The Importance of being a cloud!

When Julian was a small boy he wondered about clouds? They had no edges. His uncle insisted that they had lines around them if you examined them closely. Julian disagreed. For him clouds were formations without substance, living organisms that shape shifted in accordance with unseen intentions. They resided in the vast blue ether with total liberty, an ocean beyond the concrete and rigid world below.

Julian would often walk through his uncles fields on the hardened earth. The dry grass was stiff and flat on the barren ground. His oversized Wellington boots wobbled about his bare calves and clay grit found its way inside his socks. The days were long and monotonous. Every summer he was condemned to do penance on this desolate farm. He was sent off by his overworked mother so she could have some relief while he had to endure two long months of tedium.

Still it wasn’t all bad; some of it was enjoyable, like collecting the cows from the upper paddock in the pristine daybreak. He loved to command the all-purpose sheep dog to round up the cows in the early morning mist. Together they would make their way up the grass path past the narrow glen of tall pine trees that led to the upper paddock. Beyond that was the rusted gate, the entrance to a field of mystery; in there existed the void made manifest by the featureless fog. The silence gave way to the hoot of melodic wood pigeons, cooing their well-practiced song. Chilled grey vapor wet his face and hands and dew drops formed on his woolen pullover. The silence waited while shadows formed in the void, they shimmered quickly growing larger and distinct and then the silence was gently interrupted by the muffled rhythm of stampeding cattle. These were the beautiful moments of the day.

Later in the torrid afternoons his uncle would sleep on his car seat couch in the kitchen. The only other company on this lonely farm was the two sheep dogs. Julian would wander for the millionth time through the dilapidated barns that encircled the yard. Inside one- lived the broken tractor rusted and rheumatic. In another- long forgotten piles of straw, rotting molded and encrusted. Chains dangled from the stone walls like shackles in a gruesome secret dungeon. Piled in a far dark, cobwebbed, corner were old sickles machetes and pitch forks, adding to the chamber of horrors theme.

Sometimes the dogs would wander around with him. They would aimlessly patrol the bleak dusty yard and investigate unremarkable features. A pile of cow dung or plastic oil can. The drudgery was relentless. Out of boredom Julian would walk out on to the dirt track that passed for a road on this isolated mountain side. On the far side was a stone wall with a depression that served as a good seat. From here he could see the valley below, hundreds of patchwork fields, grilled under the baking sun. Each one was a slightly different color. The expansive scene was like flaking paint on a crackled old door. He could differentiate greens, yellows and the golden tones from the wheat fields below. As the afternoons advanced long shadows stretched from the ditches and trees that spread like a loose fishing net across the valley floor.

Warm breezes muffled their way around his head while he sat at this spot. His eyes would drift back upwards passing the motionless landscape below until they reached the horizon.

In the distance a torpid haze would give way to the blue ether. He would stare into the emptiness. If he stared long enough he could see tiny amoebas floating before his eyes. He had to concentrate hard for this to happen but the sight was worth the reward. Someone once told him that what he really was looking at were blemishes on the retinas of his eyes, but he preferred the floating amoeba’s explanation.

His attention would wander to the clouds. The best ones were on blustery days. They would sail by like vast armadas. They were armies of shape shifting mythical figures. One day he saw Unicorn transform itself into a Pegasus. It spread its great wings like a swan before him. It turned its head towards him just before it dissolved. Often he would return to his makeshift seat. Day after day he waited hoping it might return. If he concentrated hard enough he could will the clouds to assume the forms he desired.

One evening just before sun set he willed Pegasus to return. The distant horizon was washed with pink, turquoise and brilliant golden yellow. The clouds spread themselves like foam on the surface of the sea. “Return, return, return”, was the spell he chanted softly to the still evening. The dogs stared with him at the horizon yawning and licking their lips in anticipation of the creature’s apparition. The ruby sun descended beneath the horizon. The sky was ink blue and the first stars pierced this infinite void. Julian’s pale shadow stretched in front of him. He turned around to gaze at the full moon. When he looked up he smiled and shouted with joy “Pegasus I knew you would return”.

The wind had picked up to a stiff breeze and the mythic animals wings spread across the night sky just before it turned its head towards him again. It nodded with dignity as it drifted past the mountain peak above the silent farmyard.

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REPORT:IN SEARCH OF DR> BROMIDE.

Unmistakably awkward yet cunning the device undulated as it squeezed through the narrow passage. The grease and grime posed little difficulty for it as its hundreds of delicate wire legs wriggled incessantly and silently through the sludge. Its body about ten inches long comprised of titanium disks that made up a spine which was extremely flexible. Burrowing through narrow passages presented no problem as it was designed for meeting challenges like this.

It had been deployed three weeks earlier and almost had reached its objective. In its Kevlar stomach it carried its deadly toxin which was to be administered to its target. The “creepers” as they were fondly nicknamed, were designed for various functions one of which was assassination. The idea was simple; locate the target, execute the order and retreat without a trace. For a task such as this a creeper was the perfect tool.

The target in this case was one Dr. Benjamin Bromide, notorious chemist who had connections all over the Middle East and was believed to be the chief researcher behind Al Hassid Hamman’s controversial chemical weapons program. Intelligence reports suggested that Dr. Bromide was working on a new formula capable of killing millions of people in a very selective manner. The formula infected only misfits! Through a highly innovative approach, Bromide had managed to discover a way of placing a chemical imprint onto any virus of his choosing. This meant that particular sections of the target population could be isolated by means of any biological factor they might have in common. For this purpose by way of a simplified example, sections of a population group could be selectively infected if they shared the same colour eyes, or were of a certain height etc. Furthermore the chemical stamp could be imprinted on virtually any virus; the flu virus for example. So an attack was hard to spot as casualties were hidden amongst much larger groups of subjects that presented normal symptoms of common non lethal diseases.  To make matters even more complicated, many different viruses with a variety of chemical stamps could be released simultaneously. The resulting massacre would go almost unnoticed. Diverse groups would only be affected, and in each of those groups only a percentage would die. Medical authorities could only conclude that it was a particularly virulent strain of a natural virus and would have no cause to be suspicious.

Recent reports from reliable sources, indicated that Dr. Bromide was about to make a breakthrough in the Factor C. Marker Research Project. If he were to succeed it would deliver a weapon of dooms day proportions into the hands of state sponsored terrorists. Several attempts to locate and apprehend the fugitive doctor had proven fruitless. After the hideous debacle where agents discovered his experimentation retreat in Mexico, the sordid findings had made their way onto the world’s headlines. It was revealed that the internationally respected Nobel Prise winning chemist had been conducting trials on human subjects. Apparently he had enlisted impoverished Mexican peasants to conduct his grotesque test’s on. Several of the unfortunate recruits had died in very unpleasant circumstances. Although most of his team and assistants were arrested the doctor himself escaped justice. The whole sordid affair had proven to be a great embarrassment to the government as it had appointed Dr. Bromide as head of the Federal Virological Research Laboratory. Secretly certain government agencies had commissioned the work that he was carrying out in Mexico. Of course officially none of this was accredited but in certain circles it was commonly known that Bromide was only months away from cracking the Factor C. Marker conundrum. Whoever made a breakthrough in this research could hold entire continents to ransom. Thus it was imperative that Bromide be stopped by any means.

The problem was that no one knew where he was. Sightings were popping up all over. Rumour had it that he was working for the Chinese but these were unconfirmed. A normally reliable source placed him in Istanbul in early march. Agents and mercenaries were sent in after him but it turned out to be false information; then news of a connection with Al Hassid Hamman! Hamman was the religious leader of an extreme fundamentalist state in the Eastern Block. Dr. Bromide’s brother was married to Hamman’s third cousin’s sister. Secret government sources concluded that evidence as damming as this could not be ignored.

Since his location within the rogue country could not be determined the government decided to commence operations against the entire country. This was done on the pretext that the rogue state was harbouring terrorists and was engaged in illegal chemical weapons stockpiling exercises. This was in contravention of all acceptable humanitarian standards of decency they argued. Consequently they bombed several hundred targets over a period of months. The operation was ineffective as Dr. Bromide issued a video tape condemning the government for their imperialist and unlawful actions. It was at this juncture that General Cooper ordered the use of a “creeper”.

The” Creeper” was the latest highly advanced self preserving A.I. system. Its programming was deceptively simple. Its artificial intelligence worked on the premise that if it was threatened it acted with fear and took evasive action. It was designed on the principal of “fight or flight”. Threaten it with a gun or hammer for example and it would scurry away to safety in the blink of an eye. If it was cornered it had no choice but to take offensive action, like a startled rattle snake. It located its target by following a D.N.A. trail; this it detected by analysing any organic matter like microscopic flakes of skin. When deployed it could follow targets by land, air, and sea. In some cases it followed its objective for years before eventually catching up with it to eventually inject its lethal poison. Once its mission was accomplished it returned to its base thus confirming a successful operation.

Creepers were highly effective at breaching secure buildings. The usual method of entrance was through the sewage pipes. It was 11.45pm, local time and the titanium device lay in wait under the rim of the toilet bowl. Its tapering tail wriggled and made delicate tapping sounds against the ceramic as its countless centipedes like legs rearranged themselves for better grip. A loud creek broke the silence as the bathroom door slowly swung open.  Footsteps then the ruffling of clothing, a zip unfastening, and the tinkle of a belt buckle followed by the passing of air as the buttocks descended on the toilet seat. At last Dr. Bromide in the flesh!