Look Up

We’re behind, which for those of you on Social media will be no surprise. My second computer, pretty much essential for remote work and gaming, has become nothing more than an expensive paperweight. It has forced a fairly significant rethink not only of working space but of the next few weeks, and it is with a clear conscience and only the best of intentions that I’ll be withdrawing from NaNoWriMo.

This event has been part of my life since 2011, and in the seven years participated (I missed 2014) I’ve only failed to finish once. A second time is not a defeat, but really rather significant: November is the month where I’ve altered most as a person. There’s no real idea why either, but the majority of significant personal changes and positives shifts seems to happen just before Christmas hits. This year is no exception.

wierdman

Taking the opportunity to leave now also means there’s no panic about what happens next. It will allow me to get back to EX/WHI (which I’ve missed) and that means a change to the scheduled web maintenance and other gubbins that were planned for the end of the month. The rest of this week are now blocked for replacing the old machine, reorganising my tech here and deciding what happens next. We’ll start a new schedule on Monday as a result.

It feels important at this point to stand up and walk away. I could have simply ridden through November and not mentioned it, but that’s no longer the kind of person I am. Instead, it becomes the means by which lots of other stuff gets sorted, which in the end will matter more long term. It gives me the chance to organise beyond a weekly deadline, or a daily word count. Taeken will be finished, but only when there’s time and ability to do so properly.

yeahyoufailed

Yup, I did fail. Once upon a time that would have hamstrung progress for months, but not any more. Being able to admit stuff and move on remains the most difficult and painful lesson learnt at any point in writing. There’s a ton of other stuff waiting for attention, which if organised well have a far more significant impact on progress and attainment going forward. Central to that is editing a piece that I’ve wanted to finish all year, and that’s essential to the new direction.

Quality, when all is said and done, triumphs over quantity. That’s where the journey is pushing now, and that is the path to follow. It is time to focus on taking what’s already done and making it better.

It’s also high time I made a cuppa.

Not a Job

I have a confession to make, well several actually. The main one is to do with my mistaken belief that writing certain combinations of fiction at once is actually doable, and there won’t be any clutter or overspill in my brain. This, sadly, is utter bollocks. As a result, EX/WHI is on hiatus for November. I cannot cope with two lots of sci-fi simultaneously and so summat has to give. I’m also aware that last month’s short story needs publishing, and there’s a backlog of stuff to archive. I’ve spent a lot of today making sure that’s easily doable, and we’ll have October’s story up on site for Monday.

All in all, we’re off to a comfortable start.

I am planning to write 2k a day, give or take, which will happen as the first thing I do every morning. That means front loading as much of the rest of the month’s content as possible, which should hopefully come to pass by this time on Monday. Therefore, after that point if there’s more than 2k a day in me I can just have a go, and the house does not disintegrate around me from inactivity. There’s an important secondary point to all of this too: this is a good idea, it is sound and deserves the effort, and I need to prove to myself again that this is doable.

On the flip-side, I’ve also committed myself to edit and finish a previously unused NaNo project, which was submitted for a contest last month. I’m 100% confident I won’t make the shortlist, but regardless of this it would be nice to have the story completed and at the 40k limit required to be a novella. Once that’s done, I’ll have two things I can pitch at people, and not just one. The two things are different enough that I shouldn’t get my brain confused as is the case with Taeken and EX/WHI. It’s all part of a long-term plan to change the world, a piece of work at a time.

newtype4

There’s still poetry, of course, and I have a Monday deadline for two pieces. For now, however, as you read this I’ll be out in the dark, taking pictures for a project I’m working on for 2019…

In Pursuit of Happiness

Yup, it’s that time again. November is (checks calendar) NEXT WEEK and so, we need a graphic for the upcoming ‘write a novel in a month’ journey and some definitive idea of what the fuck is going on. Fortunately, both of these things are well in hand.

NaNoWriMo

If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, here’s my mate Tessa explaining why 50k words in a month is such a big deal. For me, this is my eighth year taking part, and (hopefully) the fifth year required wordage will be complete at the end. We’ve discussed the plot here, and I’m not going to spend any more time going over details. However, I will find the time to share some of my personal insights over a decade, including that horrible moment when all the planning goes to hell and characters rebel against your well-organised planning.

It’s happened for the last three years and already, I’m hearing mutters of discontent from my major players…

cakehole

However, there’s a ton of stuff that needs to happen beforehand, including a rather important submission that is likely to take up all of my Monday. Therefore, it’s high time I got the backlog of work sorted and the new stuff prepared. All things being equal, we’re going to move into a new phase of work (and visuals) beginning on November 1st.

I’ll see you there 😀

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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EX/WHI :: Part Eleven

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Here is a place where Chambers can be in his element.

It’s taken a while for brain and body to co-ordinate successfully, but this is good, up front and nominally in charge. This is the place in normal life where everything is most comfortable and confident too, even if there are moments when brain screams otherwise. What’s noticeably different from previous missions is a tacit belief that if he can’t cope or there’s a struggle, his partner’s beyond reproach.

Ami’s demonstrating an almost psychic ability to cover his shortfall, implicit belief that’s what will keep happening. However, they’re in undiscovered territory, and both have shown signs of mental stress. He needs to be ready to cover her at a moment’s notice, and instead of the responsibility rankling it’s all part of the excitement. If she falls, he’ll pick the woman up without a word, because that’s the job trained for right from the start.

Chris is fairly confident that had they’d met earlier, he’d not want to throw in the towel.

That resignation letter would have made it to the Deputy Director’s Inbox this morning.  Superiors had forced an increasingly unsuitable selection of partners into his orbit, which only served to strengthen a desire to work alone, when all that was really needed was someone who understood what he was and allowed that to happen.

It is as if he’s known this woman all his life, mostly as a result of their shared interests meshing: this could have been so much more than just a job. He might have begun to enjoy himself…

‘Okay, this is new.’

They’ve turned the corner, into the street where Hotel should be, but instead there’s a large, white space: this is a simulation, another inescapable reminder. In the centre of the whiteness is what looks like a giant Roman column, except it’s floating several inches off the ground. Ami’s at his shoulder, making no move to approach, and so Chris waits for reaction.

‘So, what do we think this might be?’

‘I was kinda hoping you’d provide me with the answer, ‘cause I’ve got nothing.’

‘I can’t be expected to do all the thinking here, that’s not exactly fair. However, I’ll provide a theory, and you can decide to agree or argue. Sound like a plan?’

‘Yup, this works, away you go.’

‘This is the point where you were abducted -’

‘Can we find a better word for it otherwise this is cheesy Sci Fi and I don’t buy that.’

‘Okay, this is the point where you entered the simulation, so maybe they can’t reproduce it because that point needs to remain tied to the reality that is the actual Hotel -’

‘You don’t have a clue, do you?’

Ami’s hands go to her face, a second before he realises she’s crying. The temptation again would be to offer physical reassurance but that’s not what the woman needs, so he comes to stand in front of her instead.

‘I do know know what’s going on… I just… please, whatever you do, don’t step back.’


 

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EX/WHI :: Part Nine

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It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


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EX/WHI :: Part Eight

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From being concerned about his mental state, Ami is watching Chambers recover and consolidate with a speed that is more than encouraging. In fact, it is almost as if he registered her shift into panic, as mind began to struggle with remembrance that this was one scenario both police and Secret Service had trained her for but had never been considered until now. If she had been prepared, maybe Chris had too: the desire to ask irreversibly blanks out everything else in a breath.

‘I have a question, to you, related to this current situation.’

‘Shoot.’

‘Did you get training for a scenario where you’d not be expected to survive?’

‘Wow… okay…. um… we did stuff at Langley in both first and last years of Probie Training on the Doomsday Scenario: how to kill yourself as painlessly as possible, if it came down to it, how to reconcile with your God, whoever she might be. Mostly, the end equated to chemical attacks or nuclear warfare. I bet the CIA are gonna have a field day when it transpires that Roswell wasn’t a joke after all.’

‘How did you cope?’

‘By not assuming it was the end until I’d done everything else in my power to prevent it. If I hadn’t survived that you’d be doing this with someone else, but you saw me switch off earlier, just as I saw you panic just then. I’m not gonna lie, this is tough. However, if we’re here as lab rats, that’s a reality that’s easier to grasp than being… anally probed. Maybe that happens once we work out how to escape.’

He’s right, of course: instinct and joint trust have got them both this far. Ami’s confident, at least right now, that she’s not been abducted to be experimented on. To go to all this effort, creating the coffee bar in such meticulous detail seems odd if all someone wanted to do was cut you open and poke your insides. This has the feel and sense of observation, watching how they react to the changes in circumstance… and maybe therefore escaping is integral to that process. Perhaps they’ve been taken to test their endurance…

‘You really think we’re prisoners?’

‘If we weren’t, why else is the door closed?’

‘It’s not.’

A version of reality has returned outside the window, but there’s nobody walking past. The sounds of a busy City of London street are absent too, but the now very obviously open door creates a change in ambience between here and there which is a surprise. The overriding temptation is to run outside and look, but Ami won’t react from instinct, can’t let the adrenaline own her. Instead, she looks up to the ceiling: taking a deep breath, there’s a larger urge to talk to something she knows is there but cannot see.

‘You must be listening to all this, be aware we grasp what’s going on. Maybe that’s the reason why you picked me and Chris in the first place, because you knew we wouldn’t be frightened by such an obvious change in circumstance. I’m not really looking forward to spending what might be the rest of my life in this suit, and I’ve not eaten properly for at least 72 hours. I’m not expecting you to let us go, but a gesture of goodwill would not go amiss.’



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EX/WHI :: Part Seven

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Ami expression is all the confirmation needed: she’s completely serious. There’s also an emerging belief that the woman is absolutely right: normally in those pulpy Netflix TV box sets he’d watch, the protagonist took at least an hour before it became apparent he was in an abduction scenario. Something has been up since he woke in the Hotel room: only now do these pieces fit into some kind of recognisable picture.

‘How much weird shit has happened to you since breakfast? Be totally honest.’

‘Okay, I woke up and went to the bathroom and got lost. I thought it was jet-lag, like the guy walking past the window, but now I realise the door to the bathroom moved. It started by the bathtub, then it’s by the john, and they were on opposite sides of the room!’

‘Do you happen to remember when this was? About 8.15-ish, perhaps?’

‘Yeah, ‘coz I’m listening to the radio and it stutters, like the same advert repeats a second time and I think this is weird, and that was 8.17, so -’

‘I wonder if that’s when we got shifted into this simulation. I was in traffic at 8.15, coming through Docklands. I thought I’d fallen asleep at the wheel at some traffic lights -’

‘Simulation?’

‘Can you think of a better word for a thing that we both assume is reality right up until the point we stare closely at it, when it becomes apparent we’ve been fooled?’

‘No, simulation is exactly the right sci-fi word for this. How did we not notice it before?’

‘Because we’ve been sleep deprived and confused. If you wanted to kidnap and disorientate someone with a less than perfect copy of their existence, you’d lower their ability to react under pressure.’

Under the word ‘Aliens’ in lipstick, Ami now adds ‘Simulation began at approx 8.15am.’ He can see her hand shaking, wants to reassure, but absolutely won’t use physical means to do so.

‘You’re not alone. Don’t forget that. I’m losing my shit here too, for what its worth, because I have no idea how to even process this effectively. What I do know, from your file, is you have the best analytical mind of anyone in the Service right now. Keep explaining to me why it’s aliens until I’m able to catch up, okay?’

She looks at him, really stares for the first time, before taking a deep breath.

‘There is no way this is a hallucination, because I’ve had those before and know full well that something this complex isn’t how that works. We certainly wouldn’t be sharing that experience either, but it is now abundantly apparent that you and I have been connected by more than a court case and a love of dance music. This whole room, the bouncy set dressing, the fact the only edible things are items we bought ourselves… there’s a logic here, you see it?’

‘Absolutely. At 8.15 this morning… or thereabouts we were removed from our reality and transferred into a… copy. We were both hungry and tired, and this was the first coffee bar from the hotel. The car may well have been rigged to scare us and then force us on foot… where we both followed the smell of food and walked into this trap, after which the cage door was swung shut behind us. Like the ignorant monkeys we clearly are, we’ve now become lab rats.’



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EX/WHI :: Part Five

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Everything hurts, everywhere, and this is not good.

Moving from lying to sitting is an effort, but Chris is awake, desperately trying to piece together what happened to induce unconsciousness. He’s lying on the floor of the coffee shop, last piece of Apple Danish where it was dropped, before the entire World literally shifted around them –

Where’s Ami?

He’d felt heartbeat racing, body shuddering and watched as she passed out in his arms, shortly before he had done the same… except it hadn’t been via concussion or physical intervention. They’d been starved of oxygen, that he’s convinced of, but what happened before…? Staring at her prone, lifeless body, everything comes back in a rush, followed by an immediate need to check his partner’s alive. Her body should be in the recovery position at least: as hand reaches down an incredibly muscular leg comes up, forced into chest as body is launched into the air and back onto a table, which summarily disintegrates under both weight and impact.

I woke up and panicked, she’s awake thinking I was the enemy. One of us is not phased by what just happened: I need to get my shit together, because she really is very good.

‘Oh fuck I’m so, sorry, I assumed -’

‘I was a bad guy. It’s okay, at least there’s no worry you’re still incapacitated.’

‘I dunno about that, why does everything suddenly hurt so much?’

‘Well, that was my next question. You’re not alone.’

Picking himself up from the shattered wooden remains, Chris comes to help Ami to her feet. Physically she looks no different, but believable reality is not as concrete as it was when he woke up for the first time today. Turning to survey the damage they’ve just caused, air around them both moves, breeze that is anything but normal, somehow prompting the table to instantly and unnervingly reconstruct itself back to pre-impact state. Chris’ SIG is no longer in the holster either, giving nothing to point at this sorcery as reassurance, so staring will have to suffice as logic stops operating, giving brain the finger before leaving his body with disgust.

‘I have no weapon, and am officially out of my depth.’

‘Neither do I: on reflection, nothing from this point forward is likely to conform to our idea of normal. I’m happy to think for us both for a while, it’s okay.’

‘You go right ahead. I didn’t imagine the room upside down either, did I?’

‘Not if furniture’s putting itself back together, you didn’t, Mr Chambers. At least they stopped running the movie outside what I’m now thinking is probably a prison.’

There’s obvious daylight coming into the cafe, but Chambers isn’t looking out at London any more: instead an odd, white space radiates the illusion of… well, space. He needs to sit down where he stands right now, because all of this has just staggered beyond too much to cope with. Ami doesn’t stop him: instead she goes to the large, glass double doors and stares for a moment, before pulling keys to the car out of her pocket. Taking a step back, the bunch is thrown towards what used to be an exit but at the moment of impact they are flung back, over her head before landing near the toilets.

Suddenly, he’s very grateful somebody else has voluntarily offered to be a grown-up until he’s back in the game. Watching the walk back, picking up keys, standing and assessing: mentally thinking through their joint predicament is absolutely what Ami is doing, with a calmness which is immediately reassuring. Meeting his gaze without fear, there’s a decision made that is both logical and fair.

‘Yup, this is definitely a prison, and we need to know why.’



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