Piper in Hazmat: Part One

Busy here, now five full books going through the process and also the Christmas anthology. Still I managed to get started on a tale for Christmas myself. This one will form part of Panoptica and fits between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle‘ and ‘23-David and 81-Mohammed‘.

This isn’t the whole thing. Just the first half. It’ll probably get some editing too, once it’s complete. It’s being rushed out now because of something that’s happening in Liverpool.

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The story is set in the future of course – I had hoped in the far future, but it seems the future is coming faster than I anticipated. Well, here we go…

Piper in Hazmat

Dawn wiped away her tears before they could freeze. It had been three years and yet the pain burned as bright as ever. She stifled a sob and kept her head bowed. Tree respect was nearly over and she would return home alone, to spend this Earth Day’s Eve night in darkness.

This year, again, she considered ending it. It would be so easy. Refuse to turn off the house. Keep a tablet or phone open. Wait for the bells and let Santa take her as he had taken Willow, and a year before that, Martin. She would be with them in spirit, somewhere, if the old religions replaced by the Green God still had any power. At least the pain would stop.

That’s what the old religions promised. The Green God promised nothing but despair, the burning of this planet now deep in snow and ice. The trees were dormant, having shed their leaves for their long winter sleep and yet the news declared that the planet was warming by the hour.

Dawn gasped when the klaxon sounded. Relieved, she turned and headed for home. Maybe she could simply not bother with her preparations and let the cold take her this year, as it took so many others. Mostly the old, but then it did also take some of the young, even some of those younger than Dawn’s thirty years.

Lost in her depression, she didn’t notice June draw alongside her as she walked. Normally the families maintained social distance and respectful silence on Earth Day’s Eve. Everyone was too intent on getting home for one last hot meal before turning all the power off to be bothered with any idle chit-chat anyway. June’s whisper startled her.

“Dawn. We need to talk.”

Dawn shook her head and whispered back. “Do you want us both on the Naughty List? We have to maintain tree respect this day.” She kept her eyes firmly ahead.

June’s breathing was harsh. “They’ve made something worse than Green Santa. The Piper. They plan to take all the children.”

Dawn curled her lip. “They’ve taken my husband and my child. Why would this be any of my business?”

June stayed silent until they were nearly at Dawn’s house. Then she took a breath. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I know you’re going through a living hell but we need you.” She pressed something into Dawn’s hand. Something that ticked. “It’s not electronic so Santa won’t see it. It’s mechanical. Watch it after you turn off the house. When the thick long hand has moved halfway around the dial, and if you want to help us, open your front door and put a LEDlight outside.”

Dawn turned, but June was already receding into the growing darkness. She opened her door and dashed inside.

The door closed, her back pressed against it, Dawn stared at the small metal disc in her hand. Behind its flattened clear dome were three pointed sticks, radiating from the centre. A long one, a short one and a very thin one that rotated around the centre as she watched. There were numbers, one to twelve, around the outside of the dial.

It moves. Is it really not electronic? Is this a trap?

Dawn chuckled, a harsh and desolate sound. It really didn’t matter. She wanted an end to her personal hell anyway so if it was a trap she’d gladly walk into it. It took the decision to end it from her hands, it meant she didn’t have to choose.

In the kitchen, Dawn placed the disc thing on the table and switched on the kettle. She’d try, although she didn’t really want to, to fill enough hot water flasks to last the twenty-four hours of Earth Day. She set the soup on the hob, the last hot meal until sunset tomorrow, and remembered how she had taken the tepid leftovers when Willow was still here. Now the hot soup was all hers and it tasted of loss and despair.

Dawn filled two hot water bottles and three Thermos flasks with hot water before the brown-out started. She filled the fourth with half of the soup and sat to eat the rest at the table. Through the kitchen window, she saw the sun touch the horizon. She ate faster, soon it would be time to shut down the house and wrap up as well as she could for the long dark hours ahead.

Her gaze fell to the strange disc June had given her. It had protrusions either side, as if it was once fixed to something. As she ate, Dawn wondered where it had come from. It looked old, tarnished and scratched and yet whatever mechanism lay inside still worked. The thin stick in the dial moved in jerky steps, round and round. She was to wait until the long thick one moved halfway round the dial, after she turned off the house.

It’s a time measuring device of some kind. Dawn blinked a few times. A memory tried to resurface. Had her grandfather had one of these, or something like it, strapped to his wrist? The Great Cull had taken him while she was still a child, the viral plague that had wiped out many of the elderly. She sniffed and took another spoonful of soup. The four-digit clocks were so much easier to read, this little time measuring thing looked like hard work.

The soup finished, Dawn checked on the sun. Only a tiny arc of its disc now showed on the horizon. She sighed and rose. Time to turn off the house. Technically she had a few more minutes but what was the point? The electricity was now so low that the ceiling light seemed to suck light out of the room rather than illuminate it. She switched on a LEDlight and opened the panel for the power.

This was control. Martin had told her. They could turn off the power remotely through the smart meters but that wasn’t real control. Making everyone turn off their own power, that was real control. Dawn reached into the space behind the panel and pulled down the handle. The house fell silent. The pale bluish glow of the LEDlight was all that remained.

Dawn sat at the kitchen table and considered the tiny device June had given her. She was to wait until the ‘thick long hand’ had moved halfway around the dial then put a LEDlight outside her door. Well, assuming she gave enough of a shit to find out what this was all about.

What do I have to lose? Nothing.

The thin stick continued its rotations. The short fat one didn’t seem to have moved much. It pointed at just below the three. The one she was to watch pointed at the six. So she was to put out a LEDlight when it pointed at twelve. Dawn wondered how long that would take. The hell with it. I have to get some layers of clothing on. It’s already getting cold. She placed the little dial on the table and went off to the bedroom with the LEDlight.

Wrapped in multiple layers of clothing against the growing cold, with one hot water bottle in her bed and the other under her clothing, Dawn returned to the kitchen. She carried three extra LEDlights since her first one was already fading. There was not enough sunlight to charge them at this time of year. Should she really waste one by putting it outside her door?

The long fat stick pointed at eight. So she hadn’t missed whatever awaited her this night. Dawn tried to care, she tried very hard, but three years of being alone weighed heavy on her. If it was to end tonight, let it end.

Why twelve? There were twenty hours in a day, a hundred minutes in an hour and fifty seconds in a minute. Dawn had a vague recollection that it had been different and harder to understand when she was small but it was so easy to calculate now. Hardly any thought required. What was this little dial measuring? Transfixed, she watched the movements within the little dial, tracking the motion of the one that led to a decision. Would she agree to June’s request or ignore it?

Nine. Halfway to twelve. Dawn walked to the window and shivered at the moonlit whiteness outside. Every house, well, every box-shaped dwelling, all identical, all dark… it looked dead out there. She held her breath and listened but could hear no bells. Nobody around here was on the naughty list tonight, so far. Dawn glanced back at the table. So June had told her the truth. The tiny dial wasn’t electronic or she’d be hearing sleigh bells by now. The Green Santa wasted no time when dealing with the naughty ones.

Dawn hugged herself and returned to the table. The LEDlight was almost dead. She switched on another. These tiny solar-charged lights were the only electronics permissible on this night. Dawn picked up the little dial. Its ticking seemed louder now that all other sound was silenced.

Ten. Getting close to decision time. Was she going to put a light outside or just ignore June’s hinted rebellion and go to bed? The short stick had moved a little closer to four. That one must measure hours, June thought, although it seemed a little off. Still, it was hardly bedtime but what else was there to do now?

What was it June had said? The Piper will come for the children? Dawn closed her eyes. There was a tiny hint of childhood memory trying to get through, something about a piper who took children away. Vague, fleeting memories of a story one of her grandparents – she couldn’t remember which one – had read to her when she was small. Something about Hamlet… no, that was a white supremacy thing she had learned about in school. Piper of Hammering? Piper with a Pie? Dawn shook her head. It was too long ago, far too long. Even so, she was sure she remembered a story about a piper who took away children.

She opened her eyes and stared at the dial in her hand.

Eleven. Not much time left to decide. Should she base her future, or possible lack of it, on a vague memory of a children’s story? Dawn pursed her lips. They had corrupted Santa. Changed him from the old jolly fat smoking and drinking guy who gave away presents into the New Green Santa, who was lithe and fast and Pure, and who gave nothing but took away the Naughty Ones. It was not so much of a stretch to believe they had found another childhood icon to corrupt.

June was right about the little dial. It moved without electronics. Mechanical, she called it. Dawn turned it in her fingers and wondered what was inside, what powered it. It was certainly very old. Did the ancients have some knowledge that was now lost to the modern world? Or was it an elaborate trick? Dawn placed it on the table and watched as the thin stick made a complete revolution and the long fat one clicked one notch further. It can’t be electronic or Green Santa would be here now. June had told the truth, even if Dawn couldn’t work out why it was true.

So maybe June also told the truth about the Piper. The long fat stick was close to the twelve. Dawn took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

She had lost her husband and only child. Now this Piper thing was coming for other children. Should she care? Should she help? Or should she continue her slide into despair and let the rest of the world suffer as she had?

Dawn pushed her seat away from the table and stood. “What the Hell do I have left to lose?” she said aloud. “I can wither away and die or go down in a blaze. Maybe I won’t be any use but I can face whatever god there might be and say that I tried.”

The hand was still one minute from twelve when she put the LEDlight outside her door.

***

The rest of it will be in the Christmas anthology.

Panoptica is here

Track and trace apps (I don’t have one, I don’t go to anywhere that requires one), compulsory masks that make facial recognition cameras futile (you’ll soon be required to be RFID chipped and/or wear a barcode so they can see you), cash being gradually demonised and refused in many shops now… It’s here. If you have an Alexa or carry your phone everywhere or have one of those TVs with a camera in it, you’re in Panoptica.

Almost. There is still a little time to finish the story and try to get to a happy ending. I have agonised over this one for so many years now, even stopped for a time when the things I wrote appeared as news within days. Then, writing the book, I found that 10538 had to recount experiences in a way that basically told the first half of the story twice. Then it was derailed by my father’s death in February, followed by all the Covid nonsense since.

I think I have a way in which it can work. One of my favourite books as a teenager was Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’. It’s a collection of short stories that tell an overall story. Mr. B. didn’t originally set out to do that, he had written a series of stories based on Mars for a magazine and collected them later. This means that the first few stories didn’t fall into a pattern, but overall the book worked. I’ve always wanted to write something like that.

So I will. I’ll also include the stories that led up to the main story, and fill in a few blanks with new stories. I have a particularly horrible (and quite likely) one for Christmas. It fills the gap between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’ and ’23-David and 81-Mohammed’. I don’t think I need to write the story before ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’, I think we can just watch that on the news.

Unlike ‘The Martian Chronicles’, this one will start out with the premise that it tells an overall story, but in a series of shorts rather than chapters. Some of them will work as standalone stories but I suspect a few will be the ‘backbone’ of the overall story and won’t work as singles.

It won’t be fast, unfortunately. I have three other authors’ books to deal with and the Christmas anthology is under way. But it will happen.

Hopefully, before it all comes true.

Rebooting Panoptica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initiating Panoptica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot visit other people, even family members.

Later – you can visit but do not touch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did anyone tell you what your New Normal actually is?

Did you ask?

The Numbers Game

Work on the anthology is slow. There have been multiple disruptions in life this year – not just the virus, although that has meant that CStM and I no longer do the weekly shopping together. I have to go alone – and unsupervised – so there’s now a lot of whisky in the house. Fortunately, Aldi didn’t have any new power tools last week.

The virus hasn’t affected our lives all that much really. The only bad part is not being able to visit family and later, if the weather gets warm, we’d visit one of the two large castle gardens nearby. Well, we do have a decent garden so we can leave the parks to those who don’t.

Roobeedoo and I are working through the edits for the anthology. I’ll send them all out at once when they’re all done and then send out payments as soon as each author has agreed/modified the edits. It won’t be out for Easter but then this year, neither will Jesus.

Panoptica is something I have to get back into also. Most of what I’ve written so far is well on the way to being reality and I need to stay a little bit ahead. I’m thinking of dropping the first few chapters, start with the lead-in short stories and then start 10538’s story with the interview that sends him to the train. I need to use the flashbacks as his memory recovers but that repeats the beginning – so the answer is, lose the beginning and make the flashbacks more detailed.

Better get moving before they declare books non-essential.

One of the big questions lately is: ‘are they fiddling the death statistics?’ Yes they are, possibly with good reason.

Some countries are putting an underlying condition as cause of death to reduce the terror in the numbers. Others, like China, are simply lying. Yet others are attributing any death to coronavirus and inflating their figures.

Anyone testing positive for Flu Manchu and then dies is counted as a Flu Manchu death even if they died of a stroke or heart attack and had no flu symptoms. It’s a notifiable disease so it has to be on the death certificate but it isn’t necessarily the actual cause of death. Anyone showing symptoms is added to the list even if they aren’t actually tested. Deaths from flu and pneumonia are mysteriously low this year. They’re all counted as the new coronavirus.

The number of total deaths sounds scary, but people die all the time. It’s an inescapable consequence of being alive. Flu has a large death toll every year, usually among the elderly and the already sick, but nobody advocates lockdown every winter. They probably will now.

The kill rate is really not what makes this new one so dangerous. It’s trick is that it spreads so very easily and someone infected can spread it for a long time before they know they have it. Flu does cause a hell of a lot of cases and a lot of death but the symptoms appear in a few days. The new one can be spreading for weeks before it strikes the carrier and there is still the possiblility of long term asymptomatic spreaders. So, today, you might only have a few cases but two weeks from now, you could have a massive spike.

Around 20% of those cases will need hospitalisation and most of them won’t need intensive care. Most will recover with treatment. The thing is, 20% of a million cases is two hundred thousand in hospital. Unlike flu, that’s not spread over months. It’s likely to be spread over weeks. If you’re in there for three weeks recovering then the hospitals are soon full. Then you’re at the stage where doctors have to decide who gets treatment.

Lockdown is a way to avoid that. Limit the spread. There is no way to stop it but you can slow it down. The shrieking harpies of the press love to put out the total number of deaths as if they could have been avoided. The final number of infections and the final number of deaths from this virus will not change whether you let everyone loose or seal them in their homes. That final number, whatever it is, is going to happen no matter what.

The point of the lockdown is to ensure that the timing of that final number is extended. To ensure they don’t all arrive at hospital within a week, but show up over a period of months. Then the medical system can cope. If they all show up at once then the hospitals are overflowing, there aren’t enough medical staff (proper medical staff, not the managers with personal parking places and plush offices) and then the whole system collapses. It’s not just that there aren’t enough beds for coronavirus patients – in that scenario, there are no beds at all for all the other illnesses. So while the final number of deaths from coronavirus will be the same, the deaths from other illnesses will be much higher because they can’t be treated.

It is vitally important that people avoid too much contact at this time. You’re going to get it, no matter what, but I’m sure that if you are in the 20% who need hospital treatment you’d much rather there was space to treat you and you don’t have to die alone in a tent on the hospital lawn.

This is why they are inflating the numbers. They don’t need to in Germany, the German people are very strict and rigid when it comes to rules and will self-enforce them. The British and the Americans are a different matter. We don’t much care about rules. We follow the ones we like but tend to rebel against the ones we don’t like. So tell us to stay home. Week one, fine, we can lounge around and play games and treat it like taking a sickie. Week two, boredom sets in. Now we are at Easter weekend and there are people taking trips and having parties and barbecues…

Boris delayed lockdown as long as he could because he knew what the British are like. Trump isn’t pushing hard on lockdown yet because he knows what Americans are like. Neither country will put up with it for very long. Do it too soon and it will fail too soon. Also if they did it from day one, when it would be most effective, people would look around and say ‘Nothing is happening. This is all bollocks’ and then it will fall apart. And then they will not listen to a second lockdown when the shit hits the fan.

So the inflated figures are scary because they are meant to be. The British and American people will not take it seriously otherwise and then we’ll end up like Italy or Spain (or worse, like the mysteriously unreported Belgium). It’s scaring some sense into people, and while it does involve lying, I think it’s a sensible approach. Because you buggers will shrug it off otherwise.

There have been some mutterings that it is hitting black and Asian people harder and apparently that’s racist. Even viruses are racist now. Well, look at who mostly ignored the lockdown and still does. That’s why it’s hitting them harder. Considering the police are more interested in fining a lone person on a beach than breaking up mass gatherings of minorities, I do wonder if that’s part of the plan…

There are going to be idiots who insist ‘it’s a bank holiday, I’m having a barbecue/party/going to the beach’. There will be other bank holidays. You can skip just one. If you don’t you might have to skip them all.

I can’t even take an Easter egg to my granddaughter. I can’t visit my kids either. I can’t go to Wales to see my mother and brother and the rest of the family. CStM and I cannot visit her family in Denmark. Not that I would get on a plane at the moment anyway. It’s not fun but it is important.

Nothing will change the eventual number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths from this virus. Nothing. The daily death toll is just morbid reporting for clicks and to snipe at the government. In every country. All we can do is slow the rate of getting there so the health systems can cope. Otherwise the deaths from other diseases will be very much higher.

Oh, and this virus isn’t going away. I’m sure most people link the Black Plague with the Great Fire of London in 1666 but it started in the mid 1300s and lasted 400 years. It’s still endemic in a few places now. This virus will, likewise, not just vanish. When most people have at least some immunity it will recede into the background but like flu, it will return to kill more people every year.

So be scared of it. Stay home. Don’t let it surge into an overwhelming number of cases at once. Keep its spread slow, keep it at a level the health services can deal with.

Otherwise there won’t be any point continuing with Panoptica. You’ll be living it.

Panoptica chapter 17

Well, I’m still on a chapter a week. I have one more week to finish 18, shouldn’t be too hard I hope. The story finally leaves the cage soon because 10538 is needed for something.

Panoptica: Chapter 17

Something rose through his throat, something slid through his nose. 10538 tried to swallow but the upward motion continued.

“Try to stay calm. This won’t take long.” It was Doc’s voice.

The movement passed his throat and he felt he was going to throw up for a moment, then it was gone. 10538 became aware he was sitting up and tried to open his eyes.

“Don’t force it. Take your time.” Doc’s voice again. “You’ve been under very heavy sedation. You’re going to feel strange for a while.”

“How long until she’s ready?” Another deep voice, a new one.

“Ideally another three or four weeks.” Doc sounded angry. “This is far too soon. She’s still healing.”

“I know, Doc.” The second voice mellowed. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. You know that.”

“She needs to heal. Then there’s a lot to do to get her used to this new world. She won’t understand much, if any, of it. You can’t just dump her into a mission. She won’t understand the dangers.”

“She’ll be safe. I guarantee it.”

Doc sighed. “You know perfectly well that none of us are ever safe. Especially not now. Derek, you have access to all the data we have. More than I do. You know exactly how bad it’s getting.” Doc paused, then coughed. “Okay. Just leave me to it and I’ll bring her round properly. Then you can talk to her.”

10538 opened his eyes in time to see a blurry shape leave the cage. Another blurry shape resolved into the face of Doc.

“I…” 10538 smacked his lips. They felt dry. “I…”

“There’s no hurry.” Doc wiped something from 10538’s face. “You’ve been asleep for a long time this time. I’ve set up an outside connection for your brain chip so you don’t have an open skull.” He grimaced. “I’m afraid it doesn’t look pretty, somewhere between Frankenstein and Plughead, but it will mean you can move around.”

“Chip… still… in?” 10538 felt as though he had forgotten how to move his mouth. “What was… nose… thing?”

“You’ve been in an induced coma since you last woke. The tube was feeding you. Inducing a coma was easy, your brain chip can send you to sleep on command, so there was no need to risk using drugs. It gave me time to install an access port and gave you time to heal from the surgeries you’ve been through.” Doc looked away for a moment. “Do you know how long you’ve been here?”

“It must have been days. I remember maybe… five days?”

“More than three months.” Doc smiled at 10538’s confusion. “I know, you don’t measure time like that in Panoptica. About ninety days. I’ve taken so much hardware out of you in that time you’d probably register as severely underweight now.”

“Underweight?” 10538 stared at his hands. Were his fingers thinner? “I could get cancer or diabetes. Deviation from standard causes illness.” He ran his hands over his chest. “What’s this? There’s a thick line in the middle of my chest.” He prodded it. It hurt. “I’m dying!”

“You are not dying.” Doc put his hands on 10538’s shoulders. “You do not have diabetes nor do you have cancer. You are in fine health. I checked everything.” He shook 10538’s shoulders until their eyes met. “Absolutely everything.”

“I’m okay?” 10538 bit his lip. “You’re sure?”

“Sure.” Doc released his shoulders and moved back. “You should know about two of the things I took out of your chest. One was a band around your trachea – the tube in your chest you breathe through. It was designed to restrict your breathing so you couldn’t run for long.” Doc looked down at his hands. “The other was a bladed chip attached to your aorta, the artery leaving your heart. It could have killed you at any time if you posed a threat.”

10538 sat in silence for a while before speaking. “There are so many words I don’t understand. Artery. That tracky thing. She. Panoptica. What has happened to me, Doc? I just watch the screens. I don’t know how to do anything else. I was never a threat to anyone. All I ever wanted was to move up to the chip tracer screens, the one-ones, but I don’t think that can happen now, can it?”

Doc snorted. “It would never have happened. There are no promotions in Panoptica, only the promise.” He rubbed at the sides of his nose. “Derek and Mary want to send you on a mission. You aren’t ready for that. You have so much to learn about the real world. Know this one thing for sure though. Your government are not your friends. They will kill you if you step out of line, if they even suspect you have. Don’t try to rejoin the people you will see on this mission. They’ll kill you first, then the rest of us.”

“No. that can’t be true.” Can it? “The Coalition cares for us all. We vote for them so they owe us their jobs.” But they were sending me to be cancelled. 10538 frowned, but that made his forehead hurt. He put his hand to his head and felt a cloth of some kind, with a lump beneath it.

Doc curled his lip and shook his head. “The ones you vote for don’t do much. They pass down the laws to be enforced, that’s all. They are just administrators, they’re not in charge of anything.”

Still probing at the lump on his head, 10538 absorbed this new information – but was it new? There were still walls in his mind. Some were the chip, he now knew, but there were others. Not as strong. The memory readjustments he had applied to himself over his lifetime. He might be able to break those himself. “So,” he said, “who is in charge?”

“Don’t poke that.” Doc moved 10538’s hand from his head. “You said it yourself in conversation with Sally. When you first met and identified her as Three, you said you weren’t sure the Nine really existed.” Doc watched 10538’s face intently. “Do you remember when they were the Twelve?”

That one word Twelve – cracked one of 10538’s self-imposed mental blocks. “I…” He strained at the thoughts trying to form through the cracks. “They were Ten. They were Eleven. A long time ago, yes. There were Twelve of them. But they were always a legend, a myth. Nobody ever saw them. I don’t know why the number went down. I just remember TV changing that number and I had to readjust my memory.”

“There used to be more than twelve but that’s probably before you were born.”

“Born?”

Doc chuckled. “One thing at a time. You have a lot to learn about being human, and ‘born’ is one of the more complicated ones to explain. For now, let’s stick with the Twelve, or the Nine as you now know them.”

“Are they real? When I saw Three I thought they must be but it wasn’t really Three, was it?”

“They are real. And they were originally fifty in this part of the world. Worldwide, there were five hundred cities, originally called habitations, clustered into ten localized areas.” Doc forestalled 10538’s question by raising his hand. “Each of them was to preside over a city of less than a hundred thousand people. A lot of them failed early on – didn’t manage power or food correctly, pushed too hard on total control, diseases wiped out some of the concentrated populations and those diseases spread fast between cities because people were allowed to travel between them.”

“There are other cities? Are there really so many people?” 10538’s head swam with the numbers he was trying to grasp.

“Not any more. When it all started to fall apart, some people – like us, but long ago – left the cities to live outside. That’s no longer possible. You are no longer capable of living outside the city you were brought up in and none of you even consider it possible.” Doc closed his eyes. “There was a plan to reduce the entire world population to five hundred million. It worked, but then it failed. Now there are probably less than a million people alive on the entire planet.”

“That’s a lot of people.” 10538 tried to calculate fifty times ten thousand but the number made no sense. Surely that number of people would be impossible?

“Oh, no, it isn’t. It’s barely enough for humanity to recover.” Doc wiped at his eye. “Sorry, dust or something in my eye.” He took a deep breath. “Well, around ninety percent of the remnants of humanity cannot reproduce. In the cities even that part has been centralised. Genetic diversity is falling and really, one virulent disease can wipe out a city in a matter of days now. That’s what happened to Ten and Twelve a few years ago.”

“What about Eleven? What about all the others?” The concept of other cities fascinated 10538. Maybe he could get into one and go back to comfortable compliant conformity. Watch the screens, follow the routine, every day the same. He sighed at the prospect.

“The cities were renamed as their number dwindled. Yours is now Three but before that it was Nineteen. Before that it was Thirty-Eight. The remaining cities learned from the mistakes of the failed ones, or so they thought. They isolated their populations and relied entirely on computer analysis and pure-logic algorithms.” Doc paused. “We don’t know what happened to Eleven, or to several of the others. The records are sealed. We haven’t been able to break into them as far as I know. Derek might know.”

“But how do you live without cities? Without the Coalition telling you how to live? It must be hard.”

Doc’s laughter echoed in the room around the cage. “Hard? Damn right it’s hard. We think for ourselves, make our own decisions and try to avoid being killed for simply existing.” He coughed and took a few moments to compose himself. “It’s worth it though. It really is worth it.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. 10538 tried to assimilate all this new information. It did not match his experience, nor the things he had been told by TV. His mind tried to tell him to forget it, delete it, realign his memory with the truth, but he had lost sight of truth. There was more than he had been told. Other cities…

“Doc.” 10538 kept his eyes on the blanket over his knees. “You said my city was called Three. Is one of the other cities called Panoptica?”

“They all are. It’s a collective term from a distant history you won’t have been taught.” Doc patted 10538’s knee. “We’ll come back to that. Derek will want to speak to you. I don’t think you’re anywhere near ready for this but Derek says it’s important. I’ll get you some clothes.”

_____________________

The chapter break here is to avoid all the detail on getting 10538 into unfamiliar clothes.

Panoptica chapter 16

There have been delays. We’ve been dealing with a sick guinea pig, Missy, who sadly didn’t make it and is now in the first grave in our garden. There is a marker stone, uninscribed so far, and a large stone slab to deter foxes from digging up the corpse. The remaining guinea pig now has to face the night alone for the first time.

There were other delays but that was the most important one, I’d say. Anyway, work must continue and so, here is chapter 16 of Panoptica.

Panoptica: Chapter 16

“Okay, Doc, you can bring her out of it now.”

Doc’s deep voice held a hint of mirth. “She’s been awake for a few minutes already. She’s listening.”

10538 sniffed. How does he know? He opened his eyes. “I’m awake.”

Three Sally – looked down at him. “How are you feeling?”

“Rested. And confused. Why can’t I see Doc?”

Three looked up, a hard stare in her eyes.

Doc cleared his throat. “She woke last night, I gave her a sedative, but we did talk awhile.”

“This is delicate work, Doc. She doesn’t know what’s happening to her. None of us know what’s going to happen.” Three’s lips were tight. She seemed angry.

“Well anyway, she knows me now.” Doc moved into 10538’s line of sight. “She seemed to accept me.” He hoisted up his waistband. “Look, I took out a lot of chips. Like I said, we have no idea what half of them were for. I think we’ve removed a lot of suppressors of all kinds along with the ones we do know about.” He smiled at 10538. “I think she’s getting her own mind back.”

“I have questions.” 10538 licked his lips. It felt wrong, but he had to ask.

Three’s eyes widened. “Questions? One-zeros do not question.”

Doc laughed. “I think she’s gone way beyond her programming now. She’s coming out of Panoptica’s spell.”

Panoptica? Another question.

10538 took a moment to compose himself. “Doc is just Doc, with no designation. How do I determine his rank? And you, Three, are also called Sally. How does that work? Then you use words like ‘she’ and ‘her’. What does that mean?”

Three leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. “Those are complex questions, and it’ll take time to answer them. It’ll be easier when that chip is out of your head.”

10538 said nothing, just stared at the twin mounds on Three’s chest. Is that cancer? Can Doc fix it?

Three lowered her arms to her sides. “Doc, how long before you can take that thing out?”

“I’m not sure. Could be a long time, if I can ever fully do it. It’s really well embedded and it’s suppressing memories from her whole life. Taking it out will be a hell of a shock and could cause permanent damage.”

Three looked at the ceiling for a moment. “She can’t stay strapped to a bed forever. We have to get her out of this cage. She’s no use to us in here.”

“I know. I think I have a possible solution.” Doc moved past 10538’s head and out of sight. “We’ll talk about it after this session.”

“Okay, 10538.” Three clasped her hands and leaned forward. “I know you have a lot of questions and we’ll answer all of them, I promise. But first we’re going to take you back a bit further and see what you remember.”

10538 closed his eyes as more walls collapsed in his mind. The screens. His screens. Ghost! The bus. Walking then talking. The news… it all came together.

“I saw a ghost on my screens. It was… it was 71556. The one I was on the train with. How could I have forgotten? I was on the train with the terrorist.” 10538 strained against the restraints, then relaxed. “So it was true. The train wasn’t taking us to Pensionville. They wouldn’t send a terrorist there.” He stared into Three’s eyes. “Why were they sending me to be cancelled?”

Three’s expression was blank. “You were the one who reported 71556?” She blew a long slow breath. “You’ll need to be very careful around Mary, I think.”

“Yes. It’s why I had the tomatoes as a reward even though I was overweight and had to walk to the next stop. But it wasn’t like the news showed. 71556 didn’t fight the police, didn’t have a gun. That’s why it felt wrong. That’s why I had alcohol that night.” 10538 paused. “But I don’t understand the smokers part, even now.”

“Tomatoes.” Doc’s voice came from behind. “Tomatoes contain some nicotine. Enough to give a measurable cotinine trace and that’s all they need. The question is, why did they set you up like that?”

“Set me up?” 10538 blinked.

Three tapped his arm. “What else happened? Don’t break the flow.”

“Oh. Yes. I couldn’t get on the bus because I was overweight. I had to walk to the next stop. I met 11712 there and we talked. I told him about the ghost and he told me how he’d tracked a chip with nobody attached to it.”

Doc’s laugh filled the air. “There we have it. You discussed your work with your friend. That put you under suspicion because you might have told him what really happened and not what the news showed. So they set you up for a nicotine fall, just in case they needed to haul you in. Then the alcohol, which everyone dips into and everyone knows it. Add in the overweight episode and they can take you down any time they like.”

Three looked up. “That all seems a bit petty, doesn’t it?”

“It’s a petty and paranoid world in there. Mostly run by computers following algorithms designed by the petty and paranoid.” Doc came back into view. “When you ran for the bus they took you down because they’re more scared than you are. They’re scared of even the slightest deviation.”

“And the police cannot admit they are wrong, so you had to be disposed of.” Three squeezed his arm.

“What about 11712? The news said he was a terrorist. I was the one who reported him. They said he was found dead on the rocks. But the medics said he was in Pensionville.”

Three’s eyes closed. “I’m sorry, but your friend will be dead by now.”

“It’s my fault. I reported him. I could have just let him run but I called it in.” Tears streamed from 10538’s eyes as he writhed in the restraints.

“That’s it for now. I’m shutting this session.” Doc placed the now familiar mask over 10538’s nose and mouth.

The pain receded for a while.

Panoptica chapter 15

Well, here’s another shot. I can’t hurry this up too much because they’ve taken an awful lot of chips out of 10538 and healiing from that much surgery takes time. There is a way I can skip a lot of time though, as you’ll see in chapter 17.

Better get moving before coronavirus really takes off. Apparently Canada’s public health thinks a virus that has covered most of China and surrounding countries in a couple of weeks is not very contagious, and they also have no understanding of the air recirculation in aeroplanes. With that lot in charge, Canada is going down fast. So I’d better finish it while there are a few left to read it…

Panoptica: chapter 15

The grass in Pensionville turned yellow before his eyes. Smoke rose as a red flaming sun scorched it. Identical dead badgers rotted in rows next to identical twisted tree stumps. The sky flashed red then blue then red. The sun was a gentle yellow and a fiery red ball. Smoke dissipated into clear air and then reformed.

11712 stood at his stop as the bus approached. All smiles, but with a dagger in his hand. The bus stopped, the door opened and 11712 stabbed the robot driver in its camera-eye. Then he ran. Through the streets. He jumped a fence into Pensionville and the rocks ate him.

10538 stood beside his bed in his familiar, comfortable, compliant home. Conformity will save me. The television showed nothing but a slavering mouth, perfect teeth mocking his own.

You have associated with terrorists and smokers and drinkers. You are evil. He was strapped to a cold steel table looking into flaming eyes and pointing fingers.

Then free, in a comfortable chair in a light and pleasant room. A friendly face with flaming eyes said he could go to Pensionville. No! The rocks will eat me too!

The ghost train screamed through. 10538 woke to darkness and cold sweat. A question occurred to him that he had not considered before. Who are these people really?

“You’re awake?” That deep voice belonged to a short fat man who had been dozing in a chair beside 10538’s bed. The fat man struggled to his feet, yawning. “I’ll get you some sedation.”

“No.” 10538 had no wish to return to the chaos of his dreams. “I can’t see you. You have no barcode. Who are you? Where am I? What are you doing to me?”

The fat man stood still for a moment, then turned to face 10538. “I’m called Doc. I’ve been fixing you physically. There is a lot to do to fix you mentally. Sally – I mean, the one you call Three – has been doing her best to help you.”

“Doc is not a designation. You have no barcode, no rank, nothing to identify you. Are you a ghost?”

Doc laughed. “No. I’m as real and human as you are.” His face switched from laughing to sad in an instant. “More so, really, but let’s not dwell on that right now.”

Somewhat disconcerted, 10538 switched subject. “Why are we in a big cage?”

“It’s called a Faraday cage. It blocks most electromagnetic signals.” Doc’s new smile was lopsided. “It didn’t block the one that woke you on Earth Day. You told us Santa was coming.”

“I heard the bells in my dreams but they weren’t coming for me.” 10538 stared at the fat man. “They didn’t come for you either.”

“No.” Doc looked at the floor. “Santa took two of us.” He pulled a chair close and sat next to the bed. “We know it wasn’t your fault. We don’t blame you. We really are trying to help you.”

“Help me to do what?”

Doc snorted. “Stay alive.” He inspected his fingers. “What has been done to you is not your fault. You must remember that. Keep it in mind at all times as we strip away the blocks in your memory. It was all forced upon you. It was not your fault. Do you understand me?”

10538 thought of TV and of what he had seen. “I’m not sure I understand anything. I’m scared.”

“You have every reason to be.” Doc picked up a syringe. “If they could, they would kill you for escaping their world.”

“Kill me? Why? How?” 10538 tried to raise his hands but they were tied to the bed. “Why am I tied down? I’m not going to hurt anyone.”

“No, I know.” Doc filled the syringe from a small bottle. “You’re restrained because you have undergone several operations, some of them extensive, and still have an open wound in your forehead.”

“The brain chip? Are you going to take it out?”

Doc sighed and lay the syringe on a small metal tray. “I’m not sure I can. Its wires run deep into the cerebral cortex. I can’t just pull it out. It’s been in there a very long time, probably most of your life, and your brain has grown around its connections.”

“What does it do?” 10538 lifted his eyes but could not see his own forehead. He almost smiled at the stupidity of trying.

“We know it can block memories and we know that it’s controlled remotely. We suspect it can also be used to insert memories of things that didn’t happen. I think it was contacted on Earth Night, when you woke up and told us Santa was coming.”

“So my memories might not be real?”

“As we shut down the layers of programming in the chip, real memories will come back and the false ones should – we hope – disappear.” Doc lifted the syringe and tapped it to remove air. “But yes, you have to be skeptical of what you remember. Be cautious.”

Doc rubbed something cold against 10538’s arm. “This will help you sleep without dreaming. Next time you wake up you’ll feel a lot better.”

“Can’t we talk some more?” 10538 felt a connection with this fat man, even though his extra weight must kill him soon.

Doc shook his head. “I’ve probably already said too much. I shouldn’t be interfering with Sally’s – Three’s – treatment protocol. Listen to her. She will help you through this.”

Her? She? A tiny stabbing pain in 10538’s arm was followed by a quick descent into oblivion. True oblivion. 10538 stared into the blank abyss and welcomed it.

Panoptica, chapters 13 and 14

I’m catching up with myself here, I’m only on sixteen in the real world but I have to accelerate this before it comes true. Thirteen is small so here’s fourteen too. I’m aware there is a lot of repetition and that this will need heavy editing but let’s get it done first. Fix it later. Attempts to fix it while it’s running will cause a break in the telling and I might spend weeks sorting a chapter that ends up getting deleted anyway.

Panoptica: Chapter Thirteen

The thinnest obese person on the planet. Medics faced him with screenpads and strange devices in their hands. They looked at the devices and tutted their disapproval. It was all so very wrong. So much smoking and drinking and overeating.

But I didn’t do any of those things!

Running through the streets while the bus shrank into the distance. His chest constricted, 10538 leaned on a bus stop pole. The cameras at the top stared down at him with human eyes and their mouths laughed and chanted ‘Fatty smoky alkie’. Fingers formed in the air to point at him and prod at him, giving little electric shocks that built into agony.

He was in the grey room, this time with no comfortable overlay. Voices came from behind.

Does he know?

He cannot know or we risk noncompliance.

There was a face smiling and another grinning. The grinning one held a syringe and the smiling one disappeared in a cascade of light.

The same faces in the warm room. The same offer of retirement. Double retirement must be double-good. The train, the little sealed box with windows on the inside. Going in circles. Screens, not windows. There were no windows on the outside.

Then cold, in the wastelands. People with no designations.

The dream ended there. 10538 felt his dream had ended in many ways, but could not define how.

Fourteen

His eyes flickered open. Three smiled down at him.

“Hello again, 10538. How are you feeling?”

10538 licked dry lips. “Okay, I think.”

Three held a straw to 10538’s mouth. “Drink a little of this. It will help you relax.”

The water tasted strange. It had a bitter taste and there were bubbles in it. 10538 smacked his lips. “This water might not be good.”

“It’s not water.” Three grinned. “We call it beer. It’s better than water. Take another drink. It will help you relax.”

10538 tried again. The bitter taste was not unpleasant and the bubbles gave the drink a pleasing texture. He sucked harder at the straw until Three moved it away.

“Not too much, not until you get used to it.” Three placed the cup on a table beside 10538’s bed. “So. Are you ready to unlock a little more of your memory?

“I think so. I’m still a bit confused though. I don’t understand why they risked noncompliance.”

Three raised one eyebrow. “Who risked noncompliance?”

“One of the prison medics. They could not tell me something in case of noncompliance.”

Three leaned in closer. “Couldn’t tell you what?”

10538 managed a lopsided smile. “They didn’t tell me. It was just before they put in the retirement chip and I passed out from the pain.”

Three looked up at someone past 10538’s line of sight. “Retirement chip?”

“No idea.” That deep voice again. “I took out a lot of chips, half of them unknown to us. None seemed to be recent though. They were all healed over.”

Three rubbed his face with his hands. “Okay. We’ll have to find out about that. For now, we’re going to take you back another day. Are you ready?”

10538 took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Ready.” I have to know why they thought I was obese.

Another load of memories were dumped in his brain. Bus ride home. 11712 missed the bus. Tomatoes – tomatoes? Television news. A ghost, a terrorist, a running man. 11712! He was a terrorist!

10538, eyes tightly closed, tried to order the memories and fit them to the newly-revealed ones from the previous session. He opened his eyes to see Three leaning over him.

“You’ve gone quite pale, 10538. Was there something disturbing? We can shut those memories down and try again later if it’s too much.” Three seemed genuinely concerned.

“Tomatoes.”

“Huh?” Three glanced up, over 10538’s shoulder.

“There were tomatoes in my evening meal. Three of them. I don’t know why.” 10538 furrowed his brow but relaxed it at once. Moving the skin of his forehead hurt. “And 11712 was on the news. He was a terrorist. A camera watcher caught him. I knew him. I never suspected a thing.”

“Don’t blame yourself.” Three patted 10538’s hand.

“But later, in prison, they said I would see 11712 in Pensionville. I guess he was arrested by mistake too.” The conversation as he left the train came back to connect with this new information. 10538’s breathing became shallow. “There is no Pensionville, is there?”

From behind came the deep voice he had heard before. “Heart rate and blood pressure rising. We have to make this a short session.”

“Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” Three kept on patting his hand. “Was there anything else on the news?”

“A ghost. One with no ID chip. They caught him too. But there was something wrong. I can’t place it. It was very wrong. It was so wrong I wanted to drink alcohol. What was it? I can’t remember.” 10538’s breath came in ragged gasps.

“Shutting this session down now.” The deep voice came again. “She’s struggling to put it all together. We have to do this in very short sessions now.”

Three nodded and moved back. “It’s not going to be easy, 10538. We’ll reduce the timespan of recovered memories next time. Sleep now.”

“But I—” 10538’s response was cut off by the mask over his nose and mouth, and he slid back into his dreamworld.

Panoptica, chapter 12

I have addresses for both competition winners and will be posting in a few days. Since they are in New Zealand and the USA, it might take a while to get there…

Okay, onwards. These next few chapters will need heavy editing as I try to keep track of what parts go where and have probably messed up a few times. Still, editing comes at the end, when it’s complete. I just hope I’ve remembered all the number/names correctly. If it’s a bit confusing in places, that’s okay. It’s supposed to be 😉

Panoptica: Chapter 12

“Can you hear me?”

10538 wandered through fog, the world around him indistinct. The voice came again.

“10538. Can you hear me? We met on the train.”

His head throbbed. Something touched his face. He tried to brush it away but his arms were immobilised. Am I back in the chair? Was I always in the chair?

There were hands on his shoulders.

“Please, 10538. You are under heavy sedation. We are trying to help you.”

He opened one eye. Leaning over him, someone held his shoulders. He scanned the onesie they wore. 71556.

10538 screamed. “Ghost! The ghost has me!”

“What the hell was that?” Another voice, off to the side. “She thinks you’re a ghost?”

71556 looked to the left. “She must have seen me on the screens or maybe on the news. This isn’t going to work. Sedate her and we’ll try something else.”

The plastic mask covered 10538’s nose and mouth and the gentle fog enveloped him once more.

***

They had used strange words. Her. She. What could they mean? Is it another language, another world? Maybe it was all just a dream. Maybe he was being deleted, still in the grey room, still fixed in his chair. Or in the warm room, offered retirement. Or in the cold room, offered retirement. Did he run for the bus or the train? Did the outside of the train not match the inside? Did he ride the ghost train? Maybe this was the end, maybe this was how a dying brain tried to cope. Confusion, denial, terror. It must end soon. The walls in his mind reformed and 10538 settled into comfortable compliant conformity.

***

“10538. Wake up. You have an important job.”

We all have important jobs.

“10538. We have isolated the signal from your brain chip. You can wake up now.”

Brain chip. Someone mentioned it once. I never knew I had one.

“10538. Wake up. This is Three.”

Three? 10538 blinked his eyes open. Sweat made his skin clammy and blurred his vision. A damp cloth passed across his face, gently. His vision cleared. He was still in the large cage he had dreamed about, the one with the fat man, and he was still tied to a bed. Wires still brushed his cheeks and his forehead hurt.

10538 licked his lips. “Where am I?”

“You are safe.” The smiling face hovered above him. The onesie below it showed a short sequence of bars that confirmed the designation. Three.

“Three? I was never sure if the Nine were real.” 10538 gaped in awe. “Am I dead? Dying? Am I imagining this?”

“You are safe and very much alive, 10538. We are going to disable your brain chip.”

“What? But I need it. Don’t I? I wouldn’t have it if I didn’t need it. What does it do? I didn’t know it was there.” 10538 strained against the restraints holding him to the bed.

“Do not panic.” Three put a hand on 10538’s bare chest. “We are going to liberate you, 10538. We are going to make you a free thinker.”

“I don’t want that.” 10538 struggled against the straps that held him. “I want to go home. I want my job and my life and my comfortable compliant conformity. I don’t want to think for myself. I want to be free.”

Three blinked as if confused. He withdrew his hand and looked to one side for a moment, his tongue between his lips. Finally he took a breath and faced 10538.

“It is important. You have an important job to do now. We had a task for you. Do you remember what it was?”

10538 shook his head, as far as the restraints allowed. “I am a camera watcher. I watch the screens. I report things if they are wrong. That is my job. It’s important. I watch for terrorists.”

“And did you find any? Think, 10538. Think very hard.” Three stared directly into his eyes.

Memories formed and burst. Flitted past his mind like bats on a summer night, silent, hard to see. 10538 closed his eyes. “No… I don’t think I did. I’m not sure any more.” He opened his eyes. “Why is this happening to me, Three? What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing. You are safe. We only want to help you.” Three nodded to someone out of 10538’s sight. “You have a chip in your brain, 10538, as everyone does. It closes down things you are required to forget. Now it is time to start remembering.” Three held up his hand to forestall 10538’s objections. “We need you to be clear in your mind for what is ahead so we will have to release those locked-away memories. It will hurt, but we are not doing it to punish you and we will be as gentle as possible. Do you understand?”

“I think so. I’m not sure. Are these terrible memories?” 10538 tried to relax and wondered why, under such stress, his medichip was silent.

“We can shut down your brain chip in stages. We will first restore your memories of the last day or so before you fell unconscious on the train.” Three held up both hands. “It will come as a shock, I think. Try to stay calm and rational.” He nodded past 10538’s head again.

A wall collapsed in his mind. 10538 gasped as memories formed – but they made no sense. Warm cold room. Bare grey concrete painted walls. High level medics and supervisor level units with the same faces. His hands were clamped to a table and they were free. He was accused of being a terrorist and then told his work was excellent. Gradually, his mind sorted the memories, yet still they made no sense.

“I was in a prison. Trapped in a cage.” 10538 blinked away tears. A hand came from behind to wipe his eyes, gently, with a soft cloth. “I was accused of being a terrorist. Then they said it was a mistake. They said I could not go back, I would have to take retirement. Then I was in a room with a comfortable chair and they told me I was overworked and they offered me retirement. I remembered that part before but I didn’t remember the cold grey room with the cage. Why did they think I was a terrorist?”

“They didn’t. They knew you were innocent but they could not admit they arrested you wrongly. That’s why they had to retire you.” Three inclined his head. “I know this must feel like living your life in reverse. Are you ready to go back a little further?”

“There’s more?”

“What’s the last thing you remember before the interview and the train?”

10538 tried to concentrate. “I think I remember voting. I’m not sure when. There was a day at work, nothing happened, I met 11712 on the bus on the way home, then the next morning I got up and went to work. Then I was in the prison.”

Three raised his eyebrows. “What was the date of the day you last remember going to work?”

“What’s a date?” 10538 blinked.

“Ah, of course. Never mind.” Three looked away for a moment, sniffed and turned back. “Do you remember how many days it was to Earth Day?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Three shook his head. “It’s not your fault. Okay, we’ll take you back a little further.” He looked over 10538’s head again.

Another wall crashed to the ground. He ran for a bus. Medics visited him. Police tazered him. Voting day! Provided with a location for the timeline, his mind rapidly ordered these new thoughts.

“I voted in the morning. Then I prepared for work. Breakfast was a little extra because I was a few grams underweight. Then the medics came.”

“Medics?” Three waved one hand. “Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“They checked me. Tested me. They said I had associated with smokers and had a drinking problem.” 10538 wanted to lower his head but it was restrained. “I had taken a little from the drinks cabinet. Just a little, now and then. It helps with memory adjustment. But I’m not alcoholic. I’m not!”

Three laughed. “Oh everyone does that. Absolutely everyone. You don’t need to worry, 10538, we are not here to punish you for anything at all.”

“They said I was obese but I had just been underweight. I don’t understand.”

“We’ll come back to that.” Three looked up as a cough came from behind 10538. He nodded. “In a moment.” Turning back to 10538 he asked “What happened after that?”

“They said they would get me some time off work.” 10538 licked his lips. “Could I have some water?”

“Sure.” Three lifted a cup with a straw and held it up so that 10538 could drink. “Anything else?”

“It’s starting to come together. I was late so I ran for the bus, I was arrested for running, put in prison and then they said it was all a mistake. I still don’t understand why I woke up again in an interview room, with supervisors who looked just like the senior medics from the prison.”

“Why did you—” Three was cut off by a pronounced cough from behind.

“We have to shut her down. Blood pressure is going too high. She needs to rest.” The deep voice came from a place 10538 could not see.

Three nodded. “This is going to take some time, I’m afraid. You need to sleep for a while, 10538. We’ll continue later.”

Once again, the plastic mask of oblivion was placed on his face. The world slid away, sounds became distant and the grey fog settled once more.