Panoptica chapter 7

Currently on a tough patch in chapter 14. 10538 is recovering blocked memories. It’s hard to do from the POV of the one recovering them but I think I have a plausible way to do it without killing him with the shock. Anyway, here’s chapter 7 for those with nothing to do at the weekend.

Panoptica: Chapter 7

The room had no clock. No TV. Nothing to mark the passage of time. Cold grey walls, ceiling and floor.

10538 shivered. The silence was beginning to drive him mad. At home, the TV’s muted murmur helped him sleep. At work, the hum of machinery comforted him. Here, there was nothing. Silence, a total absence of sound, something he had never experienced.

He tapped his fingers on the cold steel table. He hummed. He shifted in his seat. Anything to make a sound. Any sound, anything at all, just to keep his connection with reality.

What was reality? Was this it? Strapped into a chair in a grey silent room, accused of being a terrorist? How could that be real? Yesterday he was a hero, a lone, unknown catcher of terrorists. Here he sat in the dim grey light of silence, arrested and accused of terrorism himself.

What would they do to him? Demotion? A zero-nine or zero-eight, working at the cleaners where he sent his onesies every evening or maybe in the kitchens that prepared food? Zero-seven, dealing with the recycling? There were even lower ranks, and 10538 had no idea what kind of work they had to deal with. He shuddered.

Were there worse punishments? Maybe. Cast out into the wilderness, to try to survive in the devastation of global warming? The TV sometimes showed the outside world. Seas rising over ancient cities, burned lands, dead vegetation, decomposing animals. The terrorists survived out there somehow. Could he, with no city to support him, no job, no home?

“I didn’t do it!” The sound of his own voice startled him. “It’s a mistake. I was just trying to catch the bus.”

The walls seemed to close in, the silence disapproving of his outburst. 10538 closed his eyes. How long have I been here? Hours? Days? How long must I stay? What will they do to me?

Behind him, the door opened. A snippet of conversation came to his ears.

“Does he know?”

“He cannot know or we risk noncompliance.”

“It’s unethical.”

“But necessary. Quiet now, he can hear us.” The door closed.

86929 came into 10538’s field of view, smiling. He took a seat at the desk. The other unit stayed out of sight, if he entered the room at all.

“Well, 10538, you have caused us something of a problem, it seems.” 86929 placed his screenpad on the desk and steepled his fingers, his smile unwavering.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” 10538 pressed his knees together, This new terror might make him soil himself.

“Oh no, it’s not your fault.” 86929 placed his palms on the desk. “It seems we have made a mistake. We know now that you are not a terrorist. However, we cannot simply let you go.”

“Why?” 10538’s surge of relief faded as fast as it had risen.

“Well, you see, this evening’s news has already reported your capture and congratulated the camera watcher who reported you. This means that your home, job and bank account have been reallocated to 10643. We can’t just take it all back. Imagine how 10643 would feel.”

Imagine how I feel! 10538 bit his lip. He could never go home now, he was marked as a terrorist even though the authorities knew he was not. His life, given away, could not be retaken. He took a breath and tried to keep his voice steady. “So what happens to me?”

86929 stared at his hands for a moment. “There is no punishment for you since you are innocent. However, the police have a reputation as never making a mistake and your life has been reallocated. Therefore we have only one solution to offer you.”

“What is it?”

86929 looked directly into 10538’s eyes. “Retirement. Early retirement, sure, but you can go to Pensionville and relax for the rest of your life.” 86929 leaned forward. “You are not the first mistake and you won’t be the last. In Pensionville you can meet your friend 11712.” He winked. “The news will say you were found on the rocks too.”

“That’s…” 10538 struggled to assimilate this new information. “I… I get early retirement? I can go to Pensionville? Won’t they recognise my designation from the news?”

From behind him came a snort. “The ones in Pensionville don’t get to see the news.”

86929 shot a warning glance over 10538’s shoulder, then his smile returned. “It’ll be fine. Let me introduce someone, or rather I’ll let you surprise him.” He waved the other unit forward.

10538 watched the other unit come into view. “84823,” he said.

84823’s eyes widened. “He really can read barcodes!”

“Fascinating, isn’t it?” 86929 leaned back in his chair. “Well, 10538, 84823 is going to give you a retirement chip and then it’s off to Pensionville for you.”

84823 rolled his eyes. “Retirement chip. Sure.” He reached behind 10538 and brought a tray with a large syringe into view. “Okay. This one goes into your spinal column at the base of your skull. I’m going to need you to tense every muscle and stay very, very still. Can you do that?”

“I’ll try.” 10538 swallowed hard. “Will it hurt?”

84823 lifted the syringe, checked it was clear of air bubbles, then faced 10538 with a wide grin. “Yes. A lot.” He disappeared behind 10538’s chair.

“Don’t worry. It’s worth it.” 86929 smiled. “We will have to wipe a few recent memories from your mind of course. So that you don’t accidentally incriminate yourself in Pensionville. That doesn’t hurt though. We can do it through your brain chip while you’re unconscious.”

“Brain chip? Unconscious?” A brief moment of puzzlement was replaced by bright flashing lights and searing pain in 10538’s head. It felt as though his neck was being severed. 86929’s smile was surrounded by bursts of light and colour, obliterating the face until only the smile remained.

Then it all went dark.

See the tinfoil shine

Well, everything is getting way out of hand and we’re not even halfway into January yet. Politicians are getting microanalysed, every sniff, every missed word, every hand movement, it all has to mean something. It’s either a secret code or they’re drunk or drugged. Maybe they’re just having a bad day or getting a cold? Nah, that’s no fun.

The 2020 Spring Collection, available soon.

A photo of Suleimani’s hand, wearing a ring, has been touted as proof of his death. But wait! There is another photo showing that ring when he was alive and the setting is different! So it must be a different man’s hand!

Not one second of consideration that a man with substantial wealth might own more than one ring. The stone set in those rings is most likely Yemeni aqeeq (agate), a stone believed to have considerable beneficial properties in the Arab world. Good quality ones are not cheap but those prices wouldn’t even faze a general. I bet he had several of them.

This also means it’s not surprising that some rich celebrities have one of those ‘lucky’ rings too. Celebrities are remarkably prone to believing in superstitious nonsense and really, one of those rings is pocket change to them. Now, there might be some conspiracy linking them all or they might all just have fancied getting a lucky ring. There are many websites selling them and they are likely to be in high street jewellers too. I don’t know, I haven’t spent a lot of time in jewellery shops. They don’t sell whisky – well the one in Ellon does because the whisky shop is in a corner of the jeweller’s but I only visit that corner.

It seems that in retaliation for the American drone killing Suleimani, Iran has fired rockets into unoccupied places, killed fifty of their own people in a stampede at Suleimani’s funeral and shot down a Ukranian passenger jet leaving Tehran airport. No wonder Trump isn’t scared of them.

The rocket attack was a face-saving exercise. Iran had informed Iraq before it happened, knowing that Iraq would inform the Americans, giving them time to get out of the way. Iran does not want an escalation but they could not simply do nothing. Loss of honour in that part of the world is disastrous. So nobody below the highest levels would know about the plan, they didn’t kill any Americans (but claim they did) but their ground forces were expecting retaliation. Since no Americans died, the USA doesn’t have to respond and World War Three is postponed.

The plane seems likely to have been an accident. America (if they have any sense) will not crow about this since some years back, an American warship in the Gulf misidentified an Iranian passenger plane and shot it down. So they really can’t claim any high ground.

Conspiracy theories about the jet are already in full swing. It’s claimed that one side or the other shot it down to kill someone in particular, a mysterious someone who is really important in a mysterious something.

My own feeling is that a jumpy anti-aircraft operator, expecting a response to the missiles, simply saw a plane and pressed ‘fire’. In that situation they’d hardly be likely to call the plane for a chat to see how they’re doing. An incoming aircraft in the middle of what they think is a battle is going to get a reflex response. Remember, those ground soldiers didn’t know the Americans had been warned, and had moved away before the rockets landed. They thought they were at the beginning of a war.

It would have been sensible, of course, to advise the airport to ground all flights while there were missiles flying around. That clearly didn’t happen. Basically, all those deaths were due to a massive cock-up.

Apparently there were 63 Canadians on the flight. Oooo, suspicious! They must have been involved in the Uranium One madness and were getting out of town fast. Or maybe they worked in the oilfields, or at reactor sites, or in construction, and were just on a shift change. Maybe they simply thought things were getting a bit hairy and decided to get the hell out of the way.

Why were they going to Ukraine? Isn’t that suspicious? Well… if I was in a city that looked increasingly likely to be bombarded with the full fury of the American military, I think I’d be on the first available flight to anywhere. Getting home can wait, getting the hell out would be my priority.

So sure, you can read a lot into all the circumstances of the last few days but unless I see some solid evidence I’m going to put most of it down to bad luck, panic and ineptitude. Lots of foreign nationals leaving Tehran when there’s war brewing is not a surprise, and I’m also not going to be surprised that they might have just bought a ticket on the first flight to anywhere else. It’s what I would have done.

As I said, the airport letting that flight depart when there were missiles flying and some very tense anti-aircraft operators around was a very bad idea. Maybe they let it fly so that the important person in the important scheme thing could be killed. Maybe they just screwed up.

It was a fast-moving, very tense and confusing time and mistakes are highly likely under those conditions. Missiles flying, a harsh response expected, the airport trying to get people out of town, bad communication and panicky anti-aircraft crews…

None of it needs a conspiracy. I’m not saying there isn’t one, just that microanalysing every event in a confused and panicked situation isn’t always necessary. There could have been darker motives at work but I see no real evidence for that and we probably never will. That won’t stop the theories, of course.

Buy shares in tinfoil.

Panoptica chapter 6

I have finally completed my tax return. If I discount the lab rent for 2018/19 (there won’t be any for the next one because I closed down the lab at the end of 2018), Leg Iron Books made a loss of around £45. It is entirely possible that the business will reach break-even next year – maybe even (dare I say it) a profit! I’m still well within the personal allowance so it’ll take a few years of building up profit before I pay any tax, but at least it’s going in the right direction.

Still, I am worn out after finding and adding all those little bits together so here’s another bit of Panoptica. Note that the restraining method described is actually in use in Chinese police stations now. I didn’t invent it.

Panoptica: Chapter 6

10538 woke to stark grey concrete. Gradually he became aware that he sat in a small cage, his wrists bound by metal hoops to the metal table they rested on. The dim lighting was just enough to allow him to make out a desk and chair opposite. The room, as far as he could tell, contained nothing else. No window and no door that he could see.

“Where am I?” His voice came out as a croak. He pulled at the bonds on his wrists but all that did was make his medichip beep. Behind him he heard the sound of a door opening. 10538 relaxed. Resistance is futile and only makes things worse. He recalled being arrested after running for the bus and felt confident that it was all a mistake. It would be sorted out soon. Although he had never heard of the police making a mistake. Everyone they arrested was always guilty. This must be their first ever mistake.

The unit who entered the room passed 10538 without looking at him, placed a screenpad on the desk, sat, and considered the screen for a time. 10538 licked his lips. The unit’s barcode identified him as 86929, a very senior unit in the medical ranks. This did not look good at all. He decided it was best to remain silent.

After several minutes, 86929 looked up. “10538. You have not asked why you are here. Do I take it that you already know the reason for your arrest?”

“I…” 10538 swallowed and tried again. “It’s a mistake. I was running to catch the bus. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Catching a bus is not a crime.” 86929 sniffed. “You were tasered for resisting arrest after you were seen running. Who were you going to meet?”

“Meet? Nobody. I was just trying to get to work. This is all just a misunderstanding.”

“That’s what they all say.” 86929 tapped his screenpad. “The police do not make mistakes, 10538. You were arrested because you are guilty. This interview is to determine exactly what you are guilty of.”

“Nothing! I just wanted to get on the bus.” 10538’s medichip beeped furiously.

88929 tapped a few times on his screenpad. 10538’s medichip stopped beeping.

“I have disabled the warning signals on your medichip for now. No sense in wasting our overstretched health service’s time on a criminal.” 86929 leaned back in his chair. “You were an associate of 11712. You became obese. You partook of alcohol and tobacco. And you discussed private information with 11712 after you deliberately walked to his bus stop, from your allocated stop, to speak with him. So, what was the plan?”

10538 tensed against his restraints. “I don’t know anything about any plan. I hardly knew 11712. We just talked. I had to walk to his stop because I was overweight. The bus wouldn’t let me on. I… I was the one who reported him when I saw him running. I can’t be a terrorist. How can I be a terrorist when I reported two of them in two days?”

“Two?” 86929 tapped at his screenpad. “Ah yes, the ghost. Well that one had clearly messed up whatever was planned by losing his chips and was therefore expendable—a liability even, for your insurgency. As for 11712, well, there is no honour among criminals. You could have reported him to raise your own credibility. Going deeper under cover, maybe?” He fixed 10538 with a hard stare.

“I didn’t. I’m not.” 10538 slumped in his chair. Tears rolled down his cheeks. “I was just running to catch the bus.”

86929 snorted. “That’s what they all say. 11712…” He paused and pursed his lips for a moment. “Well, no doubt you saw last night’s news.”

“He jumped the safety fence.” 10538 stared at the restraints holding his wrists to the table. “He fell onto the rocks. So he must have been guilty. But I’m not. I’m not a terrorist. I was just running for the bus.” He blinked a few times, trying to dispel the doubt entering his mind. Why was 11712 running? Was he running for the bus too? No, no, then why would he jump the fence?

“If the police had not tasered you, would you have jumped the fence too?” 86929 raised his eyebrows. “Would you be willing to die for your treasonous cause, 10538? Is it really that important to you that our comfortable, compliant conformity is destroyed?” He leaned forward. “Why do you hate our way of life, 10538? What would you put in its place?”

“I don’t.” 10538 looked into 86929’s eyes. “I am happy in my life. I don’t want it to change.”

86929 sniffed. “Overeating, tobacco, alcohol… these are rebellious acts. Nonconformity. Noncompliance. You have been reckless with your health and happiness and with that of those around you. You are in very deep trouble here and it would be wise for you to be truthful with me. It would be much better for you in the long run. You don’t want to be deleted, do you?”

“No!” Tears blurred 10538’s vision. “Please. I’m not planning anything. I’m not a terrorist. I don’t know anything. I just want my life back to how it was. Safe. Compliant. Comfortable. Conforming. I just want to do my job and be happy again. Please. I’ll do anything to go back there.”

“Going back is not possible.” 86929 narrowed his eyes. “However, there are options to how you go forward. I will consider those while you consider your crimes and how best to make amends for them.”

“I’ll do anything. Anything.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” 86929 stood. “One more thing, 10538. Do you know who I am?”

10538 dared not even raise his head. “You are 86929. Please, I’ll do whatever you say. I don’t want deletion.”

“Hm. So it’s true.” 86929 pushed back his chair. “I will leave you in this period of self-reflection on your guilt, 10538, and will return with options for your future. I’m afraid none of them will be painless.”

His body shaking with sobs and fear, 10538 heard the door behind him open and close.

___________________

Panoptica 4 and 5

I have completed chapter 11, now past the ‘out-take’ that was a separate story, ‘Santa is Coming’. I want to stay maybe 3 or 4 chapters ahead so I have a bit of leeway if things get busy here. I’m also working on images for Gastradamus’ book and still picking up the tiny bits for the tax return (doing the next one at the same time so it won;t be last minute!) and there are more books coming. There’s also Anthology 11 on the horizon, in March…

Anyway. Chapter 5 was a small one so I’ve added it on to this post. Remember it’s all still first draft so criticisms are welcome. After this it starts to get a little darker.

Panoptica: Chapters 4 and 5

Voting day. 10538 cast his vote by pressing the appropriate button on his TV control, secure in the knowledge that he was hurting nobody because no candidate would lose. They would all be elected to the Coalition. The vote determined how much power they had in lawmaking and their effect on the lives of citizens, but no politician would be left behind.

It was always a difficult choice. All their policies were the same. It really was a matter of who the voter liked best and the tattooed one-armed unit ticked all the right boxes for proper political correctness. So 10538 cast his vote this time, as before, for 98014. One day his choice of candidate might be Prime, and he could feel that warm glow that said he helped put him there.

His vote cast, he dressed and prepared for work. The bathroom wall scale declared him five grams underweight when he stepped into the little room. 10538 grinned. Underweight meant a little extra breakfast.

Not very much extra, as it turned out. The breakfast flakes portion didn’t look any larger than usual. It must be in there, he thought. The coalition won’t let anyone starve. He crunched his way through breakfast, once again trying to suppress the memory that told him it used to be served in milk.

Just as he was ready to leave, his front door opened and three units entered. Clad in white onesies apart from the barcode lines, they were immediately recognisable as medics.

The first of them smiled and said “Greetings, 10538. I am 84—”

“84227.” 10538 raised his right palm in greeting.

84227 blinked. “Have we met?”

“No, I read your barcode. It’s easy.” 10538 felt a slight confusion. Weren’t the barcodes clear to all? The other two were 83619 and 83388, high level nurses. 84227 was the doctor in charge. Their codes were as visible to him as their faces.

“You can read onesie codes?” 84227 motioned to the nurses. 83388 made a note on his screenpad.

“I look at them all day, every day. It’s my job. We all have important jobs.” A creeping unease entered 10538’s thoughts. Had he said something wrong?

“We all have important jobs,” said the three medics in unison.

“Hm.” 84227 assumed a serious expression. “We received a stress call from your medichip two days ago. It was aborted, but then last night there was another silent alert. There was a bloodstream anomaly. We are concerned about your wellbeing, 10538, so we arranged a house call. Your employer has been notified so your late arrival at work will not be questioned.”

“I’m okay. I don’t need to waste medical time. I know how valuable your time is to those who really need it.” 10538 resisted the urge to wipe the sheen of sweat that formed on his brow. A house call was always a risky thing. One word, one movement out of place could get him sectioned. The medics had quotas to fill, just like everybody else. If they were low this month they would be looking for any excuse. He had to be careful not to give them one. Spending the rest of his life in New Bedlam held no appeal at all.

“We just want to be sure. The safety and wellbeing of all our citizens is important to us. The individual is part of the whole, and the whole cannot function without the individual.” 84227 smiled his doctor smile.

“I know.” 10538 struggled to keep his fear out of his voice. “What do you need?”

“Only your compliance.” 84227 maintained his smile as he waved his two nurses forward.

10538 put up no resistance as 83619 pressed him into his chair while 83388 rolled up his right sleeve and pressed a scanner to his arm. There was a small stabbing pain that made 10538 flinch, then the two nurses moved away from him.

83388 showed the scanner to 84227, who pursed his lips in medical contemplation.

“There are traces of cotinine in your blood. Have you associated with smokers?” 84227’s expression was serious. “Also alcohol. There are no safe levels of either of these things, 10538. I am most concerned.”

“I’ve never been anywhere near any smokers.” 10538 cringed under the doctor’s glare. His eyes drifted to the drinks cabinet. Should he admit that transgression? It was less bad than the smoking accusation.

83619 nodded at him and opened a small case. He took small amounts from each bottle in the drinks cabinet and topped them up with bottles from his case. He smiled at 10538. “Nothing to worry about. Routine assessment, that’s all.”

10538’s eyes widened. That vodka bottle was probably almost all water by now and the whisky was several shades paler than it should be. He was definitely going to get classified alcoholic and that could mean sectioning.

“Look,” he said. “Okay. I dipped into the drink sometimes. It helps with memory reassignment when things get hard. My job is really stressful but I never binged. I was never drunk.”

“Calm down.” 84227 held up his hands. “We are here to help you. We want to be sure you can be the best you can be. We want to make your life better, not worse.” 

“I should get to work,” 10538 muttered. He tried to rise from his seat but 83619’s hands on his shoulders pressed him gently but firmly back down.

“There is no need for elevated stress levels.” 84227 consulted his screenpad. “Your medichip is reporting fast heart rate and elevated blood pressure. You were overweight recently, weren’t you?”

“Yes, but—”

“The effects of obesity can remain for some time after you lose the weight, you know.” 84227’s expression became severe. “Coupled with your alcohol problem and the cotinine, plus the stress of your job, all this could put you at high risk of sudden heart attack or a long slow death from cancer.” He put the screenpad inside his onesie. “I will be making a recommendation that your workload is reduced for a while. Perhaps even some time off to relax. Would that help, do you think?” His smile was tight and didn’t reach his eyes.

“Time off work? But who will watch the screens?” 10538 wrinkled his nose. “We have to watch for terrorists. We have to be vigilant all the time. You never know who they might be.” His shoulders slumped. He had never imagined 11712 could be a terrorist, but the news report could not have lied.

84227 laughed. “There are other one-zeros who will be happy to cover your holiday time, I’m sure, and we won’t keep you away from work too long. Just enough to let you recover. I’ll prescribe some relaxant pills for you. They will help you to sleep soundly and make you feel good.”

Don’t argue. 10538 realised he was getting off lightly. These medics could so easily take him off to New Bedlam with what they had on him. He was being offered a way out and he knew he should grab it with both hands.

“Okay,” 10538 forced a smile. “Thank you for your prompt and courteous treatment. I will comply with medical advice.”

“Good.” 84227 motioned with a small movement of his head and the two nurses headed for the door. “I will put my recommendation to your place of work today. You might find they will interview you before granting your time off. Don’t worry, just answer their questions honestly.” He winked. “They might have more than just a few days off to offer you.”

The medics left. 10538 stared at the closed door for a while then shook himself and headed out to catch the bus. It had just pulled away but he knew that in this part of town it took a circuitous route and would stop a few streets over in a few minutes from now. If he was quick he could still catch it. 10538 started running.

Five

Just as 10538 reached the bus stop, the bus appeared at the corner. Gasping for breath, he held on to the bus stop pole and watched it approach.

“10538. Do not resist arrest.” The voice came from behind.

10538 turned to see two units aiming tasers at him. Their onesies identified them as 33110 and 33517. Street-police designations. He raised his hands. “Am I under arrest? Why?”

“Suspicion.” 33110 moved closer, handcuffs at the ready. “You were running. The camera watchers reported you.”

The bus pulled to a stop and opened its doors. 33517 shook his head and waved to the driver to move on. The door hissed closed and the bus left.

“I was running to catch the bus.” 10538 allowed the officer to handcuff him. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just late for work.”

“Do not resist arrest.” 33517 aimed the taser at 10538’s chest, his fingers tightening. “If you were late you must have been doing something to have made you late. We will take you in for questioning.”

“No, I was just—” 10538 shuddered at the jolt from the taser and fell to the ground. The last words he heard before losing consciousness were 33110’s: You shouldn’t have resisted arrest.

Panoptica chapter 3

Yes, okay, it’ll settle down to a chapter a week when I catch up with where I am now (currently blending in the train scene in ‘Santa is Coming’ from 10538’s POV). Meanwhile here’s a little more of the happy life of Panoptica.

Panoptica: Chapter 3

He had been only forty grams overweight so was able to sit on the bus on the way home. 11712 had not joined the bus at his usual stop. Could he have really been the runner? Maybe he had been overweight and had to walk and catch the next bus. It could be just that. Could be.

10538 pressed his palm to the scanner on the doorframe, waited until his home recognised him and let him in. The door swung closed behind him.

Inside his home was the only place he could remove his onesie. He unzipped, stripped and put today’s clothing into the wash slot. Yesterday’s had already emerged, cleaned and ready to wear.

Naked, he took the few steps to the kitchen side of the windowless room and pressed the food button. Today’s evening meal was another low-calorie preparation. Biscuits and low-fat cheese. He still had forty grams to lose. 10538 stared at the contents of the paper bag containing his meal and almost squealed with delight. There were tomatoes in there! Three fresh tomatoes! It had been years since he had seen, never mind tasted, a fresh tomato. He picked one up and turned it in his fingers.

“I must be really in the Coalition’s good books today,” he said as he bit into the first one. Its juice filled his mouth with flavour and a sensation that he had thought gone forever. Savouring every bite, he finished the first tomato and reached for the second. He paused. Better to eat the boring part of the meal first and then take the time to enjoy the tomatoes afterwards.

His meal over, 10538 put the remains into the recycle slot. There were no remains of the tomatoes. He had caught every drop of juice. Feeling more satisfied than he had in a very long time, he sat on the bed and turned his attention to the television.

It was on because it was always on. There was no way to turn it off, only to reduce the volume to a subliminal murmur when it was time to sleep. 10538 turned it up and waited for the news.

The program currently showing was about some strange creature called a ‘penguin’. This fierce beast only appeared when deep snow covered the ground and it had a long hard mouth called a beak, which was filled with sharp spikes. Now mercifully extinct due to the utter destruction of their home by global warming, the creatures were once able to reach 100 metres in length, could both fly and swim and were able to run on land at twice the speed of the fastest human.

“Good thing we don’t have those any more,” 10538 muttered, then wished he hadn’t. Fearsome though the creatures might be, it was global warming that killed them and global warming was bad. It was the reason it now only snowed in winter and the cause of summer sweating, a human adaptation to the changing climate. It should never be considered a ‘good thing’ under any circumstances, and you never knew when TV was listening as well as talking.

Finally the monsters of the past left the screen and the news started with its fanfare of uplifting music.

“Good evening, citizens,” beamed from the mouth of the presenter with perfect teeth. As he did every time, 10538 ran his tongue over his uneven teeth and probed the gaps in them. The dentists had done what they could but he had eaten sugar in his months as a Feral and the damage was done. He had to live with his past sins.

“Welcome to the news show. We try to bring you good news but we have to face the bad. The good news is that we have had no terrorist attack for fifty-eight days now. The terrorists cannot defeat us!”

There were cheers from an unseen audience. 10538 managed a half-hearted cheer, more in case the TV scanner was pointed his way than from any heartfelt belief. He now knew the terrorists could be anyone, anywhere, any time. It was hard to feel as safe as he had felt before.

“Tonight we have news of two terrorists defeated before they could act. Both taken by our wonderful camera watchers. Of course we can’t give you the designations of our camera watchers for security reasons but they have been rewarded for their diligence, you can be sure of that.”

More offscreen cheers. This time 10538 cheered loud and long and punched the air. Three fewer screens to watch and tomatoes in his meal. What a fantastic reward! All the more delicious because nobody knew about it.

“When there is nowhere to hide, there can be nothing to fear.” The TV presenter intoned the words. The unseen audience and 10538 intoned them in response.

“Unless you’re a terrorist.” He winked and pointed his finger from the screen. The audience laughed. 10538 chuckled.

“First we have the ghost.”

The audience gave a long and faux-frightened ‘oooh’. 10538 snorted. If they only knew what ‘ghost’ really meant. Nothing supernatural. It meant someone on screen with no report from the RFID scanners.

“He was just strolling along, minding his own terrorist business, when our alert and ever-vigilant camera watcher saw him. This is what happened next.” The screen cut to a grainy CCTV clip.

A unit walked along an empty street. The ghosthunter van pulled up in front of him. Two ghosthunters emerged and pointed their tasers at the ghost. He pulled a gun – a live-round pistol, long since illegal – and fired at them.

The two ghosthunters stepped aside to dodge the bullets and fired their tasers. The ghost went down in a fury of twitching arms and legs, his gun flung aside. The ghosthunters dragged him into their van and drove off.

10538 watched in silence. That was not what he had seen on his screens. The ghosthunters had stopped the unit on a busy street. The ghost was unarmed and had raised his hands at the sight of the tasers. He had been handcuffed and had gone quietly into the van.

And yet, this was the news. The TV cannot lie. What has been seen is real. What has been imagined is wrong. 10538 considered the imperfect images his monitors showed him. He could not be sure the unit he saw running today was 11712 because the cameras couldn’t get a decent image of his barcode. Perhaps he was wrong about yesterday too. He felt so sure. The ghost had gone quietly. No tasers were fired. Could he be wrong? Every other citizen saw this report on the news. Only he had seen the event as it happened. Everyone but him believed the ghost had to be tasered into submission. Only he believed otherwise. Therefore he must be the one who was wrong.

10538 tried to adjust his memory as he had been taught as a child, to bring it into compliant comfortable conformity, the CCC of happiness. It had mostly been easy to do so far but today it just would not take. His eyes strayed to the drinks cabinet, a feature of every home, an exercise in self-control and restraint. Everyone had some alcoholic drink in their homes but nobody touched them. They were there to demonstrate the power of the individual will over the base instincts of the primeval brain.

Oh he had tasted alcohol before, a great deal of it in his Feral months. Almost everyone had. It left a sour taste and a sore head but it did bring forgetfulness. He rubbed his hand over his mouth. One little taste, just to take away the wrong memory…

“One terrorist taken down.” The news presenter grinned from the screen. “He won’t be terrorising anyone any more. He’ll be spending his days in prison and we will all be safe from him.”

Cheers from the audience. A confused silence from 10538.

“There was another today.”

The audience gave a collective ‘Aaah’. 10538 winced. This one used to be a friend of his.

“Running through the streets, an easy catch for our wonderful camera watchers. They watch over us everywhere, always, and they will catch every terrorist. We are safe in their eyes.”

“Safe in the eye of the camera,” intoned the audience. 10538 glanced at the drinks cabinet again.

“It was one we believed was a citizen. One who was trusted and loved by us all. He was designated 11712 and he turned out bad.” The news presenter shook his head in a slow, sad movement. “Anyone could be a bad one.”

It really was him? Up to that very moment, 10538 hoped it had been a terrorist using designation theft to imitate his friend.

“He ran and ran, right to the edge of town where the precipice is fenced off. You might think he would stop there, but he jumped the fence.”

A gasp of disbelief from the audience coincided with 10538’s wrinkling of his nose. 11712 would never do anything that stupid.

“He fell, onto the rocks below. We might never know his plans but we do know he cannot now carry them out.” The presenter’s grin widened. “Two terrorists lost the war against us today and while I cannot tell you who saved us, I can tell you it was the same camera watcher for both events.”

The audience exploded in applause and cheering. 10538 made abortive hand motions towards the drinks cabinet.

“Now we have a pattern in the paint on a door that looks like our dear leader.”

The audience roared with laughter. 10538 muted the TV and lay back on his bed. There was something very wrong. The ghost had not fired anything and 11712 would never have jumped the precipice fence. Not everything was as it seemed.

Perhaps if he just took a little from that whisky bottle and then topped it up with water. Nobody would know and it might let his memories comply with what he was supposed to believe.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

War and Pansexual

Tolstoy would have had a lot of fun with that.

Well, it seems one of the prospects for Lib Dem leader has come out as pansexual. I don’t think she fully appreciates what it means. It isn’t the same as bisexual, which is what her self-decription indicates. A pansexual will shag anything. Human, animal, a tree with a convenient branch or hole, anything at all. You know. We used to call them ‘tarts’ in the days before political correctness.

I don’t really care. If the tree doesn’t mind, why would I? Still, it’s a good idea to check the definition of a label before applying it to yourself, I’d say.

A judge has declared ‘ethical veganism’ to be a ‘protected characteristic’. Protected from what exactly? I was not aware of any persecution of vegans. Since they have a habit of blocking MacDonalds’ and generally nagging non-vegans at every opportunity, I would have thought we should be protected from them. One day they’ll realise that continuous provocation of meat eaters while being made of meat is only going to end one way. Perhaps that’s why they need to get that legal protection in place early.

As I write, it is just past midnight and into the first minutes of January the Fourth. Not only has 2020 already provided the above insanity, but it seems we are now on the brink of World War Three.

Donnie Trumpton’s Army has taken out some really evil guy. An Iranian general called Soleimani. I’ve seen tweets from Iranians saying this guy was responsible for killing thousands of protestors and his group delighted in torturing their own people. This, aside from all the terror attacks he has masterminded outside Iran.

The general died in a drone attack, if what I’ve seen is accurate. At Baghdad airport in Iraq. Not in Iran. Why would the US attack an Iranian in Iraq using drones? Isn’t that likely to piss off both countries?

It is being said that Donnie is trying to start a war. However, before this event, the American embassy in Baghdad was attacked and this particular general (again, I can only go on what I’ve seen reported) was behind it. Attacking an embassy is an act of war. The USA retaliated. The general declared war, and he lost.

The interesting thing about that embassy attack is that it was instantly touted as ‘Trump’s Benghazi’ even before the dust had settled. The only similarity with Benghazi is that a US embassy was attacked. In Benghazi, no support arrived and the embassy staff died in some very nasty ways indeed. Hillary C is on record saying the public will soon forget. Seems they haven’t, on either side.

So was this supposed to be Trump’s Benghazi, and the mantra took form before the embassy staff were, in fact, saved? It was a very different scenario. This time, US forces arrived very quickly, some terrorist leaders were arrested and one (some reports say more than one) high ranking psychopath was found and summarily dispatched. Was it legal? Well you’ll need an expert in international law and the rules of engagement for that one. I have no idea.

Consequences? Bound to be. Iran has to retaliate, the ‘honour’ thing is very big among those people. They are going to hit back, that’s for sure.

Jezza has already been out demanding that Boris does not get Britain involved. It pains me to say it, but he is right. Our military has been so underfunded and so demoralised by prosecutions of soldiers after they were ordered into combat, that I really don’t think they can be fairly deployed. It’s not our fight and, knowing that they could be prosecuted after risking their lives for another country’s fight, their hearts won’t be in it. The US has plenty of firepower, they can handle this.

If Iran’s leaders stop to think for a moment though… Benghazi prompted no retaliation at all. The Oblimey administration did not even attempt to help their staff and nothing happened afterwards.

Baghdad prompted an instant and deadly reaction.

They are not dealing with a President who bows to other world leaders and who is conciliatory when his people are attacked. They are dealing with a President who is an impulsive bloody madman. A big strike by Iran is going to have Trump’s finger itching over the big red button.

Oh sure, Iran is a big country, but its primary infrastructure is centralised. It’s not like fighting Afghan tribal rebels who can strike and then disappear into the hills. The US military knows exactly where Iran’s primary control centres are and frankly, they really don’t need nukes. Hell, Iran has reactors that conventional weapons could blow.

I don’t think this will go to world war but I think it could get nasty. Iran will not – cannot – just let it lie. They have to save face. They cannot be seen to back down, not among the people of that part of the world. They will have to do something.

So it hinges on whether Trump is willing to let them save face. He might be willing to let them ‘win’ a negotiation but my bet is he will not let them win a war. If it goes to all out war then Iran’s major export in the future will be luminous glass. They can’t win it, unless China and Russia mobilise on their side and neither of those really wants to take on a Trump USA.

They’ve met him. They know what he’s like. This is not Clinton or Obama, they can’t just demand a bribe to keep quiet. They know that if it came right down to it, Trump is going to push that button. Then they’ll have to push theirs. From there, well, better start learning to bang the rocks together because that’ll be all that’s left.

I don’t think it’ll come to that. Russia and China don’t want to get into an escalation that ends in the utter destruction of everything. They would have pushed hard if it had been Oblimey but they know this mad bugger isn’t going to give an inch. My bet is they are looking for a way for Iran to come out looking good without sending troops in to fight one last, absolutely final war.

The most interesting part is the number of idiot westerners who have come out in support of the Iranian regime. Not the Iranian people – these same idiots had nothing to say when the regime killed over a thousand of its own people for daring to protest, nor when women were locked up for daring to show their hair in public. No, they are in solidarity with the Ayatollahs who ordered those imprisonments and deaths.

They do this because they hate Trump. Maybe they really do support the regime that torments the Iranian people, I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. Their primary motivation is hatred of Trump. They would support Satan himself if Trump attacked Hell.

It’s not unusual. Here in the UK, we have Jerry Cordite trying to extend the Brexit finale by another two years. Why? He does not want to be in the EU. He wants to nationalise everything. EU rules won’t let him. So why is he against Brexit?

He isn’t. He’s against Boris Johnson and he is willing to bugger up negotiations and leave the country in limbo just to make Boris look bad.

Politics all over the West has become that petty. Support vicious regimes because your leader is against them, drag out Brexit for years just to embarrass the government. To hell with the people. Any of them. Anywhere. Point scoring is all that matters.

I’m not worried about China and Russia. They don’t need to do a damn thing.

They can watch the West destroy itself.

Panoptica Chapter 2

I was going to write about how the Little Green People are claiming Australian bushfires and flooding as proof that they were right – while ignoring that their own policies have made both these things far worse – but I’ve been concentrating on writing more future horrors instead. So, in lieu of a deranged rant, here’s Chapter 2 of Panoptica.

This doesn’t count as next week’s. I still have to post Chapter 3 before next Friday. Which means I have to stay ahead of this one. As always, it’s first draft so if you spot any errors feel free to point them out. I learned the hard way not to fix things as I go, just finish the story and then go back and fix things. Even so, all criticisms are welcome.

Panoptica: Chapter 2

Another three screens were blank at 10538’s station the next day. Out of twenty-four, he now had only five to watch. He allowed himself a smile. His workload must have been reduced as a reward for his part in catching the ghost yesterday.

Those five screens he watched with full alertness. No more languishing in his chair and letting the automated systems do the work. Today he barely dared blink as he watched units move along the streets, their designations floating in the air beside them as the street RFID scanners checked their chips. If only there were some way to bring all five active screens together rather than have them all scattered across the bank of monitors.

The new street scanners could also check the barcode on the clothing of the passing people. Everyone was issued with a unique pattern of onesie at birth in affirmation of the individuality of every single unit. The clothing was free, courtesy of the Coalition Government, and everyone was issued with replacements and spares as required. No two were ever the same. 10538 stretched his arms and revelled in the freedom of the individual, as imposed by the State upon each and every one. Nobody was permitted to enslave anyone. Everyone was free. Everyone was an individual. The onesies proved it.

He gazed down at his own pattern. Bands of colour, bright and vivid, with the black bands of varying thickness between them that he knew gave him his individual designation. One zero five three eight. The first two numbers denoted his rank, the last three were his individual code. His name. He ran his fingers over the bands, imagining he was a scanner reading his name. Wherever he went, his clothing and his embedded chips shouted his name into the scanners. Nowhere to hide.

When there is nowhere to hide, there can be nothing to fear.

The slogan made him feel warm inside. The terrorists had nowhere to hide now and he had an important part to play in making sure they never did.

We all have important jobs.

10538 jerked his head up in a sudden panic. He had taken his eyes off the screens for a moment. A ghost could have passed by unnoticed. There were no red lights below any of the monitors so there was nobody currently on screen who had no designation – or whose chips did not match their clothing code.

He forced himself to breathe, slow and deep. If the monitors had shown an anomaly, the alarm buzzer would have sounded as it had yesterday. Nothing was wrong, he hadn’t let a terrorist escape.

Unless… unless the terrorists knew to match the fake chip to their clothing barcode and were careful not to lose the chip. Then there could be an army of them. Why, everyone on the screens could be a terrorist!

With narrowed eyes, 10538 scrutinised the units on his screens. Did that one pause a little too long at the shop window? There was another, at the bus stop, staring intently along the street. Looking for the bus or planning a new attack? Everyone seemed to be doing something suspicious. Were they working together?

An amber light flashed. Someone was running. Not in itself a crime but something rarely seen unless the runner was trying to escape someone. 10538 transferred the image on that monitor to the big central screen. A few keypresses gave him the designation of the runner. He sat back in his seat and blinked. It was 11712.

Yesterday’s conversation replayed in his head. Not accurately, but coloured by his new paranoia over the terrorist threat. 11712 had known a lot about how terrorists carry fake chips. Probably more than anyone should. Why was he running? The screens had no sound, not even clear images. Was it really 11712 or was it someone with a fake chip and stolen onesie pretending to be him?

He could take no chances. Terrorists could be anyone. 10538 pressed the alert and lifted the phone.

“I have a runner. 11712.” He checked the location. “Heading north on Street 45, just passing the junction of Road 13.”

“What is he running from?” The voice sounded barely interested.

“There is nobody chasing him that I can see.” Hurry, he’ll soon be off my monitors.

It could be Ferals, those in the transition from childhood to adulthood. They were granted a few months of lawlessness to experience how hard that life would be. Then those who survived would embrace the peace and security of compliance in adulthood. Yet when Ferals chased, they followed close. There were none on the screens.

“Intercept team is close by. They are on the way.” The phone went dead.

10538 hung up and watched the screen. The blue light of the interceptors flashed along the street. 11712 changed direction and disappeared off 10538’s screen.

“Damn.” He had hoped to watch the arrest, maybe get a clue as to what was going on. It would be on the news tonight but that was hours away. The blue light turned in the same direction 11712 had headed. 10538 flipped the display back to the small monitors and took a breath.

Yesterday a ghost, today a runner. He was sure to be promoted for the last two days’ work. Still something nagged at his thoughts. 11712, a terrorist? It seemed so unlikely. Yet that was what he had been taught. The unlikely ones often turn out to be the likeliest. Terrorists blend in. They do not draw attention to themselves. They stay quiet until it’s time to strike. Those who blend in hardest are the ones to watch.

It could be someone pretending to be 11712. Designation theft was difficult and rare but not unknown. The intercept team were close behind him so if it was a fake he would soon be caught and unmasked. In that case, the real 11712 had nothing to fear.

10538 spent the rest of his shift watching the clock more than the screens. He wanted to get home, to watch the news. Yesterday’s ghost had not been reported last night so maybe both his success stories would be on the same show. Nobody would know of his part in it. His job was strictly confidential. He alone would know, he alone would bask in the triumph. This was true individuality, when you achieve something important and nobody else knows about it. Pride is a personal thing. Nobody else should know about it.

It was a good feeling, even if it was tempered by some uneasiness at having to report his friend. If 11712 really was a terrorist or some other criminal, then their friendship was best deleted from memory. He might be considered guilty by association. 10538 shrugged off the thought. He hardly knew the unit, really. They only spoke occasionally at the bus stop and sometimes in the work canteen. They never discussed their work.

10538 pursed his lips. Never discussed work… until yesterday.

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More in a few days…