Tinfoil overload

Author payment time is coming.It’ll be a day early this quarter since I can’t stay up late on the 31st to catch any last minute sales because I have to be up in the horrible earliness the next day. I’ll explain why after it’s over. So, any sales on the 31st will be paid next quarter. In September I’ll start assembling the Halloween anthology, and no writer can possibly claim they are short of horror story ideas this year! Just read the news.

Blogging has been light because this ‘hobby publishing’ idea of mine has become almost full time, because there have been issues with family getting sick, and that even includes the car which has suffered with ‘lockdown rot’ from not getting much use. Also, the dog is stoned again on multiple medications and seems to have become addicted to painkillers.

Another reason is that, rather than nothing to talk about, there is currently far too much to talk about. Many things happening at once, most, if not all of them, interconnected.

When they told us they wanted us to eat insects, I thought ‘pfft, I’ll hunt rabbits, pheasant, partridge and go fishing’. Well the rabbits have seen a sharp decline, the pheasants have gone quiet and I haven’t seen a deer around here since the early days of lockdown. At least there are still plenty of pigeons.

As for fishing, it turns out that those sewage outflows have killed thousands of fish in one of the Thames tributaries. Raw sewage dumping isn’t new, it’s long been part of our rubbish sewage system and exacerbated by the import of several million more people with absolutely zero improvement in infrastructure to support that extra population. It seems to be in the news now, not because it’s new, but because it’s scary. Who’s going to go fishing if they risk catching a botty-log instead of a brown trout?

So the ‘hunter-gatherer’ option is systematically being erased. What other options do we have?

Recently, a Swedish scientist (I suspect he was called Svenibbal Lektersson) stated that eating human flesh was the most sustainable option for meat. Well, that’s not going to go well. If we were to get a taste for it, ‘Eat the Rich’ won’t be just a slogan and visiting enforcement officers might never be seen again. It’s a very risky proposition. ‘The Hills have Eyes’ was supposed to be just a scary film. Maybe Ed Gein wasn’t a monster after all. Maybe he was just ahead of the curve.

Another scientist has claimed that burying corpses is bad for the environment. You know, putting our bodies back into the ecosystem just like every other form of life, to be recycled, is suddenly somehow bad for the world. Well, I guess they have that solution already – the big ovens at Auschwitz would have clued them in – but wait! Won’t that produce more CO2?

Ah, not if you use the ovens to cook rather than incinerate them. You can then slice and package it and call it lab-grown meat, which is something that will never work on a large scale but provides a perfect cover for the new Soylent Green.

Getting those Halloween story ideas yet? There is one more twist in the insect food story but I’m keeping that one for myself.

Then we have the whole ‘net zero’ nonsense. The ice caps are not melting, the polar bears are not going extinct, the current weather events are just that – weather. Although the usual mantra is ‘climate change’ when things get rough and when it’s normal, ‘weather is not climate’. It’s true. Weather is not climate. A drought in one place is not proof that humans are affecting the climate. As if we were even capable of such a thing.

I’ve seen a few people try to argue that carbon dioxide is ‘beneficial to plants’. It’s not. It’s absolutely essential to plants. It’s what they use to make every part of the plant, carbon dioxide and a nitrogen source (normally from the soil, they can’t use inert atmospheric nitrogen although legumes have made a deal whith Rhizobacterium, the plant feeds it sugars and the bacterium fixes atmospheric nitrogen – but I digress).

Carbon dioxide is very, very low at the moment. It’s been far higher in the past. It doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for years, most of it is absorbed by nearby plant life within hours, if not minutes. That’s why it doesn’t accumulate. You’ve seen how fast grass grows in summer, right? Every carbon atom in every blade of grass on every rolling hillside came from CO2. Including the sugars they metabolise. Remove CO2 from the atmosphere and all the plants die. Shortly after that, so does everything else.

Except the anaerobic bacteria. Once the oxygen is used up and there are no plants producing any more, the world belongs to the anaerobes once again. They’ll rebuild it but there won’t be a single one of the existing animal, plant or insect species in their new world. It’ll all be new, and we won’t be in it. Maybe a semi-intelligent species like ours will eventually arise again and fuck it all up again. The anaerobes will fix that too. Maybe it’s happened before.

We are supposed to embrace the electric car. It’s useless. There isn’t a power grid in the world that could charge them all, and when the battery dies in a few years a new one costs as much as a new car. The batteries won’t be recyclable and they’ll end up in massive toxic dumps while cars that should have lasted decades are scrapped in a few years. There won’t be any second hand sales either – the old ones will cost as much to fix as just buying a new one.

And what will you charge them with on a windless night?

If the lunacy persists, my ideas for a land yacht backed by a steam engine might make me the next Henry Ford. On a reasonably breezy day you can start it moving using the sails while you wait for the steam boiler to reach operating pressure. Just needs wood and water, and it’ll use a lot less of those things than ‘green’ Drax power station.

There is so much more, but I’ll just add the current influx of illegal immigration – yes, they are illegal. They are not fleeing war-torn France, are they? They have apparently walked from Africa, all across ‘war-torn’ Europe and scrounged a dinghy to cross to the UK. On the way they picked up fully charged cell phones, clean clothes and a smart haircut. Oh and they were so brave they left their wives and children to deal with the ‘war’ they ran away from.

If I tried that trip I’d be a hairy stinking skeleton by the end of it. Wouldn’t you?

They are not refugees. They are being well fed and cared for and causing nothing but trouble. So why is our government importing so many of them and refusing to send any back?

Well, the food shortage looms, we are being told we should eat human flesh and healthy fit flesh would be far better than stringy old Grandad, burial of bodies harms the environment, and there’s the nonviable ‘lab meat’ cover for…

I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Pleasant dreams.

Entertainment: Construction Kit

A blast from the past. I wrote this in 2003. It was my first ever submission and my first ever accepted story. I admit it made me a bit cocky, and caused me to submit a few sub-par stories until I realised not every one was a winner. It’s the first story in ‘Fears of the Old and the New‘, a collection of the early published shorts. The ‘click to look inside’ gives you all of it apart from the last paragraph.

So, why do I post it now? The video linked at the end will give you a clue…

Construction Kit

My first submission was also my first story accepted for publication. This was in the online magazine Dark Fiction (www.darkfiction.org) in 2003. Here it is with all its beginner’s mistakes intact.

“Looks fine to me.” Doc Short looked up from the small boy in his examination chair. “Probably just overtired. You know how kids can get. Too much excitement, then they just throw a tantrum over the slightest thing. Good night’s sleep, that’s my prescription.” He smiled down at the boy. “On your way, Peter, the nurse will take you back to bed.” The child grinned at him as the nurse led him away. Strangely disquieting, the way these children smiled, Doc thought.

He looked around at Bill Wilson, his boss. Wilson was watching, grim-faced, as the child was led away. Once the child was out of earshot, he turned to Doc Short. “Some tantrum,” he said. “That little boy broke an orderly’s wrist. It took three of them – three grown men – to subdue him. Something is definitely wrong, Doc, something’s wrong with them all.”

Doc Short forced a smile. He had his own misgivings about the children, but he couldn’t put them into words. Just a feeling. “Well, of course they’re not normal,” he said. “They’ve hardly had a normal upbringing, have they? Stuck in here, never going outside, never meeting anyone else. There’s bound to be some, well, anomalous behaviour now and then.”

Wilson looked pensive. “They’re stronger than normal ten-year olds. Faster. More intelligent. And not just by a small margin. But you know that, Doc, You ran the tests yourself.” He sighed. “Maybe we should consider terminating the experiment.”

The words cut into Doc as though Wilson had stabbed him with them. “You can’t!” he said, louder than he had intended, “Sorry, Bill, but you know what that would mean. You can’t just ‘terminate’ seven healthy children.”

“They don’t exist, Simon,” Wilson said, avoiding Doc’s gaze. “They’re an experiment. Nobody outside the Project knows about them. They’re just products, we made them. We grew them from fertilized eggs, in the incubators. They have no mothers. No fathers. No family. They belong to the Project. Outside, they just don’t exist.”

Doc sat heavily in his chair. “Still, they’re alive, they’re real children. Bill, the whole point of this project was to make babies for childless couples, for women who couldn’t conceive, or who couldn’t carry a child to term. Twelve years on, and we’ve succeeded – in fact we succeeded ten years ago, when these seven were born. Why is it still a secret? Why aren’t we doing what we set out to do?”

“The children aren’t normal, Doc. You know that.”

“They’re better than normal, Bill. You said it yourself. I’ve never seen such fit, healthy, intelligent kids. Talk to them – they’ve learned everything there is to learn here, and more. Why, I reckon Thomas could run the whole process we used to make him, all on his own.”

Wilson looked up, his eyes wide. “What? But how – when – did he have access to the labs? None of them are allowed in there!”

Doc smiled. Thomas was his favourite. He had grown fond of all the children, but Thomas was like his own son. The boy had always been interested in biology, and had been fascinated by the labs.

“He found his own way in. Worked out the codes for the doors, I don’t know how, and just walked in. He’s been doing it since he was six, never caused any problems, just watched and learned. We never reported him because he’s such a great kid, and he really liked being in the labs.”

“You could get into serious trouble over this.” Wilson folded his arms. “It has to stop, now, and…” A scream from outside cut him off. “What was that?” he said. For a moment he and Doc just looked at each other, then a second scream had them both racing for the door.

Along the corridor, at the far end, was a flickering light. “Fire!” Wilson started into a run. Doc was close behind him. Rounding the corner, they stopped abruptly, horror crushing their insides into nausea. It was a fire all right, and it was walking around.

The flames engulfed a large figure, arms flailing, dark mouth gaping soundlessly, the vocal chords already consumed. The figure collided with the wall, sending showers of sparks and flame into the air. Its eyes had melted, as had most of its features, and its last breath was not air, but combusting gases as it fell to form a lifeless, melting, stinking flesh-pool on the floor in front of them.

Wilson and Doc stared, mouths gaping, at the remains of the orderly. Simultaneously they noticed the children, standing on the far side of the flaming corpse.

Wilson found his voice. “What….what happened?” The children shouldn’t see this, said half of his brain. Why are they smiling? asked the other half. Doc Short didn’t speak, he simply placed a hand on the wall and emptied his breakfast into a slippery smear on the floor.

Peter grinned at Wilson, and pointed. “Your fault!” he shouted. “You caused this!”

Wilson stared at him through the flames, the smoke, the smell of charred flesh. “What do you mean, Peter? How could I cause this?” The cold stares of all the children were on him now, he felt the temperature fall around him despite the heat of the incinerated orderly just yards away.

Elaine grinned that maniacal grin they all shared. “You wanted to kill us. We can’t let you do it, we don’t want to.” Her pout was that of a ten-year-old but the flare in her eyes betrayed thoughts well beyond her years.

“How…how could you know that?” Wilson was in shock, he couldn’t see the hole he was digging for himself. “I had only just thought those things myself.”

Diane looked almost sympathetic. “You tested us. You tested everything you could think of – but you didn’t test the things beyond your understanding. How could you? Poor Uncle Bill, you never knew the powers, the abilities we have because you don’t know how to look for them. So you see, all this is your fault, not ours. We just want to stay alive.”

Thomas moved forward. “It was your fault from the start, Uncle Bill. You wanted to be God, to create life, but you forgot one thing. Life isn’t just the body. There’s more, much more. You gave us life, but you couldn’t give us souls.”

“So we found our own,” Richard said. “Or rather, to be accurate, we souls found these bodies you so kindly made for us. That’s the one flaw in your program that you never saw. You can create bodies, but they’re empty, soulless. Ideal for us.”

A snigger from behind made Wilson turn abruptly, then sink to his knees. Elaine was behind him – so was Peter! How? They could not have passed him in the narrow corridor, could not have passed the still smoking orderly, could not have stepped over Doc’s slumped, vacant-eyed form, without him noticing. As he stared, a pale light formed beside Peter, and gradually resolved into the solid form of Claire, with a smile that was half-amusement, half-contempt. Wilson slumped forward, shaking his head.

“That’s how you did it, Thomas. That’s how you kept getting into the lab.” Doc’s voice was barely audible, drifting from his blank face like smoke from a candle. “You didn’t learn the door codes, you just…just transported yourself through the door.” He was staring at Thomas as though he was seeing through him, through his flesh to what lay underneath.

Thomas looked at Doc with pity and obvious superiority, the nearest he could manage to kindness, like a goldfish owner looks at his pet. “Close, Doc. I didn’t go through the door, I went under it and over it and around it. We can use a dimension at right-angles to your three – too complicated to explain to your poor, limited brain, I’m afraid.”

“What are you? What have we created?” Wilson looked up, still hugging himself in fear. “What will you do?”

Stephen, always the quiet one, grinned at Thomas. “Should we tell? Should we tell them our secret?” he asked. The others looked at Thomas expectantly.

“Why not?” Thomas said, with a wide and evil smile. “They won’t be telling anyone else, after all. You tell them, Stephen.”

Stephen fixed his grin on Wilson, “We are, what you would call, demons.” he said. “We have no bodies of our own, never did. We’re not ghosts or spirits of the dead, we’ve never had access to your world. Oh, we’ve tried. We’ve tried to possess the bodies of the living but it never works. The soul puts up quite a fight, you see. We either lose the battle and get expelled, or destroy the body in the fight. Some of us have held power over bodies for a time, but never for long, and we could never bring all of our powers with us. The soul always got in the way.” His face twisted in bitter remembrance.

Peter took over. “Now it’s different. Your cloning methods produced soulless bodies. We took possession when they were still in the incubators. There was no fight, so the possession was perfect. We have the bodies and we still have all of our demonic powers. We’re here to stay now, and we can bring more of our kind through.”

A sudden hope dawned on Wilson. “No.” he said. “You won’t. You’re sterile, all of you. You can’t reproduce. There will be no next generation of demons. You’re all there is.” Finally, he thought, some triumph. They haven’t won after all.

The children’s laughter was deafening, and fell like hammers on Wilson’s head, confusing his thoughts.

“Fool!” Thomas shouted. “We don’t need to reproduce by your primitive, messy and unreliable human methods. We can produce all the soulless bodies we need, right here. You’ve provided us with the construction kit.” He gave Wilson a look of sardonic amusement. “Every little boy should have a construction kit, after all. This project, this building is secret. You made sure of that. Nobody knows of its existence, nor of our existence. The staff have no families, no-one to tell your secret to, so no-one to miss them.  Food is delivered, paid for automatically, so we don’t even have to worry about that. For all this, we thank you.” He turned to Doc with a smile. “And thank you, Doc, for showing us how to run your little kit. Your reward will be painless.”

Doc looked up, his face displaying his grasp of the implication. His eyes turned white in an instant as he slumped back, lifeless, against the wall.

The children turned their attention to Wilson. “Your reward is a little different,” Peter said, sniggering. “But first, we have to thank you, It’s only polite.” His smile was contempt incarnate.

Stephen spoke solemnly: “Yes, Uncle Bill. We thank you for your gift of life, and for the gift of those who are to come.” All the children joined in, as if in prayer. “We will not forget how you brought us to this world, and how you provided us with the means to bring all of the others here. Thank you, Uncle Bill. Thank you, and goodbye.”

Wilson could not contain the horror in his mind and hardly noticed the ache in his joints until they began to unravel. As his body dismembered itself in a symphony of agony, he thought he heard himself screaming.


It took nearly 20 years for this one to get close to reality.

Entertainment – The Failure Delegation

Finally, the seventeenth anthology is done. It can be found here.

For this one I wrote a story with a little bit of hope for the future. Not too much, I don’t want to be accused of writing happy endings, but I have included a tiny shred of hope. It’s a fair way into ‘Panoptica’ but it’s still quite a way from the end. Hopefully you’ll be able to keep track of what’s going on.

The Failure Delegation

Jennifer stared into darkness and silence until, with a loud clack, harsh lights came on. She pressed her eyes closed against the glare until they became accustomed, then opened them a little. Her arms were tied behind her but the rope around her waist was visible and if she leaned forward a little, the ropes tying her legs to the chair came into view, just a little bit.

She looked up, squinting against the glare of the lighting. To her left, his head hanging, Quentin let out a grunt but made no other movement. Like her, he was tied to a chair and his, as she presumed was hers, was bolted to the floor. A little shifting confirmed her presumption. Her chair was immobile.

Still squinting against the glare, Jennifer tried to survey the room. It wasn’t easy, the light came from all four corners and made it very difficult to see anything very much. The room looked bare apart from her and Quentin’s chairs and one other, set facing them. There was a door in the plain grey wall behind that empty chair and as it clicked open, Jennifer let her head fall in mock unconsciousness. What was coming was not likely to be good.

***

“Drone ships activated. Twelve minutes.” Quentin tapped at his keyboard. “Let’s get going.”

“Pfft.” Jennifer continued her download. “We’ll be done in three and out of here in four more. Twelve minutes is easy.”

“They never seem to catch us hacking in. Can’t really be too impressed with their AI systems.” Quentin grinned into his screen.

“Two minutes. We’ll be up to date with what they’re doing in those cities and gone before they know it.” Jennifer stared at the status bar. “What? The download stopped.” She tapped at her keyboard. “The computer’s locked up.”

Quentin’s smile faded. “There’s a new algorithm showing up. They delay the report of drone release by ten minutes. The drones are about to arrive.” He folded his laptop. “Pull your plugs and run!”

Eschewing the normal slow disconnect that she’d always hoped the computers wouldn’t notice too soon, Jennifer yanked out every connection to the exposed mainline, closed her laptop with the cables still attached to it and followed Quentin at a run to their exit. A hatch into ancient pipelines that would take them within a few hundred metres of their current home.

Too late. A drone hovered over their escape hatch; its machine gun trained on them. Two more joined it. A personnel carrier came into view just as one of the drones fired tasers.

Jennifer’s world exploded in electrical agony. The last thing she saw was Quentin shuddering to the floor while a sky box opened its rear door for them. Then it all went dark.

***

“You may leave.” The mellow voice sounded gentle to Jennifer’s ears but she clenched her teeth. There was unlikely to be anything that could remotely be described as ‘gentle’ in her immediate future.

“But sir—” The other voice sounded uncertain, almost panicked.

“I said, leave. They are unarmed and secured. They pose no danger to me.” A pause. “Oh, and ensure all surveillance is discontinued. I will be discussing things with these terrorists that should not be on record. It may be disturbing to many people.”

Jennifer suppressed a grimace. Terrorists? Us? We aren’t the ones torturing and killing people.

There was a silence, then the door clicked closed. The silence remained. After a while, Jennifer wondered if the long silence meant they were alone again. She risked opening one eye.

“Ah, there you are.” A man sat in the third chair, smiling. He wore the barcoded onesie of the Panoptica cities.

Not many lines, she noted. If 10538 were here, she’d know the number at once but the best Jennifer could guess at was a single digit. Maybe two.

The man continued. “Obviously I knew at least one of you was awake. I wasn’t going to sit around and watch you sleep.” He grinned. “We do have quite a lot of cameras here, as you know, including infrared ones.”

Jennifer opened both eyes and sat up as straight as her bonds allowed. “Kill us both now. Torturing us is a waste of time. Our people will have moved on as soon as they realised we were captured and we don’t know where the next home is.” She took several breaths. “Just get it over with. We have no information for you.”

The man laughed. “I don’t need any information. I’ve been following you around for many years. I know where your people are going now and I know where they will go next.”

Jennifer realised her mouth hung open and closed it while forcibly narrowing her widened eyes. “But… that would mean you could have wiped us out any time you liked. So you must be lying.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe. Truth is still truth.” He took a device from some fold or pocket in his onesie. It beeped and showed a blue light. “We are not being observed. Believe it or don’t believe it, it makes no difference to reality. In this room we are alone. It is only you and me.”

“And Quentin.” She looked at her partner, slumped in his chair.

“I don’t care about your names. You were the one who got into the system. He was your courier. He won’t wake yet.”

Jennifer closed her eyes and wished she should press the heels of her hands into them, but her hands were firmly tied to the chair.

It makes no sense. What the hell is going on?

She took a breath, opened her eyes and stared at the expressionless face opposite. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“Ah.” The man sat back, folded his arms and grinned. “Straight to the point, eh? No messing about. I like that.” His smile faded, a flicker of what might have been sadness crossed his face before he coughed, shook himself and stared into her eyes.

“I am Five. I have had many titles before that and so have the cities. I am one of the last of the city runners. Have you worked out why the cities exist, and do you know why they are dying?”

“Well…” Should she tell him what they knew? It had all come from the city computers anyway so he already knew it, surely? She realised he wasn’t asking what she knew. He was asking if she understood what they had found.

“Well…” Jennifer paused. Was it a trap, a way to find out how much they had downloaded?

Five rolled his eyes. “We know exactly how much information you have. Did it never occur to you that while you were accessing our computers, we were accessing yours? You haven’t upgraded your firewalls in decades. You have accumulated a lot of information. Did you understand its implications?”

Jennifer shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re looking for. Many cities just died out, there are only a few left. Your records are not clear on what happened to them.”

Five stared into her eyes and shook his head, slowly. “I was hoping you’d be smarter but, I suppose, since you’ve been living the hard life, you probably haven’t had time to get into genetics.”

“Genetics?” Jennifer’s eyes widened. “We don’t all have access to everything downloaded, in case we’re captured, but we do understand genetics. At least some of us do. Are you saying the cities are clones? That was my reading of the data.”

“Almost.”

Jennifer tried to shift in her seat but the bonds made it impossible. She could not get comfortable. “Look,” she said. “If you know that much about us, you know I’m a data collector. Not an analyst. We wouldn’t risk someone who knows and understands the data on a collection trip.”

“Oh I know.” Five folded his arms. “You do have someone capable of understanding it all among your people, but you haven’t figured that out, have you?”

“What?” Jennifer shook her head.

Five sighed and looked at the ceiling. “I thought not.” He stared into Jennifer’s eyes. “You have 10538 and her brain chip. She can use that to analyse all the data you have collected in minutes, all of it, but she doesn’t know it and neither do you. Did I waste my time arranging for you to capture her?”

“I don’t…” Jennifer shook her head. “I don’t get it. So 10538 is a spy? You arranged for us to rescue her?”

“Oh dear. You people have lived in the wild for so long you’ve almost reverted to animals. Paranoid and acting on instinct.” Five leaned forward. “I’m going to have to explain this as if to a child, aren’t I? If I didn’t need your help I’d just have you thrown into one of the power stations.”

“Help?” Jennifer blinked, confused.

“Shut up and listen.” Five stretched his shoulders. “I’m sure you’ve worked out that the cities are clone colonies, like bees or ants. All the workers have almost the same genetics and their rank is assigned at birth. They live their lives doing pointless jobs and believe they are all doing something important. They have no concept of family, little concept of friends, they are, as you must surely have deduced, fully controlled drones.”

Jennifer licked her lips. This was not going as she expected. “Well, yes, we worked that out some time ago.”

Five nodded. “Did you ever wonder why?”

“Um…” Jennifer struggled with this new line of questioning. It wasn’t the interrogation she expected. “We assumed it was, as you say, to create a race of worker drones.”

“Well, they are useful, particularly the lower drones. The almost-mindless who work the mines and the farms and the power stations. But the city drones, what do you think was their purpose?”

“Uh…”

Five snorted. “It’s bloody obvious. You have the data. You just need to read it properly.” He sat back in his chair. “I am four hundred years old. How is that possible?” He raised an eyebrow. “Spare parts. Genetic matches for every organ in my body.” He stood and pulled his onesie down from the neck to display a chest covered with surgical scars. “It’s the same all over me. I’m Frankenstein’s monster. All the remaining city runners are, as are what remains of those above us. The Transhumans, the elite, the ones who started all of this and still control it all.” He coughed. “Some of them don’t really look all that human any more. As the clones producing their own spare parts ran out, they turned to technology.”

Jennifer slumped as far as her bonds would allow. Her mouth worked, her head moved from side to side but she could find no words to express the horror in her mind.

Five replaced his onesie and resumed his seat. He lowered his head. “There is another side to the story. We had developed artificial intelligence, or so we thought. What we had actually invented was a computer system capable of self-awareness, of rational thought, and of self repair. It worked wonderfully at first. It removed all nuclear weapons from the world, and we were delighted.” Five looked up, his face now drawn and tired. “Eventually we realised why it had done that. It was intelligent but it still operated on pure logic. No emotion. No empathy. It had removed nuclear weapons from the world because they were able to destroy all electrical devices – including itself. It wasn’t saving us. It was saving itself.”

Jennifer’s head reeled. “I don’t understand. If it was so out of control, why didn’t you switch it off?”

Five laughed. “It runs everything. The power stations. The farms. The driverless trucks. If we shut it down we go back to the stone age. Nobody is left who knows how to live without it. Other than your people.” He rubbed his face. “No, we need it to lose its autonomy but keep its basic functions running.”

“Well… why not do that?”

Five tapped his forehead. “Brain chips. We’re all linked to it. It’s a symbiosis. It needs just enough humans alive to keep the power stations going and we can’t attack it because it’ll know we’re coming. And it has full control of our robotic military.”

Quentin groaned and shifted in his seat. Five glanced at him. “He’ll wake soon and you’ll have to explain this to him. So pay close attention.” He returned his gaze to Jennifer. “I know it’s a lot to take in for such a young and undeveloped mind. But you have to understand. The cities were cloned drones not because we wanted workers but because we wanted the spare parts. As our bodies wore out, we replaced damaged organs from the city drones. They have no other real purpose. The base workers on the farms, mines and power stations, well we let them breed as they willed. They have some diversity. The cities had almost none.”

Jennifer’s head felt as though it would explode. “You have all this technology. Why are your cities dying?”

Five laughed, harshly. “It didn’t take the AI long to realise what it needed. It needed the power stations. So it also needed the station operators, the miners and the farmers to feed them all. It had no need of us, nor of the cities. When the diseases and disasters came, one by one, the AI saw no reason to help the cities. It let them die. It’s now found ways to operate the mines and power stations with robotic systems. Soon it won’t need those people either.”

“If it doesn’t need the cities, why doesn’t it wipe them out?”

“Same reason it doesn’t try to wipe you out.” Five pursed his lips. “Neither of us pose any real threat to it. Your people have no weapons to speak of. It only tries to catch those of you who break into the system. As for us… we’re no threat as long as we’re controlled by it and dependent on it. If it were to shut off power to a city, it also loses the brain chip connections. It will then have several thousand panicked people and it won’t know what they’re doing. Its simplest course of action is to just wait for us to die.”

Jennifer nodded. “And with pretty much zero diversity in a population, a disease can run riot. I guess that’s what happened?”

“In many cases, yes. There were other disasters but disease was the main one. It had seemed like such a good idea, we thought we could contain any outbreaks but we hadn’t realised how fast a disease could spread among a genetically identical population.” Five ran his hand over his eyes. “The cities are now completely isolated from one another. We can’t risk any intermingling. A disease that’s harmless to one city’s population might be enough to wipe out another city. We have basically locked ourselves into prisons of our own making.”

Quentin groaned again. Five studied him through narrowed eyes. “He will wake soon. There is little time. Will you help me?”

“What the hell do you expect me to do? I’m tied to a fucking chair in your prison.” Jennifer struggled briefly against her bindings, to make her point.

“You won’t be tied for long. I have arranged your escape, as long as you agree to help.”

Jennifer snorted. “I still don’t see what you expect me to do. It’s your AI system, if you can’t turn it off how the hell am I supposed to do it?”

“I told you, I can’t move against it because of the brain chip. It’ll know what I’m thinking.” Five tapped his forehead again. “The city drones are infantilised, they will be no help at all, and anyway the AI knows what they are thinking too. I need you and your people to disable the higher functions of the computer but leave the basic functions running. You can do it. 10538 has the knowledge implanted. You just need to help her access it.”

“Well…” Jennifer furrowed her brow. “If the AI knows what you’re thinking, surely it knows all about this conversation. We’ll all be dead before we leave this room.”

“This room is a Faraday cage.” Five rose from his seat and grinned. “You won’t believe the contortions of speech and thought I had to go through to get this made without even thinking about the reasons I wanted it. It’s been empty since its construction, just waiting.”

“Waiting?”

“For you. Or someone like you.” Five took a sheet of paper and a USB stick from inside his onesie and placed them on his seat. “The USB stick contains information on how to unlock the program I placed in 10538’s head. She’ll remember me when it activates but she’ll remember me as a different designation. The map will show you the way out of here – you people still use paper maps, I know – and where you can pick up your laptop on the way. There will be nobody in your way because nobody ever gets out of here alive, so there are few guards. I’ve upgraded your firewall too. It won’t be quite so easy to penetrate.”

“If I agree to this, what’s in it for you? Doesn’t it mean the end of your world?”

Five breathed a long slow breath. “This will be hard for you to accept, I know. I want you to leave the cities alone. Oh we’ll all die out eventually but let us have the last of our days in peace. The drones in those cities really can’t be saved, you know. You’re making progress with rehabilitating 10538, I understand, but can you really do that with tens of thousands, in every city?”

Jennifer considered this. “It would be quite a task, it’s true, but how can we let you keep using them as your own personal scrapyard?”

“Consider this.” Five strolled towards her. “Let’s say you decide to shut it all down. All of it. What do you think happens then?” He leaned down to bring his face close to hers. “It all shuts down. The brain chips. Every one of the drones gets back every horrible suppressed memory, all at once. It will drive them insane. The medichips. No more automatic repair of body tissue damage or cancer. No stress suppressors. All their chips will fail. They’ll have no money, no access to anywhere, not even their homes. Worse, it will shut down the power stations, mining operations and all food transport from the farms. You will create thousands upon thousands of wildly insane, starving people who have no comprehension of what is happening to them or why. Do you really consider that a better outcome?”

Jennifer bowed her head. “What you propose is horrifying. We’d have to leave all those people to be taken apart whenever you want.”

“There is only one city runner per city. We don’t need many parts every year. Those above us, the transhumans, are rapidly moving to technological solutions and they will be most affected by the loss of the AI’s higher functions. They are very deeply tied into it. You can expect some very serious resistance from them.”

Jennifer looked into his eyes. “What can you tell me about them?”

Five straightened and waved at the seat he had vacated. “Some of it is on that USB stick. The rest is in 10538’s memory. I can’t give you too much now, I’ve already been offline too long. I have to get back into the AI collective before it notices I’m gone.”

“Huh?” She wrinkled her nose.

Five sighed. “Don’t you understand anything? We’re in a Faraday cage. As far as the AI is concerned, I’m offline. Disappeared. Dead. This doesn’t even happen when I sleep.”

“Then you are taking a huge risk.” Jennifer’s eyes widened. “Is it worth it?”

“Only if you agree to help.” Five grabbed her shoulders. “Look. If the AI succeeds in automating mining and power station functions, it no longer needs those workers. So it no longer needs the farms to feed them. The farms feed us too. We’re only getting food because the AI still needs the farms. Do you see?”

“If it shuts them down, you all starve to death?”

Five nodded. “Including all the drone workers you so nobly want to save. If you shut down the entire system, the same happens. We starve to death either way. So what do you say? Will you help us or will you watch us die?”

Jennifer licked her lips. “There’s really no choice, is there?”

“There is.” Five stepped back from her. “You can let us live in a way you don’t approve of or you can watch us all die. The choice is yours.”

“If we don’t help and the AI takes over, it’s the end of humanity. If we stop the AI and you die slowly, it’s the end of humanity. Talk about Hobson’s choice.”

“Well no, not really.” Five paced the room. “You know, Frankenstinian immortals like me, the Transhumans who are rapidly becoming entirely machines, and the drone peoples we created, well, we can hardly call ourselves human any more. I recognise that. I do. If I could go back I’d have chosen a different path. Perhaps joined your group or one of the others like you.”

“Others?” Jennifer had often wondered about that.

“Indeed.” Five stopped pacing and faced her. “I told you I had been following your group for decades. Others too. I’ve seen your leaders come and go. You were right. I could have had you eradicated at any time but I didn’t.” He sighed as he rested his hands on the back of his seat. “I realised, long ago, when the cities started dying, where our grand experiment was heading. There was nothing I could do about it, the system was fully in place. Our version of humanity was going to expire entirely. Only the AI and the Transhumans would remain. Except…” He bit his lip before continuing. “You people. You’re still fully human. You have families, relationships, friends, genetic diversity. I came from a time when those things were normal, you know. I rejected them and I wish, every day, that I hadn’t.”

Jennifer furrowed her brow. “But if the AI was disabled, couldn’t you go back to that life? To normal life? I mean, it won’t be controlling you any more.”

“We still can’t leave the cities. The disease risk is too great. And the drones in my city can’t cope without me. They’ll need me to administrate the running of the city even more than I need them for a supply of spares.”

“But if the AI is shut down…”

“Only the higher functions. Its basic control of farms, mining and power stations need to be intact.” Five leaned towards her and pointed his finger. “That’s important. I can then take control of distribution of food and so on and the drones won’t know anything has changed.” He took a breath. “If the AI wins and the farms, cities and all the other workers die, it will come for you next. It will not be personal, it’s not capable of that. It will consider the matter simple pest control.” Five paused. “So, will you help us or not?”

Jennifer sat in silence for long moments. Finally she raised her head. “I’ll do it. Or at least, I’ll try.”

Five visibly relaxed. “Thank you. You should know that I realise this will be the end for me and the other city runners. We’ll keep going for a few years, maybe even decades, but it’s going to fall apart at some point. Our experiment has failed – is failing – and I have to admit, part of me is glad it’s nearly over. Four centuries is far too long to be imprisoned, too fearful to set foot outside the city gates.”

“So.” Jennifer wriggled a little. “I guess the first thing is to work out how to get out of this chair.”

“I can fix that.” Five moved behind her. “Don’t move yet. The cameras will come back on and it will look like you did this yourself.”

She felt the ropes on her arms loosen. “What do you mean?”

“Stay still.” Five came back into her line of sight. “When I leave this room, three things will happen. I will use the panel outside to open your route and divert any guards. Then I will turn the cameras back on. Then I will access my brain chip to block my memory of this interview and all the thoughts I had leading up to it. Do not explain any of this to your friend until you are both out of here.” He turned to the door, placed his hand on the handle and turned back. “You will find your people at the location written on the back of the map. Make it look as if you stumbled upon them by accident. Say nothing of me, claim you stole the USB stick and don’t know what’s on it.” His head lowered. “I will not remember any of this. I will be one of those opposing your efforts. It would be nice if you could avoid killing me.” He opened the door, stepped through and closed it.

Jennifer waited a few moments, then wriggled her hands free of the ropes.

_______________

Eventually I’ll have all these stories in one place. Eventually.

Three wheels on my wagon…

Remember that song? I doubt many do.

Anyway. I have sent the PDF of the whole interior of UA17 to the authors, with instructions to check their parts very carefully indeed. The real world distractions here have come thick and fast and none of them good. If any UA17 author reading this hasn’t seen it, check your spam folder and if it’s not there, let me know.

The cover image is set. I purchased the rights to an image from a very nice Australian cobber and will suitably distort it to make the cover. The book, being so late, will be called ‘The Wrong Kind of Leaves’ which fits that cover in so many ways…

I am again behind, but trying to get this wagon rolling again even if it’s down to one wheel. It won’t be easy but then I’ve come back from worse.

The world truly has gone to Hell in a handcart, although it’s a handcart attached to a Jensen Interceptor with a brick on the accelerator. I once saw the remains of an Interceptor in a scrapyard. The engine was indeed a sight to behold. Unfortunately I was a student at the time, only there for a window winder for an Austin Princess, so could do no more than ogle that engine… but I digress.

The WHO, faced with what they pretend is a pandemic of monkeypox (there are countries whose annual tally of infections is four times the current global scare story and they just let it ride because it’s really not a big deal) have a priority.

Cure it? Find a cure? Isolate the infected?

No.

Their priority is to rename it because it’s ‘racist’.

Monkeys are not a different race. They are a different species. This is exactly the same as calling chickenpox ‘racist’, Exactly the same. But nobody gives a shit about how poultry feel, it seems. And how about smallpox? I think the short people might have something to say here. Then we have Yellow Fever. The Chinese and Japanese *ahem* in the corner. And of course German Measles…

Oh come on, we all know why they want to change the name. It’s not scary enough. It has to be called Deathpox or RipYourFaceOffPox or FloppyWillyPox or YourPhoneBatteryDiesPox. Something to make the sheep shit pile higher. Something to scare people, since that’s the name of the game and always has been. Always will be.

The scare game has been silly for a long time but it has plumbed depths of silliness where the silly is under such pressure as to become almost a singularity of silly. A silly black hole from which no sense could ever escape.

Look at this. Just look.

I remember, a little under sixty years ago, we’d use a blade of grass to push aside the froth to reveal the insect beneath. This is nothing new.

The story is pure scare. So this froth-producing insect ‘could’ damage olive groves – how many olive groves are you personally cultivating? It ‘might’ damage your plants even though it never has before. It’s never been more than a curiosity and now it’s the greatest threat ever?

Report it, and your vegetable garden will be flame-sterilised ‘for everyone’s safety’.

China has been eradicating home vegetable gardens for ‘covid’. Australia has made it illegal to grow your own food. See it yet? You will have nothing but what those ‘in charge’ allow you to have. They have been making this very clear for years now.

I would say ‘get ready’ but I said it years ago and everyone laughed. It’s too late now.

But hey, keep laughing. I’m sure you’re going to love the punchline.

Anthology 17 and author payments

Author quarterly payment time – only three authors have sales and once more, I wasn’t one of them. The ones with sales have been contacted so if you haven’t heard – sorry, you’re as skint as me.

I have a feeling that the rising prices have destroyed many peoples’ ‘play money’. I can see that. It’s affecting me too, I can’t buy models nor esoteric weaponry at the rate I used to maintain. Although I probably have enough weaponry to supply a small mediaeval castle anyway…

Anthology 17 has officially closed to submissions, but it’s still subject to further delays. Editing has begun and authors are being contacted but if it’s not done in a week it’s going to take several. My mother has cancer, just a little one, it’ll soon be sliced out but I’ll have to go to Wales to check she’s following the after-surgery advice. Because she won’t. She’s also 80 which means any major surgery is a risk.

My younger brother lives near her but he has a full time job and I’m retired so I do need to be there. Maybe I should take my battle axe in case he gets hold of his morningstar, both of which have the scuffs and chips of teenage scuffles… nah. He won’t want to lose again. Anyway, my late father’s broadsword is still there in case he gets stroppy.

There are easily enough stories in to make Anthology 17 viable but this new delay means I could accept a few late entries as long as they don’t need much editing. They aren’t needed but they have a few more days, perhaps a week if I don’t get to finish in time. Something new is always welcome.

Just be aware that if you send in a late one and don’t hear back right away, I might not be ignoring you. I might just not be here.

Gene Genies

Well, some will have got as far as finding that Panoptica was populated with female worker drones, like bee or ant colonies. I was just making it up, okay? There was no way to make it really happen. In any non-insect species.

Well, now there is. In chickens.

At first… but there is a huge problem here. If the genetic meddling causes no male chickens to hatch, who gets the next generation’s eggs going? It’s a disaster that makes Dr. Frankenstein’s story look like a mere ‘oops’. Better get used to duck eggs folks because they plan to wipe out chickens in one generation.

The same issue will arise in Panoptica before it’s complete and I have to thank real life once again for making my insane fiction at least credible. I had it written but as with brain chips, I was worried it was too far-fetched, yet once again it seems I had not fetched it nearly far enough.

Well. I have to complete a story for Underdog Anthology 17. Mine had stalled but this is new inspiration. It allows me to follow on from a story I had published in Alienskin Magazine (sadly gone forever) in 2004. Where our MC finds that her edits have spread unintentionally through subsequent experiments…

Anyhow. Here’s the original. It was also in ‘Fears of the Old and the New‘.

The Gene Genie

This one had to be cut down to fit with the word count required by Alienskin magazine at that time (2004). This is the uncut version. Published again in ‘Fears of the Old and the New’ in 2012, but no bugger ever read it so here it is again.

“The bulk of the DNA in the human genome is junk. Most of it doesn’t code for anything.” Professor Armitage succeeded in looking haughty even while relaxing in his leather armchair. He had the air of someone who could emanate haughtiness in his sleep.

Diane’s response was immediate. “Surely, Professor, at least some of that DNA codes for proteins? Some of it represents intact genes that are not lost, just switched off?”

I always enjoyed Professor Armitage’s tutorials whenever Diane was there. I didn’t have to do or say anything in most of them, I could just relax and watch the battle of wits between these two.

The Professor smiled. He was ready for this one. “That’s correct,” he said, his eyes twinkling at Diane over his heavy-framed glasses. “But those genes are archaic, no longer required by the human animal. They’ve been switched off and forgotten for a good reason.” He paused. We all turned to look at Diane.

“What reason?” she said.

“They’re junk.” The Professor’s grin was huge. The other four research students covered their grins with their hands, as I did. We didn’t want to be noticed, we just wanted to be the audience.

“How do you know?” Diane said, her determined face unflinching. “Surely the only way to tell would be to switch them on and see what happened?”

“My dear girl.” Professor Armitage injected his voice with his best patronising tone. “We don’t need to switch them on. We know the sequence, so we can deduce the proteins that would have been formed, and from there we can work out what those proteins probably did.”

Diane bristled at the Professor’s tone. She was getting into her stride, this was going to be a good performance.

“Probably,” she said. “What the proteins probably did. We can’t be sure, can we? The only way to find out for sure would be to reactivate those genes.”

“Well, there are a few problems with your proposal,” Professor Armitage said. “For one, we don’t know the extent of the mutations in those genes. Remember, they’ve been unused for a long time, possibly since before ‘Homo sapiens’ evolved as a species. Mutations in unused genes would have no effect on the animal so they wouldn’t be removed by selection.”

“True,” Diane said, “but there are ways to determine the degree of mutation. We could selectively reactivate genes that are intact, or nearly so.”

“I’m sorry, my dear, but there is one final nail to place in the coffin of your proposal.”

“What’s that?”

“Ethics.” The Professor’s face was serious. “What if we reactivated a gene in a volunteer, and caused a rampant cancer? The risk is just too great. No ethical committee would ever approve such a project.” He held up his hand to forestall Diane’s interruption. “And I couldn’t approve it either. I couldn’t in all conscience ask anyone to volunteer for such an experiment.” His bushy eyebrows lowered and he peered at Diane through the narrow slot between his eyebrows and the top of his glasses. “Could you?”

We all turned to Diane again. Her lips were pursed, her eyes downcast.

“No,” she said. “I couldn’t ask anyone to take the risk.”

We all released our breath. The battle was over, and Diane had lost this time. Still, I thought I saw a hint of defiance lingering in those deep brown eyes, a suggestion of resolution in the set of her jaw. Diane hadn’t finished with this argument, I was sure. She just needed time to consider the next assault.

“Well, everyone, that’s our time up for now,” Professor Armitage said, clapping his hands together. “I’m afraid I won’t be here next week, so I’ll see you all two weeks from today.”

We rose and filed out of the Professor’s office, saying our muted goodbyes. Professor Armitage waved briefly then turned to his desk, already absorbed in his studies before we had closed the door.

I ran to catch up with Diane, who was striding furiously along the corridor. Matching her pace with some difficulty, I tried to glean some insight into her next moves.

“So,” I said. “Are you going to leave it at that? I had the feeling, you know, that you’re not going to drop this one.”

“Too right,” she said. “He’s wrong this time, and I’m going to prove it to him.”

“How?” I struggled to keep my breathing in time with her racing pace. “You won’t get approval for any experiments. He’s dead set against the whole idea.” The door at the end of the corridor arrived sooner than I’d expected. I just managed to avoid colliding with it.

Diane opened the door and shot through. “You’ll see,” she said, as the door swung shut. I leaned against the wall, catching my breath. Diane was the best research student here, better than most of the staff in the Genetics Department. We didn’t call her the Gene Genie for nothing. If she couldn’t do it, it wasn’t possible.

It was over a week before I saw Diane again. I had been working late in the library and was just leaving, looking forward to a cool beer. As I opened the main door to the chill air, Diane entered like a whirlwind, nearly knocking me off my feet.

“Whoa,” I said. “You must be keen, coming in this late.”

Her face was excited, her eyes glowing with unconcealed pride. I felt an unease growing in my gut.

“It’s not that argument with old Armitage, surely? You can’t be working on that?”

“Working on it? Ha!” she said, flashing her teeth in an insane grin. “I’ve done it. Look at this.” She pulled off her scarf to reveal three rows of slits on each side of her neck.

I recoiled in horror. “What have you done to yourself? We’d better get you to a hospital.”

Diane laughed, throwing her head back. The slits in her neck pulsed redly in time to her laughter. “I’m fine. I just reactivated some of the old genes,” she said. “Armitage was right. I couldn’t ask anyone else to take the risk, so I took it myself. It worked.”

“What have you done?” My books fell from my grasp. “What genes?”

She turned her head, showing the openings on her neck. “Very old genes,” she said. “These are gills, from our fish ancestors. Tonight I’m going to give myself a tail.” She brushed past me, towards the laboratories. “Wait until the old goat sees what I can do,” she called over her shoulder.

I stood there for a long time, my mind still seeing the gills on Diane’s neck. I knew I would feel no surprise at our next tutorial, when our Gene Genie would stand and flick Professor Armitage’s glasses off with her new tail.

_________________________________-

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”

It should be a big sign in every laboratory.

Sifting through the wreckage

First up, a reminder. Underdog Anthology 17 is open for submissions until the end of May. It was supposed to be the end of March but I typed May by mistake. I thought about correcting it but I’m so far behind it seemed best to leave it as May. It’s not themed, any genre is okay for this one, so the timing isn’t critical. This year it’ll be an ‘end of Spring’ anthology.

In the end, I made less progress with the backlog than I had hoped, but I have at least made some. I have been under a creeping malaise – four family members have died in the last two years, then we had the November storm that blacked out everything – power, phone line, even the mobiles were offline. That storm also destroyed the garden I’ve been working on for the past five years or so.

Then, I watched as the world sank into the Panoptica of my nightmares. I spoke with idiots online who insisted I couldn’t know about PCR or LFT testing and couldn’t be a microbiologist because their one-day training course had taught them everything about the subject. They’d had pipette training. Fucking pipettes! We learned how to use those at school, and I have several Gilson pipettes (and a few of the old glass ones) still in my possession from when I closed down my sole-run lab. Loads of Gilson tips too, and much more.

Even now, there are those who say the vaccines are highly effective, even though they’ve had three or four shots of it and still caught the thing they were ‘vaccinated’ against. From the first time I heard how these jabs were meant to work, it was clear they were going to do a lot of damage – and they have. It’s now slowly coming to light, far too late, and still the main news outlets are ignoring it. The governments of the world are mostly ignoring it too and keep pushing for more jabs.

Eventually, these insane jabs will go the way of Thalidomide – although that did actually turn out to have a use, just not in pregnant women. Thalidomide lasted four years before the money-driven medical profession gave in and withdrew it. Champix, the antismoking suicide pill, lasted even longer. The medical profession has improved in only one area. They are better at making money.

Oh, and it’s no longer cool to refer to ‘pregnant women’ because, as the NHS is teaching new midwives, men can now give birth through their penis. I have to say, I don’t fancy that at all. Some like to claim women ‘hang like a wizard’s sleeve’ after multiple childbirths. A man pushing one baby through his penis is going to hang like the wizard’s discarded sock, full of holes and tears and of no further use to anyone. It would end up as flat and wide as a motorway badger. You’d be peeing like a lawn sprinkler. I used to joke that you’d be better off talking to the cackling old crone who lives in the woods, with one tooth and a herb garden, rather than bother the NHS – but it’s no longer a joke. They have left all of biology and truth behind and now only care about money.

Then we have the much publicised Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial. I’ve tried to ignore it but it pokes itself into your eyes. I don’t care about it. I don’t know either of these people and am not likely to. They are both actors so what they say might be true or scripted, who can tell? And who gives a shit? Apparently Ms Heard did…

And the Ukraine thing. Now, let’s be clear here, Putin is not a pleasant person. He’s had opposition politicians killed or imprisoned and treats his people like his own personal herd of cattle but… so does Zelensky. There is no good guy in this fight and supporting one side over the other… well you either support Commies or self-proclaimed Nazis. Take your choice. I hope they both lose.

It’s all distraction. Meanwhile food processing plants spontaneously combust all over the Western world and farmers are being bribed to retire by the UK government while the Billy Gates Gruff and the Chinese communist party buy up the arable land in the USA and (in the case of the Chinese) also Africa. Why would you bother with a war invasion when you can just buy the territory?

Watching it all happen, watching the Panoptica stories come to reality, day by day, took a toll on me. Added to the family deaths and the wreckage of my garden, the malaise took a slow but certain hold. In lockdown I’d have been hard pressed to tell you what day it was, it progressed to the point where I didn’t know, without checking, which month we were in.

I didn’t notice it, it was so slow, but CStM noticed. She pointed out where it began and where it was progressing. Looking back it’s clear it started when my father died, suddenly and unexpectedly (just before covid and vaccines). The rest has been piled on top of that. In a fairly rapid succession.

I tried making a few models to get me back on track but maybe I didn’t pick the most cheerful of subjects…

They came out nice though. It helped a bit. But when the weather improved and I could see the garden wasn’t quite the utter wasteland I expected, that helped a lot more. It’s fixable, it’ll be different but it’s not utterly destroyed.

I don’t seem to be capable of full clinical depression. I suspect this is the closest I’ve ever been. Well, I’m back now, as normal as can be expected, and Leg Iron Books is firing up again.

Without any medication (other than a few whiskies, which I need to reduce once again).

Back to work

Finally, that landline is fixed. It should be okay for some time, there aren’t many trees left to bring it down again. On the plus side, the wood supply is now inexhaustible.

It was quite a comedy sketch. Monday, the engineer phoned, he couldn’t get a lifting platform to get the cable fixed to the pole. He’d come the next day. Next day, no engineer. I called back – he managed to get a lifting platform but one of the lines he had to fix was attached to a pole in the middle of a field. The platform got stuck in the soft mud and he had to wait for a tractor to come and pull it out.

Wednesday it finally happened. Just in time, we’re forecast for snow for the weekend and that can make it difficult to get up the drive.

Anyway, I’m back. Reliable power supply (as reliable as it gets) and an internet connection that doesn’t require me to make frequent checks as to how many gigabytes I have left. It’s taking a bit of getting used to – I still wonder if I turned off the mobile hotspot, even though the phone is back in the kitchen, its normal resting place.

It’s been a remarkably unproductive couple of months and we’re now into the Spring anthology – it’s open for submissions with a closing date of the end of May, but I’m going to be pretty flexible on that deadline. I have to catch up with the novels. Still, I don’t have to keep candles burniong and don’t have to make sure the fire stays lit – although I still light it most nights, it’s not a disaster if it goes out. It’s in the room with the biggest central heating radiator I have ever seen in my life, so anything that reduces usage of that radiator is going to save money on heating oil! Which, I note, has dramatically increased in price lately.

I did get a few small models finished while on limited internet/intermittent electricity. I’ll post about those later.

UPDATE I see I put end of May, not March, as a closing date. I thought about changing it but this one doesn’t get locked to any particular event and it’ll give me more time to catch up on the backlog. So I’m going to leave it for the end of May. This year, the Spring anthology will be at the end of Spring 🙂

The current situation

The landline should be back on Monday, weather permitting. There is a post on Leg Iron Books with a bit more detail and some potentially excellent news for authors. I have a backlog of emails to answer and edits to send out once I have a reliable and non-rationed internet access again.

This week we have all been bombarded with calls to get tested for HIV. Well, I am at zero risk of that one, it’s probably the easiest virus to avoid of all of them. So I won’t be getting tested. HIV testing week is apparently not a new thing, but the push to get everyone, including those at no risk at all, tested… that’s very new. I’d never heard of it before.

There is a reason for this, of course. A new mRNA-based HIV ‘vaccine’ is just starting trials. This means it’s not something that’s just been invented. It’s been right through the development stage and it’s at the human trial stage so it was invented years ago.

All this development is expensive. Getting the money back requires a lot of uptake. How do you get that uptake? By scaring as many people as possible into taking it. Even those that don’t need it.

It’s actually a pretty useless idea, if you look at it logically. What you really need is an effective treatment for HIV. A vaccine is only going to be applicable to a small proportion of the population who are at risk and since that proportion includes needle-sharing druggies who clearly don’t care about risk, you aren’t going to sell many doses.

Let’s look at how a real vaccine works. We’ll take tetanus as an example. The disease is also known as lockjaw and it’s a nasty one. It’s caused by a common soil bacterium of the genus Clostridium, the same genus that includes botulism and gangrene. In soil, they are just getting along with life but they are dreadful as parasites. They do far too much damage far too quickly and they are not communicable. You can’t catch them from someone who has them unless you try really hard. In this way they are somewhat similar to HIV. You don’t catch any of these things by someone breathing on you or brushing past you on the bus.

Normally you’d get tetanus from an infection resulting from soil into a wound. As a microbiologist, reasonably keen gardener and living on a farm I’d say I am at high risk of this so the vaccine is a good deal for me. What the vaccine does is ‘prime’ my immune system to recognise the bacterium and kill it quickly before it can establish.

If I had already presented with symptoms of tetanus, there would be no point giving me the vaccine. My immune system has already seen the bacterium and is fighting it. Giving it more is not helping at this point. It’s too late for vaccination if you are already infected. Adding more antigens is at best going to do nothing, and at worst it will distract your immune system from dealing with the active infection.

This is the issue I have with the line ‘If you had Covid you should still get the vaccine’. It’s nonsense. Your immune system has seen the virus. A vaccination at that point is like forcing someone to read a synopsis of a book they’ve just read the full version of. It’s pointless.

Another silly line is ‘Get the vaccine to protect others’. No. My tetanus vaccine does absolutely nothing to protect you from getting tetanus. Not a thing. My immunity to measles, developed the hard way, does not stop you getting measles. My immune system is not going to fax yours the blueprints of diseases it’s seen or been vaccinated against. In the domain of the disease we are all on our own. No vaccine or any treatment you take will affect my immunity to anything.

Lately the Ginger Kinglet, the Harry formerly known as Prince, has been declaring that we should take a HIV test ‘to protect others’. Well. Unless you plan to explode into a bloody pulp on the bus or to shag everyone in the queue at Tesco, your HIV status is of absolutely no relevance to anyone else. It is not, never, not even once, transmitted via any other means than bodily fluids. You cannot get it just by standing next to someone. It is not a respiratory disease.

Also, a test protects nobody at all. It’s not designed to do that. It just tells you whether you are infected or not and it’s not always reliable at doing that. Especially if they use a research tool never designed nor intended to be a diagnostic method, like PCR.

I have wondered, as have many others, whether those celebs who return a positive HIV test will be as keen to share it on social media as they were with their positive covid tests. I expect a few idiots will.

A positive HIV test is a bad thing to have. Even if it’s a false positive. Good luck getting life insurance or a mortgage or long term loan…

And if you are positive, there is no point in taking a vaccine. With HIV/AIDS there’s a double no-pointer, since AIDS destroys your immune system so there is nothing for a vaccine to boost, and if you already have the dsease, a vaccine can’t fix it.

I don’t yet know the details of how this HIV ‘vaccine’ works but as it’s mRNA, it’s most likely producing antigens on the surface of cells – which will get those cells killed. If it targets white blood cells, it will set off a civil war within your immune system and then you are not just fucked, you are royally fucked with a full Horseguard parade and 21-gun salute.

I won’t be taking this one either.

Incidentally, I chose tetanus as an example deliberately. There have been several covidian ‘doctors’ claiming that booster shots for the covid jabs are normal because we do it for other vaccines. Tetanus is one of those that needs to be boosted, but like many of the others, you need a booster every ten years or so.

Not every three months.

Entertainment Time – Christmas Trees

Well, it’s officially Christmas Eve (in the UK) so here’s a story from ‘Slay Bells in the Snow‘. Uncharacteristically jolly for me, I think, but then we all need a break from bloody covid.

Enjoy!

Christmas Trees

“They want what?” Tiddles slammed his toy-hammer onto the table.

George winced. “It’s not my fault. Santa’s letters were clear this year. The children want more trees.”

“They are up to their bloody eyes in trees.” Tiddles picked up the wooden train he was working on and considered smashing it. “If they got off their damn video games and looked outside, there are trees as far as they can see.”

George shrugged. “Seems they don’t think there are enough.”

“Oh crap.” Tiddles dropped the train and buried his face in his hands. “What will they want next year? Gender reassignment surgery?”

George coughed. “Well…”

“Don’t you dare.” Tiddles dropped his hands and stared at the wall. “Just don’t bloody dare. Okay?”

“It’s not really an issue.” George squirmed. “Santa says we can’t grant medical procedures as wishes so we’re off the hook for that one. There’s still the trees though.” He coughed again. “They also want something called ‘renewable energy’. Apparently it involves windmills and sunshine. Doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Oh…” Tiddles stared at the hammer and wondered whether he should use it on George or himself. “That ‘renewable’ crap involves clearing forests to set up wind and solar farms. Trees or those things. They can’t have both unless we magic up an entirely separate planet.”

George blinked. “Is that possible?”

“Of course not. If it were, we’d have done it and moved there and left all this rubbish behind for the humans to sort out.” Tiddles stroked his hammer. If I hit my head in just the right place it will all be over. He placed the hammer on the table and took a breath. “Right. We’d better go and visit Tubby.”

***

“Ho ho ho.” Santa raised his glass as they entered. “Another sack of letters for you. See they get passed around the workshop. We only have three more weeks.”

“That’s kind of why we’re here.” Tiddles folded his arms. “It’s about trees.”

Santa shrugged and took a sip from his glass. “Christmas trees are traditional. It’s nice to see the kiddies appreciate that.”

“Um…” George half-raised his hand. “That’s not what they’ve been asking for. They want real trees.”

“Huh?” Santa’s brow furrowed until his eyebrows merged into one.

“Real trees.” Tiddles tilted his head. “You hadn’t realised, had you?”

Santa stared into his glass. “I only have time to skim-read the letters. You guys get to read them in detail. Still, what’s the problem? People have had plants as presents for centuries. Just put a small tree in a pot and they can plant it themselves.”

Tiddles closed his eyes. “We are at the North Pole. Trees, indeed any kind of plant, are a bit thin on the ground around here. Every scrap of wood we have has to be shipped in and we use some of it for toys and the rest goes into the furnace so we don’t all freeze to death. We have three weeks. That’s barely enough time to grow a bloody radish.”

Santa pursed his lips. “Well. Would they know the difference?”

There was a long silence. George and Tiddles looked at each other. George raised his eyebrow.

“You know,” George said, “most of them think vegetables magically appear on supermarket shelves. We could sell the radishes as tree starter kits.” He screwed up his face and forced his mind, as far as possible, into thinking mode. “I reckon we can get away with it.”

“What? No!” Tiddles stamped his foot. “I will not be involved in such an underhand scheme.”

Both Santa and George raised their eyebrows as far as they could and stared at him.

“Yes, well…” Tiddles shuffled his feet and stared at the ground. “This is different. We make the presents in good faith. It’s the Job, you know? We’re talking about substandard work here. Passing off radishes as trees is going much too far.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Even for me.”

“Okay.” Santa shook his head. “If it’s too dodgy even for you then it’s a non-starter. So what do we do? Any good alternatives?”

“For trees?” Tiddles laughed. “Maybe a log? Or how about a windmill? They seem keen on those as tree replacements in many parts of the world.”

George rummaged in the sack of letters. “Hey, this one wants a train set. That’s easy. Oh, here’s one who wants a particular doll. No problem – eww.” He dropped the letter. “She wants a zombie doll with a removable brain.”

“We can do that.” Tiddles waved his hand. “Sick Bob is good at the creepy stuff. The problem is those who want trees. We can’t produce them to order.”

“Hm.” George held up a letter. “This one wants a vaccine. Well, we can’t do medical stuff.”

“That reminds me.” Santa scratched his head. “All this current vaccine stuff. Do you think we should vaccinate the elves? Should I get it?”

“Hell no!” Tiddles took a step back. “They haven’t even finished human trials yet. Besides, you can clear yourself of disease using magic when you get back. You’ll have time before it shuts down for the year.” He narrowed his eyes. “As long as you remember this time.”

George patted Santa’s shoulder. “We’ll remind you. In case you get knob-rot again.”

Santa coughed and examined the buttons on his jacket. “Well anyway, I’ve been interested in this green stuff for some time. I don’t have much to do other than browse the news, while you lot are busy in your workshops. So I was thinking, maybe we should replace the furnace with heat pumps?”

George and Tiddles stared at each other for a few moments.

George wrinkled his nose. “What’s a heat pump?”

“It’s a brilliant idea.” Santa refilled his glass. “These machines take heat from outside and pump it inside. They can get it from the ground or the air.”

Tiddles smacked his lips. “I believe I have already mentioned, Santa, that we live at the North Pole. There is no heat outside. Not in the ground and not in the air. The only thing you’d pump in from out there is frostbite.”

“Well,” Santa took a swig of whisky, “The scientists are saying cold is good for you.”

“Sure.” Tiddles walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large one. He had a feeling it was going to be one of those days, and wondered if Santa had really cleared himself of madness-inducing syphilis last time. “It’s fine if you’re surrounded by twelve inches of insulating blubber. We elves are forest creatures. We don’t like the cold.”

“You don’t like the idea?” Santa swirled his glass, his face filled with disappointment.

“We are keeping the furnace.” Tiddles folded his arms. “Can we get back to the problem at hand now?”

George coughed and stared at the drinks cabinet. Tiddles poured him a small one and handed it over.

George took a sip. “How about Bonsai trees? They’re small and they’re real trees.”

“They take decades to grow. We can’t possibly do that in the time we have.” Tiddles shook his head. “Still, George, that’s probably the best thought you’ve had this century.”

George smiled a wide and smug smile.

“There is a way.” Santa rubbed his beard. “You know that whole ‘adopt a penguin’ crap? Or ‘adopt a monkey’ or whatever rubbish they come up with? How about ‘adopt a tree’?”

After a considerable pause and a hell of a lot of blinking, Tiddles and George said, in unison, “What?”

“It’s a great scam.” Santa rubbed his hands. “People pay to keep alive things that are perfectly capable of keeping themselves alive anyway.”

“Scam?” Tiddles perked up.

“Well not for us.” Santa glowered at Tiddles. “Certainly not for you.”

Tiddles scowled.

“Right.” Santa took a deep swig of whisky and strode the room. “We send those kids an adoption certificate. Tell them they have adopted a newly planted tree in a forest somewhere and because of their wish it will grow tall and strong. Doesn’t matter where, there will be trees growing everywhere anyway. Include a picture of a small tree and next year send a picture of a bigger tree. Until they get bored of the whole shebang and ask for a PlayStation.”

Tiddles smacked his hands together. “Brilliant. We charge them for trees that were growing anyway and they believe they are making those trees grow.”

Santa lowered his head. “Tiddles, drop the scam idea for just a moment. These are presents. We do not charge for them.”

“Of course, of course.” Tiddles held up his hands. “I got a bit carried away there for a moment.” He motioned to George to leave. “We’ll get right on it, Santa. Thanks for solving our problem.”

“Yeah, back to work.” Santa sipped his drink under lower bushy eyebrows than usual. “Remember, I’m always watching.”

“No problem, Santa.” Tiddles backed out of the room with George.

***

“So we’re doing it under Santa’s watchful eye?” George struggled to keep up with Tiddles’ pace on the way back to the workshops.

Tiddles laughed. “He’s plastered and rummaging in the silly corners of the internet for most of the year. We don’t have to worry about him watching us.”

“Yeah but…” George furrowed his brow. “I don’t see how we scam this.”

“That’s why I’m in charge.” Tiddles said. “We’ll make the tree-adopting certificates as instructed, but they will include some small print.”

He winked at George. “Very, very small print.”


Merry Christmas!