Issue X -- Australian Writers

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Read about the contributors to our tenth issue and see excerpts from each article or story.  

Issue X Contents 

Baa Humbug -- Dr. Terry Dartnall

According to Dr. Terry Dartnall, this story is based on an actual event in recent Australian history and after all, we can't have an Australian issue without sheep!

Side Effects -- Jack Wodhams

Justifying the dollars for scientific research to an auditor can be both soul searching and have surprising consequences, as Teri discovers.

To That Which Kills -- Keith Stevenson

When two divisions -- Research and Colony find the same attractions on one planet, there are bound to be conflicts and the fate of the already endangered indigenous life can be overlooked, unless, like Jaclyn their future is more important than your career.

Making a Difference -- Dave Luckett

The predator species in the galaxy are not restricted to humanity. In fact, humanity may be the hunted more often than the hunter. 

Desiree -- Stephen Dedman

The perfect female companion. But Sebastian discovers that to keep her he must make a choice -- a choice few people twice his age can make easily.

Lady of the Flies -- Rob Hood

Is Erin crazy, as Lana believes, or is there more to the sudden plague of flies than she knows, or can comprrehend?

New Talk -- Richard Harland

The story of Cria draws upon Richard Harland's comprehensive knowledge of both linguistics and anthropology. He tells us that although the practices of Cria's tribe may seem strange to the point of impossible, they are related to practices known to exist in several societies. Diplomatically, Richard declined to name those societies. 

Baa Humbug © 2003 Dr. Terry Dartnall

Dr. Terry Dartnall teaches Artificial Intelligence at Griffith University, Brisbane. He is married with four children and enjoys rock climbing and red wine. 

We put cyanide in their water.  They drank it like it was straight from the spring.  We tried starving ‘em, which wasn’t hard.  It ain’t rained up here for months an’ the ground’s parched and brown.  That didn’t work neither.  They didn’t eat and they drank cyanide and they flourished.  They’re breedin’ like bloody rabbits.

 There was a dingo got in amongst ‘em a few weeks ago.  It was soon a dead dingo.  We found its body up near the corner of the station.  No obvious cause of death.  There were a few dead roos around too.

Then Bruce went missing...

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Side Effects © 2003 Jack Wodhams  

Jack Wodhams emigrated from London to Australia in 1955 and made his first sale to Analog ten years later. He has worked as a mechanic, bartender, welder and postal employee. 

“We had an opportunity to make a Superman, so, naturally, we took it. It was one of those things. Everything seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Coincidences like that can make a person believe in a conspiracy of fate.”

“You still exceeded your authority, professor," Hadbradt Warschlein chided severely, adjusting his glasses. He was a slight man, absent of bulk, to be possessed of strength only through the bureaucracy he had behind him. “You have absorbed considerable funds, what with extensions and additions. Under the circumstances, the stewards have been most generous.”

Hadbradt blinked at Teri Molton. He projected the hurt of an accountant who perceives underachieving figures. “This generosity has been based entirely upon your over-ambitious reports.”

“Generosity? Hah!” Teri waved a despairing hand. “If we had had generosity, we could have engaged more than one subject. What did you say your name was?” She took another look at the card she had been given. “Oh yes, Warschlein. Well, Mister Warschlein, if we had been generously funded, we wouldn’t have had to put all our eggs in one basket, would we? As it is, we did our utmost to maximize the value of the funds we did receive. And we did well – remarkably well.”

Hadbradt was unimpressed by Teri’s assertiveness. “The end result has been most disappointing.”

“We got results,” Teri proclaimed, vexed. “We have learnt something, a great deal. We have gained wisdom and ... and a superlative mastery of technique. My goodness, compared to our gains in insight, the outlay amounts to no more than a pittance.”

Hadbradt remained stoically unpersuaded. “Has your experimenting transpired to provide us any usable product, any advantageous modifications, any, well, ascendancy in the field of your specialty?”

“Knowledge,” Teri stated, feeling badgered. “Our knowledge in the discipline of gene-splicing has been expanded enormously.”

“But seemingly with no prospect of some material return.”

“It’s research!” Teri exploded warmly. “It’s research the same as any other research.”

“Not quite,” Hadbradt demurred primly. “Most research is towards some realizable goal. You have had three years, and you appear to have come to a dead-end, to have extremely little to show for your efforts.”

“Little to show?” He took Teri’s breath away. “We have masses of data. Look,” she said, “I had six years with Ultragenic before I was begged to take this position. I was promised full support.”

Hadbradt was unmoved. “I think you have scant grounds for complaint. From my appraisal, you have received more than adequate backing.”

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To That Which Kills © 2003 Keith Stevenson

Keith Stevenson is the editor of Aurealis -- the Australian science fiction., fantasy  and horror magazine. His writing credits include several pieces published on the Nuketown web site and a short story in the Agog Fantastic Fiction anthology.

She had thought it would be an easy climb.  But three months of gently upward curving decks had made her more than usually wary of steep, angled planes and sheer drops. Jac edged herself to the lip of the escarpment, dipping her head and shoulders bird-like back and forward, building confidence with each nod to look over the edge.  Then she saw forest canopy far below.  Dazzling, lush greenness hooked her after such a long transit.  No wonder Colony wanted this place so bad.

“You’re not supposed to be up here.”

Startled, she pulled back from the edge, stumbled, and fell into waiting arms.

“Especially while you still have your space legs,” the voice finished.  She looked up at the face above her, framed by deep azure sky.  Tanned, lined, older. A strong face, but not unpleasant even if it was upside down..  She turned and extended a hand.

“Thanks, I’m Jaclyn Tumael.”

Her savior brushed past her to the edge and, leaning out over one sinewed leg, beckoned her closer.  “You were after your first glimpse I take it.”

She hesitated to go so near to the edge again.

“Come on, I’ll hold you.  You’ll be quite safe.”  He flashed a brilliant smile, and she knew she would be.  “It’s something you shouldn’t miss,” he coaxed.

His hands circled both her arms just below the shoulders, and she looked out over the edge.  A hundred metres below, a Gren launched itself from the breeding ledges.  She caught her breath as it fell ten, twenty metres until the updraft stretched tight the membrane between its front and rear limbs and carried it in a lazy spiral far above its starting point.

“Wondrous, aren’t they,” the man whispered in her ear.  She felt the same thrill running down her spine that she heard in his voice.

Her mouth was dry as she watched the creature wheel in the sky.  It was like watching music.  The fluid movements of the creature were utterly entrancing. By comparison she’d never felt so earthbound. 

Suddenly, the long tapered body jack-knifed and plunged downwards in a tight spiral towards a slow moving dot far below.  It came out of the spin in a perfect arc right on top of its prey.  There was a jolt in the smooth flight path; an impossible tangle of arms, legs, and wings; and a tortured screeching carried to her on the wind.  Then the membrane spread full against the thick atmosphere again and the Gren was rising, but slowly this time and with a heavy burden. 

The hands drew her back from the cliff edge.  “You’re very lucky,” the man said.  They don’t often hunt this time of day.  Come on.  It’s time to go below and rejoin the others.”  And he started off down the track leading away from the escarpment.

Jac fell in stepped, dazed by what she’d seen. She was still discerning enough to know she’d been caught where she shouldn’t have been however.  “Uh, you won’t report me,” she asked.  “To the supervisor, I mean.”

The smile came again.  Jac liked it.  It was a nice smile.  “No, I don’t need to do that."

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Making a Difference © 2003 Dave Luckett

Dave Luckett was born in Sydney, New South Wales, and refuses to alter that, despite temptation. He migrated to Perth, Western Australia, by five different trains at a time when the West coast of Australia was no more than a device for tripping up Dutch navigators. (Dave tells us the last sentence, like the current Australian government, contains several Australian jokes) He has ten books of SF and fantasy out in Australia for younger readers and has three books coming out in the US this fall and next year. He is married, with one child, or when the wind is right, two, including himself.

Fecund Enjoyment calculated. This would require patience and subtlety. The prey was approaching, but it was either doing it with great caution or else its technology was primitive. Objective velocity was barely eight to the third times C – certainly low enough to imply the latter, but perhaps not. Fecund’s sensors were having some difficulty refining the data. That hyperdrive was stealthed, to some extent, though the ship seemed to be unarmed. But the general conformation … well.

A high-gravity field was being used, yet the proportions of the hull compared to the polarity of the field suggested a life-form that was taller than it was wide. The two shouldn’t go together, but the galaxy was full of odd things. She consulted her records. 

Ah, that explained it. It was one of the endoskeletal forms, for sure. Such a combination was associated with them. They were only occasionally encountered, though – they had such difficulty climbing out of the gravity wells in which they had evolved, after all. To the Yradrinic, who had left gravity wells far, far behind them, those species endowed with endoskeletons were a minority group much less important than the mollusks. Fecund had known mollusks who appreciated electrolysis-art and subscribed to waterscent concerts and collected antique microprocessors. Civilized shellfish who’d discoursed to her of philosophy and science. Briefly, before she’d eaten them.

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Desiree © 2003 Stephen Dedman

Stephen Dedman is the author of the novels The Art of Arrow Cutting, Foreign Bodies and Shadows Bite. He has won the Aurealis and Ditmar awards and has been nominated for many others including the British Science Fiction Association Award. He lives in Western Australia and enjoys reading, travel, movies, talking to cats and startling people.

The CD-Rom was labelled ‘Venus: Shareware Version 2.0’, with a Chinasoft logo.  “What is it?” Sebastian asked, looking at the blank case. “A flight simulator?”

Frank shook his head, then looked around the library furtively and whispered. “Better than that. Have you ever heard of the Venus Database?”

 

“No. What is it?”

“It’s probably an urban myth, but it’s supposed to be a program somewhere that will find your perfect partner for you.”

Sebastian looked at him dubiously. “They keep a register of blind chubby chasers?”

 

“Ha ha.” Neither of them had been genetically engineered, but like most Millenium babies whose parents could afford a full medical insurance package, they’d been vaccinated against acne before hitting their teens, and surgery had given them near-perfect teeth and vision.  However, both were asthmatic, and Frank was as obese as Sebastian was scrawny; he was also nearly three inches taller, but Sebastian smelled better when he remembered to wash.

 

“Like I said,” Frank continued, “the database is probably just another myth, but anyway, this is better.  It makes your perfect partner.” Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “Okay, a computer simulation, not the body or anything, but the graphics are excellent, and she has a personality, too.”

 

Sebastian stared at the CD, which was slightly larger than a quarter. “Yeah, I bet.”

 

“That’s just the start-up; you have to download the rest from their website.”

“And how much does that cost?”

“It’s a demo. Shareware. You know Chinasoft."

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Lady of the Flies © 2003 Rob Hood

Robert Hood has been described by Aurealis magazine as 'one of Australia's leading horror authors.' He has been writing and publishing in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres for several decades. His stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Aurealis, Rolling Stone and Aboriginal. He is an active member of the SFWA. His website is at www.roberthood.net

“What was that?”

Lana Kemp looked up from her plastic tray of nori rolls. Something had buzzed past her ear. Sun glare reflected off huge walls of glass on the opposite side of the park and all she could see against it was a blue streak.

“What was what?” asked her office buddy Erin Stanton through a mouthful of bagel. Erin was uncomfortably gaunt, even by modern fashion standards, yet she seemed to eat often and a lot. Her hair was black and short, and though her clothes were fashionable they always managed to look slightly wrong, as though they didn't quite fit her. She was a strange person, exuding an air of being continually lost. Lana liked having her around -- for the contrast, if nothing else. She made Lana feel competent and interesting.

“An insect, I think. Odd one. Sort of bluish.”

“Probably a beetle.” Erin also fancied herself an amateur entomologist and her statement had an air of condescension about it. “In what way was it odd?”

“I don't know. It was freaky, that’s all.”

“Freaky? Can’t you be a bit more scientific?” Erin’s manner suggested a nagging impatience with her friend’s ignorance.

“For God’s sake,” Lana snapped. “It just didn’t look normal, all right?” What was it with Erin and insects anyway? Lana reckoned any woman with Erin’s passion for bugs badly needed to get laid; and to the best of her knowledge Erin hadn’t been out on a date for months, perhaps years. If she could just drag her attention back to important things – “There!" Lana yelled. She lashed out, pointing with her chopsticks, as the insect snapped into view. Its dark body and blurred wings swerved around the sticks ... and disappeared again, right in front of her eyes. “You see that? Gone!”

“They sure move fast.” Erin’s pixie face screwed up into a frown. “Some insects can travel at over 120 miles an hour, you know! They create these amazing convection phenomena on a micro-level – ”

“There it is again!” interrupted Lana.

The insect swung around Erin’s head, as though reconnoitering a landing in her hair. “Eew!” she squealed, surprised by its closeness. Her flailing hand sideswiped it. Feeling its spiky presence on her skin, she reacted by pulling away fast. But one of the insect’s wings had been crushed; it wobbled out of its trajectory, dive-bombing into the grass.

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New Talk © 2003 Richard Harland

Before becoming a full time writer, Richard Harland was a professor researching theories of language. He has published three science fiction novels with Pan MacMillan and  three fantasy novels with Penguin. More details of his stories can be found on his website at www.richardharland.net

What had happened? What had he said? Cria stared at the strange being in silvery fabric who stood facing her, barely four paces away.

She had crept up for a look at the long-legged sky-craft, never imagining that any of the silvers remained inside. They were all supposed to be at a meeting with the males of her tribe. When one descended the ladder from the oval doorway, she had been paralyzed with shock and fear. He had caught sight of her, had approached and spoken to her in an alien language. He was about to speak to her again!

But someone else spoke first. A hoarse shout in her own language.

“Cria! Come away!”

She spun around and saw Gleb, his face peering out from the bushes. He must have been following her! He looked appalled, aggressive, frightened, all at the same time. He hadn’t even channeled!

But now he did. He stepped out onto the path and made the gesture of opening the airway with his arms. Channeling speech from him to her.

“Forbidden! Come away!”

Although Gleb had neither seniority nor special authority in her family, it was unthinkable for Cria to disobey the direct order of a male. She hung her head and retraced her steps along the path. She passed Gleb, who then walked behind as though to protect her from the silver. She didn’t look back, but her ears told her the strange being had made no move to follow. He hadn’t spoken again either.

What unbelievable bad luck, for Gleb to have spotted her! She had been in trouble before, but never as bad as this. She had actually made Gleb call out her name. How he would have hated that! He must have been desperate when the silver spoke those incomprehensible syllables.

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