Next anthology

It’s going to be April.

I have parents visiting to see their new great grandchild in March, I have Lee Bidgood’s book to finalise-and it’s a doozy, and I might have another novel in March too. So the next anthology will be April. Around Easter but not specifically Easter. No theme.

It’ll be an ‘anything goes’ like the first one. Any genre, any style. As long as it’s legal.

We’ll call April 1st, midnight GMT as  the deadline. Just over a month away.

£10 per story or the equivalent in books. That’s the deal. Copyright remains with the author, you can re-use the story any way you like. I pay for one use in one anthology. That’s it. Writing belongs to the writer.

So if you have a story in you that’s clawing its way out, get it written and send it in. This will be Underdog Anthology 5 and it won’t be the last.

Start thinking Halloween if you’re not ready for this one 😉

 

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Short story competitions

Dirk has brought to my attention some short story competitions. These are only open to already-published authors so those who have published through Leg Iron Books might be eligible.

I’m not, because they only want authors who have been published in the UK and Ireland, and the novels I had published were put out by an American publishing house. Republishing my stuff under Leg Iron Books doesn’t count – as I am both author and publisher it would still be self-publishing.

For those with a scary story in mind, The Horror Zine will soon be looking for stories for a ghost anthology. Must be a ghost story, must be scary. The general e-zine is horror fiction, poetry and art – the ghost limitation only applies to the anthology. This is a highly rated e-zine and well worth getting into if you can. The details of the anthology aren’t on the site yet. I’ll put up details when they appear. This one takes stories in English from anywhere in the world and welcomes first-timers. No need to be previously published, but the standard has to be really good. New stories only.

Back to the competitions. I did have a moment of wondering at the point of only accepting entries from established authors. That’s no way to find new talent. Still, their gaff, their rules. It does ensure all the entries are from someone who can write to publication standard so they have less filtering to do.

The Sunday Times competition is a big one with a massive prize so you’re going to be up against some really talented writers. You guys can do it though. It’s open to anyone from anywhere but you must have been published in the UK or Ireland. Not self published, not vanity-press (the ones where you pay someone to ‘publish’ you, when all they have really done is print a few copies for you). Leg Iron Books is possibly the tiniest publisher on the face of the Earth but it still counts.

The Sunday Times one is closed until June, they open for entries in June and close in October. Plenty of time to get something really polished up. And if they don’t like it, it’s still useable for an anthology.

The BBC/Cambridge University competition is likely to require you to be politically correct. It doesn’t say that but it’s the BBC and a university so keep the stories leaning to the left or totally politically neutral.

The deadline is 12th March 2018 – just over a month. Read the rules carefully because the first filter for any competition like this is – does it fit the rules? If not, then it’s dumped without reading it. They have to filter the submissions down and that’s the easiest first test. Everyone will do this, it’s not sinister or sneaky, it’s how it’s done.

Sections 2.8 and 2.8.1 are where the publication part comes in. Leg Iron Books fits the criteria for ‘established publisher’, surprisingly enough. It certainly surprised me. However, it means any author published by Leg Iron Books is eligible and I think that includes the anthologies, not just the single author books. Your short stories were published by Leg Iron Books, not by yourselves, and you were paid (almost everyone took it in books but that still counts). Nobody pays to be published here so as far as I can see, the criteria are fulfilled.

Not by me, unfortunately. I can’t go for these unless I get my stuff published by a different UK publisher. The rest of the LI Books authors are okay though.

The Edge Hill University award is a little different. All the others I mentioned want original, unpublished stories. This one wants single-author short story collections published by UK-resident authors during 2017. Mine are not eligible, they’re older and they were self published. The Underdog Anthologies are not eligible. Only Mark Ellot’s Blackjack or Sinistré collections fit the criteria from the LI books so far published.

If you’re not already published and you can write a scary story, the Horror Zine is the best one to get into. The really big competitions are only open to those who are already published and the criteria can vary a lot between them. The prizes, though, are often substantial and worth trying for. Even if you don’t win, you might get noticed.

Just be sure to read the rules very carefully. If you don’t fit the rules, the story is out in round one.

Round two is where they read it.

 

Sugar (and books)

It’s true that eating too much sugar is bad for you. Too much of anything is bad for you. Even water (I rarely touch the stuff myself, having kept pet fish and observed what they do in it).

Yet, having no sugar is bad for you too. Okay, you can get a lot of it as sugar in fruit (in season) and your liver can make sugar out of some other foodstuffs but you have to remember that your body works on sugar. That’s its fuel. Cut out all sugar, all carbohydrate, and your metabolism will burn protein for energy and you will go into ketosis. That is definitely not healthy.

It’s worse with salt. Too much salt is bad, yes, but a little too much is no problem. Your kidneys will dump the excess. It’s what they do. Too little salt – well, your body cannot create sodium. It’s an element. If you have too little, then hyponatremia beckons and if you persist in your salt-free diet while getting sicker, you will die.

Maybe this is a population-thinning exercise. It’ll certainly wipe out the genes of people who put healthy kids on salt, sugar and gluten free vegan diets. A global experiment in Darwinism, maybe?

Lately we have the gobby kitchen staff, in the grinning shape of Jamie Oliver, demanding all breakfast cereals reduce their sugar content. Yes, he’s self-promoting again.

It is worth pointing out every time, that this flabby-tongued gobshite has never been elected to anything, has no medical background, is neither a nutritionist nor a dietitian, and makes pronouncements to get people to notice him.

He is a cook. Since when did business boardrooms and elected MPs take orders from kitchen staff?

They do though. He has one of his tantrums and they all go ‘ooo, the Dreaded Cook is coming, we have to reformulate everything so it tastes like a troupe of weasels peed over it and then nobody will buy it’.

Stupid, isn’t it? But that’s how the world works now. Gobby bastards who have never stood for any kind of election and who have no qualifications in the subject they are spouting off about are the ones being listened to by our vacuous elected representatives.

Every political party should have ‘superficial preening party’ as at least part of their name. Every one. None of them are any use any more. There are very, very few MPs with any brains at all. Load of prancing popinjays who think they have been voted in to do what the hell they please to the people who voted for them.

This is where Cromwell came in last time the government was so out of touch. They won’t know that because they have fucked up education so badly now that history students think Henry the Eighth was the spitting image of Idi Amin and they don’t remember what happened last time we had a King Charles. It was even worse the time before and we’ll soon have Charles III. Who is already bonkers so he has a head start on the first two.

It’s all coming together very unpleasantly, I think…

We’re still in January. We are expected to eat only vegan food and touch no alcohol this month. As you would expect, I have had not one meat-free or whisky-free day this month and have no plans to do so. If they move the Stoptober nonsense into January we can just rename it Miserable Puritan Month and get it all out of the way at the start of the year.

Government by gobshite. Who’d have thought it could come to this? All we have in Parliament is a bunch of mindless expenses claimants who do what they are told by charities and kitchen staff. People who claim to be experts but who are only expert in self-aggrandisement and thuggish controlling methods.

Anyway… the next book from Leg Iron Books is going to piss off these people massively. It has lots and lots of smoking and booze in it, and it’s extremely funny. A complex plot that leads to a logical conclusion – and when you get to the part with the chugger, I reckon every reader is going to have to wipe tears of laughter from their eyes. Unless you’re a chugger, in which case you might want to be a little less aggressive in the future.

It’s by Lee Bidgood, who has appeared in the last two Underdog Anthologies and it’s a really good one. Target is release by the end of the month (my visit to Wales in January has been postponed because of a reason) and it’s certainly possible.

On book promotions, I was sent a link by an early author, Justin Sanebridge, to a promoting site that sends out tweets, farcebok posts, Google+ posts (whatever they are) and more to advertise a book. They also have a free sample that sends it out once so you can try it.

The base 30-day plan costs just $14.99 (currently £10.80) to get it sent out twice a day for 30 days. At 50 cents a day that’s pretty cheap. I will send one book a month for this promotion. If I send them all at once I’ll have books competing with other books from the same publisher (me) and I want to see if it affects sales. If it makes $15 a month it’s a good one.

But hey, if anyone wants to use the free one-day thing to give their book a shot now, go for it. if you want to use the paid service yourself, tell me you did it so I’ll be able to link it to sales.

First one out is Justin Sanebridge’s ‘The Goddess of Protruding Ears’ because he found the site so that’s only fair. I have 30 days to decide whether to do the rest in order or at random. I might not add the anthologies because they are priced to the bone so they’d have trouble getting the initial stake back. They’d be bottom of the list anyway – the authors go first.

An advertising budget of $15 a month won’t break me. If it works, if it makes more than the stake, they have heavier-duty plans I could move up to. Advertising budget is tax deductible too.

Which reminds me, I have a chunky tax bill to pay this year. I don’t want to give money to people I know will use it to make my life a misery, I’d rather give it to a trembling street corner junkie who will only damage themselves, but they’ll come for me if I don’t.

First tax bill in years. I am sure I will be claiming a lot of it back next year though.

 

 

The Genderless Society

One of the main sticking points in writing ‘Panoptica’ is trying to think like a drone who is content in his utterly oppressed world. I don’t mean he tolerates it, he actually sees it as the ideal way to live. Under total control.

I had also envisaged it as genderless (there are mechanics involved that have not come true yet although there are signs it is on the way) but there are no males or females. I have it set up like ant or bee society: the ones at the top do all the breeding (again, there are mechanics to this that would be spoilers) but the general plebs are neutered drones. Why keep them alive at all? Oh the answer to that is very nasty indeed. As you would expect  😉

The thing about fiction is it has to make sense. Real life doesn’t have to and rarely does, but fiction has to make sense. I had to find a way to arrive at all the restrictions on life I had placed on ‘Panoptica’ – and how do you get to the point where people accept being neutered drones? The history of this future horror had to be logical.

While writing this I have set out a few ‘on the way’ scenarios, here and here. The former story is now in ‘The Good, the Bad and Santa‘, the fourth Underdog Anthology. The latter is just a draft on the blog so far.

Panoptica’s main character is called 10538 because the idea was first inspired by the Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘10538 Overture‘. A long, long time ago. I had listened to that song for years and always thought ‘This is the overture. Where’s the rest of it?’ Eventually I decided to write the rest of it myself.

The genderless society idea now has a history. Thanks to the Militant Transency, or what an online acquaintance likes to call the Rainbow Reich, there are now more ‘genders’ than anyone can remember. You can also define yourself ‘otherkin’ and be a blue pansexual platypus if you like.There are even white people who identify as black now. You are white. Clean the damn mirror once in a while.

It’s insane and it’s perfect for the progression of history in this fictional story that’s rapidly coming true.

I had expected the first signs in California or maybe Scotland where the idiots in charge fall for any old crap and make it law. I missed something. A place where they delight in controlling and tormenting their population with idiotic legislation.

Australia. We used to send our convicts and loonies there so it’s probably historically our fault but even so…

Queensland, Australia, has decided that driver ID (the driving licence in the UK) will no longer carry discriminatory descriptions such as gender, height, hair and eye colour. The link is to a Quora answer which includes a screenshot of the report but not a direct link.

Well it’ll be cheaper to make the IDs because everyone will have the same card. Nobody will have a gender though. If you never learn to drive, no bother, borrow your wife’s licence. You might be 6 feet tall, your wife 5 feet, you might be ginger while she is blonde, doesn’t matter. The ID card fits you as well as it does her.

The important part is the loss of gender. As 81-Mohammed explains in the second story I linked to, people will delight in the removal of the 57 varieties of gender that blight reality now. They will welcome the genderless society.

Will they neuter their children? Oh please. They are lining up to have them transgendered already, even kids that have just learned to speak. It’s the ‘in thing’ now. Neutered until they are old enough to choose a gender? They will beat down the hospital doors to be the first. And those who aren’t keen to comply will be shamed with the new ‘transphobia’ nonsense.

Of course, once neutered they will never be able to reproduce, no matter what later surgery they have. They won’t have the parts any more. In one generation you have eradicated the family unit. Marx would be so proud.

Where it goes from there, well, I have it sketched out and planned it.

Just need to write it down. Preferably before it happens.

 

Glowing books – a disappointment

There is nothing I can do to affect the glow in the pages of the books.

The effect is more pronounced in the latest Underdog Anthology than in the other books but as comments on the earlier post said, it’s an effect caused by the whitening dyes used in the manufacture of the paper. Changing the colour of the glow is a non-starter unless I go back to ultimate basics and make my own paper. Even if I was mad enough to try that, a different colour glow would mean the paper wouldn’t look white.

I wondered if the enhanced effect in The Good, The Bad and Santa was due to the spine colour or something else I did to the cover but it could just be a different batch of paper. So maybe there is nothing I can do to affect it. I’ll play around with spine colours on later anthologies just in case though.

It’s a disappointment, it would have been fun to have different genre books defined with different colours of glowing spine but it can’t be helped.

Ah well, back to the tax form….  finding all the bits takes ages but having it all online at least means I’m not rummaging for bits of paper!

 

 

The Book that Glowed

Cade F.O.N Apollyon, one of the authors in the most recent Underdog Anthology, noticed something odd about the print version.

In a certain light, there is a blue glow along the spine of the book. Here’s a photo Cade took –

It’s odd, so I tried it with a copy here –

It works here too. I have no idea what causes it but I have to try to replicate it. I also have to see if it can be made to glow in different colours. A red glow would be particularly useful.

Have any of the authors noticed this phenomenon, or any other readers seen it? I’d like to hear about it if you have (or haven’t). I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who might have an explanation of why it happens with this particular book, especially if you know how I could make it happen and whether I can vary the colour.

In the meantime, I’m sure it’s perfectly normal and not at all weird. You won’t get sucked into the stories and none of the characters in the book can escape. Probably.

The eBook version is safe. It has no spine so nothing is glowing.

Although it might be possible to make it so… I feel a bit of experimentation is in order.

23-David and 81-Mohammed

On the first day of Christmas I took to bed with me
The Lord Montague of Beulieau

There’ll be more of that song but for now… here is a Christmas tale that’s not in any book anywhere. Raw first draft stuff. Needs a better title too…

 

23-David and 81-Mohammed

Be better

The wording, in lights under Santa’s frowning image on the shop window poster, burned into 23-David’s mind. He knew he could be better. He still didn’t truly believe and sometimes he was afraid it showed.

Today he had been allocated female bisexual by the gender randomiser on his alarm clock. Yet he knew that he was male and heterosexual and always had been. Try as he might, he could not accept the lie as others seemed to. He had dressed accordingly, of course, since to do otherwise would label him transphobic and invite a series of re-education sessions again.

23-David shuddered at the memory of his last re-education. It had been his own fault. He had failed to keep up with the latest terminology and had accidentally referred to a black woman as ‘she’ – without first checking her allocation of the day. She had been allocated Asian genderfluid and had chosen ‘la’ as her pronoun. The resulting complaint had put him on the naughty list for six weeks for racism as well as transphobia.

It’s made clear at the start of every visit to re-education that failing the classes is not an option. Failures are sent to the Farm. Nobody comes back from there. The class requires absolute concentration since they try to trick you at every stage. Getting through without making any mistakes at all is exhausting. Especially if you don’t really believe.

Making his way along the street, past the shoppers and the watchful eyes of those thought police dressed as Santas, 23-David wondered if he were the only one. Did everyone else believe? Were there no others who just put on a front, an outer shell to hide from the ever-vigilant Offended?

Whatever, he had no wish to have another session of re-education. Every time there was that chance of failure, the risk his mask might slip and he’d be sent to the Farm. Many he knew had gone there, so it was indeed possible he was the last. Maybe they had weeded out all those who could not accept the Word of the Offended and live with all the contradictions and false truths of this new world.

Distracted by his thoughts, he felt someone barge into him.

“Sorry. I hope I haven’t offended you?” The voice was familiar.

23-David looked into the face of a man. “Oh no, I should apologise,” he said. “I wasn’t paying proper attention.” He knew this man, he was sure, but couldn’t place him.

“Neither was I. Lost in my own thoughts. Like you, eh?” The man grinned and winked. “It’s 23-David, isn’t it? You buy your newspapers in my shop every morning. I keep a copy of ‘Green Future’ with your name on it every day.”

Ah of course. The newsagent. They had exchanged small talk but he had never thought to ask the man’s name. When even gender was fraught with risks, asking for names seemed intrusive.
“81-Mohammed.” The man held out his hand.

23-David shook it before he realised what he was doing. This archaic greeting had been banned as elitist long ago, a symbol of White Supremacy and here he was doing it on the street. 81-Mohammed seemed not to mind, but then he wasn’t white. Besides, he was raised in Creche 81, a high ranking raising station. He could probably get away with a lot more than someone from Creche 23.

“I should be on my way.” 23-David put his hands in his pockets to avoid any further accidental physical contact. The collision might be considered assault and the handshake would be enough to get him back into re-education, if anyone had seen it.

“Oh, surely you have time for a coffee?” 81-Mohammed smiled again. “Earth Day isn’t until tomorrow. We’ve never had a proper chat, and I know just the place for a good coffee and conversation.”

23-David considered for a moment. Refusing an invitation should be easy, but this was an invitation from an 81, a superior in this world of equality and from a Mohammed too. They might still go for an Islamophobia arrest, even though religion had been eradicated long ago apart from the Green God which was settled science and not to be called religion.

So many lies. So many contradictions. I can’t be the only one who sees it!

“Okay.” 23-David kept his face expressionless. “A coffee sounds good.”

“Excellent.” 81-Mohammed patted 23-David’s shoulder.

Another assault. How does he get away with it?

“Is it far? To the coffee shop, I mean?” 23-David fell into step beside 81-Mohammed. A thought struck him.

I hope he doesn’t want sex. I might be dressed as a woman but I’m not one. I don’t have the proper equipment.

“Not far at all. In fact, it’s just through that door over there.” 81-Mohammed winked. “And don’t worry. I know what’s in your knickers and it doesn’t interest me.”

“I didn’t—”

“Yes you did. It’s perfectly normal to be concerned when you’re assigned female and strange men invite you to strange places.”

“Well…” 23-David looked where 81-Mohammed had pointed. There was indeed a door, a nondescript door set into a windowless wall at the side of a building. “That’s a coffee shop?”

“The best in town. It has no need to advertise and we don’t invite just anyone in there.”

“So why invite me?”

81-Mohammed winked again. “As I said, you’re like me. You’ll fit in there, you’ll be among friends. Like-minded people.” He set off across the street.

23-David followed, making a mental list of questions he needed to ask before the conversation began, so he could avoid any accidental offence and thereby avoid another re-education session.

81-Mohammed opened the door and let 23-David enter first. “Ladies first,” he said with a chuckle.

Inside, several people sat at tables with coffee mugs in front of them. Most looked up as they entered, a few sniggered, the others looked warily at 23-David and then raised questioning eyebrows at 81-Mohammed.

“A new friend,” 81-Mohammed spoke to the room after closing the door. “This is 23-David. He does not accept the lies.”

“What?” 23-David spun to face his accuser. “Is this some kind of trap? I don’t want to go to re-education again.”

“Relax. It’s no trap.” 81-Mohammed led 23-David to a table. “Sit, we’ll get something to drink and talk. There’s no re-education here, only the truth. No doublethink, no contradictions and no blame. Most of all, no cameras or microphones and nobody this side of the door ever gets offended by trivial crap,”

23-David sat, his head reeling. This had to be entrapment. He had been in re-education three times and the next one was sure to be the Farm. They must have been watching him closely, looking for one slip, one mistake. The handshake had clinched it. They knew he wasn’t one of them, they knew he hadn’t fully bought in to the reality they wanted to impose. Resigned to his fate, he watched 81-Mohammed order drinks, he watched the waiter bring them, he looked down into coffee that was cold and strangely frothed, he lifted it and sipped and was brought suddenly back to his senses.
“What the hell? This isn’t coffee.”

The room exploded into laughter. 81-Mohammed wiped tears from his eyes as he struggled to compose himself. “It’s called beer, Dave. It’s not a strong one since it’s your first.”

“Alcohol?” 23-David leaned back in his chair and stared at the mug as if it contained poison. “You’re trying to give me cancer?”

“Another lie, Dave. You have to drink a hell of a lot more than this, and stronger stuff than beer, before you have any risk of cancer.” 81-Mohammed took a deep drink of his own beer.

Someone called from another table. “Hey Mo, better not take the girlie-man to the smoke room today. He’ll break out in lumps before your eyes.”

23-David’s eyes widened.

“Don’t panic. You might not like smoking anyway. I don’t, but others do. And that, in here, Dave, is just fine.” 81-Mohammed put his mug down and looked at 23-David with a serious expression. “This is an oasis of sanity in this mad world. In here you can be David or Dave. I can be Mohammed or Mo. No need for numbers, no rank, no superiority. We don’t arrest you for having an opinion and we don’t pretend that words are violence.” He sighed and leaned back to stare at the ceiling. “Although with the next generation, that will change. They will eradicate gender and names.”

“No more gender sounds like a good thing. I can go back to being the straight man I really am.”
23-David pursed his lips. “But without names, who will we be?”

81-Mohammed stared into his eyes. “You assumed I was Muslim because of my name. You worried about getting arrested for Islamophobia. Didn’t you?”

23-David felt his cheeks warm. “Well I…”

“Your name is David. Are you Jewish?”

23-David coughed. “No, but…”

“See how it works? They assigned the names in the creche and used them to divide us but they don’t need that any more. We have creche numbers now and those have become equated to some kind of ranking system. They have destroyed the family and gender, they can now just give us numbers instead of names and the numbers denote rank.”

“They can’t destroy gender. We’re born with it.” 23-David looked into his beer. That first taste came back to him and something inside wanted to taste it again.

“Yes they can and they will. With popular support. You said it yourself. It sounds like a good thing. Everyone out there is really like us inside, Dave. They are living lies but they have to because they’ll get re-educated if they don’t. Everyone is scared. Everyone has to think before they speak. Everyone is sick of being assigned a gender in the morning and having to pretend all day. Born with no gender? They will welcome it.”

“Everyone?” 23-David’s mind struggled to comprehend.

“Yes.” 81-Mohammed nodded to someone behind 23-David. “There’s someone you need to meet now. Her name is Dawn and her appearance will shock you. Try to control your emotions.”

23-David snorted. “I’ve done that my whole life”

“You’ll need to keep doing that for the rest of it.” 81-Mohammed’s face softened. “It’s going to be harder after you’ve been here.”

“And if you fail,” the querulous voice from behind 23-David said, “we will kill you before they do.”
23-David turned and faced a woman in a chair on wheels. A thin, frail woman, with skin so wrinkled he found it hard to discern her features, although clear eyes stared at him from within the folds.
Nobody here could be that old, not since the abolition of the pension and the New Retirement that sent the aged away to live in Pensionville. 23-David closed his eyes. His mind, overwhelmed, shut down. ‘Catch him, he’s falling’ was the last thing he heard.

Something slapped his face. Something cold and wet entered his mouth. He swallowed. His face took another slap, a gentle one, a brush, not painful. 23-David opened his eyes.

81-Mohammed held a mug of beer to his mouth, his face full of concern. “You’re okay. I thought you had gone completely. A few do, you know. Some can’t take the shock.”

“The woman. So old.” 23-David struggled for words.

“Yes, I am old. You’ll never be if you stay in that world. You know what they do when you’re too old to be productive?” The woman was out of 23-David’s sight but her voice was unmistakable.

“We… we go to Pensionville.”

“No, you go to the power stations as fuel. They don’t even bother to kill you before they throw you in.”

23-David gasped. “That’s…”

“Inhuman? Isn’t everything else these days?”

“Dawn, take it slow. He’s only just coming out of shock.” 81-Mohammed put his hand on 23-David’s forehead.

“There’s no time for slow. We’ll have to get out of the city soon. We won’t be able to hide here much longer. Is he with us or not?”

“It’s a lot for him to take in.” 81-Mohammed said. “Give him time to come to terms with it. I’ve spoken to him often in my shop. I know he’s one of us, he just doesn’t believe it yet. If we send him back he’ll slip up and they’ll Farm him.”

“At least our way is quicker.” The old woman ended with a snort.

“With who?” 23-David sat up, now fully awake. “I don’t know who you are. What are your preferred gender pronouns?”

His question was answered with another burst of laughter.

“The real ones. Male or female or trans or gay, we are all ‘he’ or ‘she’ and nobody gets offended.” 81-Mohammed said. “I know that’s how you feel too, Dave. I know you can’t take the lies any more. I know they will catch you out one day and send you to the Farm. Join us, it’s a hard life but at least it’s a real one.”

“Who are you?” 23-David asked again. “Will this get me sent to the Farm?”

The old woman wheeled into his line of sight.

“My name is Dawn,” she said. “I have no creche number because I had a mother and a father. I was raised in a family. You won’t understand that yet, the concept of family is gone for you. For the next generation, the concept of gender and even of names will be gone too. They will accept it, as you accept being raised in a creche, because they will know nothing else. They will be worker drones, like bees.”

Her eyes turned down. “I had a daughter too. The real, family way. They took her on Earth Day. The bells jingled for her.”

Send not to ask for whom the bells jingle. They jingle for thee. 23-David remembered the tales of Santa and his list. The stern Santa face on the shop sign came back into his mind’s eye.

Dawn sighed. “It will be all too easy. Names have been designed to draw assumptions, as you assumed Mo was Islamic and your name assumes you are Jewish. So getting rid of names is a Good Thing. Gender fluidity has become so much of a chore that deleting gender will be welcomed. You’d welcome it yourself, right?”

“Well yes, if it means going back to normality.”

“There is no way back to normality.” 81-Mohammed raised his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. We have no choice but to get out of here and find a new home. Dawn is right. It’s only going to get worse here.”

“It can’t be fixed?” 23-David looked from Dawn to 81-Mohammed.

“We have tried.” Dawn sighed. “For many years. We’ve stopped trying now. Let them stew in the gravy they have poured on themselves, let them live their lies. We’re out.”

“Where will we go? And when?” 23-David blinked at his own words. In using ‘we’, he had accepted this new life. He noticed the smiles and the look between Dawn and 81-Mohammed.

“I mean,” he said, “Do I have time to change into proper straight white male clothes?”