A Night at the Ritz

EX/WHI won’t be with you today: not because it’s not written, but there’s a bit of a conflict of interest going on. Right now I’m mired in an important re-edit of a novel being sent off for a significant prize next month. Last year, there simply wasn’t the confidence I could fulfil the criteria. That’s all changed, and as a result it is necessary to alter my normal processes to do so. It is the difference of a year to my outlook, the proof I am good enough to be recognised for my writing and, most importantly, there’s no glory if you don’t enter.

This last week’s seen an awful lot change, pretty much all of it for the better, coming as it has though one of the most domestically difficult periods for some time. To be up and ahead as a result is, all told, pretty awesome. This is the benefit (finally) of forcing myself to plan before the start of the following month so that there are no surprises and I don’t end up missing an important deadline. What it does means however that the occasional thing needs to give. I’m in three distinct narratives right now, it is perfectly acceptable to maintain quality that there’s a sacrifice made.

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This week’s also seen my second rejection, which puts the two poetry compilations created in the second half of last year back on the table for editing and that all important ‘polish.’ I have a third, smaller group of 10 poems ‘in progress’ right now, which I’m hoping to sell electronically to raise funds, which will be put towards formally publishing a physical collection at the end of the year. That’s all for March however, right now there needs to be thought for February and the content I’ll be producing then.

Welcome to the most productive and exciting periods of my writing existence…

EX/WHI :: Part Twenty

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This should be an uncomfortable, strained evening meal, as had been the case every time Ami had discussed operations that had gone south. Except, of course, these were extraordinary circumstances. Both operatives remain alive and extremely well looked after; representatives of their planet, fact that was only now beginning to truly sink in. This wasn’t like anything that had ever taken place before, not even the most extreme of missions.

She’d been held captive once, in North Africa, and those seventy-two hours were some of the most frightening of her existence. Nothing that she’d been taught prepared for how she’d be treated, to escape without having been either raped or beaten was beyond lucky… but it pales in comparison compared to now. There is no benchmark with which any of this will ever be measured.

Dinner’s almost done: explaining Algeria to Chris is having more of an emotional effect than initially expected, enormity of their circumstances finally registering.

‘You okay, Ami?’

‘Yes, I remember how genuinely frightened I was for my life back then, that they could do anything and I’d have no means of either fighting back or defending myself. This situation is different, ever since you had the accident… if they wanted to hurt us or torture us, I honestly don’t think we’d be sitting here with a curry. The psychology is all wrong, you know?’

‘I know what you mean. It would be far more psychologically damning to let me finish our notes and then just make them vanish, but they haven’t. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to compare ideas, this is important for whatever happens next, because you and I know that if we both go to sleep they can just pick us up and dump us somewhere new, or shift this building somewhere else in the simulation…’

Dinner was beyond amazing: they’d spent several hours now with their notes as a backdrop, comparing experiences and discussing their captors at length. Ami knew they weren’t being watched either: if this is truly an experiment, even their observers would need to engage in some kind of rest and recouperation. It was a chance to relax without as much fear, even if both of them were as alert as they’d be mid-mission, probably more so.

Tomorrow however was the unknown that was suddenly very frightening indeed.

‘So Chris, honestly: what happens now?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine, probably better ‘coz you’ve been spoken to by these beings and I’ve just been used as a science experiment -’

‘That’s unfair, you’ve contributed…’

‘No, I was the moron who backed into the thing that any sane person would have steered well clear of because of all the things we’ve encountered thus far, it has been the only item that even looked the least bit threatening. I am very much Ape Man here, and it’s okay. I don’t take that as an insult. I’m the one who’s gotta pick my game up, and I will. You have my word.’

‘Without you here I would have crumbled after we were abducted. I needed someone to keep me focussed. You’ve provided nothing but respect, more than I’ve got from a male colleague in nearly two decades. I know you think you’re the liability, but you’re not and that is worth more to me than anything.’

Chris looks away, unable to meet her gaze: there’s a lot more to this man that just a CIA operative struggling with a desire to keep his job. Ami’s never held a long-term relationship for longer than two years: Chambers’ emotional issues are something there is empathy with than perhaps even he is aware. Professionalism is without question, but the longer their imprisonment goes on, the less it becomes about the procession of automatic, dispassionate responses.

This man has deep seated issues, has done for a long time. There’s no doubt he loves his soon to be ex wife, but couldn’t make it work. He was the bigger problem, the metrics said so. Issues under pressure, prone to panic and occasionally, when situations were very stressful, to explode with rage. He’s not been angry yet, but obsession with perceived ineptitude might send an unsettled brain there if the right stimulus gets presented…

His regard for her remains beyond impeccable, has only strengthened since this all began. With care, a hand is extended; sentiment repeated.

‘I trust you with my life, Chris, and you know this. Deep down, we’re matched for a reason you don’t want and I’m not even thinking about. This is not about breeding partners. This is survival. You and I don’t conform to type, and we won’t procreate for an audience. It isn’t going to happen.’


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EX/WHI :: Part Nineteen

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If he says so himself, this is a damn fine job.

Putting down the black marker, Chris stands back to admire the completed, joint work. Massive expanse of wall is packed with two people’s reasoned observation, allowing moment of expectation that now completed, the aliens could yet wipe the whole thing clean and Ami won’t get a chance to read it. Nothing happens however: Chambers takes this as indicator there’s no need to wake up his partner just yet.

Her exhaustion is even more apparent in sleep: hardly moving, yet eyes rapidly flickering. She’s been through at least three cycles of REM sleep already, grateful a couple of moments of clumsiness failed to rouse her. He’s tired, could do with a comfortable place to sit… There is a chance alone to consider feelings, previously left well alone for a reason. Her link with the aliens is obvious, ability to empathise and gain favour… is he jealous of her ability to do so?

When they’d touched him, or moved body about, he could sense presence, yet never personal or focussed. This was very much the unseen hands of gods, controlling destiny and directing fate. Ami possessed something different, more personal and visceral, and there shouldn’t be annoyance they didn’t pick him as their conduit, but right now that’s what’s surfaced. He’s nine and annoyed his sister’s Prom Night preparations are pulling all the attention away from his Soccer tournament final…

This is not a healthy emotion to be experiencing at any point in proceedings, and Chris needs to deal with it.

He sits on the larger of several sofas scattered around the large area that absolutely weren’t here before. They must have appeared whilst the last of his notes were added: he’d like to think it’s because the chairs that initially were supposed to be here, reproduced in simulation, are hard, uncomfortable wooden seats that nobody in their right mind would ever actually manage longer than 15 minutes working on…

There’s the moment of revelation. He’d though the chairs were hard, then considered what would be preferable. Something yielding but not too soft so he can stay awake and still be on guard. The means to relax but not switch off, like the couch in his soon to be ex wife’s apartment. That whole thought process all took place in subconscious, before aliens reached inside a mind unaware of the intrusion and provided the wish. Ami asked out loud for the change of clothes and food. He hadn’t needed to, and was now comfortable.

On reflection, this feeling isn’t jealousy at the responsibility Ami carries, Chris grasps with more than a measure of reassurance. There might be the hint of discomfort he can’t predict what’s going to happen, but if the means exists within to conjure what is required to make his partner’s task easier, that ought to be the way forward. Look after her above everything else: keep mind focused, stress to a minimum, so that if anything important does need to be communicated from however far above them these zookeepers were, it happens in the most efficient way possible.

Ami’s stirring now, light sleep close to wakefulness: Chris knows that if he moves again, she’ll surface, so in his head comes recall of last time in London with Alex West, MI6 liaison who could be a celebrity lookalike for that guy who plays 007 in the movies. He’d been here for training and intelligence briefings but had ended up with a dozen pints of passable lager and fantastic curry at Spitalfields Market as the more enjoyable result.

Taste suddenly ignites on his tongue, magic trick that then unfolds in front of his eyes beyond impressive.

His memory of the restaurant is reproduced down to the finest detail, part of the space transformed with a corner booth, ambience and decoration exactly as remembered. However it is the smell that hits nostrils from food that steams invitingly doing things to both brain and stomach that Chris is powerless to ignore. It’s not just him either: Ami’s awake, sitting up and staring with considerable amazement at her wish made real.

‘Am I still dreaming, is that really-?’

‘Chicken Jalfrezi, Lamb Bhuna, plain and pilau rice, plain and peshwari naan plus a section of sides and poppadoms. I’m a man of my word, Ami, and have just worked out how I can make life better for both of us going forward.’

‘How did you -’

‘I’ll explain while we eat, because I’m not waiting around in case it all vanishes. Shall we…?’


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EX/WHI :: Part Eighteen

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She dreams of their child, created by aliens.

Foetus grows in an opaque, circular space, suspended mid-air, culmination of this bizarre experiment. A child is ‘born’ from her egg and Chris’ sperm, no worries in subconscious that part of this equation is impossible to complete. Unseen beings are not bound by the same rules as the humans that have now become their scientific research: theatre show to be watched, characters manipulated.

Ami comprehends without doubt that this will be her child, created as nature intended.

The presence inside subconscious is risking a fair deal by
confirming possibility as fact.

For millennia their kind have returned to Earth, caretakers of humanity’s fledgling intelligence. Each time the dominant population appeared capable of causing major damage to surrounding ecosystems, an intervention had resulted: reason why they had now returned. Her planet was at a tipping point, moment when decisions must be made: is this iteration of humanity worthy of continued, unrestricted ransacking of resources, or is it time for an inevitable reckoning?

The presence in Ami’s head offers stories grasped as previous truth: Atlantis washed away, Egyptians sandblasted out of history, Pompeii buried to prevent evil that would have risen and altered history… but then finds herself compelled to respond subconsciously with images of Auschwitz, Baghdad… New York’s Twin Towers. How were your interventions so important and yet these other horrors allowed as acceptable? She expects no response and when one comes, its dispassionate commentary is not nearly as surprising as expected.

The significance of particular events alters when viewed from a distance.

If linear time is only her prison and not theirs, a wider overview would pinpoint exact moments for interference, consequences were it not to take place. However, possibilities from this moment must be infinite: how could others arbitrarily make decisions in this fashion? The being in her head remains silent, undoubted uncertainty generated in the space where they sit. Dream imagery fades until all that is left is warmth and comfort, reassurance provided for a reason.

Keep acting on instinct, remain yourself. This strength will see you through.

There is a version of her future, tantalisingly placed just beyond Ami’s reach, echo of what could be should they succeed in these tests. This is a game, after a fashion, means by which the rest of the planet would be judged. Scenarios require thoroughly completion with no room for error or fear. This is the job she is now charged with; prize is not simply her life, returned better than it was.

The alternative, also offered without comment, is as chilling as it is now fully believable. Should she fail, her World will have humanity wiped from it. Everything else would remain: plants, animals, all natural wonders and even geological uncertainty would continue untouched and vibrant. Her brethren, wilfully destroying existence, completely eradicated in a breath as anything related to mankind’s influence was irrevocably eliminated.

The taint of pollution, global warming, globalisation, deforestation… all would cease to exist: planet left as it had been before the first apes evolved, stumbling out of their caves. This can still happen, unless she sacrifices everything. If Ami is prepared to give her life to ensure that future does not come to pass, so much more will be possible.

She must die, allowing planet to survive.


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EX/WHI Update

This is a quick message to those of you wondering if you’ll see EX/WHI again this year. The answer is YES, but I’m still in the process of building a buffer of pages to get us back to self sufficiency. That will be done by the 14th of December, and that’s when you can expect to see the story return.

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There’s also been this rather lovely reboot of the art for the series, which will be applied to all previously-published episodes as part of the general site redesign in progress.

We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

EX/WHI :: Part Seventeen

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His intelligence is impressive: able to translate her notes into a truth that now galvanises them both. The memory before Chris’ demise is of the Embankment, and afterwards of Big Ben, which does not necessarily assume they’ll visit the locations in that order whilst logically heading west. It is just as likely they’d strike east first… and now she’s stopped being upright and is on the camp bed, Chris’ arm around her waist, gently settling her down.

‘What just happened?’

‘You are exhausted, and I knew you were going to zone out, before needing to sit down. So, I came and caught you.’

‘How did I -’

‘You just told me without talking, and I’m a good boy, I do as I’m told. I’m also sorry that I got mad at you touching me, which ended up with all of this extra stress. It was just emotional panic which has very much passed; I don’t want us -’

‘I know, it’s okay. I totally understand. You are without doubt one of the most decent people I have ever met. I know I’m in safe hands…’

Her entire body suddenly aches with depth of fatigue that could only be remembered from basic training, when they’d run her into the floor for a month. In his care, there is a complete and all-encompassing calm, the reason for which is now hugely apparent. He won’t take advantage, ever. He needs Ami sharp and focused, this is about something bigger than them. He’s living the job in a manner that’s never existed before, and because of that something has altered inside. The guilt and fear of previous failure is beginning to evaporate. If these are to be his last days alive, living them well and fearlessly suddenly became a very important priority.

Her Doc Martins are off and he’s removing her fatigue jacket, patient suddenly in his care. As she settles down on the suddenly incredibly comfortable bed, he’s placed pillow behind her head, blanket across chest. Past and future are swirling around them both, possibilities that were imagined as kids and only dreamed of in adulthood. If this is a test, and they are being assessed, that might mean they can return back to reality, their home, largely unscathed… though neither will ever be the same again.

That’s not a problem either.

‘While I’m asleep -’

‘I fill in the blanks. I try and work out how to describe what it felt like to have an alien in my head. I make sure you’re okay, and maybe I pluck up the courage to ask for something more substantive than combat rations because I am beyond starving.’

‘I could murder a curry right now…’

‘I’m betting you’re a Jalfrezi girl, would I be right?’

‘Yes please, peshwari naan and all the other stuff-’

‘Leave it with me, I’ll wake you when I’m done. Sleep well.’


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EX/WHI :: Part Sixteen

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The suitability of this match has already exceeded expectations.


Watching him work, Ami begins to understand just how complex a relationship she’s been inserted into, that their captors have considered long and hard exactly who from humanity would be abducted. Her initial assumption for their removal was simple: pick any man and woman because it wouldn’t matter, breeding or reproduction could be undertaken with anyone. This is a more subtle equation: her inability to reproduce, on reflection, should have dispensed with that idea far earlier, but there’d been a lot to take in first.

Chris’ tongue sticks out of his mouth, held between teeth as he concentrates, filling in gaps that now conclusively prove that the moment he’d been touched, all manner of random similarities and connections had been highlighted. Both of them were considering retirement after the court case, neither happy or satisfied any more with the jobs that had once meant everything. There is disappointment at the state of the World, workplace’s lack of empathy and general disapproval of management’s role in destroying their working environment.

As further depth is dutifully added to the timeline, there’s none of the resentment that other male colleagues showed at her industry, lack of anger that she’d been unable to stop him from ‘dying’ despite knowing it was going to happen. This isn’t assumption either, those emotions are clearly defined in her head, constants flowing from one person to another. Somehow, they are connected in a manner that cannot be seen: is this an intentional part of their abduction process or simply a happy accident?

There were two more moments viewed in the simulation that had appeared in her mind, echoes of past which might yet be future, which had been of far more clarity until mind had been invaded and dream removed… no, erased, because that’s how these images now present themselves. The entity had taken away intensity and details, but essence still remained untouched. He’s staring at her conclusions on this now, clearly perplexed at something –

‘So, there’s stuff from your dream you still remember, and based on what happened to me you’re assuming it could be from our future…?’

‘There was a voice in my head, before you touched the pillar. Linear time is your anchor. It is not ours. I dreamt that happen, the night before, but there was no way to connect past and present. Except, now -’

‘It’s not either, so it’s logical to assume that those moments have yet to happen. I get this, the ape brain understands, so what this becomes is Intel for us as to what we do next, yes?’

‘It seems logical.’

‘I’m also going to assume that they know how tired you clearly are and that now I don’t need to sleep you can, and I’ll stand guard, and whatever now counts for morning in this place is when we start again with these clues, because that’s what they are. There are two places you know we go to, except there’s no idea whether your order is right or wrong…. that’s the point here, yes?’


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