Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Views from the Bridge

“It would appear there’s intelligent life down there, Captain,” said the first mate, his excitement rising. “On the dark side, artificial illuminations can clearly be seen.”

“Roger that. We’ll maintain remote orbit and send down the probe before taking a closer look.”

The sphere, about the size of a basketball, was not metallic but made instead of a translucent composite material. Travelling close to the speed of light, it came in at a tangent, skipping through the planet’s atmosphere in a heartbeat. The frictional red glow was already fading as it did an abrupt u-turn and sped off in the direction of light. Back on the ship, all eyes were glued to the floor-to-ceiling monitors.

“Substantial amount of water– looks promising.”

“Yeah. Let’s see what happens when it hits the first landmass.”

The probe came over a large, verdant continent that was abundant in flora. Zigzagging across it at lightning speed, the massive amount of data it fed back to the ship had to be stored momentarily and drip-fed on to the screens.

“Would you look at that…”

“That has to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

The scene was one of timeless tranquility, of an ecosystem that had clearly been in harmony for aeons. Plains stretched out to distant mountains; streams meandered their way to faraway seas; colours complemented and contrasted with equal majesty… ochre, amber, pea green, slate.

“Wow! Did you see that?”

A flying creature, larger than the probe, had suddenly swept past. Close.

“Yeah. Do you think we should give her some opacity? Just in case? We don’t want her being struck accidentally.”

“Sure. I’ll set her to twenty-five percent.”

“Okay.”

As the crew studied the rest of the images, the probed parked itself in a stationary position a few miles above the planet’s surface. It was not a hover, but a graviton balance made possible by the latest scientific advances.

“Right– well there’s plenty of life down there: flora and fauna. But nothing, so far, to account for the illuminations on the dark side. Let’s get her across that expanse of water and see what’s on the next landmass.”

The probe sped at an incredible rate across an ocean that covered almost half the world they were investigating. It was not long before it made land again.

“Whoa! Look at that! Slow down, baby!”

Civilisation appeared on the monitors. All along the coastline tall buildings stood like sentries: animals scurried about on the ground or sat in machines conveying them rapidly over varying distances. There was clearly a system of behavior; an orderliness about the place.

“It’s almost like–”

“–Home?”

“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.”

The crew watched dreamily as the probe slowed to explore in more detail, it’s opacity reduced to zero. The animals were undoubtedly intelligent; were communicating, sharing expressions and producing sounds: language. The way they interacted spoke of a deeply embedded social code. From an engineering standpoint, it was clear they had developed the knowledge and skills required to create artificial cityscapes that sat on natural bedrock.

“Intelligent life, tick,” quipped a crewmember, his excitement swelling. “Shall we go in?”

“I want to see a bit more first, just in case. Get the probe to scan the wave spectrum. See if they’re transmitting any media data.”

“Sure, Captain.”

Within seconds, innumerable streams of video data began flooding their monitors. With few exceptions the stories they told were of catastrophe; of cruelty on an unimaginable scale. Puzzlement creased the Captain’s brow.

“What the hell are they doing?”

One video in particular had caught his eye. An animal, shrouded in some kind of cloak, was kneeling, cowed, in the centre of a circle of perhaps twenty others. One by one they…

“O, my! They’re killing their own kind!”

In another, large numbers of the same animal had been herded into some kind of huge, fenced-off compound. A pen, effectively. They were peering out through the wire, hunger, thirst and pain writ large across their faces. And sadness.

“They feel emotion,” said the Captain.

“Yeah, but why’re they doing the things they’re doing?”

Still, nothing had prepared them for what the probe would show next. A large group of infant animals had been gathered in a low structure that had been… destroyed by “rocket attack”…? Pieces of these young animals were littered everywhere… most were dead… obliterated… But there were shrill noises coming from some of the survivors, while others were simply sat there trembling… many with missing body parts… dazed and in a state of shock… Temporarily mute.

“This is senseless,” remarked another of the crew. “Madness. And you know what I’ve also noticed?”

“What?”

“Well, there seems to be one species of animal on this planet that totally dominates. And they don’t look particularly friendly.”

“And it’s not just their own kind they slaughter, either,” piped up another of the ship’s officers. “Take a look at this, Captain.”

The situation was a kind of small inlet, a cove, into which some water-bound creatures had apparently been corralled. It was so overcrowded that they were panicked, looking for clear water, bumping heavily into one another, causing distress and yet more panic. They, too, made noises, albeit of a different kind. But it was still language. So they were sentient, then.

Some of the dominant animals were floating above the water on small, buoyant structures. Suddenly, it began. Hooks were thrust into the flesh of the sea creatures to hold them fast against the sides of the floating structures. It was at this point that the carving began.

Fountains of lifeblood sprayed from these creatures as their bodies were slowly sawn through. Writhing throughout the ordeal they screamed in agony until something inside them snapped and they were still. Within minutes, ocean blue had turned to crimson. There was silence among the crewmembers.

“I can’t believe what I’ve just witnessed,” the Captain said solemnly.

He exchanged looks with his crew.

But it was not over yet. Further atrocities were to come.

In a building where another, smaller animal species was “processed”, the dominant animals were ripping their hides off right over their heads before throwing their helpless, quivering bodies on to piles of their unfortunate comrades.

Meanwhile, in another part of the planet, hundreds of airborne machines were dropping explosives on to a city where barely a single building remained intact. Countless numbers of the dominant animal cowered amongst the rubble, beneath the few flimsy structures that were still standing, protecting their young.

“This species is sick, Captain.”

Unable to take any more, the Captain instructed the live streaming to stop.

“Send the probe back to the place we started,” he ordered. “I need to restore my sanity.”

At breakneck speed, the probe traversed half the globe, returning in a matter of minutes to the exact coordinates where it had begun its survey.

“Make it do a slow tour,” said the Captain.

Immediately, their screens were filled with lush vegetation, arboreal backdrops, the chattering of a variety of different animal species participating in a holistic system, undisturbed by the dominant animal. The serenity was augmented by the soft sound of creeks and streams that bubbled over rock on their way to the vast expanse of the ocean.

It was a moment of supreme tranquility, one that tried hard to restore their optimism.

“Are we going in, Captain?”

He thought for a moment, then:

“Regrettably, I think we’ll have to give this one a swerve. Recall the probe.”

“Yeah– shame. It has such wondrous natural resources, as well. So beautiful. Like a jewel hanging in space. A noble stone. If only it weren’t for those animals.”

The probe returned and the Captain fired up the boosters, taking the ship out of orbit.

“So long, sweet rock.”

“What was it called again?”

“Earth.”

 

© Kirk Austin

14-Jan-2015

posted by Kirk at 9:34 am  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Proximate Cause

“I don’t want this! …I don’t want this! No! I beg you… Please, I beg you. Nooooo! Pleeeeeease…”

 

His voice is like that of a child lost in the woods; the terrible sounds that escape from him sufficient, surely, to send an irresistible request to all humanity:

 

HALT PROCEEDINGS.

 

Yet his pleas go unheard. He’d been strangely calm all along, until the final few minutes. Now he’s shuffling along as he begs; as he implores. Impeded by restraints that bind him at the calves; thrusting plexicuffed hands uncomfortably to the fore. Shuffling to a place he has no desire to reach– why should anyone be forced to walk to his own execution chamber?

 

He wants to be dragged there, screaming.

 

There’s some unwanted, wizened coot in fancy dress droning on in his ear about one god or other, but the condemned man is an atheist. He wants to tell the believer – the loser – to go to hell. He is weak, though; he also wants redemption– a pardon from god – any god – in all of whom, or perhaps which, belief evades him. Such is the sparsity of courage when it is really needed. They fix him to the gurney– instinctively he wriggles, struggling to free himself, but those binds are tight. The sweat is now pouring from his brow.

 

Beyond the one-way mirror an audience is assembled; some of its members wearing looks of concern. Of guilt, even. Others who are unable to hide their excitement at what they’re about to witness. It’s that grimmest of attributes; a ghoulish trait which causes drivers to slow at the site of a car crash; that teases the crease of a smile to dance around the lips when one bears witness to a tragedy.

 

At 05:30 Waktu Indonesia Tengah precisely, the wicked deed is done. Five fingers from five unseen hands depress five discrete plungers, only two of which will release the drugs that form the lethal cocktail. They used to use firing squads here; the damned being ferried overnight to remoter islands where they breakfasted on full metal jackets. But Kerobokan High Security Prison has recently been privatised; its new foreign JV partners having modernised the facility. Made it more “humane” with a morbid makeover.

 

For a few moments, nothing happens in the chamber. But then there begins a shuffling in the row of seats outside. An awkwardness amongst the voyeurs as some notice that the man behind the glass is starting to tremble. The trembling increases in intensity, then surges to a crescendo of wild spasmodic jerks before subsiding, once more, to milder shudders. Rising/falling, rising/falling, the macabre breakdance of death continues for fully thirty minutes.

 

The onlookers cannot hear the muted screams that accompany this spectacle, nor see the grinding of the teeth. This is no longer the blubbering of fears realised; of terror: it is the sonic release of agony unbridled. Neither can they imagine the mix of blood and gore that is sloshing round inside him as his organs are slowly commingled with the blend of circulating toxins. The execution is taking so long to reach its conclusion that a sense of irritability begins to cloak the gathering of the vengeful; the parents of ruined kids. The feeling dawns that this drawn-out exhibition of cruelty was not, after all, what they signed up for. That revenge should be swift as well as sweet.

 

They are rescued from their unease when a fountain of scarlet bile coughs its way out of his lungs and at last the man is stilled. By the time the doctor – strange application of the word – enters the chamber to pronounce him dead, they are readying themselves for departure to workplaces, hotels and homes.

 

It is officially over. Proximate cause of death: alcohol led to sex led to unwanted birth led to abandonment led to alienation led to the miracle of love led to sudden, irreversible illness led to crime led to conviction, incarceration, and to now. With a dusting of unendurable tragedy along the way.

 

The End.

 

*

 

…let’s start with the fact that i didn’t choose to be born. so none of what happened can be directly attributed to me. i wasn’t the proximate cause: my parents were. parents i never met, by the way; nor wanted to. yet now that i sit here on death row it occurs to me that i don’t particularly want to die, either. occurs to me just about every minute, in fact. every second.

 

it’s too soon– i’m too young. everyone deserves a second chance on the road to redemption. depends on what they’ve done, you’re saying. well indulge me in a little fantastical interlude here for a moment. you’re speaking of “justice”, right? well if there was any justice in this shitty life, no kids would ever starve, no bombs would be dropped on terrified citizenries in far flung, tin pot despotates (they’re suffering enough already, aren’t they?) no one’s loved ones would die before their time and no one would be sitting here like me, facing a disproportionate punishment for my crime, to be “made an example of”. a warning to others, yes– that’s what i am: a warning. not a person deserving of mercy; not flesh and blood, no– just a symbol of what the authorities can do if you step out of line in the way that i did. a message; an expression of their irresistible power. and cruelty; evil.

 

see while some might dispute the fact, i never took a life in my life. yet now they’ll take mine from me. and not in a merciful way, either: no guillotine; no unexpected bullet in the back of the head while i sleep, no. methods have “improved”, these days. things are more “humane”. and so it’ll be carried out by way of an untested cocktail of drugs that’ll conspire to put me through a spell of torture as i writhe about, shackled to the gruesome gurney.

 

why such cruelty? man, that’s why. the ultimate grinning torturer, world’s greatest sadistic voyeur, lustful for riveting spectacles like my impending, life-ending ordeal.

 

the whole thing’ll be stage-managed, of course. from the long walk down the corridor from my cell, to the deliberate and drawn-out tethering to the bed of no return, to the gallery of onlookers “concerned to see justice being meted out in as compassionate a way as is humanly possible”. (compassion. now there’s a word…) there will also be those in attendance who’ll be wanting me to suffer. who are there to enjoy the show.

 

another willing attendee, no doubt, will be the clergyman whose task it’ll be to prepare me for that interview when i get to the gates. where i’ll be judged and found worthy and welcomed to the bosom; or otherwise condemned to eternal flames. bull-shit. i don’t believe in none of that baloney. and even if i did, like i said before: i hold myself in no way responsible for what happened. i had no part in my birth and will not be held accountable for anything i did.

 

and what, exactly, was that? i hear you ask.

 

*

 

…the whole thing started about ten years ago, when i was sweet sixteen. more importantly, so was Cherie, who had just entered my life. sweet Cherie she was, too– and when I took Cherie’s cherry there was no looking back. those first couple of years were magic– we seemed to fit together like hand and glove. it was hard to remember a past in which we hadn’t been conjoined: such was the intensity of our interdependency.

 

i enacted the “flunked high school/got a job” cliché and we rented some digs. nothing special but a place we could at least call “ours”. before long, we tried for a baby– we were so carefree, careless in those days: we had no concept of responsibility. all we knew was love. but the baby never came. just as well.

 

then one day Cherie got sick. not no ordinary kind of sickness. this was congenital: it was also serious. the love of my life was dying, prematurely. she needed a new heart. i was determined to get her one.

 

at this point, a little back-story: before emigrating Stateside, Cherie had grown up in a village not far from Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China; the “Middle Kingdom”. the “world’s factory”. its oldest surviving civilisation, allegedly.

 

its civilisation extended these days, as a cursory amount of research was able to reveal, to supplying organs to order. the irony is rich, i know, but death row prisoners were regularly being harvested to satisfy ever-increasing fat cat demand for their body parts. in particular the kidneys, livers, lungs and hearts. their offal, as some might like to think of it. offal fit for pigs. see those overweight, cigar-toking tycoons all around the super-rich Sino seaboard figured they didn’t have to worry about lifestyle choices all the while they could simply order a new internal organ kit any time they wanted.

 

and so my plan was hatched. Cherie didn’t have enough time left to wait for a normal donor so we’d take the other route. having dismissed the moral dilemma out of the sheer necessity of saving her, this plan brought with it a problem of a different type. a financial one. throughout our years together we’d barely put a cent by. how was i suddenly going to find the thirty-k i was now informed it would cost to acquire the “merchandise”?

 

i had no family to turn to; i knew the bank would laugh at any loan request. most of the small number of friends i had were as broke as me. i considered “conventional” crime: smash & grab, armed robbery, straightforward burglary. even kidnap & ransom– all seemed to involve the potential for something with which at no point i’d ever felt comfortable: violence.

 

i needn’t have worried. emerging as the unlikely providers of a truly cradle-to-grave service it was the snakeheads themselves who provided me with the means of funding the whole enterprise. they were heavily into the drug trade: a variety of pills and powders, mostly. and their customer base was expanding beyond the Middle Kingdom’s borders…

 

…once i’d got used to swallowing condoms, the first few runs into Bali were a breeze. i looked the part: took care to always dress down; carried the ubiquitous surf gear around with me at all times. typical beach bum: that sort of look. but i became complacent. blasé to the potential for trouble; for getting caught. and when they swooped down on me in the airport that day, with their (very accurate) intel, i was like a babe in the woods; a lamb to the slaughter.

 

it’s clear to me now that the snakeheads had set the whole sting up. i’d accumulated sufficient credit to make the next delivery the last i’d need to partake in. obviously, this is as far as they let you go, i now realise. there had never truly been a moment when i was going to get that heart. how naïve i’d been to ever imagine they’d orchestrated my fundraising for anyone’s benefit but their own!

 

not that it provides any comfort, but there must’ve been dozens before me who suffered the same fate. those, like me, who came to know the operation and the individuals operating within it too well and who, similarly, were disposed of to make way for a new intake of innocents. and so it was that i found myself tossed together with a collection of fellow disenfranchised souls. in a newly brutalised super-jail and in a merciless jurisdiction to boot.

 

it was at this moment that my sense of desolation was compounded by the heartbreaking news: my Cherie had died. the shameless screw who delivered it offered no apology at the grin that spread across his face. had i possessed the strength to carry on i’d have put his head right through the wall. but i was defeated; bereft of the will to fight.

 

which brings us to today, and the sealing of my fate. the intervening period has been unremarkable: at times i have willed time to fly. yet now i want it to stop; want the Earth to cease revolving. i’ve begun to feel this is all a terrible injustice, just at the moment when time has run out, as the cell door is opening… and the guards are coming in…

posted by Kirk at 11:32 am  

Friday, December 30, 2011

dream: 41

in the dream there is a boulder
of the shape and size
that might block the entrance
to a cave

for some reason
he ascribes the number 41
to the rock

to one side of the boulder is a void
to which, for equally obscure reasons
he ascribes the number “10”
10, the age of his elder son
41+10=51; his current age

he replays the events
of the past 10 years
in his mind

recalling his absences
from his son’s life
and the impact
these must have made
on the boy’s development

gradually, he drifts into uneasy sleep

posted by Kirk at 1:25 am  

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Trench

the trench was deep
but there was a ladder
he clambered roughly two thirds of the way up
tiring as he went

then with each step he trod
it seemed as though
another rung was added to the top
while the ladder sank further
into the mud below

high above
a bird fluttered left to right
west to east
o, for wings!

he slid down and sat, cross-legged
on the damp, uncomfortable earth
his mind oscillating
between hope and despair

posted by Kirk at 4:55 am  

Monday, October 31, 2011

hedge cutter

we served him at our table,
the old guy from Bihar who cut our hedges.
he savoured every morsel as if it might be his last.
and with every mouthful savoured i felt sadder.
why was it that the world was so cruel
and full of greed and anguish?
we sent him on his way with a bag of goodies
and he left with a smile
to cut more hedges

posted by Kirk at 7:54 am  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two Roads

The roads are shining, blinding white.
But there are two ways
Tell me my man, which one is right?

(by Aldo Austin, aged 10)

posted by Kirk at 12:31 pm  

Friday, September 30, 2011

frustration is a dagger with its point awaiting to pierce the throat of reason

posted by Kirk at 10:42 am  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

feel

how does a blind man see a naked woman?

posted by Kirk at 8:54 am  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

untitled (6)

he laid next to his wife
and draped a leg over her
he touched her hair
smelled its perfume on his fingers
drew in breath
and smiled, inside

from outside, quite close
came the sound of gunfire

he clutched her as tightly as he could
with all the strength he had

posted by Kirk at 5:49 pm  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

untitled (5)

the point of no return
became the point from where he returned,
because he refused it

he had been driven there
by forces, unnatural and dark

there was cacophony everywhere
and pain

but when he looked about
he saw also there was love
which, after all, filled his own heart

he no longer minded
those unreturned looks
that laughed
and marked him down a fool

and he grew strong again

posted by Kirk at 9:29 am  
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