Monday, May 25, 2015

Is the sun beginning to set on Liverpool FC?

Sunset over Anfield (c) Ruaraidh Gillies
Today marks exactly ten years since one of the most memorable Champions League finals of all time. But that night currently seems a long way away and the chances of seeing Liverpool in a Champions League final seem to be even further away. With the utter disarray of this season, questions need to be asked about where Liverpool goes from here...

On May 25th, 2005, after having been 3-0 down to AC Milan at half time, Liverpool somehow managed to draw level with their Italian counterparts in six crazy second-half minutes and then hung on through extra-time to win a penalty shoot-out that left AC Milan shattered and Liverpool exultant...

As a Liverpool fan I remember the night well; the abject misery of the first half when no amount of alcohol could take the edge off the pain of watching my beloved Reds being ruthlessly disassembled and dissected by a clinical Milan side. And I remember the roars of joy as first Gerrard, then Smicer, then Alonso put us right back in the mix; roars dwarfed by the one I made when Dudek dived to save Shevchenko's penalty and won the match for us. And that swell of pride in my chest when we lofted the cup and the feeling that, surely, this was the start of big things for us. A chance for the club to regain its place among the elite.

And the next few years hinted at that promise; an FA Cup win, another Champions League final against AC Milan (with a different conclusion) and in 2008-2009 a second place finish in the Premier League. And then everything fell apart. The ownership of Gillet and Hicks didn't do us any favours and the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, eventually left 'by mutual consent' after a season in which we finished 7th. Things only got worse under Roy Hodgson and the appointment of Kenny Dalglish, while initially lifting the mood of Liverpool supporters, also turned out to be a poor choice as we lost touch with the Champions League places for the third year running.

Step forward Brendan Rogers, a young manager who had got Swansea playing an attractive style of football and who promised to bring Liverpool a new era, an era in which they would return to the style of football that had won them so much during the late 1970s and 1980s. The first season was disappointing, as we again missed out on the Champions League, but his second season saw us challenging for the title until the very last day of the season when we finished second to a powerful Man City team.

Luis Suarez - hugely missed
However, there were nagging doubts over how much of that success was due to Roger's management and tactical skills and how much of it was due to the mercurial talents of Luis Suarez who ended the season as the top goal scorer in the Premier League (31 goals in only 33 games) and joint-top of the assists chart (13 assists) alongside Steven Gerrard. Not to mention the luck of having Daniel Sturridge fit all season. In total, Suarez and Sturridge scored 52 league goals for Liverpool. Surely this was a team that could move on to challenge again in the following year, thought the fans. Surely if we could build upon this team, if we could use the funds from Champions League qualification (and take advantage of the higher calibre player the Champions League attracts), then we could build a team that would be challenging for honours both domestically and in Europe.

Which is, of course, where it all began to go spectacularly wrong...

First of all, Suarez departed after yet another biting controversy, this time at the World Cup, and fled to the welcoming arms of Barcelona - leaving us with somewhere in the region of £70 million but a gaping hole in our team. And this is where it got even worse.

You see, the brilliance of both Sturridge and Coutinho in the 2013-2014 Premier League campaign had meant that Brendan Rodgers' (and Liverpool FC's) general ineffectiveness within the transfer market had flown slightly under the radar. It's important to remember that between his arrival as manager, and the end of the 2013-2014 season, Rodgers had brought in 15 players; two on loan, one on a free and 11 for a combined transfer of about £95 million. Now, of those players only two were unreserved successes (Sturridge and Countinho), three were mediocre (Allen, Sakho, and Mignolet), while the remaining ten failed to deliver. Meaning two thirds of the signings made, and almost 40% of the transfer spend, were a complete waste. But the second place finish glossed over this worrying statistic.

And so, with Suarez gone, and promises from Rodgers that he wouldn't be missed (and that Liverpool wouldn't repeat the mistakes Spurs had made a year earlier after selling Gareth Bale), Rodgers embarked on a massive raid on the transfer market, spending almost £117 million on eight new players, plus a loan signing. Unfortunately, it turned out to be money wasted as we ended up repeating the same quantity over quality mistakes made by Spurs the season earlier.

Of the new players, only Emre Can looked to be a good signing (although he was played out of position in defence), while Lallana and Moreno had the odd good game, they failed to deliver on their price tags and the less said about the contributions of Lambert, Markovic, Lovren, and Balotelli the better!

And at the end of the 2014-2015 Premier League season we find ourselves in the exact same place as Spurs were in the previous season (6th), having managed to accrue seven points less. Brendan Rogers' quote at the end of last season when he said "Look at Tottenham. If you spend more than £100 million, you expect to be challenging for the league." is surely about to come back and haunt him.

But, even if Rodgers is given the boot (and after yesterday's worst loss in over 50 years to Stoke City, that surely must be a good bet), what next for Liverpool? We need to completely overhaul our strike force (with Lambert, Borini and Balotelli surely set to leave this summer), while our midfield looks woefully inadequate for challenging for anything more than mid-table honours. This is coupled with a defence that was totally exposed by a rampant Stoke City side and, in Mignolet, a goalkeeper who often exudes the sort of confidence only seen before at Anfield in Djimi Traore (I often think Brendan Rogers may have been right when he said "We play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 men and a goalkeeper"). In total, it gives you an idea of the mammoth rebuilding task that lies ahead at Liverpool FC.

It is difficult to imagine that we can attract a true world class manager in these circumstances. Our best player of the last decade has just left, our most promising player wants only to leave and with an exodus of the dross undoubtedly due to occur over the summer we are going to need to bring in at least two strikers, a couple of midfielders, a couple of defenders and probably a new goalkeeper. And with neither Champions League football, nor the vast wages clubs such as Man Utd and Man City can offer, it's difficult to see us being able to attract the calibre of players we desperately need.

Will FSG spend big to get us back in the mix? It's hard to believe. My bet would be that whoever is managing next year will get £30 million to play with plus anything earned from selling players (which, based on their performance this year, is unlikely to add more than £8.63!). And that will only be enough to keep us where we are, to give us a chance to battle for one of the Europa League places while the clubs above move only further ahead of us and cement their place in the top four.

This season offered a lot of hope, but that hope has been dashed. And without substantial investment and a fair bit of luck, Liverpool might have to get used to the fact that the sun has set on our time as a major force in English football.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Oliver's Eurovision 2015 Drinking Game

With just 27 short days to go until we put aside musical taste and all sense of decorum and plunge headlong into the world of musical madness otherwise known as the Eurovision Song Contest, I figured that it was about time that I updated the rules for 2015.

Now, last year's rules were pretty deadly thanks to the sheer quantity of moustaches, amateurish dancing, and pyrotechnics, but it would seem that some people still aren't satisfied with the extreme levels of alcohol consumption encouraged by these rules and, thus, I have raised the bar this year to ensure that no one makes it out of this alive sober. And so, without further ado, let me get on with things...

As with previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 26 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Now, - as ever - I need to issue a word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game entirely at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Austria is Schnapps which, frankly is a little sickly for my liking but, hey, at least it's more readily available than some of the previous year's national drinks. I would suggest that you feel free to play hard and loose with the rules in this respect and pick something suitably alcoholic and to your tastes...

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Any time the British entry, Electro Velvet - who have been referred to as one of the worst British entries in a long time (which, based on our track record is quite impressive)  - are mentioned. 

2) Any time Australia is mentioned. Now, for those of you who might be wondering why on Earth anyone would mention Australia during a Eurovision contest, then you've obviously not being paying attention to the fact that Australia have been given a guest entry this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Eurovision.

3) The host(s) attempts to sing.

4) The host(s) pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

5) The host(s) loses track of their autocue or mess up their timing.

6) The video shown before an act contains shots of people in traditional Austrian folk costume. Drink a shot if anyone is doing a traditional Austrian folk dance. If you're unsure of what a traditional Austrian folk dance looks like then check out an example here. If you're too lazy to follow that link; don't worry you really haven't missed much - it looks like an overly complicated game of Simon Says, or Morris Dancing on speed (and without the handkerchiefs).

7) You see Austria's national animal - which is, rather unimaginatively an Eagle. Drink three shots if it’s a person dressed in an Eagle costume.

8) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man. 

9) The singer is barefoot.

10) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

11) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or objects acting as large drums.

12) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

13) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

14) The act possesses a large moustache.

15) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

16) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, English words in a song by Ukraine). One sip per language. If in any doubt, just take a sip.

17) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

18) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

19) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronism, appear to have perhaps had three dance lessons as a child and have never heard the song before tonight. 

20) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

21) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

22) Every time someone employs the use of a wind machine.

23) If the act attempts to distract attention from the paucity of quality in their offering by getting some kind of celebrity on stage with them (for reference, see Germany in 2009 who employed the services of Dita von Teese to no effect whatsoever)

24) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

25) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

26) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place.

27) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

27) If Australia win, drink a shot.

28) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

At some point in the next four weeks I'll try and fashion a printable version like I did the in the last three years. Oh and I would suggest that, in order to maximise the chances that your rules survive the night's entertainment, you may want to think about laminating them! Have fun and please don't blame for the pain and misery you will have to endure...not to mention the hangover the day after!!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Still writing...

I feel guilty that I'm not updating this a little more often but, just in case you're interested, then the work on the novel is proceeding like a glacier, which is to say relatively smoothly but a tad on the slothful side. Meanwhile, I'm also working on a SF novella that's coming along at a far nippier pace and is likely to be beat the novel to the finish line. Maybe I'll put a sample of the novella here in the neat future....

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Goblin Gate

The Goblin Gate 

Let me tell you a story.

It is a story with a beginning that has been lost to the mists of time; it is a story of a long desired and dreamed of vengeance; it is the story of a world that was finally reclaimed.  And we join it near to its end…

 *      *     * 

“You claim to have found a way to unseal the Great Gate,” said the warlock, his yellow eyes glittering in the candlelight, “A puzzle that my brethren have battled against for many centuries. You will forgive me if I appear sceptical.”

“I understand, of course,” said Urk-Meth, the Goblin Prince, supplicating himself at the feet of the Crimson Throne. “We are, of course, but humble Goblins; we know that we are not fit to kiss the feet of those such as you. However, you must know that we Goblins have our own special magicks, and we have delved deep into those magicks to find you an answer, to the find the answer most wanted by your Majesty.”

The huge troll standing at the Warlock’s side snorted derisively, his chainmail jangling, and hefted his battle hammer. “Shall I throw this little snot out?”

“Wait, Grax” said the Warlock, holding up a bony white hand. “We will hear him out. “

“Thank you, your Majesty,” said Urk-Meth, bowing even lower, “The depths of your generosity and wisdom and are not in any way exaggerated.”

“My patience is limited,” said the Warlock, “you will explain. If I am satisfied with your explanation, you will be rewarded. If I am unsatisfied…” he let the words trail off.

“Your Majesty, when the Great Gate was sealed and the World of Man was lost to us, it was said that no force could shatter the lock.”

“I am aware of the prophecies,” said the Warlock, “and I am aware of the efforts we have made to prove them false. We have rained all manner of magicks down upon the lock in the last Age; every Warlock and Witch that has lived has tested their strength against that of the Great Gate and they have all been found wanting.”

“Your Majesty, we are Goblins. We are not creatures of strength, which is why we are the lowest of the low and why it is such an honour to be the first Goblin Prince to be allowed an audience with his Majesty in the last two centuries.” Grax laughed uproariously when Urk-Meth referred to himself as a Prince, but he ignored him and continued. “But what we are is creatures of stealth, creatures of cunning. “

“Creatures that crawl in the dirt.” spat Grax.

“Yes,” nodded Urk-Merth, “We are creatures of the dirt but it is in our cunning that we have learned how to unseal the Great Gate; for the prophecy is true – no force may shatter the lock. But we have not shattered it. We have picked it.”

“Go on,” said the Warlock, sitting forward in his seat.

“It took the blood and the lifeforce of a thousand Goblins, but we have fashioned a skeleton key that I can use to open the Great Gate and give you entry again to the World of Man.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked the Warlock, his eyes narrowing.

“Because I have been there,” said Urk-Meth, standing for the first time. “I have walked among the forests of Man and I have watched and I have learned.”

“He lies,” spat Grax, “He is a filthy lying Goblin.”

“I promise you, your Majesty, I am not lying.” said Urk-Meth and dug into the pocket of his jacket, bringing out a white rose. “And I bring you a gift from the World of Man.”

The Warlock took it, turning it in his fingers so that the petals were illuminated by the soft light of the candles. It had been more than an Age since a flower had been seen in this world, more than an Age since the beauty of nature had been gazed upon. The Warlock closed his fist tight upon the rose, crushing the petals in the palm of his hand before letting them fall to the floor.

“The time is finally here,” he said, sharp teeth exposed by his smile, “The day we have waited for ever since we were cast out; the day when we can finally exact our revenge upon all of Mankind. Summon the armies!”

 *      *     * 

It took three days and three nights for the Army of Darkness to be fully drawn together; a legion of evil the likes of which had not been seen by the World of Man for more than a thousand years. At the front line were the Trolls; ten feet tall , decked out in plate armour and armed with battle hammers, axes and pikes; they snarled and roared as they waited for the Great Gate to open. Behind them were the Skinshifters and Wraiths, obsidian blades at the ready, while behind them were the Centaurs and the Satyrs, the Vampires and the Witches. Overhead, Fire Wyrms swooped back and forth above the massed ranks, their howls and screeches filling the air as they unfurled their wings and bared their sharp talons. And at the back of the many thousands, borne on the back of a nightmare black as midnight itself, was the Warlock dressed in his finest battle armour.

Urk-Meth stood at the very front of the great Army, the clamouring hordes to his back, and drew a complicated spiral on the ground at his feet. Then he took a glass vial and poured its contents into the dirt. Black Goblin blood swirled around the spiral and the ground beneath his feet began to shake. In front of him, a huge portal with shimmering edges began to open to reveal a yellowed landscape beyond.

“Today,” shouted the Warlock, his voice so loud that all could hear it. “We take back what was once ours. Today we will fall upon the World of Man like a plague and we will ravage it until we have slaughtered all who dare stand before us. This a world that has forgotten magick, that has forgotten the darkness; this is a world that is ripe for the taking. Prepare yourselves for glory!

Urk-Meth darted to one side, dodging the trampling feet of thousands of Trolls as they poured through the portal, ready to taste the blood of Man for the first time in an Age…

 *      *     * 

The hordes of Trolls were the first to emerge from the Portal, charging out onto the hot sands with Grax at their head they immediately spotted a group of men in beige clothes in the distance. Blood hot with the thrill of battle, they roared their battle cries and began their charge towards the men while, behind them, the Army of Darkness continued to pour forth from the portal in a seemingly endless stream and the first of the Fire Wyrms swooped menacingly through into the air of a new world.

The first line of Trolls made it no more than fifty yards before they were scythed down by some kind of invisible magic but the momentum of the forces behind them was too great and the Army continued to surge forwards, trampling over their twitching corpses as they did so. And so, it was only when a series of huge fireballs erupted within the midst of their ranks that their battle frenzy finally began to desert them. When the first of the Fyre Wyrms, eviscerated and bloody, tumbled from the sky and crushed more than a hundred Wraiths and Skinshifters below it, that frenzy was replaced by confusion. Hasty defensive magicks cast by the Witches in their ranks did little to halt the slaughter as death and destruction continued to rain down mercilessly upon the Army of Darkness.

The Warlock, last through the portal astride his great black steed, looked out across the flaming death that was being wrought upon his troops, watched as great steel birds swooped across the width of his Army and cut through Trolls and Satyrs, Vampires and Centaurs, as if they were nothing. And he realised in that moment that the world of Man they had come to conquer was not the world of Man that they had been banished from.  There was to be no victory for him today; his Army was being utterly obliterated.

He pulled on the reins of his nightmare and wheeled about, realising that all that was left for him now was to save his life and turn and flee back to his own world. But, even as he did so, he saw that the portal was rapidly closing behind him and the last thing he saw of his world was the Goblin Prince grinning at him before the Warlock was left to face the wrath of Man.

 *      *     * 

Records show that the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit were on a routine deployment in the Persian Gulf when the Anomaly Event occurred less than ten miles from their position. A forward patrol unit of two Humvees first encountered the Anomaly Forces and, briefly engaged them, before radioing for artillery and air support.

A combination of air strikes by Harrier AV-8B jets, ably supported by a contingent of A-10 Warthog close air support craft, served to stem the movement of the Anomaly Forces and a sweeping up operation conducted using M777 howitzers and M82 mortars ensured that the Anomaly Forces were reduced to less than 5% of their original strength. The surviving members of the Anomaly Forces were captured by marine forces backed by LAV-25 armoured vehicles and are now being interrogated as enemy combatants in a number of facilities around the world.

Scientists continue to try to understand the Anomaly Event but, thus far, have been unable to establish a cause.

 *      *     * 

And that, you see, is the end of the story. The story of how the Goblin people, who had been so sorely oppressed and who had suffered so much, managed to finally exact their revenge upon those who treated them as nothing. The story of how a world was reclaimed.

I knew that the Warlock would never have given a second thought to the fact that the world of Man might have moved on. I knew that he would never guess that I, Urk-Meth – a mere Goblin Prince – would harbour dreams of betraying him utterly and sending him into a battle that he could never hope to win. He underestimated the world of Man and he sorely underestimated me.

And now, I think I’ll go back to tending my new rose garden. It really is lovely.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First Contact

First Contact

I remember seeing the data that came in when the Outer Relay first picked up the asteroid; the telemetry indicated that it was moving fast, far faster than any of our models had predicted possible, but that it was heading on a trajectory that ensured it posed no danger to us.  I found it a curiosity, certainly, but it was a mystery to be solved another day when we had more time; there seemed more pressing concerns, things higher on my to-do list. And then we lost contact with the Outer Relay.

Did I have an inkling that something was wrong at that moment? I don’t think so. We’d had brief dips in communication for various reasons before and there was no cause to think that this wasn’t just another temporary transmission loss. We ran through the standard recovery protocols mechanically, knowing that if we hadn’t managed to receive anything in three days then we’d run the remote reboot as a last option. And then, thirty hours after the Outer Relay went dark, the Inner Relay started chattering.

It was the same asteroid but it was now moving slower. No, let’s face it, we knew as soon as we looked at the data that was coming in; it wasn’t moving slower, it was conducting braking manoeuvres and it was altering its trajectory.  I can still remember the wave of excitement that swept through the room as the realisation of what this was dawned on us. Here we were, the first seventeen people in the world to realise that we were heading towards the very serious possibility of first alien contact.  There were lots of smiles and back-clapping, lots of laughter.  Optimism was the key word, I suppose.  At least, it was then. We lost contact with the Inner Relay a few minutes later but, by that point, that was the least of our concerns.

My next few days passed in a whirlwind of briefings and meetings that saw me jetted to every corner of the globe and which are now little more than a blur in my memory; I stood in a variety of different rooms around the world, in front of fellow scientists, in front of officials, in front of the World Council itself. The data was still coming in thick and fast; the object was the size of a mountain and would arrive in our orbit within the week. There was debate about how, and even if, the general populace should be told. I listened to all manner of psychologists give their perspectives; some argued that it would it trigger panic, some argued that the media had already prepared the public consciousness for this day. In the end, the debate turned out to be irrelevant when some amateur astronomer tracked it and publicised the film in the media. From that point on, it was just damage control.

I guess both sets of psychologists were right. There were some places where panic did set in, where people became scared of what this meant and lost sight of all reason. I remember seeing the lootings and the rioting on my screen the day before it arrived and feeling oddly responsible, as if my discovery of the object somehow made this all my fault. But the majority accepted the news with a kind of calm but keen anticipation. We’d struggled with the question of whether we were alone in this Universe for so very long and now, we were about to have our questions answered.

The world paused, the collective holding of breath as the hour approached. Some people held vigils. Some people held parties. Some people prayed. In that moment, a whole world stopped whatever it was doing and looked up. Crime rates fell to zero. Armed conflicts around the world simply ground to a halt. We were all focused on the heavens. Nothing else seemed important. We all wanted to be able to say where we were on the day that we first made contact with an alien species. There was no partying for me; I was still attached as an advisor to the World Council and we watched the arrival from the depths of a bunker deep beneath a mountain. Military advisors had deemed it necessary until the intentions of the visitors became clearer.

And then it arrived.

I guess, after the sudden and explosive build up, it was somewhat anticlimactic. It didn’t part the clouds and hover above the top of one of our capital cities as perhaps we’d come to expect alien visitors would, in fact it didn’t part the clouds at all. It took up orbit at a height just beyond the clusters of our space stations and then did precisely nothing. No response to the welcome message we were blasting out on every frequency. No communication at all. In fact, there was no indication of life whatsoever. It just sat there in orbit, vastly bigger than anything we had ever put into space, and looked down on us. The hours ticked away, became days. Became weeks.  And nothing.

The media exploded in all manner of theories. Experts from every walk of life were wheeled out to explain why an alien spacecraft would resolutely fail to have any contact with us at all. But, like any story, it couldn’t stay at the top of the headlines forever and, as the weeks became months, people gradually began to accept the object as an addition to our skies but stopped looking up. Like a firework that had failed to go off, it held their attention for a while but then they got bored of waiting. People began to get on with their lives. Crime rates returned to normal. The conflicts, stalled but not forgotten, gradually stirred back into life.

And us, the scientists? Well, we banged our heads against a collective brick wall; the object proved to be impervious to any of our attempts to scan it and we lost contact with any craft that we attempted to move within a range of less than ten times the object’s circumference.  It was an enigma.

But, six months and three days after it arrived in our orbit, something happened.  The satellites we had positioned beyond its influence filmed as the object slowly began to open up like a set of gigantic petals and a smaller object detached itself from the centre of the mass and took up a course that would allow it to enter the atmosphere.

The world exploded with excitement again as the smaller object arced across the sky and I was part of a team that was hastily assembled and rushed to a remote island in the middle of the ocean, the location that the craft was projected to land. I clearly remember holding hands with one of my colleagues as it blazed into view; a black triangle that descended so abruptly that its movement seemed at odds with the laws of physics, or at least the ways that we understood them.  It landed, softly, on the white sands no more than a stone’s throw from where we stood.

There were to be no camera crews and no reporters to capture this moment. Instead, first contact would be made by a delegation of scientists and World Council officials who were surrounded by a cordon of very nervous looking soldiers.  A door formed on the previously featureless metal of the triangle and then slowly opened.

I held my breath, heart pounding in my chest, as I watched a spindly metal figure step out of the triangle and onto the sands. It moved with a seamless grace, taking large steps across the sand that left no footprints. Finally, when it stood no more than ten paces from us, it stopped and tilted its head. Where one might have expected there to be a face, there were instead three bulbous spheres and these rotated as it took in the scene before it.

“Welcome,” said the leader of the World Council, stepping forward and bowing. “I am here as the representative of this world. May I bid you welcome.”

The being stood in silence, head tilted, for a moment longer. Finally it spoke.

“We are Kandor,” it said in a voice that I learned later all of us – no matter which language we spoke – could understand. “And we are the Judgement Due.”

I remember there was a ripple of murmuring as it said this, all of us wondering if this was a problem in translation. But when the being next spoke, all ambiguity disappeared.

“We have spent time watching you. Evaluating you.  We are the Judgement Due and you have been found wanting.  You are weak and you are flawed. You are a danger to yourselves and, should you ever leave this world, you would be a danger to all you come into contact with.”

There was a hushed silence.

“We have seen you. Seen how you care so much for your beliefs that you are often prepared to kill those who do not conform to your belief system. Seen how you are even willing to kill purely for material gain. You are greedy. You are limited. You are corrupt. You have been Judged, you have been found wanting and we are the Judgement Due.”

“What do you mean?” asked one soldier who was standing off to my right, breaking the silence. “What do you mean we have been judged?”

The being rotated its head as if to consider him.

“Your species has been deemed a threat. We are the Judgement Due. We will remove that threat.”

“Wait a minute,” I remember spluttering, and stepped indignantly forward, seeing myself reflected in its huge spherical eyes as I spoke, “what are you saying? That you’ve come here to destroy us?”

“You have five rotations of your planet,” it said, its voice entirely absent of emotion, “and then you will be erased.”

And with that, it turned and walked back to the triangle. I remember some of the soldiers losing it at that moment, shouting and firing their weapons at it, but it ignored them and stepped back into the craft which then ascended vertically so fast that it was lost to our sight in seconds.

Five days. That’s all we had.

The first day was filled with talking and with pleading. We bombarded the object with messages that begged for discussion and it ignored us. The second day was filled with all manner of military types setting out theories and tactics on how we could attack the object; the general consensus seemed to be that we needed to launch every nuclear device we had and then cross our fingers. And so on the third day we did just that, only for the wave upon wave of missiles to finally end and for the object to still be sat their unmoved by everything that we could throw at it.

The fourth day we panicked and the world went mad. Chaos erupted, but with all our satellites long since fried by the sustained nuclear attack of the day before, there was no way for anyone to know what was going on. We fragmented. We reverted to a world before global communication. We reverted to being scared and angry.

And now the fifth day is here and I am standing on a beach and staring out to where the sea meets the horizon, I am staring out at a lancing sheet of ruby light that has appeared in the distance and which is sweeping its way across the water towards me. I am staring at the end of us. I close my eyes and wonder what comes next.

                      *                                       *                                    *

The black triangle descended onto one of the largest land masses and two metal figures stepped out into a field of grass.

“It is done,” said the first. “The population has been entirely eradicated. Phase one is complete. I will commence phase two and begin nano-dissembling of all of their structures.”

“Good,” said the second, its gaze sweeping across the burning cities and plumes of smoke in the distance. By the time that this planet had made ten rotations of its star, there would no longer be a single trace of the race that they had purged. Every single structure, every single artefact, every single corpse, would have been broken down on a sub-atomic level and reconstituted.

“What next for this world?” asked the first.

“Our best models predict that those creatures will evolve to become the dominant species in a few million years,” said the second, pointing to where a monkey scurried nervously away into the trees. “They promise to be a considerably different species to those that we have had to erase today.”

“Let us hope that they evolve on a better path than their predecessors.”

“Agreed,” said the second. “After all, we will return here when they are ready to be judged…”