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.

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!

The Last Ride

Tonight I sent out PDF copies of the anthology to all authors, but my email is looking a bit dodgy. So if you didn’t get one, let me know.

Meanwhile, here’s a preview story to get you in the mood.

The Last Ride

Jenny Armitage settled herself in the vaccination chair. “Didn’t this used to be monthly? I remember the time when there was longer between shots”

The doctor consulted his notes. “It seems your father went off the rails and disappeared. I hope that’s not hereditary.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Do we have to do the whole ‘sins of the fathers’ thing every time? My dad went crazy. When I was a toddler. Ran off to join some nomad antivax nutters, I was told. It doesn’t mean I’m going to. I just asked a simple question.”

The doctor placed his notes on the table. “Well, we have to be sure. It’s procedure.” He avoided eye contact. “Yes, the boosters used to be further apart but the Theta variant is picking up steam and we have to get vaccinated more often now.”

“Every two weeks though? It’s seriously cutting into my social life.” Jenny pulled the left sleeve of her T-shirt to her shoulder.

The doctor filled his syringe. “It seems it will be weekly soon. Otherwise the next variant could kill us all.”

Jenny looked away as the needle went in. “Last year it was monthly. The year before, three-monthly. Is it going to end up as daily?”

“Well.” The doctor pressed a swab to Jenny’s arm. “There is likely to be an implantable chip very soon. It can release a measured dose at timed intervals. They say you’d only need to reload the chip once a year.”

“Oh, that would be brilliant.” Jenny checked the sticking plaster over her latest jab and rolled down her sleeve to cover it. “Can they do it for all the other jabs too so I don’t have to get a perforated arm any more?”

The doctor chuckled. “The research plans to put everything on the new Medichip. All your vaccinations, all your medical records, and it will even automatically call the medics if it detects something wrong with you. You’ll never have to worry about getting sick again, the chip will call in before you even know you’re ill. It has GPS too, so the ambulance will know exactly where you are.”

“Wow.” Jenny blew a long breath. “I hope it will be ready before Earth Day. I’d love to spend that day, for once, without side effects.”

The doctor snorted. “Earth Day is in three weeks. I doubt they can finish it by then. Next year though, it should be all set to go.” He tilted his head towards the door. “As are you. Fifteen minutes in the waiting area and as long as you don’t show any bad reactions, you’re done.”

“The reaction shows up a couple of days later. I feel like hell for a day and then it’s done.” Jenny picked up her bag and headed for the door. “Gets me a day off college, every time.”

“Fifteen minutes in the waiting area anyway. Just to be sure.” The doctor waved her away.

“Okay.” Jenny closed the door and resigned herself to fifteen minutes of boredom. Unless one of the others keeled over. She’d seen quite a few by now. Sometimes they just passed out. Sometimes they lay there shaking like they were being electrocuted. Sometimes their faces looked like they were melting, just sagging all down one side. There was always a stack of stretchers against the wall, just in case.

She took a seat and noted the time on the clock. There had been a time, she was sure, when these strange reactions made the news. Still, when things get to be common, the news isn’t much interested any more. Neither was anyone else, really. The commonplace isn’t interesting. It’s the new and sensational that gets noticed.

Jenny, like all the others in the waiting area, sat in silence. Nobody made eye contact nor did they acknowledge the existence of the others. They had, like Jenny, been raised properly, taught never to invade the personal space of a stranger. It’s just rude.

Companions in an empty room. I taste their victory and sin.

A snippet of an old, old song came into Jenny’s head. It was something she had heard as a child, from her grandfather’s collection of what he called ‘music’. Music had fallen out of fashion after Grandad’s time and nobody bothered with it any more. Grandad died in a nursing home, before any of the family could be contacted. Her father had visited him the day before he died, and within a week Dad had disappeared too. There were a lot of shouty fights between him and her mother after Grandad died. She never knew what they were about.

She frowned, ducking her head to hide the emotion on her face in case somebody saw. It wasn’t nice to make other people worry about you. Music, she remembered, was nice. It had made her feel good, even when the song was slow and sad. Head down, she tried to remember more of the song.

To work it out I let them in. All the good guys and the bad guys that I’ve been.

There was so much more. Was it still there, buried in that childhood memory, or was it forgotten forever? Grandad’s music collection was sent to recycling when he died.

I wander through an angry crowd. Wonder what’s become of me.

The line was out of place. Jenny forced her face to relax, forced the frown away. Someone might think she had a bad reaction to the vaccine and she didn’t want the attention. She looked up at the clock. Seven more minutes. She glanced around the room.

Face to face I greet the cast. Set in silence we begin.

She stifled a cough. It felt as though something in her mind had brought the song back as a message. Like it was trying to tell her something. She needed to go back to her room, where she could concentrate. Maybe write down the bits of the song she remembered and see if she could put it back together.

Half asleep I hear a voice. Is it only in my mind?

Or is it someone calling me? Someone I failed and left behind.

That was how the song started. Grandad played that song often and sometimes there were tears in his eyes. Then they took him away to the nursing home and nobody in the house ever played music again.

Four minutes left. Jenny struggled to keep her face impassive. It felt like a dam bursting in her mind, so many thoughts, so many memories. All pushing through, all wanting to be first. She really needed to be home.

Her pulse pounded in her head. Was this a bad reaction to the vaccine? Was she about to be one of those who passed out, or who lay shaking on the ground? Is this what happened to them?

I want to take you all with me. We have to get away from here.

Her father’s voice, shouting. Her mother shouting back ‘No, you’re insane’. Her father at the bathroom sink, cutting his hand, taking out his ID chip. Jenny stared at her own left hand, where the chip rested silently until the scanners activated it. She had never questioned it. Somehow, she had blanked out so many memories, or thought she had. Seems she only put them away in a drawer somewhere, and now her brain was opening all the drawers and throwing the contents out into her consciousness.

Should she alert someone? Tell them she thought she was having a bad reaction? Hell no, she’d get sectioned at once. Is that why the bad reactions so often pass out – because they are too afraid to ask for help?

I defend my soul to those who would accuse me.

Another snippet of the song. Almost as if her mind was telling her ‘It’s okay, you’re not going mad’.

Jenny checked the clock. It seemed blurry through her eyes. She rubbed at them, her hand came away wet, but the clock looked a little clearer. One more minute. She considered just leaving now, but that might raise suspicions. One more minute. She could wait it out. She closed her eyes.

In her mind’s eye, her father’s bandaged hand lifted his small bag. His other hand stroked her face, tears in his eyes as he said goodbye. He so wanted to take her, and her mother and little brother, along with him but he could not. He could not stay either, not once he had heard his own father’s story.

Like a circus on parade. Seldom close enough to see.

A story she had heard, and pushed away at her mother’s insistence over the years. She had to believe he had cracked up, that he had joined an antivaxxer group living outside of civilisation, in the climate-change-charred wilderness. He had not. They were not anti-vaxxers. They were free people, thinking for themselves, living outside the tightly controlled world she inhabited. It was in her memory, in the arguments between Dad and Mum, in the words her brain had filed away as ‘wrong’.

His shouted words came back as clear as when he first uttered them. You get on the vaccine train and you can never get off. Booster after booster and it never ends. It’s like getting on a roller coaster that just goes around and around and goes faster and faster and never stops. The last ride you will ever take.

She checked the clock. Time’s up. Jenny stood, reached for her bag and concentrated on quelling the tremble in her hands. It might look like a vaccine reaction and she didn’t want to get taken for treatment. Very few came back from treatment.

Outside, Jenny took a moment to breathe the air and try to grasp what had just happened. It was a song. An old song, now lost to almost everyone, that had triggered her memories. It was a song that had set her on a new path, a path so very, very different from her life as she knew it. Was it sensible, or was it really only the ‘sins of the fathers’ manifesting in her? Had she inherited her father’s madness, or his sanity?

I share the famine and the feast.

The song would not go away. Should she see the doctors about how she felt? Should she discuss it with her mother? Hell no! She’d be sectioned at once. Her own mother had called the authorities when her father left. Jenny took a breath. It wasn’t malice. If her mother had not reported her father’s aberration, they would all now be under permanent observation as accomplices. Possibly even in jail. No, she could not really blame her mother – but she couldn’t trust her with these thoughts either.

Jenny knew she had to leave this city. Get out into the barren wilderness beyond. Like her father. Find the wandering people and try to join them. She stared at her left hand. Would she have the courage to cut the chip out, as her father had?

Well, she would soon find out. Her mind had decided that she would not turn up for her next injection in two weeks’ time. Earth Day was one week after that and missing a shot would put her on Green Santa’s naughty list. She would hear the bells.

Jenny gritted her teeth and whispered the mantra she had been taught. “Send not to ask for whom the bells jingle. They jingle for thee.”

If she missed the next shot, she would be classed as ‘anti-vaxxer’ and Green Santa would take her to some unknown oblivion. It was terrifying, but now she had seen how her world really was, now she had finally seen the circus parade close up, it was terrifying to stay within it too. Running into the wilderness was also terrifying. Basically, she had a choice of terrors. Which to choose?

Jenny headed to her room, only a short walk away from the campus medical centre. She had an enormous decision to make and only a short time in which to make it. If she chose to stay, she would just take the shot in two weeks’ time. If she chose to leave, she would have to do that very soon. As soon as she missed that next appointment she’d be on the naughty list and then she’d be watched closely.

“Well.” Jenny placed her hand on the door to her student accommodation block and watched the door swing open. “Seems I finally have to make an adult decision.” She stepped inside and watched the door swing closed. “I just wish I knew how.”

The song’s closing lines played in her mind.

All the devils that disturbed me and the angels that defeated them somehow.

Come together in me now.

———————————————-

(The song, if anyone is interested, is by Paul Williams and is one of the excellent pieces of music from a film called ‘The Phantom of the Paradise’, a film I heartily recommend.)

A Slow Recovery

Well, it has been an eventful time, but certainly not a productive one. I couldn’t even work on books or covers for most of it and I haven’t been able to work out author payments for this quarter yet.

The storm hit us on the evening of November 26th. The power went out but that’s not at all unusual during storms here. We lit the fireplace, lit candles and settled down to wait. It usually comes back on in a few hours.

Not this time. This time, it stayed off. The landline phone was dead, my mobile had no signal and CStM could only get a weak signal on her phone by standing at the door to the greenhouse. Seems it was time to party like it’s 1699.

Doing this, she was able to determine that the power outage affected most of Scotland north of Edinburgh. And that it was likely to last some time. We had just had a food delivery a couple of days earlier so the freezers were well stocked. As the ‘estimated repair time’ shifted back further and further, the freezers were getting up to the point where they would start to thaw.

At this point I was very glad I bought that generator. Considering how much was in those freezers I’d say it’s now paid for itself. It also allowed us to get the water pump going again.

Of course, there was no writing/editing/emailing during this time since computers don’t really work that well with no power, no matter how loudly you swear at them.

The power returned for a while on Sunday afternoon. It went out again on Tuesday for another 12-hour blackout, then came back again.

Still the landline was down so no mains internet. My phone still had no signal so I couldn’t use it as a hotspot. CStM’s phone was our only link to the outside world so it would have been unwise for me to use up her data by sending out a ton of emails containing book/cover attachments.

Here is the landline problem. This part of the garden looked like this in March 2020. The little yellow arrow points to the phone line which links the house (out of shot to the left) to a post that’s on the other side of the trees. The line goes through the trees.

On the morning of November 27th, it looked like this. The phone line is gone. So is the one linking to the next pole in line. I have no idea how far the line is down but this isn’t going to be a quick fix.

By December 3rd my phone was beginning to pick up a little bit of signal. Intermittent, but it was there. I tried setting it up as a hotspot but the connection was far too unstable to be any use. Anything from a brief and hopeful 4G to ‘no signal’. I have a feeling the local mast was down. Today it seems stable once more but I’ve taken the precaution of typing this offline so I can just do a quick copy/paste.

The weather continues to be appalling and I can quite understand why nobody would want to work at the top of a pole or with anything electrical in these conditions. At the time of posting this, it does not look like the landline will be back in action any time soon.

So I have only one option. I have taken out a further mobile contract with one of the few providers still covering this area and will be using that as a data link. It’s 4G, it’s fast, but I do have a monthly limit and I really have to prioritise the books right now.

So if I don’t immediately answer emails, please don’t get upset. I was behind with the books before all this happened and I’m way, way behind now. If I’m going to get Christmas day off, it’s all work for a while.

Sorry about the low quality photos. I can’t waste data on the good ones right now.

Ready for Halloween

I hope

The Halloween anthology, the fifteenth Underdog Anthlogy, is now live on Smashwords and going through the process on Amazon. Hopefully it won’t take long. Anthology 16 (Christmas themed) is open for submissions but due to the backlog of other work, editing won’t begin until November so there’s no need to rush.

It still astounds me that it’s got this far. I genuinely thought that putting ‘Volume One’ on the first Underdog Anthology was overly optimistic. And now we have number 15. There are already a couple of stories in for number 16. I’ve created a monster!

Well at least it’s a benign monster. You won’t die from reading its contents. Also, I am happy to report that every single Underdog Anthology has introduced at least one new author, and this one has continued that tradition.

Ah, the Kindle book already appeared while I was writing this post.

I have four stories in there. The first is available under the ‘look inside’ option, followed by a teaser for one of Daniel Royer’s tales, and it’s really worth your time and pennies to see where that one goes. Another of mine is a past entertainment blog post. One more is a reprint of a story from ten years ago, and the fourth is part of the Panoptica lead-in stories. Once I catch up with the backlog I’ll put those lead-ins together in one place.

Okay, the world is full of madness but I’m leaving that alone for tonight. This book was beset by delay after delay, it’s over now and I need a day off before starting the next one.

Fingers crossed that there won’t be any issues with the print copy!