Novel

Apparently everyone has at least one good novel inside them. This is even meant to be true of Barbara Cartland - but sometimes statistical rules break-down!

Taking this principle at face value I did spend some while developing a novel that was, I was certain, destined to become a classic within the english speaking world.

Tragically, I lost the plot (in more ways than one!), and the great work remains in a somewhat "embryonic state". I share with the World the first few chapters of the said work, in the hope that it may generate an obscenely large advance from a quality publisher - which I am sure would sufficiently stimulate my creative juices for its completion.

Chapter 1 follows - or link to the chapter of choice;

Chapter - 2 - - 3 - - 4



The Life, Death and Subsequent Difficulties of Arthur Fenikx

© Stephen March, May 1995

Chapter One - Not an unimportant entry

Context is very important - the same words in two different conversations, the same actions but in two different situations - and the received message can be calcium carbonate and cheddar. Some combinations are synergetic and the resulting impression is re-inforced, other combinations are parasitic, components of the message oppose each other and dilute the overall impression. It was very clear to Arthur that, in this case, the words he was seeing and the manner of their delivery very much synergised - enough to knock him from hell to breakfast.

Arthur had long since lost curiosity in the computer screen that crouched blinking before him, after a very brief fascination with the theory of phospho-luminescence, refresh rates and pixels...

What a stupid name, Pixel. It sounds like the nomenclature corresponding to pubescent pixies. - It is an interesting trait, but you can actually tell if a particular technology is in its infancy, by the simple method of examining the names that its practitioners are giving to its buzzwords. If the names can generally be described as "off the wall", then it's a fair bet that the practitioners are still in an over-excitable state and giggling like schoolboys over what they're discovering. This state leads them to think that it is a VERY BIG JOKE to give something an odd name. e.g. Cyberspace - PLEASE! [This fact has been brought to you by our sponsors "Jettison Technologies - Masters of the throwaway line."]...

Arthur had, like most normal people, rapidly developed the ability to ignore the technology, (and the better the technology the easier it is to ignore), and now only considered the data and not the delivery system.

He had watched countless thousands of lines of text appear at the bottom of the screen and hop their way to the top and into oblivion, like some glow worm formation dance team. So it wasn't the manner of the delivery that caused him to swallow his doughnut whole and spill his coffee in his lap - an activity causing double-ended discomfort.

Pattern recognition is one of the few things that the human brain still does better than a computer. It's a tremendously hard thing to explain how we do it, but we do it. It's like breathing, about the only way to make it a problem is to think about it, and then you can rapidly find yourself short of breath or hyper ventilating. If you ignore it then your body's resident programming handles it effortlessly. Those who worry about their breathing are pretty well doomed to long nights of fitful sleep, sensitive to the first sign of any shallowing or hack. The rest of us will sleep ridiculously deeply, with never so much as a cough - (who says God hasn't got a sense of humour). But while pattern recognition can hardly be thought as crucial an activity as breathing, it is equally instinctive. One of the first written patterns that we learn to recognise is our own name. Arthur had spotted his own name on the computer screen and although normally this would have only mildly surprised him, there was something about the presentation that had given his name the impact of a smack in the mouth with a wet haddock.

One of the first things that we recognise, after mom and dad and food, (not necessarily in that order of preference), is colour - in fact one of Arthur's earliest recollections of puzzlement was wondering whether orange was a colour before it was a fruit, (i.e. do we call orange orange because it's the colour of an orange, or are oranges oranges because they're, well, orange). But the colour of the day for Arthur, was red - an important colour, the colour to which the human brain is most sensitive, a colour used throughout history to signify importance or danger. A colour used within the departments database to carry a highly significant message, for in the aide-memoire blu-tacked to the side of his VDU was the colour-key, beginning with the line

RED - DECEASED

Arthur Fenikx was electronically dead.

Arthur was first-hand discovering that doughnuts have only minimal respiratory properties. As he attempted to sluice it down with coffee he was left with an unpleasant burning sensation in his throat- too hot coffee and too much doughnut. While the pain subsided he pondered on the fact that this was entirely the wrong time to undergo such a nasty shock, this type of occurrence at 8-45 am could rapidly shoot a hole in the foot of your day.

Gradually the shock diminished and turned to bemusement as Arthur considered what he should do. He checked the data again, the name, address, DOB etc. indicated that the individual marked down as a no-longer-person, was definitely him - but how had the mistake been made? Well, this was not a problem, Arthur would just edit the file and re-animate himself, Arthur smiled at the somewhat Frankenstinian overtone. He staccatoed in the appropriate command sequence

ENTRY ERROR "FENIKX ARTHUR: DECEASED" - ERASE DECEASED:

Arthur pressed ENTER, the screen cleared and then filled with the text

USER LEVEL INSUFFICIENT - REQUEST FIELD 2 AMENDMENT DATA PROCESSOR LEVEL 2 AND ABOVE

"!!!**!**!" Arthur said to himself, (which is actually quite difficult to pronounce), "Of course!". Arthur had risen only to the dizzy height of DP level 5, and as such had no clearance to make major changes to the database, he would have to get the senior department manager to make the changes. This was a bit disquieting as it would involve other people having to know about the 'cock up'. The managers' secretary then the manager himself, and by the time Arthur had gotten out of the office, the story would be all round the DP suite. There would be stupid comments, people humming the death march, jokes about how the computer just assumed he was dead because he was working so slowly, how he hadn't looked well for a long time and it was probably a just a relief for everyone now that he'd passed on, what's it like on the other side etc. etc. oh deary deary me, thought Arthur, it's going to be a very long day.

As there was no point in putting off the inevitable, Arthur got up and headed towards the supervisors office in a resigned manner, as he turned away a message appeared on his terminal

USER DELETED : TERMINAL SHUTDOWN COMMENCING

Arthur trudged heavily towards the supervisors office like a man who knows he's going to get a bucket of ice-water down his trousers and that there's no way of avoiding it. He knocked on the door and walked into the reception area of the supervisors suite. There she was, Wendy, 19 years worth of dedicated ignorance, she was sitting polishing her nails. It had to be said that she was attractive, in fact amongst the DP staff she was known as "the ultimate executive plaything".

Arthur approached and she immediately turned towards him and gave him the 'BIG SMILE', it was a just for a second while she struggled to recognise him and place him in the executive pecking order. She quickly concluded that he was so far down the list that he definitely didn't merit the 'BIG SMILE', and like a light bulb it was switched off. But that smile was something else, some people smile with their lips, some with their lips and teeth, some with lips, teeth and eyes. But with Wendy it was a whole body thing. That smile could make an unprepared mans toenails curl - concentrated, condensed, animal attraction - it was like being made the centre of the universe. But it was over almost as soon as it had begun and Wendy relaxed into the standard, sullen disinterest that she normally lavished on everyone.

Arthur braced himself for long explanation, "Is Mr Matheson in?", he asked, preparing for the general stock item ; "argument, long-form, objective demoralisation" e.g. Do you have an appointment? Couldn't you write a letter? Is you life really necessary? etc. However all Arthur got was, "Mr Matheson is away on a weeks training course in Norway". Arthur's brain reeled, this was an unforeseen complication, he could see the 'hassle factor' rising exponentially. Why had he bothered to get out of bed this morning, why had the computer messed with his file? What are the odds against that, thought Arthur, it must be millions to one. Arthur collected his thoughts and spoke purposefully, "I need level 2 action on an errored data entry - who is the next person in the command chain?". Wendy whose duty of hassle filtering was solely focused on Mr Matheson, felt no such duty to anyone else, "I'll just check". She turned to the keyboard of her PC and typed in a search request for the DP section, level 2 cleared personnel. Arthur noticed that her undried nail varnish was leaving crescents of scarlet on the keys and judging by the state of the keyboard this was not an isolated event, as the keys were almost totally obscured by a kaleidoscope of coloured crescents, it was vaguely reminiscent of some modernist spatter painting, or pre-school art class, whatever. Wendy read the screen and looked up "In the DP department there are three posts with level 2 access and above, however one is vacant, and the other two managers are on the same course as Mr Matheson". Arthur's heart sank, this was rapidly turning from a hassle into a nightmare, without passing GO or collecting 200. He felt that he was running flat out and getting nowhere.

Trying to think of another approach he was about to ask if there was any way of contacting Mr Matheson, but then he realised that this would definitely accumulate 'einworb' points, (the opposite of brownie), and also might be futile as it was unlikely that there would be remote access into the sensitive database anyway. "I'll see him when he gets back", Arthur announced to Wendy's complete disinterest. Wendy shrugged and returned to the serious business of power-manicuring for Millenium women.

Arthur walked back to his desk via the coffee machine, feeling in need of an energy fix he got one with triple sugar. As he approached his desk he was surprised to see the screen in the logged off state, he put down his coffee and crashed in the logon sequence consisting of his name and ident code. The terminal flashed back the message

USER NO LONGER ACTIVE - SEE SUPERVISOR

Followed by the slightly sinister

THIS ACCESS ATTEMPT HAS BEEN LOGGED

Arthur stood staring at the screen trying by force of will to make this 'not be happening'. Finding telekinesis to be of little help in re-ordering the state of the universe he tried his logon code again and again and again. Starting to lose his temper he hammered the sequence in as hard as he could, just in case the computer was intimidated by violence - apparently not. Arthur collapsed into his seat and lay back closing his eyes trying to ignore the pounding in his temples. When he straightened up he saw two security guards walking down the aisles to either side of his desk, they were walking as fast as it's possible to walk without either running, or developing the non-macho wiggle favoured by athletes. These were big guys. The security operation had recently been contracted out after the in-house security team, (average age 72), had been found asleep once too often. The new state of the art secutity operatives "ESES Security Consultants" were all ex-military, mid-twenty somethings, with special ability in pedantry. The uniform said it all, big shoulders, fitted trousers, shiny boots and hats worn with the peaks at chin level. You could about see their bottom lip when they talked, which wasn't often as most of them had difficulty talking and walking at the same time.

The guards made a bee-line for Arthur

Chapter Two