f r a g m e n t s


for 31/5/97


Well, that was a cheerful start to the fragment. Still, death - in particular, what happens afterwards - is definitely an unanswered question that fits into the "Fragments" category. (Unanswered in the sense of eternal soul - I think most people can figure out the "1) Go stiff. 2) Rot." sequence of events.)

Well, different religions say many different things about what happens after death; common beliefs include harp music or eternal torture. That might sound a bit like an eisteddfod but don't worry - I think they're supposed to be separate.

In any case, I should be a bit of an expert on the subject - I'm co-founder of one cult, founder of one sacred order of knights, and a kind of druid as well. The cult-experience is most relevant really... "What happens after I die?" "Well, we spend all your money..." (Haha. But seriously folks, eternal life is just a phonecall away for those of you with a gold Mastercard.)

That's the ads over with, now back to the point... life after death, right? So this is a "Fragments" essay, and that means I should make up some weird and highly unlikely explanation of exactly what happens?


This time, I'm going to stick to the facts, as provided in the phrase. Life after death. Pretty easy and clearly-defined, huh? Just like "lunch after breakfast", "webpage after long wait", or "shit sequel after good film". You die. Then you come alive again. That's what my cult offers, too.

Of course, you'll wake up shut in a wooden box six feet underground, your only chance of escape if the blood-hungry Mastercard bailiffs are so persistent they dig up your grave. That might make your second life a bit like the third example I mentioned above, but we don't put that on the cult's publicity.

What's that? You think it's unlikely that I could find idiots to pay for this kind of thing? Idiots who'd believe it, not consider the consequences, and give me their credit card number and expiry date? You think nobody could be that stupid?

Remember the old proverb of confidence tricksters and cult leaders - it's true. There's one reborn every minute.


Some thanks/credits for "religious" orders mentioned in this Fragment: Evenstar, cult co-founder; and Amethysta, high druidess of Stuff.


for 24/5/97

You may now turn over your papers. Well, what's the point? They're blank on the back as well... all the writing is inside. You need to open them.

I've been going through exams (well, I just started, the first one was Friday) so this thought occured to me, again. Maybe they really mean it - there is some utility in turning your paper over.

I tried to think. Perhaps, if you turn over the paper, there are secret answers written in a microdot on the supposedly-blank back page! So the technique is to tell students to "turn over their papers" as if it was a ritual expression meaning "open your papers", when really, the more intelligent students will realise that following the instructions precisely enables them to gain a significant advantage.

Then again, I don't think you're allowed to carry microdot readers into the examination room. There's a space to write the model of calculator you used, but nothing about general spy equipment. Shame.

* * *

And another thing. "This page is blank." That's also a favourite of examiners, when clearly the page isn't blank since they printed on it to say it was... Oddly enough, since my particular exam was partly on logic, you would think they'd know enough not to write a blatant paradox on the paper. Or maybe it was supposed to get us into the right frame of mind.

Of course, there could be a deeper reason. Perhaps the page really is blank, in some alternate dimension. Our normal dimension only contains a placeholder for the real page. The examiners use this technique, not only for the so-called "blank" pages, but also for all the other pages on the paper - "this page is blank" is printed as an indicator to those who understand, so they can tell the paper is cross-dimensional.

The reason for this devious ploy? Well, simply, the genetically superior beings (who are being gradually implanted on the planet, expected to outnumber the mediocre ape-descendents by the millenium) clearly couldn't be marked on the same scale as normal old-humans. It wouldn't be fair. Instead, for them, part of the test is reaching to the alternate dimension and answering the questions from that part of the paper, which account for a full 50% of the marks.

* * *

So if you think you might be genetically superior, you'd better concentrate really hard on seeing through the "This page is blank"; you're expected to read "between" the lines. Maybe with your improved vision you could check the microdot on the back of the paper, too.

But remember - the time limit still applies. Warping the continuum within the examination room is strictly against university regulations.



for 18/5/97

Just a few minutes ago, as I was walking down the path that takes me (eventually) to a computer lab, I saw something rather weird. There's a small field by the side of the path, which could probably be used for playing ball games - except that it's on the side of a hill.

In any case, the grass on the field was uniform - except for a metre-wide strip that ran diagonally across the field to a gap in the hedge on the other side. Like they say, the grass is greener, and in addition to that it had a sprinkling of dandelions (the grey sort that you can blow the seeds from).

So what's the deal? Why leave this one strip across the field? If it was just an un-mowed part, why on earth leave it like that instead of finishing the job? And how come it goes directly to that gap in the hedge?

* * *

A possibility: experiments in the Durham science research labs have produced the reverse lawnmower! You simply mow over the area you want to grow, and immediately new plant growth springs up.

Secret tests had to be done using a convenient site such as this field, only two minutes' walk from the physics department. Of course, the lawnmower had to get onto the field somehow, so it would have entered at the gap in the hedge, leaving by the regular path.

Why would anyone bother with this research? Well, clearly this is the solution to all the deforestation in the world! So we might not be able to replace the forests, but what the hell, we can have a nice lawn instead and that's better - you can play cricket on it in the summer! (See, this is an English invention for sure.)

Also, this would explain how the lawns at Microsoft look so healthy and green even though they're mowed about 15 times a day - Microsoft have been testing a secret beta version of their own competing product. (You think the sprinklers have something to do with that? Nah, that was just to keep things looking good while the product was still vapourware.)

* * *

But that doesn't seem very likely, so I considered the other alternative.

Maybe it's the beginning of a new species of dandelion.

Influenced by waves of digital energy from increasing computer use in the area, the dandelions have somehow decided to mobilise in this intriguing straight-line pattern.

Worryingly, this behaviour indicates that dandelions have become an intelligent lifeform. In fact, it's entirely possible they may take over the world in the near future...

* * *

Remember that game with dandelions? Where you count how many blows of air it takes to strip the poor thing of all its seeds, landing them hopelessly in all the same place with little chance of survival?

Well, I hope for your sake you didn't play it. Because now they've obtained digital intelligence (if not trunks and floppy ears), dandelions never forget.



for 9/5/97

Well, inspiration was running dry, so I went down to walk by the river, which wasn't. It was kind of a nice day but I didn't have any bright ideas, apart from that it'd be best to take the high route rather than the low one - they were still cutting trees on the slope of the hill.

So I took the left fork of the path and wandered up there, glancing towards the river as I did so, when the board caught my eye. It was a large board of wood, supported by a stake in the ground just like a fairly big, square sign. Stencilled on it was the word "Life Bouy".

Huh? Now, you might just think the guy with the stencil couldn't spell "Life Buoy", and indeed there was a round buoyancy ring with a rope attached, in clips on the other side of the board. But it's unwise to assume that sort of thing without first considering the other possibilities...

* * *

First and most obvious; when you pronounce "Life Bouy", it sounds kind of French. We get some French tourists in Durham, so maybe this was to give them a little helping hand. But could something more devious be in the offing? In fact... what if the council employee painting that notice had BEEN French, but trying to hide his identity, and made a small tell-tale slip?

That's right. A secret French invasion of the country could be underway! Under the guise of inspecting straight bananas and square strawberries for the EU, millions of the French have sneaked into the country and replaced council workers across England! The chances are very high that the life buoy was rigged with a lead weight to drown any unsuspecting English person in difficulty in the river, just as part of the devious "ethnic cleansing" plan to remove all English people from the country!

Well, actually, I pieced that story (including its excess of exclamation marks) together from Referendum Party and UK Independence Party election leaflets, so its credibility might not be that high.

* * *

Or - how about if it's not a mis-spelling, for any reason? It really is a life bouy? A new type of mechanism designed to be, er, bouyant. That's right - it's sort of like buoyant but different! It weighs you down!

It's a cunning plot by the right-wing to get rid of all those kids who didn't learn to spell at school, and are thus worthless; clearly somebody who can't even be bothered to learn correct spelling will be a detriment to the British economy. The left-wing sissies wouldn't let corporal punishment be brought back into schools, never mind the capital punishment that would really solve the problem, so the matter needed to be dealt with covertly!

Of course, it only kills dyslexic kids who fall in the river, but you have to start small.

* * *

Either way, I have some good, solid advice that everyone should follow. Don't fall in any rivers.



for 3/5/97

"Just because you have a conversation about how much you hate someone doesn't mean..."

Doesn't mean what? The tail end of the sentence passed me by, as I made my way along South Road towards the centre of Durham. As I walked, I wondered; how on earth could that phrase turn out, and still make any sense? It'd been spoken in an ordinary manner by what looked like a perfectly normal student, chatting to his friend on the way to the main library.

I decided it was time to Think British. What would be a really good British way to end that sentence? Something that somehow got across utter contempt, while still making clear you didn't really want to hurt anyone's feelings or cause any disruption?

Something like "Just because you have a conversation about how much you hate someone, doesn't mean you have anything against them"?

Well, maybe. But that wasn't too exciting, so I dropped the "British" feel and went for something more unusual. More out-there. More X-Files. More paranormal.

"Just because you have a conversation about how much you hate someone, doesn't mean They will have him killed for you the next day."

Now we were getting somewhere. I continued on my way to the record shop, satisfied with that little frisson of intrigue the half-heard sentence had brought me. (Although, if it was going to bring me French things, I'd rather have had a chocolate-filled-croissant...)

* * *

Later, a friend told me he was going to the library. He looked at me as if I was peculiar when I said, "Watch your back", but I figure I'll have the last laugh when everybody in the place gets mutilated horribly by aliens. Unless, of course, They know I've discovered Their conspiracy... and since They obviously have the power to listen in on Our (oops - "our") conversations, that seems very likely to me.

Isn't it amazing what you can learn from a chance statement? Before I just worried I was paranoid. Now I know They're out to get me.

-- sam