Friday, 2 October 2020


Darwinium was accidentally created in the search for stable superheavy elements. Its atomic number is 288, and it has at least fifty isotopes with half-lives of more than a microsecond. That may seem a short duration, but in its brief life it is able to catalyse the combination of ordinary heavy elements to form more darwinium and other superheavy darwinides whose properties vary in many ways, and which can induce each other's transmutation or disintegration. The resulting intense process of natural selection, with upwards of 100,000 generations per second, has resulted in the rapid creation of entirely new forms of matter, faster than human understanding can keep pace with.

Fortunately, it has not yet evolved the ability to digest any of the lighter elements. The few samples in existence have been isolated in aluminium containers, within which the finite resources cause the evolution to eventually peter out. The samples now appear to be quiescent, but there is no known way of destroying them. They have been able to absorb all the high-energy particles we have bombarded them with.

Theoretical calculations suggest that the introduction of as little of 1 gram of the heaviest ordinary elements might allow darwinide to evolve the ability to digest every element down to hydrogen. Some argue that it is our moral duty to release the darwinide so that it may progress to transmute the entire planet and beyond into new life-forms beyond our imagination.

Thursday, 27 August 2020


I was at the airport when it happened, waiting to fly out to the UN Emergency Conference on, well, everything. Failure of all the Covid vaccines. The Indo-Chinese war. Escalating threats from the other nuclear powers. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano.

An announcement came over the PA system. “Attention all passengers. Civilisation has fallen. Passengers should only embark if travelling directly home. Once all remaining flights have departed this airport will close permanently. Personal message for Dr. Brezoianu. The conference has been abandoned, because what’s the point? Apologies for the inconvenience.”

I walked out of the airport and drove home, to wait for the end.

Image credit: Marcin Bajer, abandoned airportCC BY-NC 2.0

Friday, 10 April 2020


The querkleyhew (Querculus arrigiosus) is the pride of the tree-lined avenues of London. It sheds its boughs wherever they extend more than a few yards from the trunk, and at a certain height, the upthrusting members terminate themselves similarly. The exposed wounds heal into lumpy nodules that host nitrogen-fixing bacteria. It is the only tree known to do this. Every spring it grows clusters of thin shoots from these terminations, shedding them in autumn.

The nodules exude resins which are harvested for use in incense. In former times they were also, by the mediaeval doctrine of signatures, favoured as a salve for amputees. The shoots would be gathered by basketmakers and woven into charms against wounds in battle.

The uninformed mistake this curious habit of growth for over-zealous pruning.

Image: Quercleyhews on London streets, not far from the Tate Britain gallery.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Tant con je vivrai

Grey fingers of dawn opened the sky. Dew lifted from grass into drifting mist. The body of a man, three crossbow bolts protruding from his armour.

More bodies, hundreds, scattered over the meadow.

One lay against a tree. He gasped and opened his eyes, grimacing as his hand tightened on his sword. A body lay across his leg, too heavy to shift. 

"As long as I shall live..." he began. He paused, drew breath again. "My right hand shall defend thee."

"As long as I shall live, our love shall live."

"As long—"

Above the silent battlefield, the crows began to arrive.

This was inspired by the song “Tant con je vivrai” (“As long as I shall live”) by Adam de la Halle. The song is about something completely different, but the cold performance linked here fits the mood.

The story has also appeared on Laurence Simon’s Weekly Challenge.

Image credit: Gunnar Lundström, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Saturday, 5 October 2019


Medjool the Watcher stands at the Gate of the World. The centuries crowd there, eager for admittance. But Medjool decides.
In Aegypt, Medjool let a handful of centuries play for three thousand years, then let newer centuries sweep them away. In the Southern Continent, Medjool allowed a single century forty millennia, then banished it to the void.
The centuries come so fast now, that each brings some new wonder into the world. Some say that Medjool no longer stands watch, and the centuries press through the Gate pell-mell. Surely the Fûm is upon us, the chaotic end of all things.


The scholar-cleric with his furrowed brow
That labours long to pierce the ancients’ thought
Whose learning’s but a library of scrolls
And never once the truth of things has sought;
Who reads one argument and sets it by
Another passage arguing against,
Then other fragments brings from other books
And writes a new work patch’d from all the old,
Yet never steps outside to see the things
Of which these authors wrote—such dullards all
Know nothing of entangling with the Real:
Such is the only road to knowledge sure.

Better to make one observation new
Than endlessly debate about the True.

Friday, 6 September 2019


“Americano and a croissant,” I said. The barista started working her arcane magic with the espresso machine. Then the telephone rang behind the counter. She listened a while, then replied, “Well, you need to speak to Sue about that, although if I was you I’d leave it until— no, don't bother Steve, he'll just say no, but if Sue isn’t in today ... yes, I see what you’re saying, but then it would have to go through Julia in Accounts, but it’s not really her job, and the supplier was really annoyed that they couldn't handle it last week, so if I was you...” and I stopped listening.

The espresso machine hissed and popped and clicked and shut down. The coffee began to cool. The sun set and rose and set again. I fainted from hunger and thirst. My corpse mouldered and was eaten by feral cats. Civilisation fell. An asteroid impact brought on an ice age. Humanity devolved into bands of apes roaming the tropical tundra. After untold aeons the climate warmed again. Intelligence was once more kindled. The new humans invented fire, agriculture, metallurgy, science. Civilisation rose. Coffee was rediscovered, and cafes and espresso machines reinvented.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” said the barista. “Have an extra stamp on your discount card.”