31.10.06

Five Horror Films

LISTS! Expect me to be posting a few of these on Space Cat Rocket Ship throughout November - aka NaNoWriMo month. These lists are likely to be personal and possibly obscure and even boring. I find it interesting to compile them and try and figure out my opinions. You may not find it interesting to read them. Anyhoo, here goes: in time for Halloween, five horror films. I don't recommend that you actually watch any of these films unless you have a good idea what you're letting yourself in for, by the way.

5. Perfect Blue



Not a film that I can readily recommend you watch, as it is genuinely disturbing throughout, but I am a fan of director Satoshi Kon, so it made my list in fifth place. I can't say that I'm in a hurry to watch it for a second time: Perfect Blue excels at maintaining an intense and palpable sense of threat throughout - not just a threat to your physical and emotional well-being, but also to your identity and your sense of existence within a coherent reality.

4. The Thing


I only saw this for the first time quite recently. I'd been interested in it for a while, because it seems to be the kind of thi- uh, movie that I'd either really like, or really freak out at. And, happily, it fell into the first category. The Thing is a movie about an isolated group of men, some of whom are not what they seem. So far, so unoriginal, but what sets The Thing apart is the nature of the shape-changing menace and the grotesque forms it takes. The incredible imagination shown by the guy in charge of effects (who was admitted to hospital with nervous exhaustion late during filming) resulted in a warped visual aesthetic that no contemporary movie could equal, stranded as we are between real and computer generated effects.

3. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn


The first Evil Dead film was much too nasty, the third way too silly, but in Evil Dead 2 Sam Raimi managed to create the perfect blend of sheer terror and hysterical comedy. The laughs and scares feed perfectly off one another as, for example, beleaguered hero Ash fights his own demonically possessed hand in a slapstick homage to the Three Stooges, before severing it with a chainsaw.

2. Shaun of the Dead


Two of the coolest things in the world, as least as far as I'm concerned, are George A. Romero's Living Dead films and Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's sitcom Spaced. Imagine my quasi-religious ecstasy, then, when Pegg and Wright went and made this fantastic half-horror half-comedy tribute to Romero; defying all previous measures of coolness and setting a new standard for contemporary British movies (it was actually possible for them to be good).

1. Dawn of the Dead


How many times has the word 'dead' appeared in this post? In George A. Romero's anti-capitalist horror, four survivors in a post apocalyptic America find that they have the whole mall to themselves. Cue decadence and callousness as they steadily lose sight of their humanity. On top of that, the dead are returning to life and they only have two things on their mind: eating the flesh of the living… and browsing aimlessly at the shops.

27.10.06

McMurdo Panorama


Spirit, the less healthy of the two Mars Rovers, spent the last southern Martian winter hunkered down on a small hill, its solar panels aimed square at the dwindling sunlight. It wasn't just sitting on its arse and doing nothing, though: it was compiling the most detailed panorama of Mars so far.

This panorama has finally been released, to mark Spirit's 1000th Martian day on the red planet. It was expected to last for 90 Martian days.

Follow these links to read about the story in more detail and find higher resolution images. The biggest image is about 90Mb in size. O_O

Pink Moon

So I'm finally changing from the default templates towards something a little more personal. My webcomics links have taken a bit of a beating - I'll sort them out later. I'm sure you all recognise the world in the header image - it's certainly one of my own favourite moons. If I've never blogged about it before, it's simply because no-one has been there in about 17 years.

Triton is Neptune's largest moon - the third body in the solar system discovered to be volcanically active (after Earth and Io), and the second moon (after Titan) discovered to have an atmosphere (albeit a very thin one). One of the really intriguing things about Triton (aside from the fact that it's pink) is that it's very clear that it didn't form in its present neighbourhood, but instead was captured by Neptune after they had both formed. Add to that the fact that Triton seems very similar to Pluto (taking into account that we know relatively very little about Pluto at the moment) and that Pluto's eccentric orbit crosses Neptune's, and you have two worlds that are apparently siblings somehow.

Triton is the larger of the two, by the way. Just sayin'.

It may turn out, once we know more (for example, after New Horizons reaches Pluto), that Triton was the first Kuiper Belt Object we ever got a good look at. If you're interested in getting a good look at it yourself, the full version of the image I used can be found here.

26.10.06

Okie-Dokey

There's a lot left to do. I want to change the template a little - I think I'll need to, actually, to get some of these nifty new features to work. I also need to do a lot of work on categories. As it is, the two main focuses of this blog fall into the categories: Stories and Space.

There doesn't seem to be any real navigation within the categories - it just lumps everything on the same page, so I'll have to try and come up with some suitable sub-categories. I've already got a category for Saturn and its moons, for example.

Finally, my NaNoWriMo blog is up:

The Skeleton God in Oil Paint

There's not really anything there yet, and I need to work on the template for that as well. Good thing I abound with energy!

I'm going to take a nap now.

Yay!

I'm well Beta Bloggered up, it would seem.

Taking the Plunge Shortly

I'm about to upgrade to Beta Blogger. If you don't hear from me again, or if this site disappears or becomes unreadable (I'm not sure what might happen), you may find me ranting and raving at:

http://spacecatrocketship.wordpress.com/

I think that Wordpress isn't as good as Beta Blogger potentially is. How the reality of them both measures up, I shall soon find out.

24.10.06

Lakdawalla Corrals Robot, Quilt

Emily Lakdawalla is back at the Planetary Society Blog. Apparently she left to make a quilt. She's hardly been back, and she's already drawn my attention to a robot that I've missed: the MESSENGER mission to Mercury.

Louis D. Friedman covers the Bush administration's revised space policy. It's not as bad as you may have heard, but it's still made it clear that the Bush administration's first priority is to kick ass and take names - even in a vacuum.

Finally, in the interest of appearing fair and balanced, Bill Nye (who is apparently some famous science guy), in the last blog before Emily returned, turned out to be the only guest blogger who supports Pluto's (and hence a lot of other objects') status as a planet. Read.

So What's Going On?

I have written a few things over the past couple of weeks, but nothing that I've finished. Hopefully this is because I've been thinking about bigger projects and not because what little ability I have has deserted me.

A couple of weeks ago I became eligible to cross to Beta Blogger - something with almost as many good features as horror stories.

As usual, Chuck is the font of knowledge:

The Real Blogger Status
The Real Blogger Status - Beta

I definitely want to be on Beta Blogger - I want to categorise my posts, mostly. Also, there are hints that eventually blogger will try and force everyone to make the switch. Which should be fun given the number of people who have sworn never to go over given the number of problems.

But my plan is to first establish a blog on another host. If Blogspot decides to eat Space Cat Rocket Ship or something, then hopefully you should still know where to find me.

Either way, over the next few days, I'll have a blog up for my impending NaNoWriMo, um... novel. Between now and November I'll post a back cover blurb of sorts, and a few pictures/diagrams.

23.10.06

Imitation; Flattery

Whenever I read the words of an American who needs medical treatment (perhaps even life-saving medical treatment) but has to pay for it, and is struggling to afford the cost (if they can afford it at all) it makes me so happy that the two main parties in the UK (the right-of-centre one and the far-right one) are doing all they can to change our out-dated public healthcare system to a more advanced, free-market model. That's what I call progress!

21.10.06

Retro Photo Quest: Space Year 2006

For various reasons, I've been looking at images from the 1920s at Wikimedia Commons. Here's something I found that I really like in and of itself:


Feeling down? Learn some science, foo'!

In context, given that this is a page from a 'sex hygiene manual' which includes other illustrations such as 'women love he-men', I believe that the 'natural laws' in question may actually be heteronormative standards. Which only makes my materialist perversion of this image all the sweeter, I think.



This is gorgeousness on a gold-plated stick:


A photograph illustrating the popular 'bob' hairstyle. No idea who she is, but she's certainly beautiful.



Are your children tired and cranky? Jayne's Vermifuge is the answer!

Click here to view this image. For some reason blogger decided to create a .png thumbnail with a huge filesize. I love blogger for giving us no control whatsoever over compression - especially because it always seems to do it way too much or way too little!



Look at these cuties:


Some teenage Minnesotans in 1924.



This one caught my eye, for obvious reasons:


Robert Goddard posing by his invention, the liquid-fuelled rocket. It'll never amount to anything, I tells ya!

20.10.06

Tennessee Cat Rocket Prize


Hooray! My fantabulous prize package is here, all the way from Nashville, Tennessee! Including a copy of The Independent Wife, so I can finally find out if human will triumph over tentacled sky-being!

There's also a sticker bearing the logo of something called Waylon Jennings, which I imagine is some relation or other of Waylon Smithers. I love sticking stuff on things, so I'll be sure to put that to good use.

Best of all though, is a Moleskine notebook. It's rather lovely, I have to say. I know it's just a notebook, but I'm reluctant to take it out of the packaging and do anything with it. I could only spoil it. O_O

Thank you, Roadchick. Your coolness tends towards positive infinity.

17.10.06

Edgar Wright + Simon Pegg = Happy Pacian

Hot Fuzz Teaser Trailers

Watch them both. That is all.

I :-) This Campaign

Banksy once expressed something about how big companies are allowed to cover the city in eye-catching images, but individual citizens are not. Here's an interesting way of bridging the gap, courtesy of the Wooster Collective: a campaign where people put stickers on advertising posters saying what they think about them. See some examples here.

15.10.06

LOLs of the OLiest Kind

On Friday Tinker asked us to make someone laugh. Unfortunately, through a freak of genetics, I was born without a sense of humour. I do, however, know someone who was born with a great sense of humour.

Five minutes from the finale of Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill Jr, re-edited slightly to fit an Orbital remix of the Doctor Who theme:



And three minutes from the opening of Keaton's The Playhouse, set to Bentley Rhythm Ace:

13.10.06

Who's That?


It's been a while since I've drawn anything seriously, but yesterday I was suddenly struck by the desire to draw something for my NaNoWriMo story. It's not finished yet - I'm probably going to change the hair and the coat, and it needs to be shaded, and the bird needs another foot, but I thought I'd scan it before I accidentally ruined it somehow.

Who is it? Well, it's Cubi from my Story about a Mechanical Egg. That story is little more than 'plotless, phantasmagoric nonsense', and I did enjoy coming up with a whole world and then casually discarding it at the end of the story, but it does seem a shame to let the setting go to waste, so I will be using Cubi's world (slightly modified) for NaNoWriMo.

I have a little black book that I have been filling with notes on Cubi's world, starting with a little map. I've been trying to flesh out the different characters and cultures and come up with a feel for the story. I've also tried to come up with as many mysterious plot elements as I can so that I can claim suitable foreshadowing for any crazy plot twists or revelations that may necessitate themselves.

And who's the bird? Well, you'll have to read the story to find out. I'm not sure I know myself yet.

12.10.06

Cassini: Best Robot Ever?


Click it to view the big version and receive your daily monthly recommended dose of celestial gorgeousness. This is an image that the Cassini imaging team have apparently been assembling since Cassini was in Saturn's shadow. (Is this the first time I've ever linked to myself?) As the caption reads:

This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006. The full mosaic consists of three rows of nine wide-angle camera footprints; only a portion of the full mosaic is shown here. Color in the view was created by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared and clear filter images and was then adjusted to resemble natural color.

The mosaic images were acquired as the spacecraft drifted in the darkness of Saturn's shadow for about 12 hours, allowing a multitude of unique observations of the microscopic particles that compose Saturn's faint rings.

Earth is visible in the image, and, if you look at the huge version available at the relevant CICLOPS page, you can also make out cute little Enceladus.

The news release that originally pointed me to this image, also mentions that:

The latest Cassini findings are being presented today at the Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in Pasadena, Calif.

Today being yesterday, at least in this time zone. Presumably this means that the rest of us will soon be clued in on the 'intriguing' results of Cassini's Titan flyby on Monday - a flyby specifically looking for lakes. Although, the fact that the first teasing press release about this flyby was entitled: Cassini Flies by Land of Lakes , I don't think it's wild optimism to suspect that they weren't disappointed.

11.10.06

I Could Fool Columbo

I know what you're thinking: no-one could fool Columbo. And you're probably right. The title is just hyperbole designed to attract readers among the murderer demographic, which my statistics indicate I am failing to reach.

I have, however, noticed one mistake that the criminals always make with Columbo. For example, Columbo says to this one guy, isn't it funny that this man shot himself in the head, but there was a drop of blood beneath the gun when we picked it up? And the guy goes, well, maybe he held onto the gun for a while after he died, and then it fell from his fingers once his muscles started to relax.

And the murderers do it again and again. Columbo keeps coming up to them with things from the murder scene that he 'can't quite figure out' and they do gymnastics to try and explain it for him. Don't do that! When Columbo says he doesn't understand, but the car was in neutral, don't say, "I was afraid of this! I think he may have rolled his car off the cliff on purpose! He confessed suicidal feelings to me (and me alone)." No! Instead you say, "That's really interesting lieutenant. What do you think it means?" But they never do. And that's how he knows. Because if you're innocent, you wouldn't go to such lengths to try and explain every little thing away.

Perhaps that's Columbo's strength, though. Seeming simple enough that you don't think he really suspects you're the murderer, so you think, If I can just assuage this one little doubt he has about the case, maybe he'll buy it! And then he has you.

8.10.06

Sunday Scribblings: The Frog Notes Assignment Blues

This week's Sunday Scribblings is an assignment.

This is a proper assignment, you need to take this seriously.

As a character in an H.G. Wells story might put it: pshaw.



Notes

This is my notebook, in which I am supposed to note things, such as interesting people I see:


I must confess that I have been lax with my people watching of late. Perhaps it's because I've been in my home town, worrying about myself, that I haven't had much chance to pay attention to the familiar-seeming people who I walk past. Commuting to university was the best time to jot down notes about people, it seems. I always find travelling by public transport relaxing. You can sit back and daydream and look out the window, and it's not up to you if you're late or early. Except when you get bored waiting, walk to the next bus stop and miss your ride.

I have several pages in my frog notebook of brief descriptions of people I saw, trying to distil what it was about them that caught my eye into one fragmentary sentence. With some people it was easier than with others - they are interesting enough to recall in detail, only using my notes as a prompt. Meandering through the town centre one afternoon, for example, was a short, obviously mentally disabled man, the word 'police' written on the back of his grubby beige coat in blue biro. He walked slowly and authoritatively, hands clasped behind his back. When I first saw him, outside some busy shops, a real police officer in a fluorescent yellow jacket was watching from a short distance away. Later, while walking back to uni, I saw him just outside the town centre, surveying a bench and litter bin with paternal concern.

Then there was the Russian man whose phone call I was privy to one day on the train home. I have to say, I don't mind this sort of thing much. The only thing that annoys me is when the train moves through an area with bad reception and you have to listen to them saying 'Hello?' over and over until they get a signal back. My notes read: 'Blond mop of hair; shirt, tie and jeans, has accent - mentions Russian.' He was speaking to someone who was clearly associating with someone he thought was bad news. He was adamant that if his friend saw this person again they should say, 'You are registered for police!' and refuse to speak to them. He was quite resolute that the phrase 'You are registered for police' should be used.

Girls caught my eye, funnily enough, especially those who managed to stand out in some eccentric little way. It's easy to fall for someone you know nothing about and only see once, because you can make up everything about them except the way they acted and were dressed when you saw them. There was the artsy scruffiness of a willowy, caramel-toned girl, her messy hair tied up in a scarf, searching for a spot in the sun. Or the fashion-conscious nerdiness of a girl with knee-high stockings, black-rimmed glasses and a sky-blue coat, walking by a lake.

As well as people, I'd try to note down anything strikingly unusual I saw, especially things that didn't immediately leap out at you - such as the very un-CSI fashion in which a platform was cordoned off at one station I passed through, police tape tied to brooms sticking out of the tops of little 'Caution Slippery Floor' cones. And one day I decided that, rather than paying attention in a lecture, I would try to write in my notebook a comprehensive description of the lecture theatre in which the myriad little things on the ceiling were the true living creatures and the human beings were mere ambience. The lecturer for example: "A bass noise drones rhythmically, and a miasma of dry, factual information seeps through the air, both emanating from the same source." Interestingly, I got a mark of about 30% in that module, and it pulled my whole average down.

Looking over my notes, I can see a wealth of interesting little observations, many of which could happily be dropped into any story from a great height to produce a few pleasant ripples. Suddenly I feel a little guilty for neglecting my notes for the past little while. I wonder how many interesting people and things I've missed out on. The fact that my notes are actually spread out between two notebooks, neither one anywhere near full is also a cause for consternation. I shall have to copy them up from one to the other. And my frog will have to come out of the house much more often. I don't think he'd mind.

7.10.06

Underdog at 297 Kilometres

When trying to think of my personal favourite underdogs, it seems that the poor robots I give so much coverage to on this blog are such underdogs that I plain forgot about them!

Take Cassini for example, consistently returning gorgeous images and interesting finds, but seemingly quite obscure as far as most people are concerned. Spirit and Opportunity are an even worse case. After exceeding their life expectancy by a factor of ten and overcoming calamities and faults, they're still going strong and getting very little press for it.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see an image clearly from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (henceforth referred to as 'MRO') on Channel 5 news late last night. Here it is, Victoria Crater from an altitude of 297km:


What's especially nice about this image is that if you download the full version from the NASA Planetary Photojournal (the image source) and look at the ten 'o' clock part of the crater, you should be able to make out a little rectangular blob with a spiky shadow - our pal, Opportunity. Actually, downloading one of the bigger pictures is recommended; whenever I look at the smaller images my eyes seem to get tricked into seeing the crater 'sticking out' rather than 'going in'. But if I look at this close-up of the south edge of the crater, for example, I can see that this is just an illusion caused by sunlit, crumbly rocks:



And here's a closer view of the little trooper herself:




Again, you'll want to download a larger version to get a better look, or you can take a gander at Doug Ellison's post over at the Planetary Society blog which has some nice close-ups and diagrams.

6.10.06

Write-Me-Do

I'm considering attempting NaNoWriMo this year. If I did, my novel would be something relatively pulpy and aimless. I have at least two three competing ideas for plots - some more well formed than others. The most well formed, I have actually fallen out of favour with. Or rather, it fell out of favour with me.

Still, I am wondering if I'd be better off focusing my energies on actually writing a novel seriously. Then again, I could think of this as a sort of trial run, to learn to focus on writing above any of my other interests and to see what mistakes I make. I'm not really sure, but I'm seriously tempted.

If I do write something for NaNoWriMo, I'll post it to the internet in a separate blogspot blog so that you can all see my shame.

4.10.06

Birthday Boy


Buster Keaton: 111 years old today, and still loved across the world.

(Image from Sherlock Jr)

2.10.06

Lakes, Armchairs, Gas Giants and Robots

After it's recent flyby of Titan, Cassini returns yet more radar images of lakes, including these two 'kissing lakes'.



The one on the right looks a bit like Homer Simpson to me. Not sure who he's kissing though. Is it that girl from the Snoopy cartoons?




Now, what is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter? Well, it's yet another one of our robot friends who we've sent to Mars, and it's just arrived and hung up its coat and hat. Apparently it's also 'the highest-resolution camera ever to orbit Mars', as evidenced by its first proper (greyscale) image:



Rocks and surface features as small as armchairs are revealed in the first image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since the spacecraft maneuvered into its final, low-altitude orbital path. The imaging of the red planet at this resolution heralds a new era in Mars exploration.


Sadly a big ball of flaming gas is about to get in the way.

For most of October, Mars will be passing nearly behind the sun from Earth's perspective. Communication will be intermittent. Activities will be minimal for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft at Mars during this time, and they will resume in early November.


"Since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun!" And now I finally understand why.




In other news, New Horizons, on its way to Pluto, sights Jupiter.

And the Planetary Society have another one of their impressively comprehensive updates on the Mars Exploration Rovers.

1.10.06

Sunday Scribblings: A Story About Skin

And Sunday Scribblings did declare: skin.

We like to imagine that our skin is an impermeable barrier between 'us' and the world outside our bodies, that we are completely self-contained. Which is silly on so many levels.


Under Your Skin

I watch through the spy hole as the soldiers come back down. Pressed up against my door, cold wood against my cheek, for some reason I barely dare to breath. They're still wrapped up completely in black gas-masks and thick gloves, strange canisters strapped to their backs that seem to be part of some sort of spray. Pesticide perhaps. Maybe they've sprayed the flat and wiped out all the parasites. Perhaps there weren't any to start with. All I know is that some guy came running down the stairs this morning screaming that there were parasites in his flat. I grabbed my phone right away and dialled zero, zero, zero. The soldiers turned up, and now they're leaving. The stairs creak under their collective weight. Otherwise, everything is quiet.

I'm tempted to open the door and ask them what's going on. But something holds me back. Anyway, if something important was happening, if the building was being evacuated for example, they'd tell us. Instead they seem to just be leaving. Everything must be okay.

As the last soldier disappears down the stairs, I move to the window and wait. After a while I see them emerge onto the courtyard below, filing out in step, climbing back onto their truck and driving off. I look around to see if anything has changed outside. It hasn't. More accurately, it changes so slowly that I don't notice it. The grey building opposite was once bright white. The gardens flanking the street were once dominated by neat, colourful flowers rather than dull, unruly weeds. They didn't become that way overnight.

I hear something out on the landing and race back to the spy hole. A young woman is creeping up the stairs. She's small and pale, bespectacled and dowdily dressed. Her unwashed black hair is tied back in a loose ponytail. I've seen her around the building before, like a quiet ghost. I remember she smiled at me a few times.

She peers up the stairs cautiously.

After a moment's consideration, I unlock the door. She turns towards it and looks a little embarrassed. I undo the bolts and chain and peel away the duct tape covering the gaps between the door and the frame. As I open it I suddenly wonder what I look like. I try to always look presentable, even though this woman's is the first human face I have seen in weeks.

"They've gone," I say.

"Oh," she says. "Do you know what happened?"

I shake my head. "Some guy thought he had parasites in his flat. The soldiers came and went. Beyond that, I don't know."

She looks a little sheepish. She's extremely pale and she rubs her stomach absently.

"Are you okay?" I ask, wondering if she has parasites.

She nods. I start to close the door.

"I'm really hungry," she blurts out. "I have nothing to eat."

I freeze for a moment. Then I open the door wide again. "Come inside," I say.

She smiles apologetically and walks into my flat. I close the door behind her, lock it, close the bolts and chain and smooth the tape back down over the gaps. When I turn around she's examining my place. I can't even remember the last time someone other than me laid eyes on it.

"It's nothing special, but it's home," I say to her back. "I was still moving in when all this happened."

All I have are a few pieces of furniture, an old TV and a load of books. I've read most of them twice.

She looks at my computer - green screen flickering beneath a hood of shiny white plastic. "You work from home," she says.

"Who doesn't these days?"

"Me," she says quietly.

"No wonder you're hungry. You just have the emergency rations? Well, they always seem to give me too much. I've eaten already, but you can have some of my leftovers. I really wish I had something better to offer you than cold chicken."

She turns to face me. The left lens in her glasses is cracked; it casts rainbow patterns over her cheek. "No," she says, "that sounds lovely."

She eats on her lap in front of the television. I sit next to her, trying to remember how to behave with another person. To start with she's self-conscious. She offers me some, but I remind her that I've already eaten. As she starts to nibble at it, though, her appetite takes hold and she's soon gulping it down. I watch spellbound, barely paying attention to the babbling television. I eat three meals a day, so you'd think I'd be pretty used to it. But somehow, watching another person do it is fascinating.

Eventually the plate is empty. She mops up some butter with her finger and licks it clean. I'll hardly need to wash the plate up. She thanks me in the kindest terms and I leave the plate in the kitchen.

Now we're still sitting side by side on the sofa. We glance at one another awkwardly and then look at the television.

The vertical hold is going. I get to my feet to slap the side of the television and the picture steadies, still flickering at the edges. I sit back down, bouncing the cushion beneath the woman, whose name, I realise, I still do not know. From the television screen, a man is facing us. He must be a scientist, because he's wearing a white coat.

"Sometimes you may find that someone in your life, perhaps even a friend or relative who you care for deeply, is asking you questions that make you feel uncomfortable. These question may ask you to reveal parts of yourself that you would rather not share, or they may make you examine your personal values or certainties. Perhaps it feels somewhat like they are trying to get into your head, or to force a change in your opinions."

He walks over to a whiteboard covered in a dense scrawl of complicated equations. "Perhaps that's not actually far from the truth. Government projections indicate that five percent of the nation's population have been subverted by dangerous Zeta Parasites from the southern continent. If you find that someone can't seem to stop asking questions - perhaps even yourself - remember to report it immediately by dialling zero, zero, zero. Help is only a phone call away."

The man in the white coat is replaced by a woman in a bikini. She mops her brow and turns to the camera as if addressing a friend. "Every parent knows how difficult is it is to get enough vitamin Q into their kids-"

The vertical goes again and no amount of banging will bring it back. I turn the television off instead, a little embarrassed. "It's been on its last legs for a while now," I tell her.

"Well, there's nothing on anymore anyway," she says with a smile that seems forced. "It's all parasites and adverts."

"Oh, um, I'm Ashley, by the way."

"Rhea," she replies.

Somehow we end up shaking hands, rather limply. It's not like we met just this second. We start laughing.

"I can't remember the last time I laughed," Rhea says. "I think all this time alone has made me a little peculiar. It's been months since I last spoke to anyone. I'm surprised that I know how. Well, I suppose I have been speaking to myself. I know that you'd think that everyone does it, but I never used to. When I started I thought that maybe I'd finally gone crazy. But it made me feel a lot better. I try to keep as quiet as I can though. If you make too much noise someone ends up dialling zero, zero, zero. But listen to me, I can't shut up for five seconds, can I? Sorry."

"Keep talking. You're more interesting than the TV."

"Now that you put me on the spot, I don't know what to say."

"Will you stay for dinner?"

"Okay."

*

The vertical has really gone this time. I can't see anything, but I can hear what they're saying.

"So what should you do if a swarm of Zeta Parasites is trying to enter your home?"

"It's important to seal up all the little nooks and crannies that could serve as entry points. It's not enough to just lock your door - you have to block up any gaps around it. Preferably with strong adhesive tape, but failing that with towels or even clothing. That goes for your windows as well.

"If the Zeta Parasites get into your home they'll attempt to force their way into your cranial cavity, where they'll take over your brain and change things to their liking. The people that you love today, you might not love the next day. Your opinions and beliefs would be subverted. You might convert to a different religion. You might even find yourself voting for a different political party.

"If you believe that there are Zeta Parasites in your home it would be best to put an end to your own life, as well as that of anyone else under the same roof, including pets."

"But you do have one last piece of advice for us, don't you?"

"Absolutely. And that is to not be afraid. If we're afraid, then the Zeta Parasites have already won."

"Thank you very much."

"You're welcome."

"I should tell you," Rhea says over the phone, "sometimes I think that I'm a Zeta Parasite."

"How do you mean?" I ask. I can hear that she's watching the same show as me.

"Sometimes… I think that I'm a little worm or bug that burrowed into the real Rhea's ear and took over her brain. Up until that point, I was just a bug, so I didn't really know anything. But once I was in Rhea's head, once I'd destroyed her consciousness and taken on all her memories and personality traits, suddenly I had self-awareness. I looked around and thought: 'What happened? How did I end up here? Why am I trapped in this little flat by myself with nothing to do but read the same books over and over and watch horrible television shows? Why do I feel ill at the prospect of reading my favourite book for the umpteenth time? Why have all my habits and feelings changed? Why am I so frightened of everything?'"

She stops speaking and I gather my thoughts. The television tells me how to eliminate grey hairs, fast. "I think you just don't have anything to think about except things that don't matter. I'll lend you some more books."

"Thank you," she says shyly. "Oh, and, I was wondering if, maybe, you'd like to go on a picnic?"

I don't understand. "What do you mean?"

*

"I like to sneak up here sometimes. It makes me feel a little less crazy. Like I can really relax when I'm up here. But sometimes you see a helicopter and I think it's better to go inside then."

We're on the roof. The whole town is spread out around us: dirty, blocky buildings and empty, rubbish-strewn streets. Everything is silent. We move like we're in a holy place, whispering under our breath. The sky is a wet, light grey colour. We set down a blanket on the damp tarmac and start eating. It's cold. We keep our hands in our sleeves, holding our sandwiches with just the tips of our shivering fingers. We laugh at how silly we look.

"I'm so glad we started to talking to one another," Rhea says.

I nod and take another bite.

"But sometimes you make me feel bad about myself."

I swallow. "I do? I don't mean to."

She looks off into the sky. "No, I don't mean it's something you do, I mean, when I'm with you I think about all my bad habits, all my peculiarities and flaws. I pick my teeth when I eat, I pick my nose when no-one's looking, I shed hairs like a cat - I'll probably be bald in ten years, I'm selfish, I always have to get my own way and I'm a really jealous person."

"I don't think we'll have to worry about that last one."

She attempts a laugh and then shrugs it off. "I just know that, eventually, I'm going to end up getting under your skin. You seem to really like me now. But maybe tomorrow you'll notice what I'm really like, inside, and you'll start to find me annoying."

"I'd rather be annoyed than alone," I say, brushing her greasy hair back from her face.

She flinches as I touch her skin for the first time. Then she shrugs and smiles lopsidedly.

"I think it's starting to rain," I add.

"Let's stay out here a little longer," she says.

I nod, glad.