Monday, 2 May 2016

"Bottom of the Barrel"

When I'm not dealing with Hurricane Celeste, I write fiction. It's been a hobby of mine for years, on and off. With Celeste down for the night (cross-fingers), I started thinking of the first story I ever got accepted by a magazine: "Bottom of the Barrel". It started just as a stab at humorous flash fiction, mainly to prove to my wife that I could write something that wasn't bleak. The real joke was that it got accepted straight away (by Lakeside Magazine) and all of the other stuff struggled through multiple rewrites.

It seemed to do quite well; they even described it as one of the most popular of that anthology. Despite my pretentious to being the next Steven King, my funny stuff always seems to go down better.

Anyway, for memory's sake, I've added it below (you can tell by reading it the sort of films I watched when I was little!)


Bottom of the Barrel”

Frankly, I don’t rate my chances very highly. Of all the people to try, I am probably the least worthy and the least likely to succeed. I suspect that I have less than thirty minutes until it all starts. My efforts, and most probably my life, will be over seconds after that.

It all started when Gigalith the Destroyer descended from the sky in a roar of violet flame into the heart of New York. I'm not going to pretend that I was there when it happened, like so many of my colleagues used to do. When that colossal machine arrived, I was presenting a rather derivative paper at an obscure conference, attended by three colleagues from my own laboratory and another scientist who showed no interest and just coughed loudly throughout my presentation. The first I knew of Gigalith’s visitation was on my hotel room's television when I saw the hundred foot tall robot standing in Central Park, gleaming imperiously in the early sunrise.

I even managed to miss it when the Destroyer rampaged through the city, destroying every structure with flashes of deadly energy that pulsed from its expressionless black eyes.

Of course, the military fought back – furiously and skilfully, it must be said. Gigalith shrugged off every shell, rocket and bullet without pause and used the flame jets to leap through the atmosphere to Chicago. Again it stood silent and motionlessly for a whole day, weathering the pounding explosions of increasingly desperate military forces, before rampaging unchecked through the evacuated buildings of the Windy City.

The nuclear warhead that they dropped on Chicago didn't even scuff the shiny metal shell. It was insulting how little attention the robot paid to the glowing mushroom cloud as it strode casually through its incandescent heart.
Step forwards Doctor Richard Stanhauser – one of the greatest scientific minds of our generation. Volunteering immediately after Chicago’s incineration, he and his team were put to work in a military lab and rapidly produced a powerful multi-spectrum laser capable of reducing a Main Battle Tank to glowing slag in seconds. The Destroyer had reached Toyko by that point and Doctor Stanhauser raced ahead of it to set up his laser in its path. I'm told that the battle itself was both terrible and wonderful. When the gigantic laser powered up, Toyko’s neon lights dimmed in a disturbing ripples of darkness and, when the weapon fired, the air along the laser’s path ionised into a bewildering spectrum of colours. It’s just a pity that it didn't work and Gigalith the Destroyer stamped Stanhauser, his support team and the multi-spectrum laser into the asphalt.

I think that’s when the military really started to panic. They called a huge conference whilst Gigalith was busy destroying Mexico City and ordered “all scientists” to attend it. Geology is a fine field of study, but generating useful ideas on combating monsters from outer space is probably outside of their normal remit. It was during either this conference or the next that Professor Karen Douglas, the eminent chemist, was chosen to find a way to defeat the robot.

Her plan to use a top secret gaseous compound that rapidly corroded metal was ingenious. The “Formula X” gas reduced Mexico City’s abandoned cars to scattered atoms in seconds, but did nothing at all to the towering machine. Rumour said that there wasn't enough of her ashes left to fill a matchbox.
Since then, increasingly panicked global conferences have selected particle physicists (proton beams don’t work), volcanologists (neither do erupting volcanoes) and mathematicians (the Destroyer is uninterested in devious paradoxes or logic puzzles) and none of them have had any success whatsoever. It’s been two years now. I’d say that we were scraping the bottom of the barrel, but we went past that point some time ago. We’re now at the point where even an unattractive, unsuccessful scientist like me can seem appealing.

Obviously, someone has been reading a little too much War of the Worlds, because it’s been decided that a microbiologist would be just the ticket to defeat an extra-terrestrial enemy. It’s a pity that no-one bothered to ask me what sort of microbe I worked with before they abandoned me in the path of the Destroyer.

I really hope that Gigalith has an allergy to brewer’s yeast, otherwise I'm in a lot of trouble.

No comments:

Post a Comment