September 1989. I was now a fifth former. The staff were happy that the classes had advanced, as the previous fifth form numbered five boys by the end. The number of new kids in first form had remained fairly steady. Some of them knew of SIBA from various TV reports, and I kept having young kids asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. I didn’t really want a fan club, so I directed them all to James who spun so many blatant lies I couldn’t believe they hadn’t caught on. We fought monsters with katanas, we disarmed gun wielding bad guys using fire extinguishers as a weapon, we discovered mummified nazis, we were involved in a military coup to take the school, we broke a spy ring aided by a ghost.
Actually... only one of those was made up. Bloody hell.
I looked at my selection of radio recordings. We bought loads of answering machine tapes so we could copy songs onto them and be able to locate songs quickly. Popular songs right now were “Ride On Time”, “If Only I Could”, “You Keep It All In”, “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, and “Mantra For A State Of Mind”. I thought back to the sorts of songs we’d have played a couple of years ago, and my strong desire not to play any Kylie. It seemed that things had changed in the past two years. It was hard to pin down, but as the eighties were coming to a close, things seemed to be changing in inexplicable ways.
I stayed at school this weekend. And spent most of Saturday catching up with homework. I didn’t even watch whatever it was that James had lined up for the evening movie. Sunday was a free day, which I was glad of.
I used the high speed dubbing function on my twin tape player to put together a mix tape of music. I didn’t fancy sitting around talking between songs, so I did it all at the same time dubbing in the songs at high speed in between the dialogue. I’d then just set the tape playing and have an hour or so to do whatever else I felt like doing. Which was usually studying. The first few weeks as a fifth former had been stressful. We no longer sung songs in maths. Abiga...the chemistry teacher performed fewer experiments, now it was theory. All the time, theory, theory, boring and incessant. Just name the lesson, we’d switched into serious mode for all of them. Prep was a chore too. Before, we’d usually only really have prep from one or two lessons each day. Now every lesson gave us an allocation of prep, and if we had a double lesson, twice the prep. I dropped most of the SIBA duties onto James. Anna showed up less often too, I guess as she was now a fifth former she was having lots to do. This being the girl that used to write essays for our lessons because she was bored. James told me she’d even wrote a lengthy essay and sent it to Doctor Stephen Hawking to argue how something could not be right. Anna didn’t want to talk about it, she seemed a little embarrassed at “being smart”, and I rather suspect if she had talked about it, I wouldn’t have understood what she was on about anyway.
I set the tape playing. My one day to kick back, I’m not going to waste the day sitting here. Our viewers, if we have any, can watch the fish tank and listen to songs. To be honest, I’d have liked an excuse to broadcast a little less. We could do news programmes and talk to teachers, that sort of thing. Why did people expect us to be broadcasting something when there were no lessons? Why did they expect a Saturday movie, wasn’t that was TVS was for? And given we’d been on local TV several times, national a couple of times, and international once, how come nobody had been in and taken our transmitter or fined the school billions for the non-stop copyright infringements? I mean, did anybody think we had actually bought the music being played? Actually, having said that, I quite liked The Beautiful South. I might buy their tape next time I’m out in town.
“You know what? I’m just a little blue today”, James said. I looked around and saw him land heavily in the chair by the broadcast table.
“Can’t figure what to do. I mean, we wait all week for a day off, a day with no plans besides the annoyance of Church, and when it comes I can’t think what to do.”
“That’s the point, just do nothing if you don’t want to.”
I sat and pondered the idea awhile. But, no matter what the justification, there’s only so much sitting around a person can do. So James and I spent the day writing an email system that can prioritise important messages. Mailman had to be replaced ages ago because it struggled with the number of messages sent to SIBA. The problem was we tended to miss messages from the staff because of all of the other junk. Well, sometimes it was intentional, but a lot of times it wasn’t. So we took the mail system apart and rewrote it.
“You know, one of those newbie kids asked if we’ve ever chased aliens”, James said.
“I think we’ve done everything but”, I replied.
“Why don’t we do that as well, you know, for a laugh?”
I stared at him, incredulous.
“Yeah. Just touch the top of the payphone with a glowing finger and phone for some aliens. They’ll turn up like pizza delivery”, I quipped.
“We don’t need real aliens, we can fake it”, he said.
“Latex aliens are so obviously latex. You’ve watched all those films. Even those Godzilla ones that were so obviously guys in latex suits.”
“I was thinking something a little more abstract”, he explained. Well, I’m not sure ‘explained’ is the right word.
My silence prompted him to elaborate. “Crop circle.”
I burst out laughing. “We happen to find a crop circle. Yeah, there will be nothing suspicious about that.”
“Dammit, I want to have some fun. You’ve been looking down since term started”, James explained.
He was right about that.
“We’ll do it, on one condition.”
We both spun around. Amy was standing behind us. When did she get there?
“Wassat?”, James asked.
“We make it, we leave it, and we let somebody else discover it. We go along afterwards.”
“Why would we want to do that?”, James asked, “Aren’t we supposed to discover it?”
“Like that wouldn’t be suspicious”, Amy explained, copying my thoughts, “We can run with it once we get hold of the story, but until then... let somebody that isn’t us discover it.”
“And what if nobody discovers it?”, James asked her.
“I get to watch you squirm like anything.”
James looked down. He knew he was outvoted on this.
“One other thing”, Amy said, “we don’t tell Anna.”
“We don’t?”, I asked, surprised that Amy was planning on keeping this a secret.
“Anna... she... she has some interesting theories on life in outer space. I think if we mention this to her, we’d have to endure lengthy monologues about how aliens aren’t little green men, don’t come from Venus, and would never make crop circles. Then she’d have a random rant about how dumb Star Trek is and how English isn’t the most common language on this planet, never mind the many others that feature in movies.”
This was a real surprise coming from Amy.
“Uh, Amy sweetie, did something happen between you?”, I asked.
Amy looked down.
“Spill”, James said.
Amy shook her head and walked away.
That evening I was watching a subtitled French film that seemed to involve everybody taking their clothes off. I was trying to forget the trauma that was the ending of “Lamb”. I’ve never cried at the end of movies, not even the sad ones. But “Lamb”. Holy hell. That movie messed me up.
Amy let herself in and put the kettle on.
“Good idea”, I said, hastily switching the TV off.
“I asked a question”, Amy said.
“You did? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“No, I asked Anna a question.”
“Oh, your falling out.”
She made tea for us both and then sat on the edge of my bunk beside me.
“I asked her - imagine the Sun was to suddenly disappear. Just ‘poof’ and it’s gone.”
“She started to explain it couldn’t, so I told her it was a thought experiment, so just go with it.”
“Ah, like that bloke with the cat.”
“So I then said that if it was to happen we wouldn’t know for about eight minutes, as it takes that long for the light from the Sun to reach Earth.”
I nodded again.
“And if the Sun wasn’t there, the Earth would fly out into space. It would carry on in its current path because there’s no gravity from the Sun to keep it in orbit.”
“So far so good”, I said.
“This is where it gets complicated. I asked her when exactly does Earth cease being affected by the gravitational pull of the Sun.”
“Huh?”, I manage.
“Well think about it. It is a paradox. If the force of gravity takes eight minutes to reach us like the light, or lack of it, does, then for those eight minutes the Earth is being attracted to the gravitational force of something that no longer exists. And if Earth starts to fly away immediately that the Sun vanishes, then this implies that gravitational forces are capable of travelling much faster than the speed of light.”
I didn’t know Amy was interested in that sort of stuff enough to come up with questions like that.
“So Anna started to explain something. She got in an argument with herself. Then she just shouted at me.”
“Amy, I think the flaw in the premise is imagining the Sun just vanishing”, I suggest.
“Because you are taking something large with enough gravity to keep the entire Solar System in line and arbitrarily removing it from existence.”
She looked down, upset.
“It’s a brilliant question, and I’m sure it’s going to mess with Anna for a while”, I said, “but the thing is that the act of removing the Sun will answer the gravity issue. If it blows up, becomes a black hole, or whatever, its gravity will more or less follow our understanding of how things work.”
“The only way you can arrive at an impossible situation of orbiting a non-existing thing or the impossible situation of gravity thrashing the speed of light is if you do the impossible thing of just making the Sun vanish”, I add, “But I like the question. Or rather, I like the though process that lead to it.”
“You do?”, Amy asked, looking up without raising her head.
“You were trying to mess with Anna, right? Sick of being lectured on stuff?”, I volunteer.
“I want to be a vet. Fix injured kittens. I don’t want to build my own spaceship and explore brave new worlds”, Amy replied.
“You know vets have to do stuff like give birth to calves?”, I said.
“Didn’t you watch Country File?”, I asked.
“You mean that bit when they stuck that big glove up inside?”, she responded.
“Yeah. Didn’t you see them pulling the baby cow out?”
“Well, um... not exactly. Me... floor... you know.”
Ah, she thought it was gross and fainted. A cow being born. On TV. Wow.
I tried not to smile.
“I’m not a total flake”, Amy whispered, “just a little one, like in those 99 ice creams.”
I thought about cracking a joke about little and flake given her diminutive size, but decided that I didn’t want to hurt her. So I gave her a hug and said “You should be a singer, you’re really good.”
She looked down, so I switched back to the original topic. “You’d just better stay out of Anna’s way until she gets her head around it.”
“How come you answered it so well?”, she asked me.
“Because I’m a dunce. So impossible stuff is clearly impossible. Anna, on the other hand, is going to be trying to see if there are any theories that might fit this unusual situation.”
“What if she finds something?”
“Then I’ll be wrong, you’ll get a much better answer, and I bloody well hope she co-credits you with the discovery.”
Amy giggled silently.
“Thank you”, she said. She took my empty mug with hers, washed them both in the bathroom across the hall, then departed after placing them neatly beside the kettle.
I lay back in bed and watched the clock tick over 8 o'clock. I was supposed to have been up fifteen minutes ago. At this rate I’d miss breakfast.
Hello? Hello?", came a voice.
"Come back later, I'm still in bed", I replied.
The owner of the voice, a first year, walked into the room. He looked around and sat on the chair opposite my bed. I stared at him.
"Hello. Are you the person that runs the TV station?", he asked.
I nodded. The hell is this kid doing in my study first thing in the morning?
"Hi. Uh, I'm Alex Charest."
"Uh, I just want to say thank you for your broadcasting. It is a shame that you don't do more TV. Radio and I don't get on."
"Oh." Radio and he doesn't get on?
"Oh well, I'd better be going."
"Hang on a sec", I said, reaching down in my drawer under the bed, "would you like a programme schedule?"
"Would you like a programme schedule?"
Still no reply.
I faced him. "A programme schedule?"
"What about it?", Alex asked.
His face lit up. "Oh yes please!"
I reached back, pulled one out and passed it over. Alex examined both sides, the reverse being blank, and then walked slowly out of the room. I lay back as the door clicked shut. Is there something inherent in the first formers that makes them generically weird? I was a first former once. Was I weird? Aw, hell, unfair comparison - I'm a fifth former now and I'm definitely weird.
It was late Thursday. We had just shut down the SIBA broadcast with a bit of Simply Red. We knew the teacher on today’s rota disliked Mick Hucknall’s voice, so we played both “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Holding Back The Years”. Anna had been in here playfully teasing James about his delusions of non-stop sex with Susan, but she left in a hurry when Amy came along. That’s quite a feud brewing. Amy was holding something in a towel. Anna had disregarded her so completely that she missed that.
“We’re both going home this weekend, so we’ll sneak out early Saturday morning.”, James said.
“We’re going to take a few short planks of wood and some twine”, Amy said.
“Ah, tie handles and then use the planks to flatten the crops”, I suggest.
“That’s it. One of us will go first, one will follow”, James explained, then added, “Wear normal shoes to go, but we’ll need to change into something else when we’re there. Leave no tracks, you know.”
“I have an idea about that”, Amy said. She unwrapped her towel to show two wooden boxes with a long peg protruding from underneath.
“You wear it like this”, Amy said. She put a foot into the box and secured it in place with Velco straps. Likewise her other foot. Then she stood up, standing with some difficulty atop the pegs that must have measured several inches.
“Alien feet”, she said proudly.
“How do we crush the crops with the boards while wearing those?”, James asked.
“You don’t. When using the boards, we’ll walk only on the boards. These are for walking anywhere else.”
“Are we going to make a pattern?”, I asked.
“No, just two circles, one overlapping the other. It’s simpler”, James said.
“How will we know if our circle is circular? It can’t be wobbly.”
“Easy!”, Amy exclaimed quietly, “We’ll leave a few crops in the middle, and tie a length of twine to them. That will be our diameter. This is where I come in. I’ll stay in the middle and unwrap the twine from the crops each cycle, so you can just go round and round letting out a bit more twine each time.”
I nodded. This was starting to sound like a real plan.
“But wait”, I said, “What about at the end?”
“Then I pull up the crops in the middle. And with these on my feet I’ll run in circles around the tracks that you made, jumping over each time. You’ll need to leave the twine on the ground so I know when to skip over, and we can pull in the twine when I’m done”, Amy explained.
“Now for the bad part”, James said, “The Sun rises about half six in mid September, so we will need to be out here for the morning twilight. We’ll need to be up by half four, out here for five, to be done hopefully no later than about quarter past six, then back before the juniors start waking up.”
“You know I’m such a morning person”, I mutter.
At quarter to four, I woke with a start as something soft and fuzzy put its arms around me. In bed.
“Um? Hello?”, I whisper.
“I thought I’d come and wake you gently”, Amy replied.
“You’re in bed with a boy, you’ll get us in trouble.”
“It’s okay, I’m dressed. I’m wearing that black outfit you liked.”
By four she had tea ready.
By four thirty she had me dressed in outdoor clothes and was brushing my hair. A lot. I brushed my hair so infrequently I didn’t even know where the brush was.
By twenty-to Amy and I were outside. I picked up a duffel bag with planks and twine. She grabbed my coat and tugged so I had no choice but to follow. I was going to say something about James but decided to just go along with this. Maybe James was already there?
I didn’t know how Amy could run so nimbly on a stone-littered path wearing ballet flats, but she did. It was all I could do not to end up twisting my ankle. But I managed to mostly keep up. Well, she’d pause and wait and then be off again. Eventually we got to the side of the field. I noticed Amy was wearing her mother’s upside down nurse’s watch. She glanced down at it. “Four fifty five.” And she gave a huge smile.
We put the clog-things on and crept into the field. It wasn’t easy walking with those things on my feet, but Amy had no problems. I guess she had been practising or something. The crop poked into my clothes all the time. I don’t know if it is wheat or barley, they look alike to me. And it looks like it is ready to harvest. After what seemed like forever, Amy held her hand up.
“We begin here”, she said, tying a piece of twine to a group of the cereals growing in a clump.
I put down a plank and slipped off the clog-things. I stood on the plank, then placed another plank behind. Then I would trace out a circle placing one plank ahead, then bringing the second up behind, and alternately standing on one or the other depending on which plank I was moving.
“At this rate we might be done by tomorrow”, I said.
“It’s okay, we only need to do one circle. I have a different idea.”
“Shouldn’t we have discussed this with James?”, I asked.
“He obviously couldn’t be bothered getting up”, Amy replied.
“Didn’t you wake him too?”
Amy looked down.
“I... wanted to do this with you.”
“It was his idea, you know?”
“Well where is he then? He could set an alarm clock. I did.”
Working as fast as I could, it took the better part of an hour to make a reasonable sized circle. Now the light was pretty good, I could see I had flattened quite a large area. Amy was standing in the middle guiding me. She looked cold.
“That’s enough at the end of this turn. Put the boots back on and come back here.”
So that’s what she called the clog-things. I finished up and returned.
“See the church?”, she asked me, helpfully pointing.
“No”, I said. I lied. It was practically impossible to miss, even in the middle of a field.
She nudged me with a giggle, then told me to carefully walk towards it. I did so, for what seemed like quite a while. Amy clapped her hands. I stopped and looked. I guess shouting “Stop!” was asking a bit much of her quiet disposition. She walked to the outer edge of the circle and indicated for me to come to her. I started off and she told me to stop. Then she made bowing down movements.
Oh, she meant I was to come to her flattening the crop. I did so.
When I reached her, she asked me to go back and do another strip on the inside of the one I’d just done.
When I’d done that, she asked me to go back and do the same on the other side. When I got back to the tip, I noticed she was now on the other side of the circle.
So I made the flattened down track. Twice, of course.
Together we walked to the tip, and with Amy directing me, I made what looked like a large crucifix shape in between the previous lines, the base adjoining the circle. Afterwards, Amy went and collected the twine and flattened down the little stump of crop in the centre of the circle.
“We’re done!”, Amy said breathlessly. She was out of breath? I did all the work!
“Bloody hell, you’ve finished?”
I looked over and saw James by the gate. “Dude, where the hell were you?”
“I was here for quarter past six like we decided”, James said.
“Dumbass, we were supposed to finish by then”, I said.
“Don’t worry, we got it done”, Amy said.
“Weren’t there supposed to be two circles?”, James asked.
“Lack of time. Change of plans”, I explained.
“So...?”, James said.
“Well, there’s the circle. And there are two long lines coming from the sides that meet in the middle. They point at the church”, Amy described what we had done, “And just a bit beyond that, a cross between the lines and connecting to the circle.”
“Why?”, James asked.
“Which bit of symbolism would you like?”, Amy asked.
“Huh?”, I said. So Amy actually had a grand plan after all.
“Well, the circle and cross can be interpreted as Venus, the symbol for girl. The added lines point to the church, so you could interpret the circle as a religious symbol for wholeness or perfection, or the sun. The cross could be a crucifix. It could be a badly drawn Ankh. It could be the Alpha Omega symbol drawn with an extra line in it.”
James whistled. I too was impressed.
“Whatever your preferred explanation, there’s loads of symbolism in a few basic shapes that ought to appeal to people who like this sort of thing, it’s all very mind-screwy, just like crop circles ought to be”, Amy said.
She picked up the bag with the planks, then realised it was way too heavy for her. James caught the bag as she tried not to drop it. Amy smiled at him and then shot away, moving faster than either of us expected.
“Dude, tell me you haven’t introduced her to coffee”, James asked me.
“Nah, she was like that this morning too”, I said.
“Did she forget her Ritalin or something?”, James asked.
“I think she’s just really enjoying this”, I suggested, “maybe this is like the baddest thing she’s ever done?”
Somehow, we could both completely imagine that.
“Sorry we didn’t come get you. The way Amy was carrying on, I actually thought you’d already left and I was late.”, I said.
“Nah, no hard feelings.”
“Well, a little. I’d have liked to have help make this, but with me it just would have been two crappy circles. This design is way cooler.”
“You have a really important job coming up”, I said.
“You remember some of that stuff Amy said about symbolism?”, I asked him.
“Well, if people turn up, drop a few hints about what it could mean. I’m sure you can come up with something cool, like your tales of what SIBA has been up to.”
“Well, I have all weekend to practice.”
“Aren’t you going to Marwell?”, I asked.
“Sort of yes. My stupid sister wants to go.”
I said nothing. I didn’t even know James had a sister.
“She’s seven and the biggest bloody brat you’ve ever seen, an attention whore with an ego the size of Jupiter. Seriously, my old man talks to me for five seconds and she’s throwing a tantrum.”
“Oh my”, I reply.
“Quite. That’s why I’m cool with being a boarder. Can’t stand being in the house with her. It’s always ‘I want something and I want it yesterday’.”
I suddenly felt rather pleased that I was an only child. The one throwing tantrums for stupid reasons was me, something I’ve grown out of. I think...
We made it back just before seven and snuck in the back entrance. In my study waiting for us was breakfast. A bowl of cornflakes and milk, scrambled egg on toast, and tea.
“Eh? Breakfast isn’t for forty minutes”, I said to Amy.
“Oh, J.J. was there getting stuff ready for breakfast. I asked if I could make something for you. Everybody else is having spaghetti hoops on toast. I thought you deserved real food.”
I ruffled Amy’s hair. “Thanks sweetie, this is great.”
We ate together, all a little too excited by the morning, and a little upset that we’d not be able to say anything to anybody. It was like making this awesome thing and being able to tell nobody.
“Just think”, James said, “the way we feel right now is how it must feel to be a special agent sniper.”
“Excuse me?”, I coughed.
“You blow some bad guy’s brains out from a mile away in the middle of a hurricane through a semi-translucent window and you nail it in one shot. There’s so much awesome that entire SWAT teams should bow at your feet, but you know it’s just another day at the office and you can’t ever tell anybody.”
Well, that was completely out of left field. I understood what he meant, but what a weird example to pick.
“I’m a sniper shooting awesome”, Amy mumbled, then collapsed into fits of giggles.
“Remember”, I said to Amy just after lunch, “tell nobody. And for the love of God, spend some time to make up with Anna. It’s a bit weird her not being around.”
“Lonely?”, she asked.
“No, you’ve kept me company. I guess I just don’t like change.”
“Oh, in that case I’ll have to arrange for some creepy guys to shoot at you.”
“What?”, I exclaimed.
“Isn’t that was usually happens about this far into term?”
“Oh, no no no. That happens in April.”
We both smiled at each other, then I headed outside to my mother’s car.
“Remember, make up with Anna”, I called to her.
Upon returning to Sunnyvale College on Sunday evening, the way was blocked by a great number of cars, most of them parked in an extremely inconsiderate manner. The police were trying to present some semblance of rationality but it was lost in crowds of people. A fair few wear wearing bright silver ball deely bobbers, a few people wearing plastic alien outfits, T-shirts with “I BELIEVE” in big letters. And... a Dalek.
My mother asked me what was going on. I said maybe there was a sci-fi convention that I wasn’t aware of? She dropped me off at the back entrance to avoid the chaos further down the road. I went through the doorway and was thrown back out by the P.E. teacher who took one more look at me, apologised, and let me pass.
“Wassup?”, I asked.
“Crop ... circle”. I could tell he was having difficulty keeping his temper.
“We got visited by little green men?”, I asked, faking surprise.
“If they come back, they can sodding well take me with them. This is madness.”
I went into the building and passed by the dining room on my way to the study block. I never got there.
“Uh, Amy?”, I called out.
“Leave the lights off please”, she replied.
I walked into the dark dining room and sat down at a table, looking in awe at the chaos out on the oval. Bright lights, reporters, television cameras, UFO fans and crackpots mingling with pupils in a way that shouldn’t ever have been allowed.
Amy was sitting as far into the corner as was possible, so she couldn’t see anything.
“Too many people”, Amy said, starting to cry.
I remember when everybody turned up for opening up that tunnel and all the people around, Amy had been up on the roof to give a wide angle view. Ah, she was about as far away as was possible while still being involved.
Ah, so this was why she reacted like that when I suggested she be a singer. Oops, that might have been a bit insensitive of me.
“Where’s this crop circle then?”, I asked her.
She stared at me, mouth open. “Bu...bu...but?”
“Oh, it’s out in the farmer’s field a bit beyond the end of the playing fields. You can see it fairly well from the junior bathroom.”
“Is James back? Is he out filming this?”
Amy shook her head.
“Anna is out picking fights with crazy people.”
“Telling them that UFOs don’t exist?”
“Let’s say we grab a camera and go get some video of this”, I suggested.
Amy shook her head violently, threw herself off her chair, then scrunched herself against the wall with the chair in front.
I held out my hand to her, “I was thinking we could sneak up to the roof and watch from up there?”
She didn’t move for a long time, then slowly took my hand.
We had only just reached the side of the roof and laid down for safety and to survey the chaos when the access door slammed open, then closed again.
“I thought I saw you heading this way”, Anna shouted.
“Shhh!”, Amy gestured.
“Do you believe those assholes? They turn up hours after some jerk doodles in a field convinced it’s a visitation and begging to be taken beyond the stars. Gah! They are so stupid!”, Anna shouted, louder.
“Oh, it’s that thing?”, I exclaim. I fire up the camera and zoom in on it. “It’s kind of cool. When did this turn up then?”
Anna ignored me, “You wouldn’t believe the inane theories I’ve had to deal with all freaking day.”
“It looks like that girl symbol”, I offer.
“Oh shut up, you. I’ve had my fill of that already. The symbol of woman pointing to the church. Can you see the churchyard?” I swung the camera over and observed crowds of zombies. “They’re waiting for the Virgin Mary to appear. Crowds of delusional people who don’t understand Russell’s teapot.”
“Tea, that’s what we’re missing”, I suggest, if only to throw Anna off track.
“Seriously? All I said and that’s what you are thinking about, a cup of freaking tea?”, Anna screeches.
“Well, you’re kind of preaching to the converted. Do you see us down there waiting for the little green men?”, I shot back.
Anna backed down. “Maybe tea would be calming, but I never really understood why you Brits drink so much tea.”
“Well”, I offer, “it’s sundown on the first Sunday of the week, we need tea to celebrate.”
“First Sunday of the week?”, Anna queried.
“Surely you’ve been around us Brits long enough to figure out our understated sarcasm?”
“Well what about the first Monday of the week?”, Anna asked.
“Needs tea to make it through the awfulness of it”, I said.
“So, in short, whatever anything happens, put the kettle on”, Amy explained.
Anna nodded, in that way a person does when they don’t quite understand but have given up trying to follow the logic. If only Anna was so easy to placate when it came to science.
“So, you two speaking now?”, I asked when placing a mug of tea in front of Anna.
I glanced at Amy. Amy was about to say something when Anna cut in.
“She came to make up. I shouted. She cried. She’s too cute, I couldn’t stay angry at her when she was like that. Just wanted to hug her and make it better. Which was a bit galling given it was me what did it... no, wait, it was my fault. Sorry, I’ve been watching Grange Hill.”
That was the moment when James burst into the room. Collapsing on my bed, he said “I can’t go around making up wild theories”.
Amy and I were making gestures behind Anna’s back.
“What do you mean ‘making up wild theories’?”, Anna asked.
“Well, you know, that thing is so full of symbolism it shouldn’t be hard to spread a few ridiculous ideas to get people excited, but their theories are worse”, James replied. He finally noticed our emphatic gesturing.
“You know I’ve spent all day trying to argue down some of those idiotic theories?”, Anna asked.
“Why? It’s more fun to go with it, don’t you think?”
“Where’s the scientific explanation for any of these theories?”, Anna asked sharply.
“Where’s the scientific explanation for why ice is slippery?”, James shot back, “Or, here’s a simple one, explain how a bicycle works...and I don’t mean stuff about gears and pedals, I mean why we don’t just fall over when we speed up. How does that work?”
Anna went silent, her cheeks flushing.
“Look, I know you want to know everything and have a big explanation for it all, but there’s some stuff that we have to take on faith. Some, like skating and cycling we pretty much know how to do it, or avoid mishaps. Others, like God and aliens, require a much bigger leap of faith. You don’t have the ability to do that because there’s too much in your brain telling you that it is all a lot of nonsense. These people? They are making that leap of faith. It will be futile because we aren’t being visited by aliens because boring old humans made that thing in the field, however if this is the only excitement that some people see in their miserable lives, why deny them that?”, James said breathlessly.
“Because... because... wait, do you know who made that?”, Anna asked.
“It has to be man-made”, James said, “because the alternative is to accept that we really did get visited by aliens.” Expertly deflected, James, well played.
“That’s what I thought too”, Anna said, “The idea that some super advanced creature would perform feats of travel beyond our understanding, and they would just come here and make a funny pattern in a field in the middle of nowhere in Sussex. Why?”
“Easy”, I said, “They’re mocking us. They know loads of people will fall for some huge special significance, and there will be one lone girl trying to be the voice of reason.”
“Yeah, I do feel like the lone voice of reason in this madness”, Anna said.
“You know that TV programme? The one where they hide a bunch of cameras and then pull pranks on people? Well, we’re the intergalactic version of that. This is their comedy programming”, I said.
“Where is this going?”, Anna asked.
“To the great British resolution to everything, including inter-planetary prank shows... just put the kettle on!”, I replied.
“Another?”, Anna exclaimed, “I’m surprised you don’t all pee yourselves, the amount of tea you drink!”
Amy put her hand up, reconsidered, and lowered it sheepishly.
“Look on the bright side”, I said as I presented Anna with another mug of tea, “we don’t have to bother broadcasting anything tonight. Everybody will be outside until who knows when.”
“I’ll give them another hour”, Anna said.
“Eh?”, James asked.
“I’m a prefect. It’s my job to get them all back inside. Well, it’s our job”, Anna said looking at Amy, “but it didn’t go so well when I tried to make her go outside earlier.”
“Just a shame Roth isn’t still around, he’d clear everybody away quickly”, James muttered.
“I wonder if more would die from being shot, or from the stampede”, Anna replied, “Mister Roth’s methods aren’t exactly applicable.”
We heard a distant thunking noise.
“What’s that?”, Amy asked.
“Sounds like a helicopter”, James said. He opened the window and, yes, it did sound like that. “One of the big ones, a Chinook perhaps?”
Amy’s eyes grew wide.
“It’s okay sweetie”, I said, “either the aliens are back and the army is being deployed to watch for giant tripods, or the police have called in the army because this is a boy’s school in a little village and we currently have what looks like the population of a small city hanging around.”
“And one public toilet half a mile away by the village green”, Anna added, “It’s just like Woodstock.”
“Mark Knopfler isn’t out front, so it’s not quite Woodstock”, I replied.
“Amy could go outside and play something?”, James suggested, to which Amy lost a mouthful of tea down the front of her dress.
“Don’t think she likes that idea”, I said, winking at Amy, “Let’s just stay here and enjoy some peace from the madness, then we ought to go help Anna round everybody up.”
Anna did a doubletake. “Um... thanks!”
“Well, we kinda missed having the team all together”, I said.
“Aww, you guys”, Anna replied.
“You just gotta lighten up chick, you know what you know and the rest of us are Flids. Leave it at that. You’ll be laughing when you’re the guest on The Sky At Night and we can’t watch it because we’re working the late shift at a burger joint”, James said.
Anna was about to get upset at the “chick” part, but was surprised by the rest of the sentence.
“Don’t sell yourself short, you’re better than that”, she said.
“My report cards would beg to differ”, James said, “at least he gets ‘must try harder’, I get ‘doesn’t ever try’ but the horrible thing is that I do, I’m just no good at that stuff.”
Anna wisely chose not to continue the conversation.
Dinner was late that night, for obvious reasons. It was pre-made egg mayo sandwiches and something that was failing at being a poor imitation of Angel Delight. I helped the girls do their prefect roles keeping the mealtime peaceful despite the army patrolling outside and the bloody great tank parked in the middle of the oval. Amy, James, and I swore a pact to never ever mention that we made that thing in the field. By now it had blown up big enough that we would hope and pray for lifelong incarceration, if only to protect us from hordes of rampaging Whovians, Trekkies, and people who seriously wanted to joyride a spaceship. The tank parked outside distracted me, so I missed Anna’s interactions with the weirdo first former, Alex.
Anna said something, but she wasn’t speaking out loud. I looked and saw Alex wave back. When he looked back over towards Anna, she placed her hands in an ‘O’ shape in front of her shoulders, then opened her hands spreading her fingers. After a short pause, the made an ‘O’ shape with her right hand with the fingertips toward her mouth. She moved her right hand towards and away from her mouth a few times. Then she shrugged and put her left index finger into her opened mouth and made a gesture that looked like throwing up.
I looked over to Alex. He gave a thumbs up, then did something with his hands that I missed because somebody sat in the way of my line of view.
I looked back to Anna, who was making a number of strange gestures, one that looked like walking her fingers up her arm, and one that looked like rubbing her nipples. When she did that, I could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“He’s deaf!?”, Amy and I exclaimed in unison.
I sat on my bed and exhaled. Amy skipped over to the fitted desk.
“Put the kettle on, I will kill you”, Anna said.
“No, this is crazy. There are no facilities for deaf kids here. This needs tea”, I said.
Amy took that as permission to turn the kettle on. Anna sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Here, let me take a look”, I said. I got up and walked over to my A3000 and switched it on. “Anybody remember the network number of the admin network?”
“Two, I think”, Amy said.
I typed some stuff. “No, two point two five four isn’t responding. I wonder if the bridge is off?”, I mumbled.
“Don’t you have a way to scan for machines?”, Amy asked me, to Anna’s surprise.
“I don’t need one”, I said.
I opened a command line and typed:
and after a few seconds, the reply came back:
2.235 :0 Students
2.235 :1 Admin
“Two thirty five? That’s the printer server, isn’t it?”, I said, despite the result clearly indicating a file server.
“Which is that box in the secretary’s office, right?”, Anna asked me, “Isn’t that the server as well?”
I slapped my forehead. Yes, it was originally two old BBC Micros, one acting as printer server and the other as file server, but they got replaced by a FileStore that did both jobs equally slowly.
I opened a command line, then typed:
*I AM 2.235 HEADMSTR AWESME
“The headmaster’s password is what?”, James asked.
“Awesome, with the oh missing so it’ll fit into six characters”, I said.
“That’s a bit pathetic”, Anna mused.
We all nodded silently.
A list of files appeared.
“There it is”, I said, pointing randomly at the screen. I typed some more and a program appeared asking for a student name.
“What did he say his name was?”, I asked.
“Alex...something French”, Anna replied.
I typed in “alex” and a list of names appeared.
“Charest?”, I asked. That looked French. I entered the number next to his name before anybody could reply.
“Ah, I see”, I said, looking at the student information with the sorts of private personal details that other students weren’t supposed to be able to access, and wouldn’t be able to if they took security seriously and sectioned off the administration network from the rest of the school, instead of bridging the staff and student networks for the lazy teachers that wanted to use the (student) computers in their classrooms for administrative purposes.
“He’s the son of one of the trustees. The billing reads zero”, I explained.
“So paying nothing trumps sending him to a school capable of dealing with his disability? That sucks!”, Anna said.
“Say, if there’s a billing amount, do you think it possible everybody pays different fee?”, James asked.
“Wouldn’t surprise me. And no, I’m not touching that one with a bargepole”, I say, putting the matter to rest.
“I could look up, I know the password now!”, James said.
“Once you think about what the fallout from that could be, you’ll understand why it’s better to leave it alone. This school has haemorrhaged enough students these past few years. Leave it be.”
As James looked dejected, I noticed Anna giving me a big smile.
I logged out and turned my computer off. Turning around, I watched Amy eat a Milky Way. She neatly cut the end off of the wrapper with a pair of safety scissors that was only just capable of cutting the wrapper. She pushed out the chocolate bar. She then ate the chocolate off of both ends, followed by the sides, then the top and finally the bottom. She then pushed the fluffy stuff from the middle into a square shape and popped that into her mouth. Then she looked up and saw me watching.
“Was nice”, Amy said, “how about another tea?”
“Oh my God!”, Anna exclaimed as I went to the kettle and filled it with mineral water.
It took days for things to calm down. As soon as the army arrived, a large number of people said it was a conspiracy, how the truth was being covered up by the government, and theories even crazier than anything James could imagine. Anna, a girl very rooted in solid scientific principle, watched the TV interviews and reports in shocked silence. We all watched as people in hazmat suits came...and went. Nothing conclusive. No evidence of aliens that mankind is aware of. No evidence of it being man-made, though that was by far the most likely cause. Several people at school claimed to have made the pattern in the field, though under questioning they couldn’t even accurately draw it despite having looked at it often enough. We decided to keep our mouths very tightly closed. Nobody suspected me, and nobody on the planet would have suspected Amy. The blow to everything was the farmer, having already lost the flattened area of crop, was more than angry about officialdom setting up big white tents and traipsing all over what remained of his crop. Late on Tuesday night, the air was still and dry, so out came the harvesters. Two of them. This made short work of the crop, and by early Wednesday morning - just to make the point extremely clear, the ground had been shallow harrowed. There was no longer any visible trace of anything at all. With no focal point, no reason to hang around, the remaining people eventually drifted back to the boring monotony of their normal lives. Nobody met an extra-terrestrial. Nobody saw a space ship. Nobody was liberated from this sick planet. Nobody knew it was a fifteen year old boy taking instructions from a shy-beyond-belief thirteen year old girl who made the whole thing up in her head on the fly. But for three or four days on this ordinary weekend in September, it was the only thing that tens of thousands of people could think about.
There’s probably a message in here somewhere, but I was too tired to think about complicated stuff like that.
Something that I wanted to tackle was the idea of manufactured news. Making up an event that would become newsworthy. And, of course, the direct and indirect effect that this eventuality has on people.
That's basically what this is all about.
You will also notice that the fun of running SIBA has worn off, now that school "just got real" and the school-leaving exams were less than a year away. As a fifth former now, the protagonist has to start taking lessons and such a lot more seriously, and spending lots of free time running the TV station, it just isn't such a great thing any more. Not to mention David's death still weighs heavy on the mind.
This story is also a massive pile of character development for Amy. We learn that she'd like to fix injured kittens (which is just so cute) but probably couldn't stay conscious through all the other stuff that vets do (which is just so Amy). We learn that she is actually quite intelligent and inquisitive but keeps it under wraps. And, we get to enjoy her getting unusually hyper doing the baddest thing she's ever done, though it's up to you - dear reader - to decide if the "bad" is making the crop circle or not telling Anna about it. Plus, for extra bonus points, her dripping-with-symbolism design (that utterly blows the boys two-rings out of the water). Of course, it's Amy we're talking about, so she does suffer an OhCrap meltdown when the entire world turns up to look. Even so, this story is definitely Amy's show...and looking back over the story as I mark it up, it looks to me like she basically steals every scene she's in.
Finally, as always, I hope you enjoyed the story.
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Clive Semmens, 15th March 2019, 21:03
Amy's show indeed, and she's beautifully well drawn and believable. For what it's worth, I actually knew someone (sadly dead, aged 60, twenty years ago) who made quite a few crop circles; and somebody quite unconnected who planted a load of "flying saucers" across a great swathe of southern England one night and was never identified. No, it wasn't me, I didn't even know him until later, but he knew too much about it for me to disbelieve him.
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