I know, but…

I said I’d keep the book stuff over on the LI Books site but I spent the evening assembling a montage of book covers. Considering this started as a wild idea in a tiny flat outside Aberdeen, and the first Underdog Anthology appeared in December 2016, I think I can allow myself a moment of smug…

Not bad for a one-man operation, assisted by an editor who is also beset by a day job, I think. There’s more to come. Seems there’s no stopping it now.

Chaos

The latest anthology is completed, so that’s one less stress to deal with. Tonight I find out whether I have to waste my time on jury service while leaving CStM and my parents in an isolated farmhouse with no means of going anywhere. Once all this is out of the way I’m going to have a good blast of whisky and sleep all the next day.

Actually I’ll do that on the 17th and CStM will probably join me. On the 18th we will have no electricity for the day. There is some major work planned on the local substation and there’ll be no power most of the day. Since our water supply is pumped through filters and UV treated (no chemicals, we get water from the tap here that is less processed than Perrier), no power means no water.

So we have bottled water in for the duration, just in case. We’ll fill a few buckets to flush the toilet and the cooker hob is gas (bottled supply) so that will still work. I suspect that having a wood burning stove could be a great thing on that day. Unless we manage to sleep right through it of course.

I wonder if, by the time we emerge from this madness, we will have actually left the EU? I have doubts. Tessie never wanted to succeed in any of her promises and now Parliament has deleted the constitutional Government so at any moment, expect Tiny Blur’s Enabling Act to be activated and then it’s a real dictatorship.

Tessie is still hell-bent on Internet censorship, as she was in the Home Orifice. Next up, censorship of social media. Soon there’ll be nothing left but the old Compuserve style forums and we’ll be issued with State approved 56K modems on dialup. Assuming we are ‘Approved Comrades’ of course.

How the Tories expect to win a single vote now is beyond me. Their only manifesto is based on ‘But… But… Corbyn will win if you don’t vote for us!’ Who the hell cares? It doesn’t matter who is in charge as Britannia slips quietly below the waves she once ruled. It doesn’t matter which politicians are in their little subsidised-booze Wastemonster bubble. Nobody cares any more, nobody trusts a single one of them.

I think this country needs a Corbyn government. I can just about remember the Harold Wilson one, the young have no idea what they are voting for. I say, let them have it. They love the shine of the flame, let them grasp it and feel the burn. They will not listen and they will not learn any other way.

I mean, the country is fucked under either of them now. Let Corbyn have a go. I can really see a lot of voters going for him on one basis and one basis alone.

‘At least he’s not Theresa May.’

Frustration

So Tessie Maybe is going for another extension. Surely even the EU is getting fed up with this now? Parliament voted ‘no’ to another extension, her own Cabinet said ‘no’, and most likely the Closet, the Cooker, Underbed Monster and the Ironing Board said ‘no’ too.

She’s not hearing the voters, not hearing Parliament and not hearing her own Cabinet. What voices is she hearing, and are they only in her head?

Looks like she’s planning to set up Corbyn to take the blame this time. She wants to talk to him about a way out of the web of lunacy she has created. He will make demands. She will refuse, so he will refuse to support her crazy deal. Then, when we go out with no deal, she can say it’s Labour’s fault.

No, Tessie. It’s your fault. All yours. You have had nearly three years to come to your senses and no amount of extension can help you now. You cannot blame Parliament or Labour or even your own MPs because you are not listening to any of them. You are doing this all on your own.

I think she really believed she could snap her fingers and all of Parliament would support the horrors in that lunatic deal she dreamed up. I think she really believes that being Prime Monster means she is in sole command, that everyone in the country must do as she says. A smack in the face from Reality awaits.

Can she really go to the EU and ask for things that her own government do not support? What are the EU thinking now?

If they have any sense, they are thinking about the upcoming EU elections. They are wondering how many Nigel Farages the UK will send them if they let this pissed-off population have a say in those elections. If they have any grasp on reality at all they will understand that more people voted in that referendum than ever before and at least 17 million of them are going to vote ‘screw you’ if they get a chance. If there is anyone sensible in the EU elite, they really won’t want the UK voting in those elections.

As for the Squeaker, Tyrion Bercow, I actually agree with him not allowing a vote on ‘no deal’. As he said, ‘no deal’ is the default if the exit date arrives and there is no deal. There is nothing to debate about it. They voted to take ‘no deal’ off the table but it was never on the table. It’s not an offer. It’s a default position. Pretending it’s anything else is like falling off a cliff and voting to not hit the ground.

Actually, this Parliament would take that vote and relax on the way down because they’ve solved the problem. Oh, and Tessie would demand an extension to the height of the cliff so they have longer to fall. Anyone saying ‘We fell off a cliff and we’re going to die’ would be declared to be Hitler and ignored.

Watching this government in action is alternately frustrating and comical. They really have no idea what they are doing and most of them have no idea how close to bursting the boiler of anger is getting in this country. We’ve seen even Boris the Spider and Jake the Greasy Moggie change positions recently. We’ve seen an MP deselected and that deselection overridden by Tessie. Stupid move, Tessie. Who is going to campaign for him at the next election, eh?

I never thought I’d see the day when every party in Wastemonster made Scotland’s Spiteful Nannying Party look not so bad after all. Well it doesn’t make them look better, it just means we can look at them now and think well, they aren’t really any worse than the rest of them. I still won’t vote for them, naturally. Never have and never will. Independence sounds okay, but with that lot in charge? Hell no.

Brexit might or might not happen on April 12th. It might have already happened since Tessie put it into law that it would happen on 29th March. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen before the EU elections – if she hasn’t grown a brain by then, and the EU has, they’ll kick us out sharpish.

Of course, the EU is doomed anyway. France is going to send them a raft of Marine le Pens for their parliament. Italy is going to do something similar. Eastern Europe has experienced the Soviet nonsense they are trying to implement and they’re going to send a load of Lech Walesa clones. Greece is pretty pissed off and many other countries are too. Oh, in many countries the politicians are quite happy with the Hell they have foisted on their populations but the people living with this shit are not.

We are not leaving a thriving community of happy people. We are deserting a sinking ship.

As one whose Chinese horoscope is ‘rat’, I think that’s a good idea.

___

Book stuff – if you’re not interested, stop now.

The eighth Underdog Anthology awaits only one author’s response and it’s ready to go. The print cover is here, all set. The Kindle cover is just the front part of that one, the Smashwords cover will have to have all 12 authors’ names on the cover. It won’t look as neat but them’s the rules.

I hope to hear from that last author very soon. My parents will be here within 36 hours and that is going to eat heavily into my available time. Plus, I have the spectre of jury service on the 10th April which is going to mess things up even more. I did promise to get this book out in the first week of April and I intend to do just that.

Even if it needs to be revised after publication.

Nearly…

Well, we nearly had Brexit. And the Tory party nearly had a future. They will be spoken of in future as we now speak of the Whigs, once their opposing number in the two-main-party system we have, but now relegated to a bunch of irrelevancies. It took me a long time to work out who the Whigs were. It’ll take the next generation just as long to work out who the Tories were.

Now we have a new party. Change UK, which is going to be abbreviated to CUK because they really didn’t think it through. Naturally, they don’t plan to change anything at all including the modern politicians’ disregard for anything the public has to say. They certainly don’t plan to change their cushy jobs and their Marie Antoinette attitudes. But then, none of them do.

Well I won’t vote for CUK. I won’t vote for Conservatives ever again. I won’t vote Labour because they aren’t Labour any more. They are Catweasel’s Commies now. As for the Lib Dems and the SNP… no. Just no. The Church of the Militant Elvis makes more sense.

I’m going to vote though. If there is no realistic choice I will not vote ‘for’ anyone but ‘against’ whichever one is currently incumbent. As a last resort I will write ‘No thank you’ on the paper. There is nobody in favour of delivering the referendum result or of even slightly relaxing the smoking ban so my options are going to be limited to a ‘fuck you’ vote of some kind. Even Jake the Greasy Moggie turned tail and voted for the now thrice-thrashed Surrender Deal. Who is there left to trust?

It has all become very silly indeed but it did inspire a story – ‘Pandora’s Lost Luggage’ – which is in the next Underdog Anthology and which I will post here for entertainment purposes when the book is done. As I’ve said all along, those anthologies aren’t out there to make a profit – none of them have yet broken even – they are advertising. For me, for Leg Iron Books and of course for the starting-out authors in them. So yes, I’ll post that story here.

That book has occupied an awful lot of my time recently because it turned out to be a very big one. Details elsewhere – and Leg Iron Books authors should keep an eye on that site because that’s where the book details are now.

I have also not forgotten the Freddo contest. Just need this book out of the way first… I have a Fistful of Freddos ready to set it up.

What I need is an island where I can declare myself an independent country. But not off Scotland. The Grand Solar Minimum and the SNP’s insanity is going to cover this place in glaciers in a decade or so.

If only Australia was sane. But then, we did send them there…

Article 13 and Russian servers

I now have all but one of the author contracts back for Underdog Anthology 8, I have started assembling the book and have a cover image. This one was a lot of work – 12 authors, 21 stories and 12 poems! RooBeeDoo and I have finished editing, all authors’ edits are back and it’s still going to take a few days to assemble it. It will be out on time.

Also I have a new toy. A tiny 2 cm cube that holds a 32Gb memory card and takes HD video with the option of infrared for low light. It came from a Chinese seller on eBay and cost less than a tenner. I’ve had it clipped to an OO scale truck and run it around my little test track. I don’t seem to be able to put the video directly on here so I’ll probably have to upload it to YouTube…

if the new EU rules will let me. A lot of the models are copyright of Hornby, Wrenn, Lima and many others. The video copyright belongs to me, yes, but the copyright of the things in it do not.

Article 13 is so far reaching that if I were to quote any part of the linked article I would have to pay. I’m not clear on whether I would have to pay just for the link but if so, articles, newspapers etc won’t get any more traffic from bloggers. We don’t get paid for this and we can’t afford the expense.

What if I were to link to, and quote, an article from outside the EU? Is that covered by the silly new law? I’m not clear on that either so wouldn’t risk it. As long as we are inside the EU, we’re going to have an internet the Chinese will laugh at.

And let’s face it, our government has absolutely no intention of leaving the EU. All those banners from the March of Rejects saying ‘Tory Brexit’ are total bollocks. It has nothing to do with the Tories. None of them want to do what the referendum said, despite so many of them at the time claiming they would. It’s a stitch up, and that was clear from the start.

Will Article 13 change Tessie Maybe’s mind? Hahaha! Total control of the internet is her sweatiest wet dream and has been since she was in the Home Orifice. She already has the ‘porn filters’ coming (ooer missus) that we know will filter far more than porn. We also know they will not work. In fact they will do a lot worse than just not working – the youth of today know all about VPN and TOR and will descend into the Hell of the Underweb where they will see a lot more than a bit of rumpy-pumpy.

The political morons already have the Great Data Protection Racket (GDPR) that means a lot of non-EU news and other sites have to either comply with it, or more often, simply block EU access. You need a VPN to use the real internet already, more rules won’t change that at all, and will only have the effect of driving more and more people onto VPN and TOR.

I’ve seen people on Twitter claiming that Article 13 passed because there are too many UKIP MEPs. I’ve seen the list of UK MEPs who voted for it. Not one of them is UKIP. If there had been more UKIP MEPs it might not have passed. ‘Stay in,’ they say, ‘and fix it from within’. Cameron tried that and was sent home with a very sore arse. When will they grasp this? It cannot be fixed!

Well, if we stay in, TOR and the VPN providers will make a fortune. On the Euternet, YouTube will be worthless. No point even clicking on it, and you might as well delete the app. The same will be true of Farcebok and Twatter and most other sharing sites because they have taken the smoking-ban approach.

Instead of going after the copyright-infringer, they will go after the platform. The host will have to act as unpaid police to ensure none of their visitors break the law – or the host gets sued. Just like that pub landlord who gets prosecuted for ‘allowing smoking’ on his premises. So all those sites will take the easy option and just block pretty much anything within the EU.

They have to. They are dealing in millions of uploads per month. They can’t check every single one. They’ll use an algorithm and it will be set to overkill to make sure they don’t get sued. Smaller ones will simply cease operating within the EU altogether. Only the blandest of the bland will get onto YouTube when this takes effect.

Will this affect Leg Iron Books? Maybe. I’ll still be able to load books onto legironbooks.com but if the cover image was made by someone else I’ll have to get their permission to show it. In writing. If the story description was written by the author I’ll need written permission to show that too. I will have to police comments, here and on the Leg Iron Books site, in case someone posts an image or snippet of text from someone else’s copyright. How to easily wreck a site you don’t like? Just post a comment containing some fanfiction or a copyrighted image and they’re fined out of business and probably in jail too.

Potentially worse – will Amazon etc refuse to load books or at least refuse to show them in the EU in case of copyright infringement? They cannot possibly check with every uploader. Besides, I can’t put in a block-licence on copyright because, like any other reputable publisher, I don’t own other authors’ copyrights. Every author would have to do it individually and even Amazon would find it hard to cope with that. It will make anthologies a nightmare.

I expect ‘Click to look inside’ to vanish from every EU version of Amazon. No more teaser samples. If your title is picked out by the algorithm as similar to someone else’s, or could be fanfiction, you’ll get no sales in the EU because nobody will see it. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and the rest cannot check every single book and they will take no chances.

There are books in my catalogue in Dutch and in French. They don’t sell much but whern they do, it’s in the EU. As you would expect. If the Dutch and the French can’t see them, who will buy them?

Well, they’ll still sell to those who have VPNs that make them look like they are in Russia, which is rapidly becoming hte most free nation on the planet. If Kim Jong Jinglejangle gets a brainwave, he could make his country very rich indeed. All he needs is a couple of geeks and some servers and his people need never know. Imagine that world, where you circumvent the EU restrictions by routing through North Korea. It could happen.

This is only the beginning. The EU will make the internet unusable. We won’t even go back to Compuserve forums, it’ll be used for email only unless you want to read EU propaganda. Those who bought Amstrad’s daft email phones will be laughing, they will be more useful than any smart phone or tablet soon.

Until they start checking email content. Then it’s time to get back to snail mail because it’s still a bit faster than a pigeon…

…until it isn’t.

The psycho and the baby

I am keeping up with the work for Anthology 8. It’s going to be a big one and submissions don’t close until the 25th. I am keeping up with edits, with Roobee’s help, and contracts. It’ll be fine. I have, naturally, chosen this time to redecorate the bathroom, inspired by a Government who have chosen the time of the biggest job they have ever had to ban the advertising of cheese, jam, and tiny chocolate frogs.

I haven’t forgotten the Freddo competition. I thought I had a lull in anthology submissions but even more stories arrived last weekend. Also a new toy – a ten quid Chinese video camera small enough to fit on OO scale trains. I am resisting playing with it until after the book and competition. It’ll happen.

So, Tessie Maybe gave a speech earlier in which she blamed everyone but herself for the Brexit Balls-up, and left some subliminal threats to her MPs concerning an upcoming vote on the same deal that has been given a most emphatic ‘fuck no’ by the House of Conmen twice already.

Squeaker Grumpy (he once declared he was not Happy so I’m guessing which one he is) has said that No-mates May cannot keep putting the same thing up for votes, especially when it keeps getting ‘fuck no’ results every time. The EU has overruled him, or tried to. We’ll have to wait and see.

In her speech she has, most likely, alienated the last of her supporters and brought the country together in a way no Prime Monster has ever managed before. Absolutely everyone wants her to resign now.

There was a Meeting of the Big Cheeses (am I still allowed to use that phrase under the New Food Rules? Cheese is full of fat and often slippery, so it seems accurate) aka the leaders of the parties in government.

Chukkus Yermoney was there as leader of the Rebel Loonies. Jerry Cordite took one look at him, declared he wasn’t a real party leader and stomped out in a huff.

Well, Jerry did have a point in that the Rebel Loonies were elected due to their party manifestos. They have ditched those manifestos and the party they were elected under so they don’t even have a mandate to be MPs any more. They also aren’t a ‘party’, just a gang. The gang of kids in the schoolyard whose only common factor is that none of the other kids want to play with them.

But throwing a tantrum and storming out of a meeting that could decide the UK’s future in just over a week?

This man is supposed to be the leader of one of the two biggest parties in the UK. He has had many meetings with HAMAS and the IRA and the reason he gave was that ‘sometimes, you have to talk with people you fundamentally disagree with in order to solve problems’ or words to that effect.

Chukkus Yermoney is a British Moocher of Parliament still and someone Jerry Cordite agreed with on most things until recently. He might be an idiot but he’s not HAMAS nor is he the IRA. He’s never killed anyone. As far as I’m aware, he’s never even so much as poked anyone in an aggressive manner. And yet Jerry can’t be in the same room as him, when he has palled up with mass murderers in the past.

Did Tessie, Empress of the Eternal Failure, deliberately invite Chukkus just to wind up Jerry? Well, I’m no psychologist but her manipulative ways, constant reiteration of lies and devious aggression do look like a narcissistic personality bordering on the sociopath. We knew she was a control freak when she was in the Home Office (remember her slavering over internet control and the DNA database of everyone?). She’s nasty enough to have done it for that reason.

If Jerry Cordite was an actual adult, he would have shrugged and taken his seat, then used every opportunity to dig at Chukkus whenever he opened his non-mandated mouth. That’s what I would have done.

Instead, he did what every toddler would do. Screamed ‘NONONO! I DON’T LIKE IT’ and stomped out of the room.

So. At the next election, you have a choice. You can vote for one of the two big parties and end up being ruled by either a psychotic habitual-liar deranged bint or a reality-denying habitual-liar man-child. Or you could vote for someone based on the person, not the party.

Just remember that manifestos mean nothing. Labour proved that under Blair anyway, but any residual doubt has now been removed by both Tories and Labour. You can safely put any manifesto straight into recycling. It was a waste of ink and paper.

And to think, I thought the Brown Gorgon was bad. I’d rather have him back now. That says a lot about the current options.

As for the Lib Dems, I hear that Vinnie the Wire is stepping down. A pity they don’t have Lemsip ‘oblong-eyes’ O’Pick, that jaunty Irish labourer with the persistent cough, in their MPs any more. I didn’t agree with him on much but I have to admit I quite liked the guy. I have no idea who they will pick as Vinnie’s replacement because I can’t name a single one of their current MPs. It’s like trying to name separate parts of a blancmange.

Greens will kill us all. It’s in their DNA. They want massive population reduction and they will achieve it by moving most of Africa and the Middle East north so they can become corpsicles when the grand solar minimum really gets going. It’s already started, but probably won’t become clear to the dopes of the Green God of Climatology for a few more years. Too late guys, you should have prepared. Maybe you shouldn’t have shut down all those power stations. Oh dear. What a shame. Never mind. Africa is slated to be a nature reserve. All humans will be deleted. They didn’t tell you that when they sold you the boat tickets, did they? Oh and did you notice that most Green policies, despite them being a minor party, are also EU policies?

Who do you vote for? You can refuse to vote, that’s a valid and perfectly understandable response in the current climate, but you know the drones will vote for all of the above and if you abstain, one of them will win.

I’m not telling you who to vote into Wastemonster. I’d rather see it burned to the ground to be honest. That isn’t going to happen so we have to make the best of what we can do.

What can we do? Not much really. I’d like to see a Parliament made up of independents and the lunatic fringe candidates. It won’t last long but it will give the actual politicians one massive kick up the arse. And they really do need that right now. With steel toecaps and hobnails and a good run-up.

Will they get it? I doubt it. Most constituencies are made up of morons who will vote for a mollusc with the right colour rosette and often have. It will take a seismic shift to make them vote differently.

Tessie and Jerry might have just made it happen. We shall see.

(Is it bad that I wish the current Tory Prime Monster was called Tom?)

All the Strangers

I suggested I might post this a long time ago but a search of the site indicates I didn’t, so here it is now. It’s the follow up to an old story called ‘The Sweet Man’ which is in the same book and I’m sure I did post, but can’t find it.

Both stories were in ‘The Good, the Bad and Santa’ (Underdog Anthology 4).

Anyway. Since I am busy with this publishing lark and have no time to comment on Vinnie the Wire standing down as leader of the Libby Dhimmis, with not so much as a slot-spectacled Lemsip O’Pick left to be a credible leader…. nor do I have time to wonder how the idiots in Parliament can believe that taking their only bargaining chip off the table helps them negotiate…oh bugger, it’s hard to care any more.

I still have to set up that Freddo competition but in the meantime, here’s a fun story that has probably nothing to do with reality.

Yet.

All the Strangers

Alan placed his left hand on the panel and the door clicked open. Scowling at his palm, he entered the back rooms of the shop.

What was wrong with swipe cards or code locks? Oh, it was the old ‘security’ trick again. Cards can be lost or stolen, codes can be hacked or leaked. So much safer to have the entry code implanted in your hand. Yeah. Until some bugger cuts my hand off to gain entry.

That was unlikely to happen in this small shop but these chips were in Government installations, banks, all over the place now. The young loved them. They used to throw parties when another member of staff accepted the chip. Alan remembered his – he felt as though he was not so much being welcomed as an embracer of new technology, more as if he was being assimilated into the collective.

Accepting the chip was no longer optional. The card swipe panels and code locks had all been removed. You want to work, you have to be chipped. When it started, they said it was voluntary. It didn’t stay that way for long. It never bloody does.

Alan put his wallet and keys into his locker and checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to the start of his shift, so he grabbed his cigarettes and headed outside for a quick one. The smoking area was at the far end of the staff car park, past the loading bay. As always, Alan had smoked almost half his cigarette before he reached it.

Really, he thought. This is outside, a place where huge trucks make deliveries and cars run their engines to get the frost off their windscreens, and they’re all scared of a bit of burning leaf.  Not for the first time, he wondered when the modern world had become so weak. He had done this job for fourteen years and had seen so many changes. None of them he considered to be for the better.

Well, time to get to work. Most of the year he just stacked shelves and worked the tills but thanks to his somewhat rounded physique, at Christmas his job took on a little more variety. Alan returned to his locker and retrieved his uniform for the afternoon. Red tunic and trousers, silly hat and fake beard. For a few weeks every December, the grumpy overweight old shop boy became jolly Santa. Ho fucking ho.

As he left the stockroom, he met Damian on his way to his break.

“Hey, Santa. Remember not to scratch your sack in public.” Damian grinned at his joke.

Alan scowled. The same joke, every day, every year, every time he wore this bloody costume. He responded with a monotone “Ho ho ho”.

Damian changed tack. “Hey, you’ll never guess what I just saw. I was on till four and some guy paid for his shopping with contactless.”

Alan shrugged. “So what? That’s been around for years.”

“Ah but not with a card. He just put his hand on the scanner. He has the chip embedded in his fucking hand!” Damian’s eyes glowed with excitement. “I have got to get one of those.”

Alan shook his head. “You’re turning into the Borg and you’re delighted about it.” He snorted. “Resistance is futile. Although there is no resistance, is there? You all want to be assimilated. You’ll even pay for the privilege.”

“Oh lighten up, Alan. The chips are convenient, that’s all. You can’t lose your credit card or leave it at home if it’s embedded in you.” Damian gestured at the stockroom door. “Same as this – you never turn up to work without your door entry card, do you? Of course not. It’s in your hand all the time.”

Alan stared at his hand, where the hated chip was embedded. He couldn’t escape the question in his head, the question that had been there ever since the needle slid into his hand.

What else does it do?

Damian slapped Alan’s shoulder. “You and your conspiracy theories.” With a chuckle, he headed for the staff room.

Scowling, Alan stomped towards the tired, age-battered grotto in the corner of the shop. He looked like a Santa who had just had his sleigh impounded and his reindeer sliced up and on sale in Lidl’s freezers.

“Smile, you miserable old sod”

The hissed whisper made Alan jump. He hadn’t noticed Mr. Elwood, the manager, who now glared at him from the household cleaning products aisle. Alan forced a smile, nodded and carried on to the rickety chair in the grotto.

The chair, like the rest of the grotto, looked somewhat sad, as if it had made an attempt to be festive the morning after a serious drinking session. Alan straightened out some of the threads of tinsel and lifted the ones that had fallen to the floor. He lowered himself carefully onto the wobbly chair and wondered if Elwood would ever see fit to replace it. Probably not. This was the same chair the previous Santa used, five years ago. He went mental or something – Alan hadn’t been at work that day but the tales the staff told sounded really bad – so Elwood no longer trusted outside hires for his store-Santa. Alan wondered if this rickety chair had helped drive the man nuts. It certainly felt unsafe.

Ah well, he thought, at least it means a bit of extra money in the pay packet. Not much, but every little helps at this time of year.

Money for nothing, Alan thought, after twenty minutes of the four hour stint had passed. Not one child entered the grotto. Maybe it looked so unsafe parents were keeping them away. That was fine with Alan, he was sick of hearing demands for the latest expensive electronics from spoiled, greedy little shits.

He was not to promise them anything. That was the rule. Santa never made a firm promise in case the parents sued later. Elwood had angled a security camera, with microphone, onto the grotto in case some compo-hound pretended Alan had made a promise the parents couldn’t afford to keep. This was a bit of modern surveillance Alan didn’t mind. He wasn’t really the one being watched, and anyone who noticed the camera would assume that he was the one being watched in case he tried to get into a toddler’s pants. As if anyone with that kind of perverted desire would even get a job in this shop. Elwood might be a grumpy tight fisted bastard but he was a shrewd employer. Very few thieves or perverts had ever slipped past his interviews and once identified, they were out of the door in a flash. Sometimes with a police escort.

The customers never grasped that they were the ones being watched. Any claim against the store based on what might or might not have happened in the grotto would be faced with video evidence. Elwood kept every tape for years. He was not going to lose any lawsuit brought against this shop.

Alan’s reverie was broken by a small voice. “Are you really Santa?”

At the entrance to the grotto stood a small boy, holding his mother’s hand. Alan composed himself and launched into his prepared spiel.

“Ho ho ho. The real Santa is busy. I’m one of his helpers but he hears every word I say. So, small boy, what do you want Santa to bring you this year?”

The mother’s face reddened. “Xe identifies as a girl and likes to be called Belinda. Please don’t assume gender on first sight.”

Alan closed his eyes. Oh Jesus Holy Christ on a motorbike fuelled by unicorn turds. It’s one of those trendy idiots who loves to mess with their kids’ heads just to look right-on. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Okay.” He looked at the child. “What do – xoo – want for Christmas?” Little boy/girl/thing. Oh how he wished for the nerve to add that part aloud.

The mother rolled her eyes in that superior manner that only the half witted can manage. “It’s just ‘you’, not ‘xoo’. ‘You’ is not a pronoun.”

Did I ask for a lecture on fantasy grammar? Alan looked her dead in the eye until she broke eye contact, then turned his attention to the child. In a now very obviously forced cheery voice he asked “Well, Belinda, what would you like?”

“I want a doll house.”

Alan raised his eyebrows. This was the most traditional request he had heard in a long time. Among the demands for expensive electronics, games of murder and death and toys of alien monsters or demons, this child’s request seemed so… ordinary. Or it would have been ordinary if a girl had been asking for a doll house. Alan coughed and regained his composure.

“Well, I’ll pass your wish along to Santa and we’ll see what he can do.” Alan lifted the small plastic cauldron, a Halloween leftover, and offered it to the child. “Would you like a sweet while you wait for Christmas?”

His/her/its mother stepped forward. “No sweets. I don’t want my child to suffer obesity.”

Oh for fuck’s sake. Let the kid have at least a bit of childhood. Fortunately Elwood had anticipated a visit from at least one of the modern loonies so Alan had an alternative bucket behind his seat. He put the sweet bucket down and picked up the other. “How about a bag of nuts or dried fruit?”

The mother smiled her approval and the child selected a bag of dried apricots. As they left, Alan sagged in his seat.

How long does humanity have left? He stared into his palm where the inert electronics of his door opening chip lay silent. They’ll have credit cards embedded and then all their bank details. They’ll have chips to run their cars and they’ll have those Google Glass things embedded in one eye. They’ll get one hand replaced with a tool for their specific job. And they will welcome it. Hell, they’ll fight to be first in line.

There had been an old documentary, a TV show about the fictional Star Trek universe, in which it was stated that nobody knew where the Borg came from. Alan knew. He had recognised it at once. They came from a world like ours. They did not need to forcibly assimilate their original population. Their people had welcomed every new advance, every new embedded chip, every new modification, until it was too late to resist.

So what’s next?

A child of about seven strolled into the grotto, exuding an air of confidence that his youth should not possess. He (or she or it, Alan was not going to fall for that one again) stood in front of him and smiled.

“So.” Alan felt a little disconcerted by this child. “Um. Ho ho ho.” He shook his head to clear it. “What do you want for Christmas, small… person?”

“A FitChip.”

“Uh…” Alan blinked a few times. “A what?”

The child sighed, then pulled back the sleeve of his shirt to show Alan a device around his wrist.

“Oh right, one of those things that monitors your activity.” Alan considered these things pointless. Nobody needs a device to tell them what they are doing, and whether or not they feel well. “But don’t you already have one?”

“Oh get with the times, Santa. This is external. I can lose it. The new ones are implanted. They transmit all kinds of information about my health and location and my phone picks it all up.” The child looked almost pityingly at the baffled old man Alan suddenly felt himself to be.

“Ah.” Alan saw an immediate flaw. “What happens if you lose your phone?”

The child shook his head and lifted the hair on his right side. There, embedded in his flesh, was a long narrow silver object with a tiny blue light that flashed occasionally.

“Nobody loses phones any more. Nobody loses house keys either.” The child held up his hand and tapped his palm. “And it all charges using wireless chargers. I have one over my bed so everything charges up while I sleep.”

That must be why the Borg rest in those alcoves on the TV show. Alan had wondered about that.

“You’re being turned into some kind of machine.” It was out before Alan realised he had said it aloud. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“It’s not like that.” The child scowled. “It’s what my granddad says too, but it’s not like being a machine. I control the chips. They don’t control me.” His lip started to tremble.

“Okay, I understand.” Alan felt panic rising. A crying child leaving the grotto would look very bad indeed. He held up the sweet cauldron. “Look, have a couple of sweets and I’ll see what I can do about that – what is it – fidget?”

“FitChip.” The child’s smile returned. “I really want one. I’d be the first in my class at school.”

“Right. Well, good luck on Christmas morning. Just make sure to be good and I’m sure Santa will come visit.”

The child grabbed a handful of sweets and left with a cheery ‘Bye’.

Alan sagged in the chair. That Santa who went psycho in this very chair a few years back… Alan could quite understand it now. It seemed to just get more damn weird every year. Maybe he should start looking for a different job in the New Year. One that didn’t involve anyone, especially him, dressing up as Santa. The image of the phone implanted in that child’s head hung in his memory. What the Hell is coming next year?

The kid said he controlled the chips. They don’t control him. For how long? The chip he wanted, he said, transmitted all sorts of information to his phone. Where else did it send that information? Could someone else pick it up?

Oh maybe I’m being paranoid. Or maybe I’m being sensible. Only time will tell – but implanted phones! Alan shuddered. The kid even had his door key implanted. Like mine, only mine is just for work. Alan stared at his hand. How long before it opens my house door too? And who else will have the chip code, and therefore access to my home?

People never look at the risks of the new toys they are sold. They have TVs with cameras installed, watching them as they watch TV. They have voice activated listening devices that they’ve bought and delighted in, and never wondered who might be listening. Now they are loading their bodies with chips that transmit intimate details about them. To who? To where? They never even think to ask.

What would happen to people his own age? Would they be forced to assimilate or just be brushed aside, a load of irrelevancies waiting to die? What happens when you get old and forgetful and can’t remember what all those chips do? That child’s medical chip – will it simply switch him off when he gets too old or too sick to be productive?

From Alan’s point of view the future looked bleak indeed and yet the young people thought it all wonderful. He sighed and hoped they were right.

It was a quiet shift today, leaving Alan plenty of time to reflect, in his own morose way, on the coming world he could never feel a part of. An old song played in his mind, a song by a deceased musician he had idolised in his youth. He smiled at the memory of that particular musician’s androgynous appearance, his space-age, almost science fiction music at times, and how he played all it to the gallery. It was edgy and different in those days. Now it had passed the stage of ‘normal’ and was fast becoming compulsory.

Alan closed his eyes and let the song play in his head.

All the strangers came today.

And it looks as though they’re here to stay.