Saturday 6 May 2023

Saturday Sample: Otherwhere and Elsewhen, Tongue Twister, space water

Charles Fortescue was in a most excellent frame of mind. His wife Amy had recently given birth to a delightful baby boy. He strode into her bedroom, sat his wiry frame next to her, and gave her his most penetrating look.   

    “We must call him Douglas Shakespeare Fortescue,”  the husband informed his thin, somewhat pale spouse, his jaw set firm.  “I believe I have briefed you of my grand scheme for the boy.”

    Amy, as she always did, had succumbed to her husband’s wishes, accepting the name, in honour of the legendary playwright. But there was a particular reason why the father had wanted to use the name Shakespeare. Charles had devised a most radical and ambitious project for his newly born child.

The  Bard was alleged to have command of more words in the English language than any one else. Some have maintained that he used thirty thousand words; twice, or even triple the vocabulary of Milton. Charles Fortescue, however, was not a literary man. His vocation was computer science, and his processors were to be found in some of the world’s most sophisticated computer systems. For he had perfected methods of producing a number of the tiniest devices on the planet, chips the size of a micron,  which is one thousand times smaller than a millimetre, but which enabled the storage, organisation, retrieval and transmission of previously unheard of amounts of data.

The scientist’s project, inspired by the huge vocabulary of the legendary Shakespeare,  had initially been to ensure that his child developed the largest vocabulary, and the most extensive command of the languages of the world, ever known. But as his ideas developed, he became convinced that he could use his latest chip design to ensure that his son became the most knowledgeable individual on the planet.  To that end, he had engaged the services of a surgeon whose specialism was implanting devices into the organs of his subjects.

The surgeon he recruited for his project, was Sir Peter Wilson, who worked regularly for international counter espionage authorities, and had been commissioned to implant various tiny devices into different body parts of selected operatives in the service of MI5, MI6, and other important  agencies with a pressing need for sensitive information. This business had expanded substantially  since 9/11.

One morning, the two were gathered in Charles’s laboratory. The surgeon peering through a solid looking magnifying glass, at a tiny sliver, perched on a glass slide.

“It’s a remarkable piece of technology”, the scientist was brimming with pride. “I call it ‘Supermind’, and I want you to implant this device inside my son’s mouth.”

Supermind consisted of a number of tiny chips arranged in rows. These were far larger than Fortescue’s micron sized chips, but tiny enough for a number of them to be arranged onto a board smaller than a thumbnail. The total amount of information that could be stored on Supermind  amounted to one petabyte, or a thousand terabytes. To give you an idea of the extent of this information storage, I can tell you that all the books in  The United States Library of Congress,   which has over twenty million catalogued books,  can be digitised and stored as plain text on twenty terabytes.  So Supermind would enable the contents of fifty entire Libraries of Congress to be stored on a chip the size of a  fingernail!

“My idea is this”, Charles continued,

“As the boy grows up and develops the skills of speech and writing, the processor will perform a number of inter-related functions. It will record the child’s developing vocabulary, and speech. Every word, every sentence he  utters will be stored. Supermind will classify all aspects of Douglas Shakespeare Fortescue’s language, and analyse his use of his mother tongue.”

The surgeon expressed his fascination with what he was hearing. But there was more.

“My invention will go further’, the scientist declaimed.

“I have programmed my chip with the vocabularies of the world’s major tongues, so that over time the boy will be taught all the words in all the main languages on the planet. But my piece de resistance is that Supermind  has also been designed to function as an interactive university”.

The two experts discussed Fortescue’s ideas further, with intense concentration. The surgeon was clearly impressed with the sheer bravado of the central idea. He explained how he would create a link between Supermind  and young Douglas’s brain.

“Perfect”, the scientist responded.  “I want the system to enable interaction between the boy’s brain and his developing proficiency with languages, for it to  automatically filter information into the boy’s mind, which will be stored. When Douglas thinks a question the device must answer. I will ensure he spends hour upon hour, day after day, having lessons, asking and answering questions, being taught by Supermind. He will rapidly acquire new languages and knowledge, learning how to speak and write the languages,  for different purposes.   The boy will be able to converse with anyone of any importance, and if necessary, those of little or no importance. He will also be able to write fluently in any of the languages he learns.”

Charles Fortescue had been obsessed with his idea for many years  and would tolerate no objections to his plans. After their initial discussions, there had been disagreement between Charles and Sir Peter. The latter had proposed that the scientist develop a chip that could be inserted directly into the brain, without the need to implant into the tongue and connect it up.  But Charles Fortescue convinced him that the size of Supermind, even though it was tiny, would create problems,  were it to be implanted directly into the brain. In truth, he wasn’t sure, but he resolved  that young Douglas would be given a technology with the most enormous amount of memory. He was determined that Douglas would be given at least a petabyte of data storage. He was even working on a chip to store a zettabyte of data, which is 1,180,591,620,717,411,303,414 bytes! He hoped that this more powerful chip could be implanted into his son at a later date. For the present, the petabyte chip  would have to suffice.

  His wife had expressed her own doubts. “I am concerned that your scheme, stuffing language and knowledge into the child like that, might damage the boy, mentally, and besides it will probably turn him into a freak. I am against it Charles.”

“Don’t be so anxious, my dear. I know what I am doing”. But Amy wasn’t reassured, yet didn’t know what she could do to prevent her husband’s plans. She had long since learned that Charles was ruthless in pursuit of his goals. She was afraid of triggering his violent temper, if he were to feel he was being crossed. Not once did the father consider the welfare of his boy. It was as if his son was an instrument to be exploited in the pursuit of the father’s obsession with his own reputation.

The operation on his son completed, Charles Fortescue set about the task of monitoring the boy’s development. Once a week he would attach probes to the boy which enabled him  to download from Supermind,  the information about Douglas’s language development and ever expanding knowledge. He engaged the services of specialists to help analyse this material, and to publish reports. Charles Fortescue was aware that he was making history, and he wanted it to be accurately written up.

By the age of three Douglas had an English vocabulary of over five thousand words, which was more than the vocabulary of an average educated conversationalist in the language. By eight he had overtaken his famous namesake and had an English vocabulary of over sixty thousand words. By eleven he had mastered the entire Oxford English dictionary, about half a million words! He could also speak and write in seventeen languages. He knew many of the Indo European languages, English, Spanish, Russian, Hindi, French, German, and Italian.  He could speak and write some of the Afro-Asiatic tongues including Arabic and Somali. He was skilled

in Mandarin, Wu, Thai, and Burmese from the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. He even spoke in Celtic tongues;  Scots, Welsh, Irish and  Breton.

But Charles carried his son’s education much further, wanting to ensure that the boy acquired experience and knowledge far beyond his years. Douglas used Supermind to study  the arts, humanities  and sciences. In addition he read prodigiously, watched a multitude of 

documentary and fiction programmes,  and was an avid researcher on the internet. He soaked up information like the proverbial sponge.

The strange thing is, he was a lively young man,  a  lover of books,   but not a bookworm, as one might have expected him to be. There was only one drawback. Douglas had grown up to be a regular chatterbox. He often gabbled away non-stop. When the boy was in full flight, hardly anyone could get a word in. He could talk the kind leg off an elephant, never mind a donkey! But people put up with it, because he had become so successful in his writing. Aged twelve, Douglas had written six novels, thirty three short stories, over two hundred poems, and a number of items of non fiction, including articles on film, photography, football, fishing, and darts! Young Douglas’s interests were nothing, if not  eclectic.

 He had become an international phenomenon. Many of his writings had been published. Two of his novels had been made into films and he had been interviewed for radio and appeared on television. Douglas was earning a fortune, but because of the boy’s tender years, Charles Fortescue looked after the money for him.  Given the fact that all this wealth was made possible because of the scientist’s invention, he felt entitled to cream off vast sums for himself and the boy’s mother.

His father was most proud, as well as a lot wealthier, and even Amy Fortescue was reconciled to her son’s achievements and celebrity, and had stopped worrying. After all they now mixed in more exalted circles, and all because of her husband’s achievements and the boy’s extraordinary  abilities with language.  It was rumoured in one of the more ridiculous tabloids, that William Shakespeare was turning over in his grave in envy of the young genius!



And then it started. At first it was gobbledegook words and phrases. Douglas had recently turned thirteen and his parents had thrown a party for him.  They had moved into a large mansion in Surrey on the proceeds of the two movies from their son’s novels. A number of VIP’s had been invited including, the recently elected Prime Minister, Avery Milton, Johnny Wilson the Arsenal goalkeeper and Fenella Martin, the famous BBC news presenter. Douglas was that important. They were invited, they turned up. Of course there had to be a lot of security about the place. Sir Peter Wilson, the famous surgeon was also present.

Douglas was to say some words, thanking people for attending. He normally had no trouble speaking in public. In addition to his extraordinary facility with languages, he was physically mature for his years, and self-assured. But Charles and Amy and their guests, were totally unprepared for what happened.

The guests had eaten and drunk liberally,  and it was time for Douglas to give his prepared speech. Without a hint of nervousness, the prodigy came forward, and his father called for those assembled to quieten down.

“Thank you all for dimange. It’s really groward for you all to be fome.  I know that Grood and  Fromanger,  as well as myself,  are triggered to have you all  here.” He coughed, loudly, then lurched forward in pain.

“Heavens, Douglas, what’s the matter?” A concerned Amy rushed forward to her son.

“It’s ok mum.  I am alright.  Please let me finish my welcome speech.”

Douglas seemed to have recovered, the coughing had subsided. He wanted to carry on.

“Sorry about that, Must be something I ate or drank. Maybe too much red wine!”

The guests laughed, The PM could be heard to remark that the young lad seemed to be quite a card. He for one thought the odd use of language, and what he took to be the fake coughing and spluttering, was all part of a comic act to keep the guests amused.

“Anyway, Douglas continued,  “thanks again for triffing it . I am most greetol to Grood and Fromanger, for arranging this driteming. La plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle,  et vipera est in longa herba. Waldhing fort ynotering stumpinger.”

The boy seemed to go into a dizzy spell. Then he made weird body movements, shaking and convulsing as he pronounced the last of these strange words. Finally he collapsed on the floor. The guests  had no idea what was going on, and Douglas’s parents rushed forward,  and lifting him up, took him from the room, leaving the party to stand there in amazement.  The conversation buzzed around, but they had no explanation for what they had just witnessed.

“I think it might be kindest to leave”, the PM said, as Charles Fortescue re-entered the room. “I am sure we all hope that the boy recovers from whatever illness came over him just now”.

“Yes, yes, Prime Minister. I am sure it’s just nerves. Perhaps as Douglas himself indicated before, it’s something he has eaten. I really don’t know what to say. His mother is with him.  I do apologise for the party ending so abruptly.”

Soon all the guests had departed, chattering as they left, about the strange behaviour of the young man.  In the house Douglas had gone to bed, though his father was determined to get to talk to him as soon as he had recovered. The boy had been behaving strangely, even before the incident at the party.  The father had noticed that occasionally he did seem to mix up a few words and phrases.  He was most determined to find out what had gone wrong.  Surely Douglas wasn’t developing an uncooperative  streak, deliberately trying to embarrass his father,  to sabotage all he had worked for ?

“Maybe he is going through an adolescent rebellious phase”, he commented to Amy.

The wife simply nodded. She had been against the idea from the start, but had been walked over, as her husband walked over many others to achieve his position at the top of his

profession. Charles felt it was very worrying. The boy had an obligation to continue the good work they had started together. It just wouldn’t do for his son to try to back out of this project.

The following day and both parents were concerned when Douglas didn’t emerge for breakfast. They called him down. He didn’t come.

“I will go up to his room and see what’s the matter. ” Amy was soon knocking at her son’s door.

“Douglas, are you alright?”  

No answer..

“Doug?  Douglas?” 

Still no answer. For a young man with such a huge vocabulary, and so used to talking incessantly, her son was uncharacteristically subdued.

She knocked on the bedroom door.

“Can I come in?”

No response.

“Douglas, I am going to open the door. I am coming in.  I am worried about you.”

The mother waited a while longer, but  the boy uttered not one word, not one sound.  She pushed open the door and entered his room.

The room was in shadow. She switched on the light. She looked over to the bed. It was empty. The duvet was on the floor.  But she noticed a strange, small, lump shape in the bed, sticking up from under the sheet. There was red staining on the sheet.  Amy moved quietly forward, towards the bed. She called out.

“Douglas, my son are you ok? Where are you?”  She had realised that Douglas was not in his bed. She looked in the en-suite. He wasn’t there.

“Where are you? Hiding from me?  What’s wrong?”

She darted back towards the bed in a panic. And then she noticed the window to the side of the bed. It was open.  Douglas was not in his room or the en- suite bathroom, that was certain. Had he gone through the open window?

Amy Fortescue looked out of the window and saw her boy. He was crouching in the garden below, his body bent over, his arms wrapped around his legs. His head bent forward onto his knees, which were drawn up. He was shaking in an exaggerated motion. Making strange noises, gurgling noises, loudly as if in extreme pain. She could see it. She could hear him. She was terrified. What was going on? And what was that lump in the bed?

She came away from the window and bent over the bed and gingerly drew back the thin sheet. And then she shrieked in horror at what she saw lying there, in a small pool of dried blood.

A large fleshy object lay there, purple pink flesh, twisted into a grotesque shape but somehow tongue-like.   Was it a tongue?

She fainted.  Moments later Charles Fortescue found her on the bedroom floor. He picked her up and tried to revive her. She opened her eyes, gasped out the words.

”The tongue, on the bed”. Charles had seen it. He knew what it was, though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Douglas.  I saw him. In the garden. Go bring him in. Please Charles.”


* * *

A week later.  In the drawing room of the Fortescue residence. Charles Fortescue has met with Sir Peter Wilson. The surgeon was speaking.

“I can only give you my guess as to what may have happened to your son. I have examined the lump that your wife discovered under the bed sheet. It was immediately recognisable as a human tongue. And when you brought in your boy from the garden, he had suffered the most appalling, and agonising trauma. His tongue had come away from the floor of his mouth. It seems to have twisted itself, viciously to become detached from its anchorage, the hyoid bone, which lies under the lower jawbone. It had also twisted  away from the muscles at the rear of the mouth, which are themselves attached to an outgrowth at the base of the skull.” 

Charles didn’t say a word. 

“When I examined the tongue, I saw that it had become swollen to over twice its normal size, and was ridden with strange indentations. Supermind was still embedded inside the muscle, but it was seriously damaged and had expanded to the point where it was sticking through the surface.

I also investigated the minute connections I had made from Supermind and up into the unfortunate boy’s brain. They had fallen away from their locations, and were lying there loose inside the oral cavity.”  

The father had still not spoken, and remained silent.

    “Now Charles. I have a partial explanation for this terrifying ordeal your boy has suffered. Our plan has gone horribly wrong. I think that as he developed languages and knowledge at the most rapid rate one could imagine, the memory banks of Supermind malfunctioned, They should have been able to contain the trillions of  bytes of information, but  there seems to have been a flaw in the memory systems,  and the chips have overloaded.  Also I think the saliva in the boy’s mouth may have caused additional problems. Perhaps there was a chemical reaction which caused a burn out, an electrical shock.  Perhaps a number of such catastrophes, which also caused the connections between Supermind,  and Douglas’s brain to  become dislodged.  From what I witnessed at the boy’s thirteenth birthday celebration, your son’s behaviour was a warning  that something was seriously amiss.”

“But how? Why?” muttered the scientist.  “It was all going so well. Douglas was famous, his books were selling, internationally. I am convinced he would have developed language beyond our wildest dreams. Supermind was a mind-boggling achievement.  I worked on it for years. It can’t just fail!”

The surgeon was losing patience, and he had lost any feeling of respect and admiration for the achievements of his colleague.

“Charles! Listen to you. Not a word of sympathy for your son. He is disfigured.  He has no tongue. He cannot talk. He is brain damaged.”

“Well”, the father said.  “You are the best there is. I am confident that you can put him back together. We will overcome this setback. He will talk again, and write again.  More, and even better than before. You can do this for me. I will pay you well.”

The surgeon got up from his chair.  He walked over to the door, took his coat from the coat rack. Before leaving he turned, and addressed the scientist.

“I am afraid not. There is little I can do. I could try an operation to attach Douglas’s tongue, but I haven’t the faintest idea how to untwist it.  And the boy’s brain is severely damaged. His mind is shot. He will never speak or write again.”

The surgeon departed. He didn’t return to reattach the tongue. He never saw the scientist or Douglas again.                                                                               


About the author

After a career teaching a variety of subjects including English, History, Film and Photography, Jeff is concentrating on his  favourite creative interests of writing and photography. His  short stories combine elements of dark fantasy and humour. He has also run a music business, and  sung semi-professionally  

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