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Today’s word of the day was nemesis.  Just a little snippet of real life.

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Nemesis, noun.  A source of harm or ruin.

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“And now, my fuzzy nemesis, your time has come!”

Jasper looked up at the human looming over him.  She was going away again, he could tell.  He stretched slightly and snuggled deeper into her lap, starting to purr.  She sighed and stroked his head.

“Really, Jasper, I need to go to bed.  You’re going to have to get up.”

He lifted his chin and she obediently started to stroke his throat.  She was so easy to manipulate it was ridiculous.  On a good evening he could hold her in place for half an hour or more past the time she first started trying to leave.

“I mean it,” she said.  “I’m going to bed.”

She stroked his head and sides for a few more minutes and then sighed.

Gently she started to insinuate her hands under his body.  Rebelliously, he went as limp as possible, almost sinking into her legs as she struggled to remove him.  Eventually, though, she managed to get enough of a grip to lift him, and then he knew it was over.

He shook himself slightly and stalked a few paces away before sitting down and looking reproachfully back at her.

She laughed and stroked his head again.

“Sorry, darling, but you should be used to this by now.”

A female of the species, going about her business.  All is fine, until suddenly, attack!  An ugly, insectoid creature leaps upon her.  It injects its eggs into her body, where the developing larvae happily eat the internal tissues and then burst out through the abdomen.

Sound familiar?

You think I’m describing the plot of a film, don’t you?

This is real.

The wasp Dinocampus coccinellae injects its eggs into the body of a ladybird, which plays unwilling host to them.  After bursting out of its hiding place, the larva builds a cocoon under the ladybird, which remains in place to protect it while it develops.  When exposed to lacewings, unprotected cocoons were devoured utterly, but so were 85% of cocoons protected by dead ladybirds.

Because this isn’t just a space-alien horror film.  This is a zombie space-alien horror film.

The ladybird usually remains alive – in fact around 25% of affected ladybirds survive the ordeal and completely recover – but is partially paralysed.  Venom released by the larva causes it to twitch and grasp, warding off predators.  In this state, only a third of cocoons get eaten by lacewings.

What’s your favourite nature-zombie story?

There was an article on the BBC today about serious computer games.

No longer the preserve of teenage boys sitting in darkened rooms, games have been designed to give people insight into the middle east conflict (you can play either side), how to cope with dwindling oil reserves, sex education and what constitutes undue pressure, and many others.  The theory is that if you make it fun people will be more engaged with it and will learn better.

As an aside, it works with fiction (both books and TV), too.  I’ve learnt more history from fiction than I ever did at school, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one.  I was particularly entertained when I discovered that the writers of Stargate SG-1 had chosen to name their alien mineral naqada after a period in Egypt’s pre-dynastic history famous for its pots.

Staying with Stargate – Universe this time – the serious computer game concept was used to farm out processing power to people without security clearance.  That’s how they recruited Eli in the first episode.  He solved the puzzle in the game and then discovered high-ranking members of the Air Force on his doorstep to congratulate him.

And I won’t even mention The Last Starfighter.

But back to saving the world.

Does it work?  Could playing games solve the middle east crisis?  It’s hard to tell.  You can measure how many people play the games, but how would you measure the effect it was having on the real world?

What do you think?

I received a letter today. This is not entirely unusual, but it happens infrequently enough that I was mildly excited interested.

The blood donation service have, or rather had, a wonderful system whereby they would bring a van to your workplace, and you could duck out of work for a hour to visit the vampires. This had a couple of good effects. Firstly, you got out of work for an hour. Secondly (and more importantly) you could help save people’s lives without having to find time in a busy after-work schedule.

This service is being withdrawn. Apparently it is not “cost effective”. This I knew, since I was told the last time I made use of it.

What price a person’s life?

But back to the letter. When I last gave blood I was told that they were decommissioning the bloodmobiles, and that I would be written to later in the year to tell me of the alternatives. Hooray, I thought, here is the promised information!

No.

This was a letter whose only purpose, it seems, was to tell me that I would receive a letter later in the year. Really? A letter to tell me I would be getting a letter?

Perhaps if they spent less on letters they would be able to afford to keep running the bloodmobiles.

Deep philosophical thoughts sometimes creep up on you from the strangest places. Like questions about the eating habits of zombies.

Miriam Joy Writes

My mind not only wanders: sometimes it leaves completely.

This is a fact (as well as something written on one of father person’s t-shirts). My mind is apt to wandering so completely that when I opened my school planner to write a reminder to the effect of read Pliny introduction, what I actually wrote was why do zombies want brains? 

After staring at it for a few seconds trying to work out why it looked wrong, it occurred to me that that hadn’t been what I intended to write. Nor was I sure what I’d been thinking about to bring that to mind. Nevertheless, being ready to improvise and try and explain myself, I started to consider the question.

Why do zombies want brains?

I wasn’t really sure what I was asking myself. I mean, did I want to know why actual zombies wanted actual brains, assuming that they…

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Recently, I’ve been using the “word of the day” feature on my phone’s dictionary as a fiction prompt.  Today’s “word” was give-and-take, which I personally view as three words, but that’s beside the point.

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Give-and-take, noun.  An exchange of views on some topic.

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The sudden appearance of the German master had Jackson and Anders hastily straightening up from their half-crouches and brushing ineffectually at their trousers.

“And just what is going on here?”

His voice was soft like silk, with a hidden iron core.  Mr Sanderson never raised his voice to get the attention of the students – in or out of class.  There was no need; his very presence caused everyone to stand in silence.  Jackson gulped.

“Nothing, Sir.  Just a friendly debate, a little give-and-take.”

Mr Sanderson raked his eyes over the pair.  They fought the urge to fidget, both uncomfortably aware that their shirts were not perfectly tucked in, their ties slightly skewed.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that there was a little more take than there was give.  I note that Mr Anders has misplaced his lunch in the excitement, and that you have found it, Mr Jackson.  I will assume that you were merely returning it to him?”  Somehow he managed to make the statement sound like both a question and an order.  Frantically Jackson nodded, and held out the plastic box to the younger boy.

Anders glanced at Mr Sanderson before hesitantly taking it and clutching it to him.  Mr Sanderson gave him the slightest of nods, so small that he was almost sure he had imagined it.

“Mr Anders, I fear you must find other companionship for now; Mr Jackson and I are going to have a conversation about the quality of his latest essay.  Come,” he added sharply, looking at Jackson, and swept off towards his classroom.  Jackson’s shoulders slumped as soon as the teacher’s back was turned, and he made a rude gesture.

“I saw that.”

His eyes widened comically, and he scuttled down the corridor after his teacher.

Anders smiled, and went to eat his lunch.

A plane (an Airbus A320 to be precise, although I doubt it matters) coming in to land at Glasgow airport has seen a UFO.  Usually, when people talk about UFOs, they mean aliens, however in this case I’m using it in the literal sense.  It was an object, it was flying, and it was unidentified.

The UFO passed around 300 feet below the plane, seen by the pilots mere seconds before.  Visibility was good, nothing was showing on the radar, and the pilots were wide awake.  They described it as

blue and yellow or silver in colour with a small frontal area, but […] bigger than a balloon

They reported the near miss immediately, and the flight controller said he wasn’t talking to anyone else in the area, and there was nothing on his radar.  The radar at Prestwick (which is about 30 miles from Glasgow) reported an “unidentified track history” just over a nautical mile away 28 seconds earlier.  If it was the same object it was moving pretty fast.

Other aircraft, including small planes, helicopters, and weather balloons, would show up on radar.  The weather conditions were wrong for gliders and parascenders, and they shouldn’t have been in restricted airspace anyway.  So what was it?  Members of the committee investigating the near-miss were unable to decide.

Was it aliens?  Or a secret military experiment?

I have a different suggestion.  What is blue and yellow, can fly fast, and is bigger than a balloon?

I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t a bird, or a plane.

And I may have been lying about it not being an alien.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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