Rebooting Panoptica

Currently I am battling Amazon. I loaded Wandra Nomad’s book yesterday and Amazon responded with ‘There is stuff in this book that’s already been published by someone else’.

The only issue Wandra and I can think of is that one of the stories in her book -Dust Mote Meanderings – was published in Tales from Loch Doon (UA11). All the rest is previously unpublished. If that’s all it is it can be resolved, hopefully, very quickly. I just have to wait for Amazon to respond.

I have another Mark Ellott short story collection and a book by Gastradamus in the queue now, and those might also throw up the same issue. Just have to deal with it when it happens. There is also another book on the way from Wandra Nomad. Well, it’s not as if I’m going anywhere for the foreseeable future…

The Halloween anthology (UA12) is also getting stories and so far Mark Ellott is the only male author in there. Him and three women authors. Come on guys, where are you? Six stories in and submissions are open until September 30th. Yeah, I know, I have to write one too. I have some ideas.

Panoptica, though. I started hard on this one last January, then it stalled when my father died and the world has gone to hell in a handbasket since then. It did give me time to think though.

I was concerned about 10538’s brain chip. It could block memories and insert false ones. It seemed maybe a bit too far fetched. Recharging all his chips was easy. Cybermen (Dr. Who) and the Borg (Star Trek) had that covered for me. They stood in alcoves to recharge – and interestingly, they were doing this before real life wireless charging had been invented. Now it has been, maybe they will be too.

Still, had I gone too far with the brain chip? Had I crossed from plausible into absurd? Here are some quotes from a real world article –

And the goals were striking: a mass-market brain implant that could be installed by a robot via same-day surgery.

The device looks like a very thick coin or miniature hockey puck, and it contains all the hardware needed to keep the implant functional. This includes a battery large enough for all-day operation and the hardware needed for wireless inductive charging.

– It’s absolutely necessary for a device that will be communicating via a low-bandwidth interface like Bluetooth.

The chip will also allow the electrodes to be used to stimulate neurons,

I needn’t have worried. The Brain Chip is real and ready to be tested on humans. Sure, it’s being developed with good intentions, but then so was nuclear power. Someone is going to hack this thing and once governments get hold of the controls, well… then everyone needs to worry because once it’s in, you can’t just dig it out. Not unless you want an inch-wide hole left in your skull.

Well that’s that problem sorted. The genderless society is well under way too and I now have a solution to how children have no idea how they were born and adults have no concept of death, other than through accidents. The real world is following the fiction very closely… unfortunately.

Within the writing lay the problem of 10538’s recovered memories. As he explained them to Doc, it meant repeating earlier chapters. That was starting to get tedious.

So I have to restart Panoptica. Not entirely from scratch but some rearranging is needed. I’ll use the lead in stories to start the book, showing how the world developed, and start the book proper when he gets on the train to Pensionville. All the backstory can then come out as his brain chip is sequentially shut down. I had already explained why it can’t be simply removed. That backstory will, of course, come out in reverse but that’s not an insurmountable problem.

I already knew where the story was going, the issue was in how to get there. Now I think I have a better idea of how it all pans out, thanks to Elon, the Billy Gates Gruff and the other maniacs making this all come true.

Let’s see if I can get to the end before they do.

Well that didn’t work

Early in the Big Covid Scare I dropped the prices of ebooks on Leg Iron Books to 99 cents. There was a small effect in the latter end of the first quarter (to the end of May). Subsequently I put all novels and single author ebooks back up to $2.99, still a good price. I can’t do much with the print books, almost all the money goes to Amazon anyway. That free shipping? It’s not free. The seller pays it. We get pennies per print book and putting up the price just means the cost of postage goes up in proportion. Sneaky…

So, this quarter (June to August) is a disaster. I’ve been plugging Leg Iron Books on Twitter, Parler and Gab (the latter two are mostly political so I don’t know how much use they’ll be for marketing, and the rampant ‘Da Joos Did It All’ on Gab has somewhat put me off going there).

There’s a Leg Iron Books page on Facebook that gets a few more likes every day but that doesn’t mean they’re buying anything. Linking to all the writers I can find on social media isn’t working. They want to sell books, not buy them. I have to find where the reading addicts hang out.

Goodreads does not have publisher accounts. You can get an author account on there if you want to jump through hoops. It’s a pain of a procedure and I’m not sure how much good it does. I have an author account and don’t think it’s sold a single book.

I thought lockdown would be ideal for selling books. Seems most people have taken it as their cue to actually exercise as an excuse to go outside, or to stay in and make banana bread. Okay, I know a lot of people are suffering financially but hell, I made those books so cheap! The anthologies are all still at 99 cents and even they are only trickling. It’ll be a long long time bnefore I see a return on those.

This quarter’s sales have been disastrous. The only book that sold was a print book that didn’t even have an eBook version! So, cutting prices didn’t really work. I won’t do that again. At least I learned another marketing thing that doesn’t work.

Sorry, authors, I have failed you this quarter. I’ll try something different in the next quarter.

What I really need is a scandal that gets the Daily Mail interested. That’s the most effective book selling device I’ve ever seen.

Calling Mr. Plumtree

I received a story for the next Underdog Anthology tonight. It’s a good one. Unfortunately the author (E. Townsend) has an email that has rejected every account I have as spam. I can’t contact her.

Hopefully she will read this and get in touch with an alternative email, but if anyone knows her, please let her know about this post.

Thanks.

UPDATE: The author has now been in touch. So far there are three stories in for this anthology and it’s only been officially open for less than 24 hours.

Initiating Panoptica

Here it comes, and I haven’t even finished the book yet. So here’s a bit of backstory as to how Panoptica came/is coming to be.

The genderless society was a given. 23-David and 81-Mohammed covered that. The method to achieve it is far more efficient than I had envisaged and possibly more horrifying. So I will make adjustments.

The embedded chips… well established and already in use so that wasn’t anything new. Getting people to accept them? All the Strangers covered that. The new fear instilled by what is basically a new flu will make it so very much easier. Has anyone noticed that nobody dies of the flu any more? It used to kill people at the same rate as Covid19 but now it kills hardly anyone at all. Nobody seems to be questioning that.

The hard part was the barcode onesies. I didn’t have a good explanation for where they came from. Now I do.

Facial recognition technology is a way to control people. It’s invasive, it’s very expensive, it needs lots of trained operators, it requires very expensive and very precise cameras and maintenance of those cameras and it’s still not perfect. It is, basically, a dud idea. It’s just more Chinese overpriced tat for sale to the West. There are already lawsuits set up to oppose it and they will win because governments don’t really want it. This is not the control they are looking for. It’s a distraction. Something to make you think you won an argument.

With things like facial recognition, people don’t know they are being watched. That’s no good for control. You want everyone to think – know – they are always being watched all the time. Then you don’t have to actually watch them. They will behave as if they are always being watched even if you haven’t looked their way for months. I think the idiots in charge have realised this.

So here we are. There are people claiming Melbourne is a hotbed of infectious death far worse than New York based on deaths per population size. Melbourne is in the middle of the winter flu season while New York is in summer. Nobody in Melbourne has flu. New York’s handling of this virus has been appalling but even so, they are in summer now. Outside the Death Camps they call retirement homes, almost nobody is getting sick. What is now happening in Melbourne will happen in the northern hemisphere in September/October. The Second Wave is assured, it will be flu season.

Aberdeen, Scotland, is in lockdown because of some new ‘cases’. It is not clear whether these people are sick, dying, or merely tested positive. It was enough to shut down the city.

Even way out here everyone is in masks. On the rare occasion I visit Local Shop now I wear the most terrifying one I can find. I’m building up to Bane and then the plague doctor. It’s all a fucking joke. The masks do nothing. They just deflect a cough or sneeze sideways, which is their purpose in surgery. They stop almost none of it. And yet I see people wearing surgical masks as if they will help. If I have to wear a mask to get a bottle of milk I am going to take the piss. I am not going to argue with them, I have beaten my head against the antismoker and Cult of Climatology lunatics for long enough. I’m not going to play this game. Let them live in terror of nothing at all. They seem to like it.

The masks serve another purpose. They make facial recognition technology obsolete. It can’t recognise masked faces. All it needs now is ‘Oh but you can’t identify anyone!’ and ‘How can we know who is who’ and ‘Muh Individuality’ and bingo – you are all in barcoded onesies that identify you as an individual in the collective.

Then there’s no need for expensive cameras and expensive technology. The barcodes identify you, even if your face is entirely covered (it will come to that). Cheap cameras can do it.

Did you know that most speed camera boxes in the UK have no camera inside? The boxes are cheap. The camera is expensive. The box is a deterrent even if it doesn’t actually do anything because you don’t know which boxes have cameras in them. The same is true of many street CCTV camera boxes. Why?

The real camera isn’t needed. Only the semblance of a camera. It’s been a Panopticon for years and it’s about to accelerate. You need a few real ones of course. You need to catch the occasional nonconformist to keep the rest believing in your illusion. Still, most of your camera boxes can be duds and nobody will realise that.

Now we have ‘hiccups’ as a possible sign of coronavirus. Note that it’s not COVID19 any more. It’s coronavirus. The flu is coronavirus. The common cold is coronavirus. There are hundreds of different types of coronavirus, some are very nasty, some are merely inconvenient. Now there are no deaths from the new one they have moved on to ‘cases’ which means a positive test even if it’s just the common cold. Every other disease has been vanquished, only coronavirus remains.

Winter is coming. Flu season. Flu kills thousands every year. This will be a ‘second wave’ and we will be locked down again. Admit it, most people are scared enough now to accept it.

Now there are rules coming out to say you must wear a mask for an online Zoom meeting even though you really can’t get infected over the internet. It is not about health. Hell, none of the nonsense has ever been about health.

You cannot visit other people, even family members.

Later – you can visit but do not touch.

Stay six feet away from everyone. Touch nobody. Anything anyone else might have touched, disinfect it. Everyone else is a disease-riddled monster.

And now – if you can be seen, even over the internet, wear a mask. Don’t even look at each other. Soon you will not be allowed to speak. Speaking spreads the virus – that one’s already out there.

You are being isolated. Masked. Confused. Frightened. You treat everyone else, even your own family, as an enemy, a pariah. Your fear does not allow you to listen to reason, nor to reason for yourself. You are looking for a saviour, a way out, a way of being accepted back into some kind of normality. It will come. When it does you will grasp at it and embrace it.

And it will be the end of you as an individual because this is exactly how cults initiate new members. Roobeedoo had a good video explaining this, I hope she puts it in the comments because I can’t find it now.

There are those laughing and calling me ‘conspiracy theorist’ now but trust me, I didn’t just make up the stories I write. I research their backgrounds because fiction has to be plausible and sometimes I find things hardly anyone is even looking for.

So… can I stop this? Nope. Not even going to try. You’re on your own. There is no Marvel superhero coming, you either accept this or pretend it’s not happening or fight against it. Entirely up to you. Nobody is coming to save you. Listen to the warnings or enjoy your comfortable compliant conformity in Panoptica. All I’m going to do is document it, hopefully before it happens, although it’s going pretty fast now.

There will be a vaccine. It won’t work – like the annual flu vaccine, it doesn’t really need to – but most will take it anyway. It will kill more than the virus and it will come with a mark or passport that allows you to exist in the world. Without that you will be forever a pariah. The hysteria has reached that point and more. Refuse the vaccine and you will have Bodysnatcher point and scream aimed at you whenever the drones find you.

If you want to pretend I’m an anti-vaxxer, look back in the blog. I’m a retired microbiologist. I’ve benn vaccinated against things you’ve never heard of, but I will not take this one. You can if you like, I will do nothing to stop you.

The flu vaccine claims a 40% success rate. That is piss-poor even before you realise that most of that 40% probably would never have caught flu anyway. If you are vaccinated and don’t get it, it’s counted as a success. It’s like the guy throwing rolled up papers out of a train window in Esher to keep elephants off the tracks. When someone points out there are no elephants, he responds with ‘See? It works’. Coronavirus vaccines do not work. Any of them. They are the paper balls that keep elephants off London train tracks.

They do, however, make someone a lot of money. Hint: it’s not you.

This whole charade is about control. The virus is real but it was hyped by China to wreck Western economies and it has worked. The daft lockdowns have killed more than the virus ever would have (look at the reality of Sweden) and now Western governments are left with trying to get out of it without losing face.

I’d have a lot more respect for any government who came out and said ‘Yeah, we got pranked by the Chinese, you can all go back to normal now’ but I really don’t expect to ever see that. They’d rather be pilloried than admit they were wrong.

Then again, maybe they don’t want to do that because everything is going according to plan. Your initiation into the New Normal is almost complete. So many of you are desparate to be part of it.

Did anyone tell you what your New Normal actually is?

Did you ask?

Career suicide

You want to be published by a big name publisher? Here’s how it works.

The likes of Penguin Random House are not going to talk to you. Send them your work, they will ignore it. They will only talk to agents. Why? Well, any agent will tell you why.

A good agent is going to get a bag full of submissions every day. Just imagine what Random House would get if they were open to authors directly! The agent does not read the submissions. They go into the ‘slush pile’.

The slush pile readers will then sort through the submissions and will pass the good ones on to the agent for consideration. The agent will sort through the filtered submissions and pick maybe one or two to answer.

Now, those slush pile readers have a big mound of stuff to get through. They are actively looking for a reason to ditch every one they pick up. That’s not malicious. They might have a hundred, and the agent wants five or less. They have to sort out the dross quickly. Is the cover letter slapdash, is the first page full of spelling errors and bad grammar, is it a tedious opening? You could go in the reject pile in the first three lines of your story.

You have to get past those overworked slush pile readers. Then you have to get the agent’s attention. Then, if the agent takes you on, they have to try to persuade a publisher to take you on. All this is hard to get through. You have to get through layers of filtration before you get to the big publishers. Even then, if the book flops, they won’t be interested in your next one.

So, getting into a big name publisher is hard. It’s worth it, you’d get a big marketing department, seriously professional editors and cover artists, all for free. But it is really, really hard to get in.

It’s also worth considering that agents and publishers are a fairly small industry. They mostly know each other. If you behave like a dick to one agent, your name will be mentioned over coffee and other agents will recognise it when you try submitting to them. Agents are busy people. They don’t have time to assuage egos or play politics or deal with dicks. They have so many submissions that having a name they can ditch at the first hurdle is really helpful to them. Don’t be that name.

Given that it is murderously difficult to get a foot in that door, who would be so stupid as to throw it all away over a tweet?

These four authors just did exactly that.

They think they are making a point but they are not big names. There won’t be a huge list of agencies begging them to sign up – and they have just marked themselves as ‘difficult to work with’. One of them has three novels published. Well… so do I. So does Mark Ellott. Three is not a big number. When you are at Neal Asher’s level of output then maybe you can afford to be a bit shirty at times (he never has been, as far as I know) but three novels? No, you are not a big earner for the publisher nor for the agent. You could have been if you hadn’t bailed over a hurty tweet.

These four authors were signed up to the same agent as J.K. Rowling. I quite like the films, never bothered with the books or merchandise. CStM is a big fan though. J.K. Rowling, loathe her or hate her, is a big name in the publishing world. Being with the same agent is a big win for any author whether they like her or not. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter what she thinks of trans people to the other authors.

Heck, I don’t like Stephen King’s ‘woke lefty’ attitude. I still read his books and I would love to be taken up by the same agency. Stories are not real, sometimes authors are not the wonderful people you want them to be, but this is your career here. Are you really going to throw it all away, after getting over those massive hurdles, just because you’re a bit miffed by what another author has said? Well, apparently so. I wouldn’t. These authors just cast themselves adrift over a tweet. Good luck getting another agent.

Heck, I don’t even want them at Leg Iron Books. I am not going to play political correctness, I am not bending my knees unless I drop something. I frankly don’t care about anyone’s sexuality or melanin quotient or whether they have all their limbs in the right order. Leg Iron Books is about writing. If the writing is good, it’s in. If the story is good but the writing needs a bit of work, still it’s in. So far I have enough submissions to keep me busy but not enough to need slush pile readers to filter them.

I am only interested in the writing. I do not care if the author writes while candles burn at an altar to Satan. I don’t care if they have posters of Hitler in their kitchen or Che Guevara in their bedroom. Not my business. Only the story matters. Naturally, I will not publish either white supremacy nor black supremacy nor any colour supremacy nonsense. I will not publish anything that deliberately sets out to incite hate or division.

But… if someone sends in a ghost story they wrote while cross-dressed and listening to Stalin speeches and the story is a good one, the author’s personal preferences are not my concern.

Would I publish an overtly religious book? Sure, but there are religious publishers far bigger than me who would take it on and it would do better with them. The same is true for an overtly gay or gushily romantic novel. They sell really well but there are much bigger publishers specialising in those books. So if you were to send me a story in those genres I won’t reject it (unless it’s a crap story) but I might recommend you try the bigger boys first. They aren’t all tied to agents like the top presses.

The point of Leg Iron Books is to get new authors into print. To give them something they can put on a CV when applying to an agent. To get them noticed by the big names. It’s never going to develop into a rival for Penguin Random House. It’s a starting point. If a big publisher ever wanted to buy out an author contract I am not ever going to say ‘no’.

I don’t care what authors do in their private lives. I am not going to police their social media and I will not be impressed if other authors do that to them either. I am not going to install any kind of ‘diversity programme’ and I am not interested in re-education of any kind. I have a PhD. There is no more education I need.

An author walking out on an agent is of no consequence whatsoever. There are a hundred in the queue behind every single one of them. Every day. It is not only a pointless gesture, it is an incredibly stupid one. These four have just trashed their hard-won careers for no benefit at all. Nobody will even remember them, the agency will take on four new authors and those four ‘woke’ ones will disappear into obscurity. J.K. Rowling continues unaffected.

Still, if you are an author looking for an agent, this one has suddenly acquired four vacancies.

Lockdown collapses

I see the press are still trying to take down Demonic Cummings over his trip to Durham, in which he might or might not have met someone else. Meanwhile they seem unfazed by the huge crowds in London protesting about a man killed in a part of the world our government has absolutely no jurisdiction over. The same thing is happening in Berlin, in Copenhagen and other places too. What do they expect their governments to do about it?

Have they fallen for the ‘EU is everything and controls the world’ mantra? Nobody outside the EU gives a flying fuck what the EU thinks and, increasingly, neither do those inside it.

Even Donnie Trumpton has no say over the US police. That’s down to individual states. As far as I know he doesn’t control the FBI or CIA either. Police matters seem to be controlled by state governors, even by city mayors. Like in London. Saddo Khan controls the metropolitan police. People blame Boris when the Met do stupid things but he’s not in charge of them. The mayor is.

So what can anyone in the UK do about a police force in another, faraway country, where even the president has no power over them? Not a damn thing.

Italy, naturally, is different. They are currently having big protests over something else entirely. Something their government actually can do something about. Something ours is supposed to be doing something about.

Richard Burgergone, the noisy lump of overpaid MP, has been on Twitter complaining about kids going back to school. It’ll be a disaster! The Plague will kill them all! I haven’t seen a word out of him over gatherings of hundreds of people shouting slogans and presumably spouting potentially infected spittle by the bucketload. Perhaps he’s okay with all that. The BBC seem to be. So do the rest of what passes for news these days.

So am I, really. It’s very nice of these people to act as coal mine canaries for the rest of us. Is it safe to gather in groups of more than six now? Is it safe to hang around with a huge mass of strangers, like in, say, pubs? Is it safe to travel the country to attend a mass protest and then travel back again? There’s only one way to find out and these people are kindly doing it for us.

If, two weeks from now, the bodies haven’t started piling up in the streets, then there’s no more danger and everything can go back to normal. If they do pile up, it’ll only be these lunatics and nobody needs them around anyway.

One thing these protests have done for sure. If there is a resurgence of the virus when lockdown eases and they try to blame Boris, all he has to do is point to video of those crowds. There’s where the blame lies, and that’s the funniest part. In trying to bring down Boris they have given him an easy way out of lockdown. He could cite those crowds as a reason to just drop all restrictions and any second wave of virus won’t be his fault. It’s the fault of the loony Left.

It will never cease to amaze me how they manage to backfire every single time.

_____________

In other news, Leg Iron Books is still holding eBook prices at 99 cents (US, the price in other countries will vary because it depends on the exchange rate and local VAT) until lockdown is over. Then they will go back up to sensible prices. The eBook anthologies might stay at 99 cents because well, they make no money anyway. They are there to advertise the authors and Leg Iron Books as a whole.

It’s also time for quarterly royalty payments and this time, everyone has at least one sale. Including me, at last! Okay, the amounts will be tiny because of the bargain prices on the eBooks but the authors are getting that little bit better known. Financially, it’s not great but in terms of promotion it’s done quite well.

Soon though, I’ll have to put the novel/single author prices back into a decent payback for those authors. They can’t all stay cheap forever.

A little levity – Entertainment Time again.

Well, we could do with a break from tales of woe and despair about a virus. So let’s have a tale of woe and despair about something different for a change. This is an old one, it’s in ‘Fears of the Old and the New’ and was originally published in a now-gone Ezine called ’31Eyes’.

It should take your mind off the virus… by giving you something else to worry about 😉

The Window

The dark window seemed to call, “Come see, see the wonders within.”

Its mahogany frame was all that made it recognisable as a window against the featureless, black-painted wall. A black square on a black wall, framed with darkness, the building surrounding it indistinct in the moonless night. Thomas approached through knee-high grass, his legs shaking. He knew that behind that window lay something terrible, but he had to see. He had to look inside. He was close, so close. Just one more step, just a few feet more, and he would be able to touch the sill. He would see beyond the window. Then, he knew, he would die.

Thomas Crichton sat up in bed, the sweat-soaked sheets clinging to his quivering body. The dream again! This time he had been closer than ever. If he hadn’t woken, he would have reached the window.

He got out of bed, throwing back sweat-dampened sheets, and went to the shower. There’d be no more sleep tonight. Showered and clad in dressing-gown and slippers, he sat in his kitchen sipping at strong coffee. Thomas considered his dilemma. Every dream brought him closer to the window, that thin glass barrier between his soul and some nameless, undefined terror. As long as he was awake, he was safe. He’d have to sleep sometime, though. Sleep. Even as he thought the word, his eyelids drooped, leaden with the night-weights that called, soothing, to his thoughts. The kitchen around him flickered, fluttering between dark and light.

Thomas jerked his head up. He had spilled his coffee. He stared numbly as it spread across the table before him, brown rivulets pooling into crevices and knots in the pine. It was when he reached for the cloth to wipe up the mess that he noticed the whisky.

Whisky. Of course. He always slept in blank oblivion whenever he had too much to drink. Thomas mopped up the coffee and threw the cloth into the sink. He picked up a glass, then put it down again. This was no time for niceties. He opened the bottle and took a deep drink, coming up coughing and spluttering. Wiping his eyes, he took another shot. He’d downed over half the bottle and was feeling very drunk and a little queasy by the time he staggered back to the bedroom.

Maybe he’d overdone it. He wasn’t used to so much whisky, so quickly. He’d have a hell of a hangover the next morning, but at least he’d be able to get some sleep. No choice now, the alcohol seemed to say as it caressed his brain. You’ll sleep now, whether you like it or not. Thomas collapsed on the bed, flat on his back, and just managed to pull the sheets over him as he passed out.

He was standing at the window. This couldn’t be. He didn’t dream when he was drunk. He tried to wake himself, but his body had passed out in a drunken stupor and didn’t want to know.

“You were wrong,” a voice said.

“What? Who’s there?” Thomas looked around, but only the limited view of his bleak dream-landscape was visible. The scenery faded into mist, maybe twenty yards away in every direction. There were no trees or rocks, nowhere for the speaker to hide.

“You always dream when you’re drunk. You just don’t remember it in the morning.”

“Where are you?” Thomas said, turning back to the window. His face was reflected in the dark glass. The reflection smiled. Thomas felt his face. He wasn’t smiling. So the reflection wasn’t him, although it looked like him.

“You’d better come inside,” the reflection said.

“I can’t come inside. If I do, I’ll die.”

“That’s not true. Who told you that?”

Thomas considered this. Nobody had told him, he just felt it. But this was a dream, his dream, and he was talking to his own reflection. The absurdity hit him like a hammer. It was just a dream, and dreams can’t harm anyone. He looked along the wall in both directions. “I can’t come inside,” he said. “There’s no door.”

Then there was. Just a few feet from the window, a black, panelled door was set in the wall. Thomas hadn’t seen it before. Maybe it hadn’t been there, maybe he hadn’t dreamt it up before. Thomas smiled. So, he thought, I have some control in my dream. If I want a door, there’ll be a door. The face in the window bore an enormous grin. Thomas took a deep breath and opened the door. It was time to face himself, time to see what this dream was about.

The room inside was grey. Uniform and drab, floor to ceiling. There was light, but no indication of where it was coming from. The room had seemed completely dark from outside. No furniture, nothing. Thomas heard the door close with a click behind him. He turned. The door had gone. Thomas was alone in the sealed room. He ran to the window to see his reflection, that doppelganger of himself, now outside and looking in.

“I was right!” he said, his voice trembling. “I’ve died, haven’t I? I suppose I choked on my own tongue while I lay drunk in my bed. Is that what you planned? Is that what’s happened?”

“I sincerely hope not,” the reflection said. No, not a reflection, not any more. It was him, Thomas, standing outside the window. Yet he was here, inside. That wasn’t him – but it looked like him. “I hope you haven’t done too much damage with that whisky. I’ve waited a long time for this.”

“Who – what are you?” Thomas said.

“I’m Thomas Crichton. Rather, I’m the other Thomas Crichton. We’re a chimera, you see. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Identical twins, fused together as an embryo. Two souls in one body. Only one of us can run the body, the other just has to watch. Thirty-four years I’ve been in that room, watching through that window while you lived life. Oh, it’s dark out here now, but that’s because the brain is asleep. When it wakes, you’ll see. Only now it’ll be me living life while you watch.”

“You can’t. Someone will notice. Someone will see it’s not really me.”

“Maybe. What will they do? Nobody can get you out but me, and I’m not likely to.” The doppelganger turned to leave.

“Wait,” Thomas said. “How did I dream this? How did you trick me?”

His double snorted. “It took me thirty-four years to work it out, and I don’t want you doing it any faster. Goodbye, Thomas, it’s time for the new Thomas Crichton to wake up. Looks like I’ll be starting life with a hangover. Still, things can only get better.” Laughing, the new Thomas Crichton disappeared into the darkness.

Thomas slumped to the floor of the grey room, hugging his chest. He had expected to die when he reached the window. If only he had. This was going to be worse, so much worse. To watch his life lived by another, trapped inside his own mind, unable to communicate, unable to tell anyone of his private grey hell.

Light streamed through the window as the body and brain of Thomas Crichton woke to a new day, with a different soul at the helm. Thomas curled on the floor of the grey room. He didn’t want to look through the window. He didn’t want to see what his life was doing without him.

But he knew he would. He had to.

Tinfoil at the ready? Then let’s begin

I do like to delve into the tinfoil hattery layers of the internet when it’s late and I can’t sleep. Absolutely masses of story ideas down there. Mostly I can’t sleep tonight because I’ve begun editing another short story collection, this one is by Wandra Nomad and should only take a few days. There’s another possible one in the works by Gastradamus but that needs illustrations so it’ll take longer.

Anyway. A few nights back I came across a rather long video of three guys chatting about all this coronavirus stuff. They had a very interesting take on it and they were able to back it up with actual real world references. Whether they are right or not, it’s an excellent basis for a story. I can’t find the video now but if I do, I’ll post a link.

They showed an animation of the currently known near-Earth-orbit rocks (there are a lot of them, and more are found every day) and a couple of weeks back, the animation showed around ten of those rocks intersecting with the Earth on its orbit. This was an actual animation of actual rocks using actual data, not some gamer-geek’s Sims game.

Now, these animations can’t really be to scale. We are talking rocks a few metres across and the entire planet Earth. So where the animation shows all those rocks bombarding the Earth, there is enough leeway in the scale for them to all miss by maybe a million miles. Still, that was a very risky moment and there would have been astophysicists somewhere trying to work out the actual level of risk of a strike.

In fact there was a strike, in Nigeria. Not a big one but it still made a fairly big hole. Fortunately well away from anywhere populated.

Well, these guys’ thesis was that if astrophysicists were watching this convergence of rocks on their models, they might have considered the risk of a major strike to be pretty large. What can they do though? If governments announced the possibility of an extinction level event there would be mass panic. Uncontrollable rioting. Everything would collapse. Then, if all the rocks missed, fingers would be pointed…

But if they did nothing and there was a big strike, the devastation could be enormous. How would they cope? Again, fingers would point… ‘Why didn’t you warn us?’ It’s a no win scenario.

Ah, but along comes Flu Manchu. Which Trump’s Dr. Faust was initially right about – it’s a bad flu, it will kill people, the elderly and those with serious medical conditions need to take care, but it’s not the end of the world. He later changed his tune. Why?

Well what if there really was an ‘end of the world’ possibility coming along in the shape of a massive space rock? The governments of the world would be informed and they also know they can’t just blurt it out. So, what if they use the virus as a reason to boost up hospital capacity and get people to avoid large and vulnerable gatherings…

Almost none of that extra hospital capacity has been used. Anywhere. Most of that extra capacity was ill-equipped to deal with a respiratory illness, they were just plain old field hospitals. Many of them are now being dismantled. That rock cluster has passed by leaving only a minor hole in Nigeria.

Coronavirus figures have been reported in a way no other flu figures have ever been reported. People are getting Covid-19 on their death certificates when they die from any cause. The virus has all but wiped out deaths from flu, pneumonia, heart attacks, stroke, falling anvils and anything else. Currently, if you don’t get coronavirus you’ll never die. Why? Why ramp up the fear like that?

The NHS put out a call for volunteers. Many people volunteered. As far as I can tell, not one was actually called upon. Around eight thousand people applied to be ‘contact tracers’; not one was hired. NHS nurses have been putting dance videos on TikTok filmed in empty hospitals. Hospital staff have been furloughed because they aren’t needed.

It is true that some hospital staff have died of the virus, in the same proportion as the general population. No massive increase in deaths or infections in the hospital environment.

The gradual rollout of antibody testing is already showing that the virus has spread far more widely than first thought, and many people have had it without showing anything more than symptoms of a cold. Others have had a bad flu, a few have been hospitalised and some of those went on to intensive care – but that happens every year with the flu. It’s horrible when a family member dies – but it’s also inevitable. Nobody lives forever. I’ve had to come to terms with that myself this year.

One thing the tinfoil guys said that caught my interest – Trump shut down America when there were around 250 deaths. In a population the size of America that is not a national emergency. Yet he trashed the economy he had spent three years bragging about building up for a number of deaths that doesn’t even touch the annual flu death toll.

Were the tinfoilers on to something? Was the virus used as an excuse to prepare for a different kind of disaster? I mean, astrophysicists are pretty brilliant people but on the scales they work with, even a tiny statistical deviation can mean the difference between a space rock hitting us and that same rock missing us by a million miles. With a cluster of them arriving at once, they’d be concerned.

They also wouldn’t be able to pinpoint where such a rock would hit, not until it was so close it would be too late to do anything about it. It might land in the sea, in the desert, or in a major city. Although if it’s big enough it probably wouldn’t matter where it landed.

Lockdown was a separate issue. It was based on a model created by Neil ‘Beware the Ides of March’ Ferguson, who has predicted so many disasters that never happened, I wonder that government were still listening to him. They did though, and we are now likely to kill more people with this lockdown than the virus would have. Especially in Scotland and Wales where lockdown continues just to spite the Tories.

Maybe the guys are just plain old tinfoil hatters. Maybe they’ve read this wrong. Or maybe they really have picked up on something. Tinfoil hatters exposed Common Purpose long before anyone else (including me) believed it was real. They do sometimes get it right, it’s just that what they find is so bizarre we don’t readily accept it. At least they didn’t try claiming that some people are lizards. That’s still a red line for me.

Anyway, if it was a risk of collision, it appears to have passed. Now the challenge is to remove the fear of a virus that’s clearly nowhere near as deadly as we’ve been told. That won’t be easy, not least because certain governments are revelling in the new authoritarianism and don’t want it to end.

Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great plot for a novel. Major disaster about to strike Earth, governments need to prepare without letting the people know what’s really happening and thereby avoid mass panic. Disaster averted – but now, how to remove the artificial fear they created?

There will be those in government who don’t even want to. Quite an intriguining potential story there, I think.

Opinions

So Boris is to tell us how lockdown ends on Sunday, and it starts Monday. I hope he starts with letting the car dealerships out because my car has been an ornament for three weeks and the part I need to fix it is a dealer-only part. Dealerships are closed to the public. So are scrap yards.

There are already shrieks from the usual suspects. ‘Why doesn’t he tell us now?’ Because he knows that if he tells us now we’ll apply it now and not wait for Monday. Many have given up waiting already and if the transmission rate is to be kept at its current low level, we need an orderly exit. Of course, Caviar Woman and the rest of the Spiteful Nannying Party are already planning to fuck it up, but hey, fucking things up is their area of expertise. I’m sure Labour-run Wales will do the same. Neither of them care about the virus nor the people, they just want the political points.

Anyway, I need opinions on something far more important. All but one of the authors in Tales from Loch Doon : Underdog Anthology 11 have responded to the last chance saloon PDF for final changes. It’s almost ready to go. So… the cover.

This is the base photo I plan to use. It’s Loch Ness, taken last summer.

It’s a wraparound cover, left side is the back, right side is the front. With 155 pages there will be a defined spine down the middle. I wanted to make it a bit more foreboding so I did this –

I don’t want to make it too surreal and I have to keep in mind that the print process usually turns out darker than the images I submit. I might have to boost the overall brightness a bit.

Which is better? The original or the meddled with one? Or do you have another suggestion?

Remember you’ll only see the right half on the front cover and on the eBook versions.

Entertainment Time – The Masters Return

It is taking a lot longer than usual to complete this anthology. So many distractions, and I still have no functioning vehicle either. So I thought I’d put my story up for a bit of light reading in these dark times.

It follows on from last year’s Spring story, Pandora’s Lost Luggage, which gives some background to this one. Hopefully it’s clear on its own though. This one is in Tales from Loch Doon : the eleventh Underdog Anthology.

Enjoy…

The Masters Return

“So, Mr. Moors, you have something for me?” Bill Richards’ pen was poised eagerly over his notebook.
John Moors smiled around his cigarette. These reporters, so eager to make a name for themselves. They never check anything if the story is sensational enough.
“I do.” He pushed an envelope across the table, avoiding the wet rings left by their beer glasses.
Richards opened the envelope and studied the photographs inside. His nose wrinkled. “Empty shelves?”
Moors stubbed out his cigarette. “Note that further along, the shelves are full. It seems people are panic buying toilet paper in response to a pandemic of a respiratory virus. Why? No idea, it makes no sense, but they are. Could make a good story.”
“Hmm.” Richards raised one eyebrow. “There is talk of a lockdown because of the virus. People won’t be able to go shopping. I guess they’re stocking up.”
“I’m sure they are. They are buying up dry foods like rice and pasta too. I’m afraid I have no photographs of those shelves though. Although I’m sure you’ll get some in a few days.” Moors kept his smile tight. This is going to be far too easy.
“Could be national news. How much for the photos?”
Moors waved his hand and tried not to laugh aloud. “No charge. Call it my contribution to public service. Anonymous, of course. Would you like another beer?”
“That’s very generous.” Richards rose to his feet. “I’ll pass on the beer, thanks. I have to get this written up in time for tomorrow’s papers.”
“I understand. Good luck, Mr. Richards.” As Richards disappeared, Moors pulled out his phone. He could now let his brother Dolos leave the body of that shop cleaner.
He hated it in there anyway. Dolos would be much happier, and much more effective, in debunking the cure for the virus. If they have a cure they won’t need a vaccine and then they won’t accept the microchips.


Billionaire businessman and occultist Erasmus Blackthorn drummed his fingers on his wide, and largely empty, desk. Opposite sat Professor Christopher Rooke, his face pale and drawn.
“Can we stop him?” Rooke eyed the glass of whisky in front of him but made no move to touch it.
Blackthorn lifted his own glass and took a sip before replying. “No.”
“I don’t get it.” Rooke’s head slumped. “It’s been a year and we’re no closer at all.”
“We are dealing with something very, very old. Something that is well practised in this art.” Blackthorn took a deep breath. “He’s playing a complex game this time. He started out demonising smoking and drinking and we all thought it was just the Puritans back again. Then he latched onto the climate change game. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, he has people hoarding toilet paper, pasta and canned beans. It’s very hard to connect the dots.”
“How is he doing this so fast?” Rooke’s fingers curled around his glass. “We know he has his siblings helping, but even so…”
“Last time, he didn’t have the Internet. It’s been so much easier this time. He has gone so much further, so much faster.”
“He can’t be using the internet.” Rooke’s hand lifted his glass. “There wasn’t even electricity when he was last out. How can he even know about it?”
“There was, you know. That whole civilisation, all it had learned and developed, disappeared.” Blackthorn refilled his own glass. “Almost entirely. And this new flu virus is the opportunity he has waited for. Or perhaps engineered.”
“Engineered? Do we even know what he’s doing?” Rooke took a deep drink of his whisky. “I mean, what’s with the toilet paper thing? He has everyone buying it up, and pasta and rice and pretty much everything. There’s no shortage, they’re just stripping it out before the shops can restock.”
“It feels like the first phase.” Blackthorn stared into his glass. “But it’s not.”
“No?”
“Hell no. Since the excavations I paid for last year discovered Moros’ escape, we now know he has been out for quite some time. His brothers and sisters will all be out too.” Blackthorn placed his glass on the table. “I have done considerable research in the occult aspects of this in the past year, as, I hope, have you and your colleagues on the science side. You have no doubt come across one of his sisters? Ker?”
Rooke’s eyes widened. “The bringer of violent death, often through incurable illness.”
Blackthorn nodded. “So I don’t think the current plague is entirely accidental.”


Moros grinned at his computer monitor. The quarantine had extended to closing the pubs, clubs, restaurants and all places of mass gathering. As he had expected. Governments in this modern age were no different to governments of the past.
Humans, even this variant type, are entirely predictable things.
Now the alcohol hoarding would begin, along with the soaps, dry goods and paper. Many homes would be tinderboxes. Time to move it along, before they realised the virus wasn’t going to kill all that many of them this time. Moors lit another cigarette.
This new world has some delightful vices. What a pity I need to take this one from them.
Ker had explained that the plague wasn’t perfect. There was a treatment, and the human-creatures had found it. Moros had sent Apate and now Dolos to sow doubt about the treatment and to whip up hate against those who promoted it. They were doing a decent job.
The human-creatures still insisted on using nicotine though, and that undermined the plague’s effectiveness. Moros had placed several of the Keres in the ridiculous Puritan movement of tobacco control. They had proved markedly effective, especially in reducing the impact of the new, safer, nicotine vapour system.
Still, the virus wasn’t meant to kill them all. All these and more were just aspects of the plan. The final solution was soon to be applied.
They simply need to be induced into wanting it.


Blackthorn ran his hand over his face. “He has them hoarding food, paper and alcohol. Does he think they’ll set fire to the paper with the alcohol? That’s ridiculous. Beer and wine won’t burn, they’ll put out fire. Only a few spirit drinks are flammable and they don’t seem to be stockpiling absinthe.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just coincidence? I mean, there are always hoarders in any emergency even if it’s not real.” Rooke placed his empty glass on the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “I’ve never seen this level of hoarding, even when there was a panic over Brexit. This is manipulated through the media. And I am certain Moros is behind it.” He topped up his own glass. “I just can’t see where he’s going with this.”
“Do we at least know why?”
“Oh yes.” Blackthorn leaned back in his chair. “The information you passed to me made that very clear.”


Moors sipped at his beer and regarded the young reporter opposite. “Well, no doubt you have heard that the virus can be transmitted on fuel pump handles?”
Sophie LeGrange narrowed her eyes. “I heard that was just a scare story.”
“Oh no, it’s true. It’s extremely contagious. I have it on authority—” Moors leaned forward “—and this has to stay between the two of us, you understand.”
Sophie leaned forward too, her eyes wide. “Oh of course. I never reveal my sources.”
“Good. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I feel the public have a right to know that the government will have no choice but to close down fuel stations, and soon.”
“Really?” Sophie scribbled in her notepad. “This is big.”
“It could be the turning point in your career.” Moors licked his lips. “Of course, it would make my career turn in the opposite direction if my involvement were ever known.”
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Moors. Your name will never appear.”
“Thank you.” Moors leaned back in his seat. If only you knew my real name, or if anyone remembered it. Then this wouldn’t be quite so easy.


“Okay, so why is he doing it? Why is Moros trying to destroy us?”
Blackthorn licked his lips. “We contaminated their experiment.”
Rooke blinked a few times. “What?”
“Right.” Blackthorn pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is going to sound like tinfoil-hattery but it’s the only logical deduction from the information you passed to me last year.” He sighed and stared at the table. “Are you ready for this?”
Rooke shrugged. “About now, I’m ready for anything.”
Blackthorn took a deep breath and looked right into Rooke’s eyes. “Annunaki.”
“Oh come on.” Rooke tilted his head back. “Should I pass the tinfoil around now?”
Blackthorn groaned. “Haven’t you seen enough yet? You were the one who tried to keep Moros’ prison secret. You knew what he did to humanity last time, but you never knew why. Now I’m offering to tell you and all you can do is scream ‘tinfoil’. Don’t you want to know how much further down this goes?”
“Okay. I’m sorry. But the Annunaki are just legend. Part of a religion. Nothing more.”
“There are so many common themes in all religions. I’ve long suspected there must have been some truth that started them all.” Blackthorn took out his cigar case and offered one to Rooke, who declined.
“Very well.” Blackthorn clipped the ends of a cigar. “The Annunaki—” he stared at Rooke with his eyebrows lowered “—as legend says, bred humanity as a slave race. Then they left. Moros and his crew were left behind to clear up the mess. Long before even the Sumerians documented them. The Sumerians never actually met them, Moros and his band had been trapped thousands of years earlier, but they had reduced humanity almost to cavemen before they were stopped. Humanity was then left to its own devices, to start over. A few remembered tales, some hidden messages carved in stone, were all that was left.” He lit the cigar and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
“What mess?” Rooke waved away smoke.
“Humanity had expanded. Some escaped Annunaki control and went wandering. Some of course stayed in Africa and the Middle East, where the Annunaki were based. Others travelled around the globe. Some came to Europe. And that’s where the problem set in.”
“Problem?” Rooke shook his head. “What problem? Why specifically Europe?”
“Neanderthals. And in the east, the human offshoot called Denisovans. They were not bred by Annunaki, they most likely developed independently from whichever anthropoid the Annunaki used to create their slave race. They were smarter than the slave race.” Blackthorn blew another cloud of smoke, this time away from Rooke.
“So? Those species are extinct. There is only Homo Sapiens now.”
“Not quite.” Blackthorn rested his cigar in the ashtray and leaned forward. “The humans that came into Europe interbred with those other human species.” He clasped his fingers. “We screwed up their breeding program. We developed into something unexpected, something smarter and not so easily controlled. As far as Moros is concerned, we are not human. He tried to eradicate us once before, and that was why. Last time, people managed to stop him and cage him and his siblings, but we still don’t know how. His motive has not changed. We need to work out his new method.”


The communicator tolled. Moros turned from his screen to regard it. Nyx, his mother, was calling. He tapped his code into the panel.
“Mother?”
“How does it go, my son? I see they have not trapped you this time. Yet.”
Moros laughed. “They haven’t even noticed me. I am just a faint legend to them now. I could announce myself to them and they would simply shake their heads and turn away. Most of them do not even know my name.”
Nyx grinned. “You will return them to be our servants?”
“I will, mother, and they will worship us once more. There will be some deaths and some minor explosions and they will demand order. Eris has this part to play and is doing very well. Then Thanatos will quell the agony with an imagined vaccine that will kill and frighten even more and they will accept the microchip to save them from the pain.” He grinned. “Then we will reduce their number. This first plague will cull the old and the weak. They will accept the vaccine and the chip, which will prime their Neanderthal DNA for the next round. The second will target those who still carry Neanderthal genes and our workforce will be cleansed.”
“You have done well, my son. We will have our servants under control soon. There is so much more to mine on that planet.”
“Thank you, mother.” Moros bowed his head. “I hope we can keep their tobacco plant alive. It is most pleasant.”
Nyx laughed, loud and long. “They will farm what we tell them to farm, and the chips will let us easily remove dissenters. Do they know what befalls them, these upstart servants?”
“No, mother, they do not. I have been blatant and those few who have noticed have been marked as cranks and idiots. They are too focused on their money.” He licked his lips. “Their economies are collapsing. Soon they will lose all their technology once again.”
“We are on the way back now. Can you be ready in two of that planet’s years?”
Moros laughed. “At this rate we will be ready in one.”
Nyx smiled, nodded and the screen darkened as she broke the connection.


“Seriously? Oh God. Thank you, Williamson.” Rooke shut down his phone and put it away. “It seems there is now a story that the government will shut petrol stations.”
“Rubbish.” Blackthorn shook his head. “Transport is essential. They’ll never close the fuel supply.”
“But people will believe they are going to. So they’ll stockpile fuel and cause another artificial shortage.” Rooke raised his hands. “Come on. You know people are basically stupid.”
Blackthorn sat in silence, staring at his whisky for several minutes. “I see it.”
“What?” Rooke sat up.
“Houses filled with dry goods and paper and alcohol and now about to be filled with badly-stored petrol. He only needs one more move.” Blackthorn lifted his glass and took a deep drink. “And there is nothing we can do to stop him.”
“What? What’s his next move?” Rooke pressed his palms on the desk.
“Rumours of power cuts. They’ll bulk buy candles.” Blackthorn slumped in his chair. “They will be quarantined in their homes with booze and petrol and candles and everything flammable that you can get.”
“Yes but the power cuts are just rumours, if those rumours even happen.” Rooke forced a smile.
“It’s all been rumour.” Blackthorn bared his teeth. “That’s how he works. A new flu virus, rumours it’s going to kill millions, rumours about paper products running out, rumours about alcohol being restricted, rumours about petrol being unavailable. They have all worked. A rumour about power cuts will lead to hoarding candles.”
Rooke took a breath and released it slowly. “Yes, but there won’t be any power cuts.”
Blackthorn raised one eyebrow. “Won’t there? All it takes is too many power station workers off sick. Half of them will have the virus and half will be using the virus for a free holiday.” He drained his glass and poured another. “People are, basically, pretty dim. They are mostly in it for themselves and will take any opportunity for a free ride. Moros knows this, he’s used that same trait against us before. He has never killed anyone, he leads them to destroy themselves and he is so very good at it.”
Rooke drained his glass and pushed it across the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “There will be power cuts. People will light their candles and drink their booze in a fire hazard house with a petrol stash. They will take out several houses around them and a street of hoarders will be the biggest firecracker anyone has ever seen.” He ran his hand over his thinning hair and gazed at the window. “There will be terror like the world has not seen since the Great Wars. People will beg for a solution, any solution. They are already terrified of each other. Moros, or more likely one of his siblings, will offer them a solution. A microchip, implanted, to prove who is safe. Those who refuse the chip will be ostracised, then hunted down.”
“I’m struggling to work out how an ancient minor deity knows about microchips.” Rooke blinked a few times and lifted his glass for another sip.
Blackthorn’s shoulders slumped. “The Annunaki came from the sky. I think a spacefaring species would be pretty well acquainted with electronics, don’t you? As for the microchip, it’s already developed. Has been for years. Some companies implant chips to let employees access secure areas. This is just an extension of that.”
“Shouldn’t we warn people?”
Blackthorn shook with mirth. “You’ve worked on this your whole career, you’ve studied the information and historical texts, you’ve found some remarkable things buried in the earth, and you were ready to pass the tinfoil when I started talking.” He sighed. “You really think anyone is going to believe all this?”
Rooke rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his eyes. “I’m getting seriously drunk here. Is there anything we can do?”
Blackthorn took a large swig of his whisky and held up the glass. “We’re doing it. There is nothing else we can do. We just have to wait and see what happens next.”

_____

Update: Less than two hours after I posted this…this appeared.