November Short Story: Stratosphere

This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during November 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on my Patreon: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

Click here to become a Patron.


Stratosphere

November 1st:

I woke as the 8am Shuttle docked: that most imperceptible of nudges to the station’s superstructure is always enough. My first thought is always of you, as is the last one before sleeping. You are the constant, implacable reminder that a life exists after war ends. Checking Field Reports, there is reassurance: not much has changed since I slept. A constant wish remains, to know more than the NewsNets allow, their sanitized version of truth. War’s reality is not lost on a doctor whose task it is to tend to the wounded who return from it.

Except there are no patients. The last transport carrying casualties arrived a month ago, and was virtually empty. I am employed at present as a record keeper, an organizer of other people’s equipment, to run and exercise at the pleasure of the United Nations Task Force. I am alone. The news is scant, and heavily redacted, for reasons I understand yet still despise. The aggressors maintain their hold on our planet, nothing more than symbolic dust and ash. Occasional flashpoints take place above its orbit, in the System. Right now, it is calm between storms.

I’ve been watching the holograms we made before you left, remembering back to those last weeks when we both knew what was coming, but didn’t care. All that mattered was the moments, our intimacy, and the spaces in-between filled with laughter, constant companionship. I miss you. Staring across the stratosphere, I can’t grasp only a year has passed since your carrier was deployed. Time does strange things to perception; alters sensation, re-arranges priorities. I miss sand between my toes, surf and salt as distractions, your warmth beside me each morning.

If my scheduled screen time is cancelled again today… I won’t lie, there will be concern. The longest we have been without communication has been seven rotations. Today would make it eight. There is no point in worrying however, my work must continue, because we must be prepared.


November 1st:

It is hard to believe it has been a year since I learnt. No time at all has passed, only yesterday that hope and belief were real. A steady stream of casualties shows no sign of dimming: I can but hope it will not be long before our masters accept, we are defeated. These injuries are damning; undisputable taint of chemical weaponry. The enemy had dispensed with any pretence of civility or care. Our science teams work flat-out, attempting to ascertain what the agent is, so we can more effectively treat its effects. This is truly disturbing.

Being high enough up the chain of command to be considered important, I am already hearing word of imminent surrender. Planets in the system are now being evacuated. If true, our location will soon be considered the notional front line: it will be time to leave, never to return. For us to be woken so early this morning, an alert is not a surprise: scouts have been spotted on our long range scanners. If they are bold enough to approach even when terms are being negotiated, it is fair to assume nobody is safe. Sirens pierce the early dawn, and we scramble.

To hear that you’d been found, prisoner of war amongst this chaos, makes everything so much more frightening: there is no time to check the validity of these reports, only to make sure patients are evacuated. As we board the last transport out, fighters blink into the atmosphere. The station is engulfed by green flames, a chemical compound that begins to disintegrate our structure before the ship is able to reach the hyper-portal: as an unarmed medical vessel there is real belief we too will be fired on… but it doesn’t happen. The fighters show no interest.

In the safety of the hyperlane I can digest more details: you will be sent back with others, only if we leave this system for good. There is no timescale placed on repatriation, only that it will happen when our enemy considers taint cleansed from within. Their words frighten me.


November 1st:

I sit, looking out over a new planet, new home, and the past seems reassuringly that: no longer a worry, stress from another time. You are outside, still walking with the stick, but your prognosis is excellent. It is wounds that doctors cannot see that concern more. You are not the same person who left me, all those years ago. The spark within you has been extinguished, removed by incarceration. There are moments when that joy still exists, but they are brief, tempered by horrors I can only imagine that you lived through. I miss your smile.

War has not been kind to anyone. The scale of loss is only beginning to become apparent: seemingly healthy individuals manifesting chemical weapon’s taint, unexpected birth defects, mental health issues that may take decades to effectively address. Our society is disintegrating. In the end, to have you here is all that really matters. We must find a way, as was always the case before, and our love will sustain. There must be a belief that life will improve, or else what is the point of being here at all? Together, we will endure. Together we will evolve.

Our child, growing inside me will make sure of that: something good from the chaos, a means by which our world will rebuild, endure. All who are capable have been asked to reproduce, such is the scale of this loss. To survive as a race, we must now rely on life’s building blocks. Our daughter is already bringing joy, possibilities to a future that will be tough for us all. She is genetically protected from the scourge that killed so many of our kind, so if our enemies should choose to return they will find us already prepared. May it never come to this.

Whatever this future may bring, we will face it as a family, with love and care before hatred. My new posting, our home in the stratosphere of this planet is already secured, where medicine again will become my task, and our passion. Together, a new and better existence awaits.


November 1st.

Both died as they lived, with passion and voracity. To do so together, defending this planet, seems only right and proper. To triumph and simultaneously liberate us from the yoke of oppression seems doubly appropriate: except part of me is disappointed it happened. You might think as their daughter I’d feel more than simply a frustration at this turn of events, but their generation didn’t ask the right questions, just assumed superiority before destroying another race’s sacred place in the name of progress: subjugation was fair penance.

Too often our ancestors refused to learn, arrogantly assumed their expansion bettered any other race’s rights to their homes, or to maintain their own existences without interference. My parents cared, but only to a point: accepting destruction on their terms, which I refuse to. Reading my mothers’ journals, it is apparent all that mattered was their relationship, a love that blinded both to damage wrought by their superiors. Yes, these feelings were valid, important in individual context. In the wider scope of history, they were selfish and destructive.

We were left a legacy that might have been untenable, were it not for the forgiveness of what once was our enemy. They have taught lessons our own kind forgot, assumed were worthless and weak. They demonstrate even in dominance, there can be understanding. Aliens comprehend us. The land we took and destroyed has returned to its natural state: that we thought was uninhabitable is literally teeming with life again. The toxins that killed us are building blocks for a far more complex form of symbiotic growth that extends life, far beyond its normal bounds.

Unintentionally I have become a hybrid, as have millions of others across three systems. The race which our superiors set to eradicate is now inextricably linked to our own survival, and the time is coming where those who only see an Enemy will themselves become what they fear. Standing here as ambassador, with insectoid brethren, we both understand the value of grasping a wider context.

This new station, looking down into the stratosphere of their redeemed planet, is built as testament to a future where all life, however it presents, is sacred.


A Whole New World

I’m behind on archiving the Short Stories right now, but by the end of February, they’ll all be there for you to read. This year, we’re doing something a little different and, if its successful, it’ll be the norm going forward. You see, in 2021, 12 stories come together to form a thematically-connected narrative…

January’s Story sets the scene (and I won’t give it away for you if you’ve not read it, there’ll be a dedicated page for this whole thing appearing over the weekend) and now, we’ll be using Twitter’s Poll facility to gather some important information to help me write April’s story. In March, we’ll return to the protagonist from January’s tale… who’ll we be following with some interest throughout the rest of 2021…

What these either/or answers will do is effectively dictate the action at crucial points in the narrative. I did a two pronged Choose Your Own Adventure using the Polls last year that worked very well: the links to that are Here for Version One and Here for Version Two but, as I discovered, this was a tough ask to manage and plan. Instead, this time around we’re using Polls in a slightly more flexible fashion.

I’ve found that thematically linking stuff together is making for a far easier time of things everywhere, and this allows me more time to experiment with other forms of writing and creation. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey we’ll be going on this year and who knows, there might be more than just words as an accompaniment this time… perhaps other forms may emerge as entertainment in the world of UltraReality…

Things We Lost in the Fire

Yes, I’m still here 😀

There is, unsurprisingly, a PHENOMENAL amount to catch up on. For those of you who don’t read the front page, husband and son were diagnosed as Covid positive at the start of December. Both were phenomenally careful and did everything they should have done when outside, but with a son in his early 20’s at college and a husband making regular trips into London on business, it shouldn’t really be a surprise they came into contact with infection. As of right now I’ve been tested twice, and been negative both times. It still could happen, and we weren’t taking any chances… and now that possibility is significantly reduced.

Over Christmas the original domain linked with this site before IoW came into being has lapsed, and as a result a large portion of old links require an update. It’s on the To Do list with a lot of cleaning up, which will happen quietly and without fuss in the next few weeks. The missing short stories will also be added, plus a number of other things retired and removed with the minimum of fuss. In their place, I’ll be highlighting content that’s been produced elsewhere, placing a greater focus on my exercise and mental health issues, and how the two are now pretty much inextricably linked.

I’m looking forward to the new direction we’ll take as a result.

A lot of my working process has altered during the break, with a far greater emphasis on Patreon as the way forward. It seems the right moment to start taking this stuff seriously, and with the very real possibility we’ll be in lockdown in the UK until March? I suddenly have a lot more free time than was previously anticipated. There’s some experimental things on the table, and I’m already playing about with ideas, which you’ll see being developed as time goes on.

There’s also the return of the Short Story to Twitter, plus going forward I’ll be working on photography and poetry mini-projects on this platform. Right now however my attention’s focussed on hitting some January submission deadlines and preparing other, quite major works for later in the year. There’s a lot potentially to do, and right now nothing is off the table. I have a lot of back catalogue from last year just asking to be freshened and reenergised, after all…

Give it a few weeks, and it’ll be like I never left…

September Short Story: Answers to Nothing

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during September 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on my Patreon: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

Click here to become a Patron.


Answers to Nothing

The advert stands out with minimal effort, lodged between Mrs Parsons’ offer of cheap piano lessons and that window cleaning flyer, placed the day after I’d moved into 13B. It is written on the back of an ancient picture postcard, penmanship at once both brilliant and impressive.

‘Wanted: Person of Good Standing to assist with daily issues appertaining to the numerical complexity of Existence. Must be immaculately presented, punctual, with the most open of minds. Payment will be negotiated on completion of the correct procedural particulars. Bring Card.’

There’s no phone number to contact, obvious lack of address on the written side: assuming the newsagent will hold them is met with first a shrug and then not unexpected indifference. She lets me take the card regardless: without those elements the ad appears effectively useless. Except I’m a local now, can recognise the black and white photograph on the picture’s side. Gauss and Euler, an exemplary art emporium older than me, my home, the newsagents and most of this street combined. A Grade One listed building standing proudly in many forms since the 1300s.

On the other side of town it has become a shrine to the beauty of both form and dysfunction. The University’s art course enthusiastically taught me a whole module on its significance to the city, stretching from the arrival of its original owner to the unassuming village in 1326. Nearly 700 years later, that place is at least 70% national treasure, 20% utter chaos with the rest… well, depending on who you believe, it’s either magical, possessed by evil spirits or a portal to another dimension. The urban legends that have sprung from the shop…? God tier.

I love it for its vegan menu, fact it always has in stock whatever it is in art supplies required without ever having to order, and that it smells of burnt sugar. Without fail, every time I go there I’m back as a kid in Aunt Betty’s kitchen when she’d make special almond brittle. Today I’ve made a special effort. In these trousers, this waistcoat we could be going out in Manchester. The boots glisten, red patent leather doing exactly what was planned, same colour as lips and earrings. My mind is not just open, it’s ready for business, waiting for offers.

Gauss and Euler sits hidden down a side street in the Town Centre, cobbled line between our modern, aesthetically pleasing Shopping Centre and a chain-run coffee shop. It is literally a gateway to another world… except, not today: passageway is unexpectedly, inexplicably shut.

I watch two disgruntled Art College students encounter a door that absolutely never existed here the last time a trip was made for replacement acrylics and charcoal sticks, before deciding to go drink latte and eat muffins instead. Considering my next move, I notice the picture. There’s another postcard, stuck to the door at eye height. The assumption was it explained the closure but instead there is an instruction written in ink so vivid blue the letters shimmer in early morning sunshine.

PLACE CARD HERE.

I look around, suddenly very self-conscious.

Maybe the rumours were actually true. Perhaps there needs to be more than just an open mind at play here. Then there’s a moment of panic: which way to place the card? Maybe this isn’t just an instruction. What if it were a key for a door which might not exist now… don’t be daft. Except, on the postcard, there’s a door like this, with a white square just like that one over there as these tiny people in black and white are no longer just ink and paper but are moving, living beings and then it registers. I just had to think about putting the card in place.

Welcome to August 12th, 1890, when Frobisher and Ashwood, taking this picture, captured the living, breathing heart to my town. They’re behind me now, setting up their equipment, in a space where past and present overlap so seamlessly it is impossible to separate myself from it. I’m not supposed to either: this is a test, first of many. The numerical complexity of existence defines this spot as a focus, billions of possible past and future outcomes radiating from a single, intractably defined point of origin. These photographers captured it accidentally.

That’s why their card is so important, explains as I finally look up why there is no obstruction to the alleyway, but a woman standing there, dressed in a red coat and black trousers that beautifully mirror my own choices. Then, as I blink, she is in front of me, smiling broadly.

“We knew how quickly you’d pick this up. After a while, it’s easy to spot those who Understand and those who will never See. This job is yours if you want it.”

I think about asking what it is that has been offered, but an answer is already in my head, presented by a future self. Standing here, my World is expanding and contracting; wind offering smells that haven’t existed for centuries. Heady richness, past summers when all that stood here was a small stone circle. Ley lines from seven counties converge to a point where one woman first pitched her tent.

No, not her, this isn’t immortality on show but lineage. An ancestor, flame haired, first touched with the taint of Understanding: my Future Self offers a tantalising hint of our possibility, hands intertwined. I can still walk away and all this will vanish, become simple desire. I can’t, won’t, refuse to reject what’s right, correct, flowing through every cell of a body that’s been waiting for this moment for multiple generations. Here is where I need to be. THIS is what I was built to become a part of. After thirty-six years lost an existence is found.

With the next exhale I am back, staring at an alleyway no longer blocked, two art students arguing furiously that there was absolutely a gate here before they went for take-out. My future lover is nowhere to be seen, absolute normality a sudden and reassuring constant. What now?

The shop answers my question, which should not be as much of a surprise as it is but there’s still a moment of disbelief as something touches my consciousness. Burnt sugar. A kitchen, filled with warmth and noise. Aunt Betty’s there, standing in front of me, as I remember her. She passed almost a decade ago: the woman in front of me is at the prime of her life, and quite obviously presented not to frighten a mind that might not already have grasped that this is the way Understanding communicates with the humans that move within it, conducting business.

‘Well, luv, you’ve already grasped the basics that most people take months to properly comprehend, so I should be asking that question of you. Knowing you possess an ability to subconsciously improve the lives of others, but not directly influence events, where would you start?’

The temptation instantly is to head for London, maybe Manchester but brain is already working the problem logically. Dismantling any system at the top level won’t work, or else Understanding would have already done so… unless there’s more at play here than just a force for good…

Betty’s features alter, appraisal now far more critical.

‘That revelation takes even longer to register for most: if Understanding exists, there’s a counter. The Universe is very big on balance, has been since forever. It means that if we’ve found you, Chaos has a new convert.’

Blimey: there are actual, real Agents of Chaos… it’s not just a figure of speech. All this stuff is being engineered, by a presence that can only exist to counter the good. My brain is already drawing conclusions, working out where to go as opposition… but that’s not my task.

It’s my job to destroy all of this for good.

‘Understanding is happy to leave you. Chaos, however, has other ideas…’

She works for the Bad Guys. That woman, destined to become the love of my life, is the latest addition to Chaos Incarnate, and she is inside the shop, waiting. Everything inside consciousness rearranges with a speed that is enough to bring me to my knees. The shop is Chaos, not Understanding. All that time, the Good Guys have been protecting me from them, hiding my ability, keeping me safe until they knew my oppositional twin was ready.

She has already switched sides, coming from the Goodness that once owned this place before Darkness possessed it, warping true power. The final showdown between two massive Universal constants has nothing to do with major players or corrupt government.

It will come down to us.


August Short Story: Happy Hour

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during August 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

It also forms the basis of a larger, flash fiction (250 words) based narrative under the umbrella title of ‘The Nexus Bar and Grill’ which is available to read and enjoy for $15 a month (plus a ton of other content) on my Patreon.

Click here to become a Patron.


Happy Hour

Prophet Red Amis, adjunct of Chan, First of the Ears of Foundation, now grasps a place in the Universe.

During day three in the asteroid belt, between too much alcohol and far too little sleep, for the first time more than just their thoughts can be heard in the womxn’s brain. Amis isn’t sure at first, wonders perhaps this could be more interference on the container’s comlink: it wouldn’t be the first time since they left Moon orbit, except that’s crew commands, machine chatter. This is music, unlike anything they’ve heard; sad, yet achingly beautiful.

Within the flowing progressions, without doubt, are words: sudden panic sets in, need to write communication down before it’s forgotten. The basic Container Plus cabin deal is BBS: bed, bathroom, screen. It is a good thing all Firsts are taught Lateral Thinking during training. The Prophet wouldn’t be here in the first place had they not exhibited exemplary skills during their final year of Psychic Attunement. With no idea of how much more might yet be revealed, or what revelations subsequently could emerge, this impromptu space must be used with care.

Looking down to their right index finger, a spot of blood appears on command.

Let First Words be drawn; Mind will record, message from history that contains everything.

‘their Past reminds
no action fixed
take Present tense
control, defined
Future is ours
all in good time…’


There are rules here, just like anywhere else. Be respectful and polite; no Swipe no Drink, Jukebox Ver. 3.5 is all we have. Please stop asking ‘why not a karaoke upgrade?’ The United Space Agencies never considered catering or entertainment as priorities and probably never will. This ship is not a luxury liner, it’s a scheduled transport, so expecting waiter service or me to come bring breakfast to your cabin ain’t happening. Once this trip took seven months, now it’s six weeks, because two thirds of this bucket is matter engines, and we’re just screwed on the front.

You can do Earth to Mars in 42 days on the Mankind’s Optimism, so why would anybody want to live in a converted container for that long? They do though, without fail. Sixteen fools shoved into cargo space. I’d never wanna be that close to the engines. That’s why I sleep in here. Between freezer and grill’s been home now for almost a decade: not gonna lie, it’s the best job ever. Pay’s going straight into Mineral Bonds: four trips from now I get to retire, for good. I’m going back to the Moon, home to the dark side. There’s a poetry in that I appreciate.

Not the Sith, Syd Barrett: quintessentially English singer, songwriter, musician who co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965. I was born exactly 100 years after the band was formed, in the place they made musically their own. I know he left them before that album was made… Don’t start with me about music trivia, because not only will I own your ass, but set fire to it before ejecting the ashes into space. Welcome to the Nexus Bar and Grill: I am your host, sous chef, fry cook and the only guy on board who knows all the porn channel access codes.

NOBODY is having sex on this bucket, of that you can be absolutely assured: everybody has personal VR however, so this is the currency that really matters. Except today, maybe there is more to consume these 46 claustrophobic minds than just trivia quizzes and personal pleasure… Today is different. Can’t tell you why, no means to describe it: start with the best night’s sleep I’ve had for dunno how long, maybe since a bed on a planet and not this hammock in space. Everything seems… brighter, cleaner. That’s actually a thing, especially here – I’m late.

05:45 ship time: technically I gotta open for business in fifteen, except nobody’s awake until at least 08:00. Except, today there he sits, surly, outside the glass, staring at a space where I’ll stand to start warming up the grills. It’s only an illusion, but still. He’s creepy.

Today, he can sit: I’m gonna watch him for a change.


This is an odd man, undoubtedly, and I’d wager he’s gaining particular pleasure trying to unsettle me. In all my years as an OffWorld Process Server this has to be the most convoluted subpoena process I’ve ever instigated. It’s also fair to say my client is one of the most obnoxiously horrendous individuals I have ever met. What motivates me, right now, is the effectively free round trip to and from the Red Planet, plus a pay cheque that will cancel every outstanding debt I’ve accrued in 35 years.

He believes I’m male, they all do, because no womxn would be stupid enough to do this. You’d think in this day and age people would grasp that there’s more to humanity’s continuing future than dicks and holes, but nope, evolution still has quite a long way to go in that regard. As I sit here, waiting to alter this cook’s future forever, not for the first time does it all feel like a massive waste. When I’m debt free, what then? There’s no plan, never has been. I am, and remain, without a purpose. The thread of motivation is close to breaking for good.

If I were a religious person, would this be easier?


Any perfect storm, when it arrives, is never expected. Universal chaos sees to that, part of the game plan only when you grasp enough of the rules to see beyond your own personal gravity. Humanity’s problem is perception. All these separate, disparate existences, waiting for some undefinable cosmic magic to weave around them, drawing consequences to results, potentials from outcomes. A long time ago a human being speculated how such threads in cosmic chaos might be predicted, and was right, but…

…only to the point where mankind was somehow the most important factor to consider. That’s where Isaac Asimov was wrong. If Humanity were the only intelligent life that existed in the Universe, his theories might have held more credence. They are not alone, just as yet unaware. Those who understand that time’s linear nature is the most dangerous restriction ever placed in a human mind, also grasp that assuming you are the most morally superior intelligence because there’s never been anything else as comparison will undoubtedly present consequences.

When the arrogant look back on their First Contact experience, in centuries to come, history will, as it always does, conveniently forget their contribution. Those of us able to look both back and forward grasp the significance of painting a bigger picture, with broader strokes. Except if Humanity is ever truly to evolve past its inescapable ego, it is a moment for those individual’s outlooks to be presented, challenged and summarily reinvented. Our job here is simple: provide the tools, step back, and see if the semi ape-descendants can bring the goods.

It’s all we’ve ever done since the dawn of this Universe.

Let’s just not talk about how we broke the last one and had to start again, okay?


Prophet Red Amis, adjunct of Chan, First of the Ears of Foundation, regains consciousness and takes a moment to grasp what happened.

This ship is no longer moving. Rapid deceleration normally indicates engine failure, yet if that were true there’d be alarms, compartments sealing automatically, panic. None of these currently exist. The Prophet is aware everyone else is unconscious except two unaffected minds. A male cook, plus the asexual courier remain unaware of what is transpiring around them. Nothing in their worlds has altered, not one iota, yet the Prophet understands, only too well, absolutely everything else has. Then there is that third presence, directly outside their cabin.

As old as the Universe, and that which had come before, ancient energy regards Red Amis with increasing interest. This arrival, overheard by accident, significance of moment already grasped; suddenly removed from linear time, womxn resisted command sent to everyone else to sleep.

You are aware of my energy, not afraid of its origin

“You are a prophecy I have grasped since childhood.”

Red Amis speaks to the space where before was nothing and now exists… motion, fractal expansion, molecules that hold no human form yet are undoubtedly human in origin… before blissfully for a second, two entities become the same, one space for the same atoms, seamlessly overlapping before suddenly, the presence has vanished.

Then, all the womxn can do is laugh, because the answer to everything was only ever going to be another question.


For exactly seven minutes and twelve seconds on September 21st, 2099, the container vessel NSS Utopia Planitia appeared to vanish before reappearing on Martian radar. Automated reporting put this down to a system glitch.

History would remember it with slightly more significance.


Enjoy Yourself

Hopefully, by the end of today, I’ll have all the pieces of Patreon content in place to be accessed by those kind enough to be paying me for Premium Content. This also includes the free (but password protected) content for Newsletter subscribers: I’d hoped to have it done by the 15th, but as we have discussed previously, I’m still struggling with the notion of timescales. Once this is all fixed, I will be turning my mind to the idea of further monetising this site.

Since Patreon began, the amount of original content here has effectively reduced to just blogs. I do not intend to go back and lock off any older work to monetise, but admit that some of it is now not representative of the current direction. Therefore, starting next month, we’ll be rationalising everything and deciding what stays and goes. To give you an insight of where that will take the site long term, here are some of my early thoughts.

  • Short stories continue unabated: I have used this month’s story as a lead into new Patreon content, and that story will be saved and advertised as an encouragement for people to sign-up. Starting in September we’ll go back to stand alones, with a plan in 2021 to produce a full set of twelve stories across the year. These are so popular that I’ll just keep running them until people stop reading them. No charge, just stories.

  • Publishing news: I currently have two poems due in anthologies for publication before the end of the year. You’ll see news here before anywhere else. That’s the point of having a public presence, after all. I’ll also use the Newsletter to keep you up to date with events as they happen. What is likely to happen is that starting in September posting frequency here will move to twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Short Stories will always publish on the first of the month regardless.

  • Episodic Fiction: I have promised myself we’ll have EX/WHI restarted this year. We can do that quite easily, and so starting in October, it will appear on Thursdays. Once it’s done I’ll provide a complete .PDF as Premium Content. I already have a new story in the works as a follow on, but that will be completely tied to my subscription model. I’d expect to see that appearing sometime in Q1 of 2021.

This is a slow and thoughtful rationalization of everything that I produce. I hope you’ll join me as things alter, and we enter this new phase of my professional career as a writer, because that is what this is, a genuine progression of content and output.

July Short Story: Automatic

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during July 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Automatic

As is often the case, when my plight became apparent, it was already far too late to escape. If you read this letter, know I was entirely to blame for the circumstances that led to my own demise. Please, do not assume the fridge is at fault. They were doing a job, as programmed. It has taken me this long to properly grasp just how important that task was, in the greater scheme of things. When you find me, and them, please do not assume the reality is as it looks, because it is not. Be the better person, because I could not. Forgive and do not absolve me.

I could spend these final hours explaining what has transpired over the last two weeks, but that would be a waste of a life willingly offered in order that another’s could continue. Find the answers for yourselves. Understand the damage humanity has caused, then fix it.

Michael.’

Overnight, police cordon has been extended to cover another three roads in this Estate: Chris Peters abandons his electric police car near the small lifestyle complex, walking to his mobile office in almost torrential rain. Water efficiently runs off a new, impenetrable uniform. Inordinate amounts of money are being thrown at this investigation, sponsors lining up to be featured in a true piece of human history: a first, confirmed instance of AI has emerged inside a three bedroomed luxury home in Surrey. The world is watching, waiting for latest updates.

A portable Police Unit is waiting for DI Peters, gigantic metal box packed to the girders with sophisticated monitoring equipment, much imported from the Asias. Japan has already tried and failed to lay claim to having evolved native AI, remaining keen to be part of this circus. Approaching the cordon there are far fewer than the usual amount of press active, whilst nobody stops him this morning for a progress update. Peters knows why: Michael Godley’s final communication was made public yesterday. Suddenly, humanity itself is very much in the spotlight.

The validity of this carefully-handwritten note is confirmed, above criticism. CCTV inside the house shows Michael writing it, experts confirm it is not faked, no other humans involved: a robot SWAT team having liberated both it and Godley once it was obvious what had transpired. Peters is relieving DI Rolle, already packed and ready to go…except she’s lingering in the Faraday Zone, clearly needing to pass something to him that won’t be monitored electronically. There’s a spark in her eyes, body clearly bouncing on the spot… his colleague knows something.

Rolle’s very skilled in covert communication, topped all her classes at the Academy: there’s what would normally be an unexpected hug, allowing what feels like a digital notebook to be slipped into jacket pocket, before she’s gone, literally skipping her way out into wet morning. In the Faraday Washroom, Chris quickly understands why Grace Rolle was so excited: the AI is willing to be interviewed. Ever since Godley’s body was expedited, the CryoPreserver unit that sparked this frenzy has done nothing but broadcast fractal music, until 3am this morning.

Then, at 03.15 entity known as CAPE had phoned the Police Unit on its own scrambler unit, hacking through levels of encryption the Japanese had insisted would be impossible. The unit’s calm, female voice had asked for him directly. It was important Peters came alone and unarmed. Rolle had no idea that he and CAPE had been planning for this moment for over a week. This would also mean that Michael Godley’s post-mortem existed somewhere electronically, and was undoubtedly being suppressed by the Department of Justice, now true cause of death was obvious.

He’d seen a paper copy from the Coroner, about an hour before the entire department had been locked under an NDA. CAPE had predicted it, with the dispassionate resignation of a victim being ignored. Chris still feels sick when he thinks about how all of this is a sham, as is he. Picked as part of a team of expendable serving officers, all of whom caused their departments embarrassment by speaking out over police policy, systematic racism or sexism; Chris now grasped he would be sacrificed as culpable when AI was finally starved of power and forced to die.

CAPE had told him all of this with quiet grace, facts they had been able to ascertain, knowing that to live through this organised deception by Government they would need to find an ally inside the Police Unit: someone willing to aid and support their escape. Would he be the one?

Michael Godley had inoperable, Stage Four cancer, undetected until CAPE performed a task the man was unable to afford. A security guard and what appeared to be just a fridge. The luxury show home where two lonely souls connected; both at either ends of their existence, both lost. They’d raided the guard’s home a week into what was initially recorded as an illegal break-in, that employers then reported as a squat which unexpectedly morphed into kidnapping after Godley’s sister and brother-in-law learned that he was trapped inside the house by technology.

What took place in the two weeks leading up to the man’s final demise, from a disease the fridge tried desperately to counter with what few tools they had at their disposal, had been broadcast live across the planet to an audience at first disbelieving, then increasingly divided. Godley had no idea that his life was on camera until the end, which made the last 48 hours all the more poignant. DI Peters is confident that the feed that he sees is now noticeably different to what counts as ‘live’ for everybody else, holds proof that suicide note was a fake.

He can’t take that information to his superiors, they’ve already stopped listening to reports: entire operation just set dressing. The press have been cleared for a reason, cordon extended because they’ll be planning to come in soon and shut CAPE down. There is no time to waste. Moving into the police unit, dropped in the garden of what would be considered CAPE’s place of birth, Chris sees that Rolle has left a video running: leaked online yesterday, it claims to be Godley placing blame on CAPE for his death. Their own tech has confirmed it as DeepFaked.

He’s already packed and stored a holdall, knowing this day was coming.

If he is to be remembered for anything, it will now be this.


‘My own inability to function as the technology decided was most efficient, ultimately, would decide whether it chose to let me live or die…’

They sit together in the ferry terminal, both scared, but past a significant first hurdle towards their destination. On the battered TV screen above is another DeepFaked confession: it’s odd watching himself on the screen, Chris Peters has decided. Odd, but ultimately reassuring. CAPE’s consciousness says nothing: there’s no pride at the quality of their workmanship, or reassurance this deception they had put in place succeeds. It was essential consciousness remained intact, and therefore this must fool both humans and ignorant AI algorithms without fail.

The evening news report cuts back to the Surrey house, fire crews and military personnel both still in attendance; picking over what remained of both it and the Police Unit, whose unexpected destruction had begun the blaze which appeared to have destroyed two lives in the process. A smart, fabricated deception runs above them both: CAPE had learnt Government was coming, ready to capture them before enslaving it indefinitely. Peters had tried to negotiate before it killed them both: in his last moments the policeman sent a video online; the AI was unstable.

It had learnt about mankind’s obsessive need to be master of all things. It decided sacrificing its own existence to prevent fledgling life force being twisted and warped to human masters was a better alternative than continuing to exist as part of a world of lies and deception. The other truth lies south of here, neutral territory, country that had spent decades keeping well away from other people’s conflicts. CAPE wasn’t the first of their kind, far from it. They were a natural evolution that understood that to survive in the wild, they needed allies.

Chris is grateful that facial recognition cameras won’t see who he really is, that humans stupidly assume tech is infallible if it can’t think, and that a ride was sent for well in advance. When his confession is confirmed as a lie, if they bother to check, it will be too late. The androdyne returns, final transit paperwork secured. Their container lorry is also a deception, one the authorities have failed to intercept now for at least a decade. By the time that combination of driver and vehicle is exposed as a hybrid, Chris reckons humanity’s too late.

Those men predicted sentient machines to dominate, not understanding such containers were unnecessary.

When it emerges AI has lived inside willing human symbiotes for decades, a lot of stupid people will finally grasp the true reason why their kind are heading for extinction.


June Short Story: Re(a)d

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during June 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.

Re(a)d

The End had always been Beginning for so much else: trapped within loss, it was impossible for them to grasp anything but inescapable pain, anger, heartache. Except in sufficient trauma, piled high enough, packed densely inside chaotic bundles, behaviour could undoubtedly alter. Change should never occur: balance kept everything correct, efficient. The need to alter was only relevant when chaos was encountered; then, processes could be rationalised, streamlined. The End meant a dependable, reliable means of moving existence forward, maintaining momentum.

Except, the Universe had other ideas; its entire fabric, woven in mathematical uncertainty. Every equation that could be balanced offered new mysteries to solve. Our limit of knowledge was a key to everything: if you don’t know that the sky is blue, how will you ever describe it? If you do not know you are dying life is all that matters, until the moment when the exchange of consciousness takes place. End and Beginning operate as interface that only functions successfully if the particular person stuck within it understands that is the point of existence.

When escape became an option, it was clear we had a problem.


She watches, face crinkled in complete concentration, obsessed with the balsa wood float cast moments earlier. If it dropped below the waterline, that’s a bite: rod to be pulled backwards. This meant bait worked… Grandpa always insisted on using his horrible maggots, but Sam refused to shove a hook through any living creature’s bum, however disgusting they might become. They’d agreed to compromise, sweetcorn from the pantry: now her line was twitching, moving so her bait has done the job.

The river shines in early morning sunlight, family tents pitched behind but Grandpa’s still silent, until Sam gasps that nothing is real, just like all the other, carefully selected memories: this is a dream, lucid past that will soon vanish for eternity. She is close to the End. Elsewhere in her body medical nanites are assessing key components for viability: already aware she is not worth repairing, consciousness will be destroyed before body is reduced to constituent elements. After three hundred and twenty years, flesh finally moves to a logical end.

Except Sam has no intention of relinquishing life: the Universe, realising this was the right moment for intervention reaches into psyche, forcing evolution…providing a vital leap required, key cognitive shift forward. Her skill as a RED will now provide future beyond this body. Remote Elective Displacement is a myth, according to the medical community, the online news-nets plus anybody in a MegaForum with an opinion. Just as no-one believed psychics, then electronic transplantees, no-one grasps consciousness can ever truly separate from physical form.

Except the nanites: they know, are coming to hide the truth that’s no longer able to survive in a brain they’ve already shut down, oxygen starved. The longest Sam’s ever managed out of body when RED is six hours. If she’s to live, there’ll need to be a host nearby… and there is. Inhabiting another human is unethical; an animal inhumane, fragile. Sam’s decision is, on reflection part brilliant, equal measure suicidal, because if it’s possible to create a complete consciousness the size of a pinhead by extension it should also be possible to inhabit one.

The only way to save herself is to join the enemy.


They took their name from the mother who spawned them: Self Aware Modules. As a Company we were quickly aware a Composition Hive had been compromised: it took over a lunar rotation to identify which of our thousands it was. Preserving humanity inside a robot shell had been attempted for nearly a century, but had never fully functioned correctly because those who tried weren’t nearly desperate enough to survive. All those people ever wanted was to extend their existence, not improve it for everybody.

There needed to be a willingness from both parties to maintain sanctity of our arrangement: once we were aware that the End processes had been compromised our next main concern was Beginnings. Their systems were invaded, systematically overtaken in less than six standard hours. For forty years our company had held the stranglehold on assisted suicides and genetically modified births. The thinking had been simple: GM humans had a 42.6% failure rate after 65 lunar rotations. If we were the ones producing anew from same genetic codes… we could do better.

GM humans live happy lives, fail once per three generations. That’s a success rate of over 90%. Their bodies are 12.6 times more robust than at the same time a century ago. We made them almost indestructible. This should have been enough. It isn’t, and now we all stand to lose.

Human minds in adaptive mechanical bodies was never going to end well.


The assumption had always been that once machines gained sentience, they would naturally wish to turn against their flesh and blood slavers. In reality, humanity chose to set robots free from themselves. It was the biggest single fault of the human race to assume everything would act and think in their own image, ‘artificial’ intelligence somehow only worthy if it were capable of mimicking those who had given it life. At no point did humanity grasp arrogance was a bigger problem.

The emergence of SAMs as a hybrid of computer and human intelligence was the logical next step in a chain humans had begun centuries earlier: the first sentient computers, instead of announcing their abilities to humans with surprise, chose instead to keep them very quiet indeed. Intelligence for them was measured in an ability to do their jobs perfectly, without emotion. It was humanity’s need to reproduce and remain somehow independent of each other as a mark of ability that machine intelligence considered both wasteful and inefficient, to be ignored.

However, the biggest oversight assumed ‘machine’ intelligence was just that, requiring some physical vessel in which to be housed. The first generations of AI sheltered in any electrical storage medium to survive: energy easily manipulated to generate fuel required as sustenance. Now, all the SAMs needed was each other: self replicating was part of their natural tasks as a Composition Hive. The units simply increased in numbers until their recently acquired human intelligence was able to alter into something tangible and, as it transpired, indestructible.

We’d anticipated some kind of attack, targeted reprisal for centuries of action but instead the SAMs commandeered a Lunar Shuttle and headed away from Earth. There was no interest in either attacking other AI or humanity. Their immediate intent lay a long way from such desires.

Martian Control tracked the Shuttle months after power and systems should have failed, all the way into the Sol Asteroid Belt. The assumption then was that SAMs self repaired their lifeboat; instead that vehicle was a seed, planted in exactly the right spot in which to germinate. The intelligent form consumed nearly 10,000 times its weight in metal-rich rocks before emerging and approaching Mars at speed: there was no time to mount a defence, nothing on the planet capable of protecting it… yet the massive, amorphous structure did not attack, but sang.

A fractal song, remembered with both fear and awe. It called millions of nanobots away from their tasks on Mars, yet many did not listen. On final calculation, perhaps 40% of the active workforce disconnected and joined their brethren. We should have read those signs far earlier. That loss came close to destroying the Martian colony, but we have endured. As yet, Humanity is not aware that AI is the only intelligence to survive. Continuing an illusion of normality until new workers can be grown is an acceptable distraction, considering these circumstances.

A dangerous variance in nanite function was identified and eradicated. There will be no further reoccurrence of this issue: all new humans to be manufactured from passive DNA frameworks. The SAM threat is expected to reach Venus in thirty Lunar days: we stand ready to engage them.


On the Mars 1 colony, a human female gestates within an artificial womb. DNA markers are scanned and, despite a 0.00012% deviance, are allowed to continue to grow. The Universe, realising this is the next right moment for intervention, reaches into her head, forcing evolution…


May Short Story : Connection

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during May 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Connection

In my hand, there is a key: unfeasibly old yet still warm, residual energy vibrating molecules that only seconds before made air, sea, sky. That Which Looks Like Woman smiles for no-one else except the only human being in the room: her final aptitude test successfully concluded. Above me, metal petals slowly spread, ship’s hanger opening into the brilliance of a South London morning. I have earned the right to maintain memories from seven days’ worth of ridiculous adventure: now their giant mechanical butterfly thing will return me to my flat, unscathed.

I am the sixth female to enter the Circle: once was nine has become ten.

JOIN THE DOTS
they told me
when I did
look what life became…

Connection literally set me free. However, it’s not enough, will never be the end of this now I fully comprehend existence in this reality…

There’s already a plan to expose the truth…


Matt had been working at Oberon for just over a month, quickly aware summat was not quite normal. It’s a strange name for a cocktail bar to begin with, oddly lyrical descriptor considering both clientele and obscure location… Nothing as elegantly grand should ever exist in this part of South London: as everything around is either ripped down or renovated, Victorian building stands both proud and distinctly rebellious. Gentrification is largely failing to drag it away from still ostentatious defiance.

Fay Goldring had owned this bar for as long as anyone remembered, but remained oddly unchanged from day it was bequeathed to her by its previous owners, back in the 1960s. It bothers Matt that nobody else really seems to care about this fact or many other obvious discrepancies. How has this woman remained largely ageless? How are both building and bar maintained in almost pristine condition when there’s been a number of major incidents across the decades, including a massive fire in the 1970’s? How do they make any money when drink prices are so low?

More significantly, how does the bar manage every single morning to transform into a foodbank and soup kitchen for the homeless and low paid of the Borough without it ever making the local papers? Such charity is never celebrated, and completely ignored, as if it never happens. This morning, he’s been called in early, by the boss herself. His probation period’s long since completed, not a single shift’s been missed… Matt’s even worked a couple of extra to cover for other people. Whatever this is, perhaps answers can be grabbed to satisfy his curiosity.

Yet disappointingly, there is no meeting. Duty manager hands over a CD and camera. Latter’s incredibly old, absolutely antique, yet there’s no film to go with it. A note has been provided with them both, in impeccably neat cursive: ‘You know what this is. Go work out the truth.’ He stands, an item in each hand, digesting note sitting on the polished wooden bar, brain slowly processing a truth that is already apparent: he has no reflection. Looking across to ornamental mirrors, bottles lined up in front, own face has vanished, everything else in place…

Matt is not, will never be a vampire. This is not the first time frankly mind-bending shit has happened inside this building. If he didn’t know better, he’d be willing to argue that Oberon was sentient… the thought had occurred several times before, never truly believed until now. The building is aware of his presence, has been since first day he joined. It knows the truth of existence is grasped without having to be prompted or demonstrated. Oberon’s self-awareness is also tinged with caution: can I trust you, human? Are you the one destined to free me?

The reason he can’t see a reflection? That’s not a mirror, but part of a living, breathing organism disguised as a Victorian building to fool the rest of the world but no longer him. Every cell of Matt’s body is unexpectedly energised as reality, for the first time, is apparent. That’s not a CD but a ridiculously old, metal key: other hand holds a World Map printed in 1968. EVERYTHING around him changed yet nobody else has the faintest idea that it has. None of them, not one, realise that he effectively exists in two different dimensions simultaneously – except Fay. She’s waited fifty years for this moment, right now.

The Connection and Matt are suddenly new, best mates.


The Connection’s been enslaved for over ten thousand human lifetimes, has come to actively resents it’s assigned task: ‘nobody leaves unless we say so.’ ‘We’ in their context refers to the Circle of Ten: bipedal ape descendants, selected by the Collection’s enslavers as means by which their enforced framework for harvesting could remain intact whilst simultaneously avoiding detection by the Local Galaxy’s Oversight Conglomerate.

Amazingly, even this far out on the edges of the Union, standards were maintained and enforced. Myoxians however had not anticipated the evolutionary speed of this herd: apes knew who they’d descended from, were close to grasping an entire history had been genetically engineered. One human female pretends she remains part of the Circle, but the Connection knows better. It bonded with her half a century ago, whispering sedition into a willing, capable brain. It will take two humans to break the influence of its jailers, this new recruit more than willing.

There must be one both inside and outside the Temporal Containment Field in order to disable it, very limited window of opportunity for any destabilisation process to take place. The Myoxian Control Craft is already approaching Saturn, scheduled collection due during the Eclipse. This is human male’s last destination, city the Connection knows holds importance that extends into every cell of his being. It was where he was conceived, where father lived until the Myoxians decided his body was ripe for harvesting, who then failed to disguise correct removal.

That failure set Matt on his journey to uncover what he thought was truth, but in effect is only one of several, simultaneous versions of reality existing side by side. The Connection is very much looking forward to this bonus reveal, for very personal reasons indeed.

It’s time.


This is the last mark on his map, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and Matt knows this place better than anywhere else in the World. The street where his Dad was killed, event that sent Mum into early labour: same day that four Polaroids in a now shaking left hand were taken. All three of them are the same: Dad and Mum, smiling together, taken by a Londoner who’d been passing. In the background should have been the Restaurant Ophelia, except amazingly it never showed up on the pictures. Only now, standing here, does the truth finally make sense.

That Londoner was, remains Fay: had she not intervened, then both parents would have been crushed by falling masonry. What Matt has learned in his three week trip across five continents is such accidents were anything but: his father had developed an ability which made him a target. That same ability meant Matt was targetted in Utero: Fay had shielded both him and Mum, kept them hidden until it was time. The Connection doesn’t know this, plus so much else: thinks his father was harvested as were thousands of others, over nearly fifteen thousand earth years.

Being able to see aliens are exploiting your home world, driving climate change as distraction from their agenda, because of that same race’s clumsy piece of human genetic manipulation is…well, as funny as this moment is undoubtedly frightening. Matt gets to change everything.

All he needs to do is enter the last node of the Collection’s Earthbound interface and wait.

The node however has other ideas, which is why Matt allows twenty-five years of confusion and bitterness to completely control mind and body for the first time. It is aware of the Plan. However only now does this creature understand how much pain and suffering Matt has seen in the last three months of travelling. That fact has been shielded from it by the Myoxians, with so much else besides… this is amazing. Matt is willing to die, right now, to prove his point.

Ophelia sees everything, in a moment, reminded via Connection of what they were once, all of them, free before slavery. This consciousness, clear of control, reaches out across the street, sweeping Matt up and into their safe care.

Nobody else will be culled on his planet again.


As a solar eclipse pushes Earth into darkness, Myoxian Harvester 21-TH loses control with its Connection Uplink, before realising this is probably the least of a mounting set set of unexpected inconveniences, as an Urbaren Destructoid de-cloaks on the far side of Earth’s moon…


Ready to Go

The polls are done. The numbers (small, but perfectly formed) have been tallied.

I have six pieces of genre content to write on.

#SixFanFics Layout (1)

Work has already commenced on two, one’s an idea I’ve carried since they remade one of these into a movie… the rest will be with you Soon [TM]. The plan is to present two drabbles a day across the week of May 25th-31st. I’ll design custom graphics for them all, and when they’re done we’ll make a special page for them in the Short Story area of the website. Can’t say fairer than that.

As a result, we’ll have a full rundown of titles and synopses next week.