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…


#SixFanFics 1970’s Edition: Space: 1999

Space was a bit rickety in the 1970s, if you look at the stuff I watched as a kid. However, of all the shows that showed outer space as being… well, futuristic, Space: 1999 was up there as one of the best. It was certainly expensive, which blew shows like Dr Who and Blake’s 7 out of the water in terms of believability. However, if I’m honest, it was the Eagles that made the show. I still maintain that as a realistic and practical Earth-designed transporter, you could really not do as well as this.

This drabble was probably the easiest of all six to imagine: yet again, we’re going back to a point before the show’s timeline is formally established. The decisions made in the name of political expediency was a logical lead-in, the consequences of the losing your major satellite was never really considered. These 100 words owe a great deal to the disaster movies I love as a guilty pleasure, with a particular nod to 2012. If you’ve never seen it, you really should.


Apocalypse

September 12th, 1999

It could really happen, they said.

Scientific reports were conveniently ignored for expediency, clamour from the provinces. Too much nuclear waste, nowhere left to bury it. The moon was easy, simple, far away from public attention. Advisors were clear: if the stuff stayed on earth, millions could die.

The US President sits on Air Force One, on his way to a secure bunker in the Rockies. Now it wasn’t about millions, but billions. If the Moon’s instability continued, it could detach from Earth orbit. If that happened… consequences would be apocalyptic.

They should have listened to Science.


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…


April Short Story: Alone

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during March 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It was inspired by this song, written by The Divine Comedy:

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.


Alone

Sadness, yet again, consumes a form which has grown used to constant intrusion. Around me the throng of rush hour commuters continue their journeys, existing internally, no sign of any emotion at all. I wonder: how many of you live within this province, cannot escape its embrace. A decision was made, out of my hands. Others, more intelligent than I will ever be, decreed this period of separation. Sitting, watching you leave, suitcase in hand, unable to change what had been planned for years, real significance of that moment has only now truly registered.

Life is less than it was, diminished without your smile. Kind, quiet words missed with ache in my chest that’s alien, uncomfortable. It has taken this long to realise existence without your presence devalues that entire experience. It has taken this long to understand your love. Finally, I’m home: familiar comforts surround an aching body. Age begins to make what was academic in youth more of a challenge: after food and a lie down, everything will be better… except the hole where your presence should inhabit. I wonder, was this correct course of action?

The decision was made, using other’s rules. Not my language, but theirs, inherited over decades. All that can be done, as has been routine for so long, is wait, and hope that one day, soon, perhaps tomorrow, I will see you again.

When moment comes, you will know how much I care.


It had been a terrible mistake.

She sits on Platform Two’s cold, unpleasant bench, staring at the suitcase on wheels, excuse to ignore everything including the anger within that refuses to diminish. This really was all her own fault, absolutely nobody to blame but herself. Love had vanished almost as quickly as it appeared: on reflection, perhaps that was the wrong word to be using. Next time, lust and desire could be more easily identified. Leaving the parental home for good will one day be a certainty; not quite yet. She can admit guilt, finally.

Right now, options have narrowed: apologising to Dad was, as it transpires far easier than was first imagined. Mum’s capacity to care never diminished regardless of daughter’s stupidity, close friends still sympathetic. It appears everybody else knew what was coming, except her. The train arrives with an almost apologetic sigh, aware self-reflection was in full swing, but that was enough for the morning. Wallowing was never healthy, however competent she had become at self-indulgence over the last six months. Her relationship was beyond officially over.

Abigail felt fifteen again: surface coped, blustered then bluffed itself through anything thrown at her, but beneath so much was uncertain, in flux. It didn’t help to have everybody else consider her a prodigious talent either. Fame was overrated, ability more so. She was lonely. Pulling black baseball cap further down across her face, this is moment brain wished driving lessons had not been ignored in favour of piano practice. Someone had already recognised her walking to the station: she’d denied her own existence, feigned ignorance and hurried onward.

Blissfully, this carriage is empty: she can hide in a corner, staring out of the window, looking distracted all the way until train terminates in London. She’ll avoid any contact with the Tube and grab a taxi instead. Only Mum knows she’s returning today, a big problem in itself. Her father is already condemning actions, and she’s not even in their postcode. He never trusted Abby’s girlfriend, still harboured significant issues over her bisexuality. If she could have just fallen in love with a man, even a boy would have appeased very obvious discomfort…

Father’s stream of disparaging WhatsApp messages continues unabated: if she’s smart, he’ll be a supporter of her cause by the time her cab stops in their leafy South London suburb. Right now, there are ten stops to move personal mood from combative to lost, in need of support… If only she could manipulate ex-girlfriend as easily as parents… no, not any more. There need be no feigning of emotional frailty: her own shortcomings caused this. The need to feel loved not just as an accomplished musician, but as a person. This woman. Abby, not Abigail West.

This is exactly NOT the moment she expects to hear a piece of her own music on the Spotify playlist expressly curated to avoid such things. Listening to what competition was up to is supposed to keep ears keen, help composition skills for an upcoming album… not floor her instead. Gravity is different, suddenly: this isn’t her writing, but piece she remembers as a child. Past and present uncannily overlap: nine years old, sudden change from the normal diet of classical music pieces her teacher would roll out as fodder for voracious consumption. This song…

Miss Canning is crying: Abby’s skill in sight-reading is uncanny, whatever this is being played isn’t just practice but personal. Only when looking up for an encouraging word is it obvious she’s missed something significant. Young teacher is now sobbing, uncontrollably emotional. Brain recalls teacher’s sweet, floral perfume, someone else’s tears on her face: hugging tight, embrace instigated at Abby’s prompt. Never leave the piano until a song is finished except, that day she broke a cardinal rule. Support matters more than appearance. Never forget care.

Except somewhere between breakout reality TV stardom and here that’s exactly what has happened: basic personality warped, priorities hastily rearranged… her soul left behind, forgotten in the clamour of online celebrity, interviews plus two massively successful orchestral albums. One more stop, she’s in town: fate is unavoidable. Maybe this is the moment to stop hiding in her own shortcomings and make a difference, change the way things work. If it all goes horribly wrong, at least she tried. That’s all that left now, possibility with accompanying fear.

She really hopes that, once back home, everyone she still loves will find it in their hearts to forgive her behaviour.


This is different.

I wake awkwardly, nap a surprise. There was so much to do: now the morning has gone. However, it doesn’t matter: sudden excitement does…

My landlord is on the phone: something has changed. Your name is mentioned, multiple times, no longer spoken in anger. You are in a taxi, on your way home and I cannot breathe, sudden dizzying disbelief. You are coming back to me. There will be fresh opportunity to see you again. Excitement is tempered with caution: last words whispered, before your departure. ‘I have to do this, just to see if I’m right. I know you’ll understand. You always have.’ Except, at that moment I didn’t. It took absence to let truths emerge and settle. It all makes sense to me.

That song you loved so much, favourite of my best friend: letting you go, so you can be free and then finally return here, better person for the experience… a bittersweet song you would play on the piano, like all the others that finally made you famous, a household name. A star. From young woman to recording artist, consummate professional…and yet, through it all, you never truly grasped what it was you had become. Those secrets, whispered late at night, safe because nobody was listening. I heard them all, understood how Abby had evolved: here, to now.

It will be wonderful to see you again, because that’s the front door. Familiar sounds, even to these ears, rapidly advancing in age. Your voice, enough to make heart beat faster: Abby is home, finally, and all the foolishness and stupidity will be instantly, summarily forgotten. My best friend cries, always does at such moments. My landlord will try to be brave, always attempts to and fails because out of these two humans he’s the one with more emotion invested in his daughter. I know how Sam tried with Abby, but ultimately feels she failed as a mother.

I was the companion, bright younger sibling, true best friend and so much more. Silent parent, moral compass, confidante… because humans assume far too much not only about the worlds people build and inhabit, but those other species allowed to live within such spaces with them. Abby stands in the doorway, smile incandescent. I thought this was unrequited love, before my owners used a better word: it remains unconditional; no requirements or boundaries.

Whatever happens, until my last heartbeat, no one will ever break bond between spaniel and mistress.


The Slightest Touch

How did January change your outlook on life?

Thirty-one days feels like about three months, looking back on what I achieved: nearly thirty-nine hours of exercise. Thirteen thousand calories burnt. Every day, even when I curled up in a ball and cried, there was still work done. I’ve completed the first portion of Mental health Champion training. Eight separate literary submissions. Significant developments in my personal ability to cope plus maintain momentum and progress.

All of this did not happen by magic.

Undoubtedly, progress came from adversity: my unexpected tooth extraction (which is still not 100% healed, and will be addressed next week) wasn’t where this all started. We have to go back to the ultimatum from my Doctor (or rather the head Practice Nurse) to change my diet and lifestyle. I tucked into my first pizza last night for what was probably four months plus. It was lovely, but I’m not sad to go back to training tomorrow.

You see, for a long time there was never really an acceptance of my own shortcomings in some key areas. Once that happened, and pressure was on to lose weight not for vanity or appearance but to improve my health, a lot of stuff stopped mattering. It helps that I know what’s been causing mental instability for years. It’s also useful to know how that can sometimes unexpectedly manifest. All of this is about learning.

In January, I finally learnt to accept what I really am.

Now therefore it is all about using this month as a foundation to build something fundamentally stronger and more attractive: that’s a subjective word to use in this context, but there are reasons for doing so. I know what I like, and what looks attractive to me. So, therefore, it is time to share that with a wider audience. This isn’t about me either, but things that are around me: how I see and make the world.

Other people may not agree with my ideas: this is something I’m used to. However, if true creativity is going to be released and expanded upon, that’s an obvious content of sharing work on a wider stage. It’s not about being liked, but appreciated. It’s trying to make others see the ideas I’m trying to build from using words and imagery. Honestly it doesn’t matter about anything else except that process.

This is about art created for the first time ever exactly as I see fit.

finallgetsit

I learnt a lot about myself this month, that’s for sure. The direction of my poetry is changing. Short stories are about to become a far bigger deal than they were, and novels need far more love than they are getting. On top of all of this, however, there’s a resilience that never existed until this moment right now, and it is time to make the most of every moment presented to me.

That’s still something that needs work on, if truth be told.

[PS: as part of this process, I’ve realised that EX/WHI will need a bit longer to get up to date than I’d originally anticipated: therefore it’ll be back next Friday then every other one going forward until I can build up some momentum with the narrative. Again, its finding time, and that is getting progressively easier.]

December Short Story: Stardust

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December 2019 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.


Stardust



The biggest mistake I ever made was thinking the little things don’t matter. You see, one small mistake you can forget, hiding it away for no-one else to see… but after a while, all those small stupidities become a larger mess. When all of those come together you’re in trouble. How do you deal with decades of your own failings? I ran away for a long time, avoided responsibilities… making this the end of the story, not a beginning. Redemption will serve someone else well before it’s my turn. My time, however, is almost done… but not quite yet. Almost.

I get one more chance, then it’s done.

This time, I promise to not fuck anything up.


For him it was Tuesday, a double shift. Everybody else was celebrating Christmas Eve. On occasions such as these Joseph’s glad dance music is his only religion, no one else waiting at home. He’ll work straight through, taking breaks when it’s quiet: 10-ish, 2-ish and 6-ish, if previous experience is an indicator. It allows Jay to not be here and at the airport, Chrissie to drive north to see her family. Joseph’s Christmas gifts to his colleagues covers their arses.

Ruben’s waiting, night shift about to take their one day off this week. He’ll go eat Christmas Meatloaf with his mum across town: Joseph’s bought them some Jim Beam, as requested. The kid’s still too young to be as good as he is, deserves a better gig than the middle of nowhere. It’s easier not to think about being nearly a decade older than a stick-thin, tattoo-covered boy. He’s the closest thing to a decent friend Joseph possesses in this town, mirror to his own ambitions and failures. Maybe one day they will get the cash to open a restaurant together.

This year, the boy’s made him a gift, and it’s a genuine surprise. The notebook’s full of recipes they’ve created together, cuttings from the press… printouts of their growing online fan base’s support and encouragement. The T&C Diner is edging ever closer to greatness, success. There’s that familiar ache too as he walks away, out the back exit, into falling snow. How do you tell someone that you want to be more than friends? How do relationships work, exactly… Joseph requires a Christmas Miracle, probably several bottles of Jim Beam to make it happen.

That can be tonight’s thought before sleep: right now the diner’s beginning to fill. Andy’s out front, all hands and teeth as usual taking Trudii Richards’ order. Will she stick to tradition, bacon and egg hash on brown or will their special Festive Menu alter creature of habit? He catches older woman’s eye, pulls out his best kilowatt smile and knows she’ll drop everything for turkey bacon with sage and onion biscuits. Today started special, will only get better if he believes the hype everyone else seems increasingly willing to generate on his behalf.

That’s how the day goes too: smiles as connection, fuel for preparation. Elise and May Ann’s voices, harmonising through Christmas songs that sound fresh, joyous in the throats of young women. Customers tipping far more than is sensible when everyone’s cloth is cut to the bone. The serving window slowly begins to fill, gifts from hardcore clientele who know him only too well: hand-knitted jumpers and socks, chutneys and preserves plus a couple of bottles of decent red wine. Rhonda’s kids made him multicoloured Christmas cookies, each one hand decorated.

It’s already lunchtime and suddenly there’s real singing to replace Joseph’s battered Christmas CD: the local band made good are back home for their holidays. Hearing he’s serving Turkey Meatloaf and Cornbread the Diner’s broadcasting live via phone to fans as they eat then play. These guys will be opening for the electronic duo Joseph’s followed since his teens next March, 60 date US and European tour. If that’s not the definition of success, it’s hard to know what is. Yet here they are selling his praises without the need to ask, enjoying Christmas Eve.

Within an hour, there are dozens of people at the Diner. Joseph excels at improvisation: main meals evolve into snacks. Plates are piled with finger-food, Andy drafted in as extra help in preparation. Without needing to make a call Rhonda appears, plastic boxes laden with treats.

‘Boy, I KNEW you’d want my help without getting the call: don’t you worry, Momma R’s gonna make sure all these people are happy before they pay for our hard work…’

If Joseph didn’t already grasp he needs Rhonda on board making sweet dessert magic full time, this was the sign.

That afternoon he teaches the band to sling hash. May Ann’s brother and Elise’s aunt come help out too, more than enough cash to pay them full rate at day’s end. As sun goes down the band pack up to leave, yet diner’s at capacity. Only then does Joseph realise he’s being watched. The guy with Santa’s beard, in red shirt and black trousers, at the back by the jukebox, single table that’s reserved for locals who struggle paying. He’s been there, off and on, across the last few weeks; never saying much but always grateful. Today however, he looks different.

Joseph knows he’s unable to afford palliative care, lucky to have made it to Christmas at all. Over the last few months he’s struggled but refused any assistance. Weighing a fraction of what he was, huge frame is no longer tense, uncomfortable. This old man is finally at peace. Rhonda’s asking about wine glasses, dessert options: distraction pulls him away pointing, sudden concern: when he turns back the man’s gone. Instead, on his chair, there’s a bag. Red suitcase sits, distinctly out of place; Elise retrieves it, carrying carefully to kitchen door.

There’s heaviness in his heart, sudden realisation what symbolism means: Santa won’t be coming back. This is his last delivery, walking away from the Diner one final time, into the snow. They’d talked about it, he’d tried to change the old man’s mind. No dice, son. I’m through. Joseph had promised: when the time came, no fuss or bother. The things in that suitcase were his now, gift from one man to another. He’d let him go, and not call the cops, because there were things he’d done that would make life difficult this late in the game. Accept this gift.


Then, you let me go.

He’s always been a good boy. Looked after his momma well after I was long gone, plus when this broken body’s just dust and memory he’ll finally understand why it was the fool could never stay. Maybe I should have told the truth. Maybe. It’s better this way. By the time things work out, I’ll be a memory, like it was all those times before. It was his momma who got mad, never him. That boy always understood what it was to be different. He’s the man I could never become.

I’m proud of chef who remains steadfast, always true to his own self, producing baby back ribs so tender Angels themselves will openly weep when tasting his special barbecue sauce: never overly sweet, exactly spicy enough.

I’ll miss them both in God’s eternal embrace.

Bye, son.


The suitcase remains unopened, propping open back door until last customer left her booth. Joseph could open it here but is compelled to do the deed away from staff. It’s surprisingly heavy, carried up stairs to apartment above his workplace, laid on kitchen table with care. The man thinks of dad, dumb enough to believe son had no idea who he was, that he’d just let the guy spend last days alone with terminal illness. The woman who’s looking after him right now’s being paid for thanks to medical insurance, so she’ll call him later with an update.

One moment represents an entire life, livelihood kept and nurtured away from him growing up. Except Joseph remembers this case brand new: open on the couch one Christmas Eve, decades past. Dad’s saxophone, propped beside: a musician was always on the road. His house, another gig. He may have singularly failed as a father, but Moses as a musician had played with countless greats across the decades: saxophone solos littered within the spectrum of modern music. If there were memories of those times within this case, Joseph would find means to preserve them.

It takes longer than expected to open: both locks are stiff, one initially refusing to open. Frightened contents might be damaged if entry’s forced, Joseph is slow, cautious.

Finally successful –

the case is stuffed full to capacity, countless neat stacks of used $100 bills…


 

Clean, Clean

As part of the ongoing process of standardising website design and making more sense of what is becoming a considerable written portfolio, you’ll start seeing some changes to the look and feel of the website going forward. Initially a lot of it will be cosmetic, but behind the scenes there will need to be some expansion of existing spaces. There are NEW THINGS coming in 2019, and I’ll need room to accommodate them all.

First of all, however, we need to clean up outstanding backlog.

Beneath

Beneath was begun in August and never completed, because I was on holiday and was subsequently hospitalised… and then it took me ages to get back to being organised, and… well, if you’re paying attention, you get the picture. I’m about to schedule the last ten parts of this story today, which marks the end of a fairly significant period of personal growth. I’ve learnt a lot about the craft in that time, especially thanks to attending Mslexicon in July.

Therefore, going forward, short stories will have more prominence. First and foremost the NaNo behemoth needs finishing first, but once the dust settles… these daily doses of fiction keep me keen, and force a particular working/writing style. I don’t want to be without them, but at the same time I have stand alone tales that won’t work in the format. Needless to say, there’s plans to make the most of them wherever they end up.

Stardust

This is a part of my output that gets a lot of attention on Social media, and I fully intend to keep capitalising on that interest going forward. To find new and better ways to tell stories using existing media has always been my desire… which means next year branching out to use other forms of media as a basis. Instagram has given me a lot of pause for thought in the last few months.

Telling stories there cannot be far off…

Let it Snow

December is not far away, and on it’s arrival, I’ve decided to try and be as thematic as it is possible to be without blowing the look and feel of the rest of the website. Therefore, we have a graphic which combines the three elements you’ll see in the #Soundtracking2019 and #Narrating2019 playlists, plus a return to the monthly short story after we have caught up from August.

There is also going to be some Instagram haiku, because why the hell not?

square frames.png

I also do a 24 Days of GIF-mas thing on the other Twitter account, this year we’ll be having a bit of fun with it rather than it being the serious, poetic part of proceedings. I’ll be honest with you, this is the first Christmas for many years that I’m really looking forward to, which is odd considering that I’ll not be able to eat or drink as is normally the case… but it doesn’t matter. There’s so much else to look forward to.

I have a tea advent calendar, the excitement for which really is off the charts. Today was the planning session for this year’s ‘Make your Own Gifts’ operation, which I hope is going to be as much fun as it was when this was done a couple of years ago. The tree will be going up next weekend, and after that you can expect me to be as festive as possible… because it means I can ignore the political chaos going on in the UK.

xmas1805.gif

The short story is planned, and I’ll be beginning the process of picking out tracks for the playlists next week. Hopefully this organisational head start that’s been granted by the success of NaNo (update on Monday) is going to spill over into lots of other areas going forward. I’ve also done a lot this week to rationalise my own virtual spaces, which makes me feel a great deal more comfortable working within them.

Sometimes, all you need to feel happy is the space in which to do so.

July Short Story: Attitude

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during July 2019 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm 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.


Attitude

“You know the meme, right?
*Record scratch*
*Freeze frame* 

Yup, this is me. I just became the most successful female YouTuber of the last twelve months. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation, right? It was all a massive mistake.

I shouldn’t be here at all.

Now that our court case has successfully concluded, this story can be told as the truth it is: no misdirection, no hijacking or derailing by other people. I get to explain that sometimes, honestly is the only way to go, determination and belief become their own palpable rewards. Those of you who’ve followed my channel since it began will know all of this, of course. It started as a joke that evolved into something far more important, and ultimately serious. Without you guys, and the journey we all took together, I wouldn’t even be talking about this now.

For everybody else, this started with a misunderstanding. My full name is Ellie Frances Cameron but as parents were divorced in my late teens, the married part’s dropped to make dad realise just how much of a dick he was for cheating on mum. I still haven’t forgiven him either. As a result, I recorded my first YouTube video as a rant about him: how I was so upset about what had happened between them. There wasn’t enough confidence to use my own face however and so I invented a cartoon character to speak for me. That was the moment when Merrie was born.

That video was the first of many game changers: when it hit thirty thousand views, something fundamental inside me altered. No longer were my mental issues something that I alone shared. Others understood those feelings: willingly prepared to listen, support, offer perspective. Of course, there were my own share of negative, destructive individuals who tried to derail the process. I simply ignored them, comparing their actions to those of my father. They were petty and selfish, only interested in destroying what was becoming an essential part of coping.

As I did and focused only on positives, the viewership rose. I wasn’t a huge success, anything but: there existed a camaraderie however that didn’t seem to be obvious with other people I’d watch or follow myself via Social media. Everybody else seemed obsessed with their success. Then it seemed like a good idea to set up an email address for what was rapidly evolving into something other people wanted to be a part of. It was a bit of a faff, but a Google Mail one was selected, linked to the rebranding I wanted to do both for myself and my YouTube channel.

What was not immediately apparent was how similar this address was to another YouTuber, one considerably more successful than me. This wasn’t their public contact address either, but one used to communicate with companies plus potential sponsors for his successful film criticism channel. The first time an email arrived for me by mistake it was a simple task to politely reply and point out the error. The person concerned eventually ended up following my channel, becoming a reasonably vocal supporter of my own work and videos in the process: they weren’t alone…

A slow trickle of mails continued for the next six months, and each time I politely pointed out the mistake, more followers appeared. This was in stark contrast to the original person these individuals were trying to contact. He had a reputation for being difficult and unhelpful. Then came the day when a large media organisation contacted me, thinking I was him, wanting to interview me about YouTube and their role within it. For a long time I sat, wondered if this would be the moment when I’d point out to someone they’d made a mistake and then regret it.

So, I took a chance. I composed a long, well-thought out email, telling my story as smartly as possible, sharing the best parts of my channel and being honest about how they’d ended up contacting me in error. I asked the researcher if they’d consider me as worthy of an interview. When no answer was forthcoming after a few days, brain put experience down to lost opportunity and moved on. It turns out a considerable amount of drama was unfolding that was not immediately apparent, until my namesake broke cover with a brand new video which changed everything.

Film criticism was dispensed with, full-on rant directed at me plus the fact I’d quite obviously reproduced similar address to ensure mail was intercepted and never received. The media organisation has pointed out how I’d redirected them back after the error… he then imploded. I watched the video very carefully, several times, as follower count began to rise on the back of ensuing drama. A reassuring calm appeared as it became apparent that this idiot had no power over me at all. A new Google Mail address was registered before my next video was filmed.

The response to his claims was refuted within 24 hours, with documentary proof, that he himself provided. He’d complained about issues getting the original handle he’d wanted for his site, because it transpired I’d taken it first. My address, registered several weeks before his. If he’d registered his show’s title and not a clever version of his own name, there wouldn’t have been a problem. I’d thought about taking it as an example, showing that in my rebuttal, but simply indicated it was possible: blaming others for his own shortcomings seemed unfair.

That online defence was posted 9am on Saturday: by Sunday lunchtime my subscription base exceed the man who I’d exposed as a liar. I’d created a bloody war of words: genuinely afraid of what being honest might have now begun. Then, via text message, came unexpected intervention. A friend’s brother, lawyer with a keen interest in online affairs, saw potential to make a name for himself. He’d been digging on my combatant’s history, legal precedent and the chances of getting a case into the courts. The truth should have real consequence for everyone online.

The rest, of course, is history. You’ll have read the details of my appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice yourself, know why I had to ignore comments and not talk in public at all about the case so I did not perjure myself. In the end being honest is what matters most of all. Today, we take a new step into a wider Universe. The media organisation who inadvertently caused the drama have asked me to tell this story on a wider stage. We are at a studio ten minutes from where my mum’s lived her entire life. She’s proud of me and that means a great deal.

You’ll see me on national TV in a couple of weeks… and after that, who knows what might happen? Anything’s possible. I appreciate you sticking with me through everything. The people who support and encourage here will never be forgotten. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Carrie puts down the phone; her first time watching that video. Doing it here, before I’m interviewed for this documentary on Online Celebrity for the BBC is ironic, I suppose. It’s an odd way to make the leap from PC to TV: I’ve learnt to adapt to change quickly, as now has she. My lover is still sceptical I’m capable of turning this situation to my advantage: ‘You can’t just walk into the room and convince a bunch of total strangers you’re the Next Big Thing, nobody will believe you!’ she told me yesterday.

‘Just you watch me. Just watch’ I’d replied.

It’s possible to be kind but determined. I can be capable and yet grasp what needs to be done to achieve something that a year ago seemed like a distant dream. My career goals, on my terms, and without the need to be mean or aggressive. This is best future, entirely in my hands.

We’ve been here since 10am; it appears they’re almost ready for us. This set seemed an odd choice of backdrop at first until it became apparent their aesthetic for the series was based on evolution: how the old fashioned methods of communication are updating at frightening rates. Except, in the middle of all this is someone I’ve not seen for years. It takes a moment to recognise him but yes, that’s David. I can’t quite believe that the awkward 16 year old who came out on his birthday is here, that yet again serendipity appears to be working in my favour.

He gave me the courage to admit that I was different. His voice has been one of the most strident on my YouTube channel, despite us not having met in a decade. David promised he’d find a way to make time out of an incredibly busy schedule to meet up: now his job brings him here. From across the room he signs effortlessly: “Anything is possible, never forget that. You break rules, rising star: everybody will know how powerful you are. I am proud to call you my friend.”

I am the deaf girl who has made good, ready to take her next step into the unknown…