ravenclaws, but when has that ever been useful? Every single one of our parents had said the same things to us when the decree came down: “We don’t send you to Hogwarts to learn how to control magic, we send you there to learn how to control yourselves.”
To his credit, Potter spoke out against the measure. He knew. Something had happened to him when he was a kid – there were rumours he’d turned someone into a snake – but no one really took it all that seriously until Amanda Nosegay had her skin made transparent. The poor girl ended up in bandages head to foot while they arranged transport to St. Ced’s.
After that the whole house was a ticking timebomb. Three years worth of Slytherin intake, all of them wizards or witches the equal of any in the school, and none of them with the faintest idea how to control the power building up inside them.
There were random acts of magic. Some of them were hilarious. Some of them weren’t. But it was too late.
We now understand that there is a point at which untrained magic becomes contagious, and that when one person undergoes an uncontrolled magical event, it has the potential to trigger other, similar events in people nearby. The Slytherin common area and dormitories were what we’re now calling a “criticality”.
We believe the criticality started with Patrick Demense, a second year who had previously shown no signs of magic at all. According to surviving records, at least one master at Hogwarts thought he might be a Squib. On the night of September 23rd, Patrick proved them all wrong. According to survivors, he manifested an extraordinarily complex illusion – a gardenscape, complete with weather, flora and fauna appropriate to Ancient Greece. Patrick was asleep at the time, and the attempts to wake him may have pushed his dreamscape into a nightmare state. One of the witnesses describes the deterioration of the weather. We think now that it was the lightning that set off Martin Bracebridge.
Martin Bracebridge exploded. We believe he had an uncontrolled defensive reaction to the presence of lightning – something his parents indicated he was scared of – and spontaneously attempted to shift himself and most of the Slytherin dormitory area sideways by one hundred feet. This created a chain reaction as young, terrified Slytherin instinctively accessed their power and, completely untutored, made the situation exponentially worse.
The teaching staff attempted to enter the Slytherin common area some ten minutes after the start of the event. According to survivors, no one was aware that the situation had developed so rapidly and by the time experienced adults were on the scene, the criticality had become a runaway reaction. There was no possibility of stopping it. Even so, the evacuation of the rest of the school was badly handled and accounts for the high number of non-Slytherin casualties.
The Ministry was alerted, but there was a significant delay in finding wizards and witches with the right kind of experience or expertise and, by the time a team had reached Hogsmeade, the event was effectively over.
Ten years later, the reality around Hogwarts is still dangerously fluid. There is no indication that Hogwarts will stabilise, although monitoring continues. The best news that we have is that the warping effect has ceased to expand. The closest anyone can come is Hogsmeade, where the research unit has it’s main base and is where my fellow ghosts are anchored. Access inside twenty miles of Hogwarts is not recommended for the living.
My recommendations to the court of Inquiry are that another institute be founded to ensure the tuition of Britain’s Wizarding population, but the first act of that institute be to take the Sorting Hat and burn it. Take it from someone who will be thirteen and a half forever: kids are kids.

Writing Prompt: God decides to become a mortal human to further understand humanity.

Maybe it’s because I know some excellent examples of Christianity, who have taken the time to teach me about the faith, or maybe it’s my natural ability to figure out the narrative of a story, but when I saw this Writing Prompt on Reddit I thought “Wait, isn’t this basically one interpretation of The New Testament?” Rather than start a religious debate, I thought I’d throw together a little reminder.

He stood in the Garden and looked into the darkness.
“I just don’t understand” He said “and that bothers me because I understand everything else I’ve created. ”
The Seraphim stood around him, uncharacteristically silent. They could feel the shape of the idea forming around them and not one of them could honestly say they were happy about it.
“This calls for a radical step” He said “and a change of perspective. I should be among them, talk to them Myself. I can persuade them, I’m sure.”
“Will you leave us, then, Lord?” The boldest of the Seraphim spoke what they all feared. He shook His head.
“No. But I will send a part of myself. I shall go down among them, live as they live, see as they see. And further, I shall be born of one of them, grow as one of them.”
He turned.
“Seek out a suitable vessel for this undertaking” He said. “My decision is made.”

He stood in the garden and looked out into the darkness.
“Father” he said, and then he swallowed and tried to keep the fear out of his voice “Father, does it have to be like this?”
He knew the answer, in the same way that he knew all of the answers to his prayers. His head bowed.
“But there’s so much more I can do. I’ve only had a few years to really make a difference, and they’re listening. Please let me do more. I don’t want it to have all been for nothing. I don’t want to…”
He turned and gestured to the little circle of firelight at the end of the garden where his friends were sitting.
“They still need me” he said. “There’s so much they need to learn and really, only I can teach them. If it were just for them alone, I should stay but…”
But the decision was made, and when the soldiers came to Gethsemane he went quietly.