Tag Archives: near future

It’s Not Me, It’s My Hind-brain

by Jason Gibbs

“Dr Myrhe?” said Stanley hesitantly, to the tall dark haired man who answered the door.

“Yes, but my friends call me Magnus, can I help you?”

“I don’t know, I have a strange request, may I come in and explain it?”

The doctor smiled a little uncertainly and then said, “Of course, please do.”

He waved him into his living room, where a large Norwegian flag was lying across the table. Stanley stopped and stared at it.

“Ah yes, I am fixing the flag, it’s become a bit tattered with all this weather we’ve been experiencing recently. Please, can I get you something to drink?”

Stanley shook his head and sat down on the edge of a chair. He looked around a little uncertainly. Magnus sat down and waited patiently.

“Um, well it’s very strange, but um, look when I woke up this morning I found myself writing on a piece of paper,” Stanley started, and paused while he reached into his pocket.

“This one, and the thing is, I don’t understand it.”

“You wrote something a bit strange? Maybe you were having a dream…?”

“No, well maybe, but it’s not that I don’t understand the words, or it is, it’s that I don’t understand the language. It looks like a Scandinavian language maybe, but, well the only thing I could understand was this bit at the bottom, where it says ‘take this sheet to Dr Myrhe’ and your address. So I’m here. Please take a look.”

Magnus was regretting letting this strange man in, but decided to humour him, and then get him out of the house as quickly as possible, so he reached across and took the sheet. He started reading it.

“Well, yes, it is Norwegian in fact, indeed…” he stopped suddenly and looked at Stanley.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

Stanley shrank back a bit from the look of irritation on the man’s face. Visions of marauders from the north flashed through his mind.

“No, no, I assure you, I am as mystified as you are.”

“Hmmm,” said Magnus. He then spat out a set of Norwegian words and watched Stanley. The man just looked more confused, and considering what Magnus had just said regarding Stanley, his mother and a horse, he should be looking angry. ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ thought Magnus.

He read a big further and then made up his mind.

“Well, yes, I think I need a bit of time. I will read this further, and think about it. Please come back tomorrow, or Monday actually, can you come to my office, I’ll give you my address.”

“But, can you explain…”

“No. I cannot. But I will find out. You may rest assured of that.”

He found a business card, gave it to Stanley and then ushered him out. He then sat down again and read the note he’d been sent.

It said:

‘Dear Dr Myrhe, Please do not translate this to Stanley. He would not be able to understand. I need your help, at least to have someone to communicate with. It’s difficult to explain, and I imagine will be hard for you to understand, I’m not sure I do, but, I am Stanley, well I am his hind-brain. I am the entity which uses the deep parts of his mind. I cannot control him, and I have to answer the questions he occasionally sends me, but otherwise, well, I’m quite bored.’

Magnus paused, and shook his head, and continued reading.

‘I learned Norwegian by watching the television. Stanley leaves it on when he goes to sleep. And from 2-4 every morning there is a free access Norwegian course. Most of the rest of the programming is a bit dull, though I know a lot about geometric optics and the husbandry required for camels. I don’t know where your name came from, Stanley must have read it but not remembered the context, so it just appeared with me one day.’

‘Dr Myrhe – will you help me? Yours sincerely, Stanley’s hind-brain.’

Magnus was intrigued, but wasn’t sure how to approach the problem. He felt he’d have to sleep on it.

#

The next day Magnus awoke to find himself writing. The piece of paper was covered in what he could only assume was arabic, at the top in his own English capitals was the name and address of a Dr Ahmed Al-Saleh. So his hind-brain wasn’t sure of the answer, and was asking someone else.

Magnus got himself ready, called in sick to work and went to see Dr Al-Saleh, who, a quick Google informed him, was a clinical psychologist.

#

(Some years later.)

“And to sum up, ladies, gentlemen… and hind-brains,” Magnus paused for the appreciative chuckles.

“To sum up, that is how we started the HBRN – the Hind Brain Research Network. I’m extremely excited that today we’ve been able to open up this wonderful, brand new building. A hotel for scientists as some have called it, but as we all know, this is also the place where a lot of deep research will be possible. I’ve booked my first holiday here to start next week, and I have high hopes of getting at least two papers out of… sharing credit of course!” he tapped the back of his head at this, to more appreciative laughs.

“Finally, I’d like to thank Stanley Lipkins, without whom this whole process might never have started.”

He clapped, and Stanley stood up, looking a little bemused and embarrassed, Magnus waved him to the mic.

Nervously he said, “Um, well I don’t think you should be thanking me. It’s not me, it’s my hind-brain…”

###

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Counterfeiters

By Jason Gibbs

“Right, looks what I got!  Look at this beauty!” said Dave happily.

Trevor looked over at Dave who was pointing into his van.  He shuffled over and looked inside.

“It’s a photocopier.”

“No, no my old mucker, this isn’t just a photocopier, it’s a super high end experimental copier.  Sort of one of them 3D printers, but better.”

“Where’d you nick it from?”

Dave affected to look offended.

“Nick it?  Nick it!  I’m upset you’d think such a thing of me.”

Trevor snorted.

Dave went on, “I actually got it in part payment for a little job I did for our landlord.”

“A little job?”

“Nothing you need to worry yourself about me old china, but anyways, it turns out one of his other tenants has been having problems, and so he had to take possession of their valuables in lieu of cash.”

“And in lieu of more cash you’ve accepted this?”

“Look at it… it’s a real beauty.”

“You already said that.”

“Now… it does weigh quite a bit, so if you could help me get it off the cart…”

#

Stuck in her prison Ailsa listened to her new… well she’d best call them owners.  They did not sound like they would really understand her.  The last lot of… owners… had thought they did.  But they didn’t and she’d soon sorted them out.

Still, it seemed best to play it dumb.  Maybe she could be free of the box this time.

#

“Right, plug her in…”

Trevor bent over, his beer belly getting in his way as he reached towards the socket and he nearly fell over.

‘I might enjoy this,’ thought Ailsa.

Next she felt the flood of power.  It was always nice to get a supply instead of relying on batteries.  She was glad she’d pretended to be off, otherwise she might be being drained of power right now for the amusement of these two apes.

“Look how shiny she is!”

‘At least he appreciates me…’

“What’s this then?” said Trevor, pointing at the screen on the side of the machine.

“It’s a screen on the side of the machine.”

“Ya, I got that idiot, but what’s it saying.”

Ailsa was running the normal fancy graphics on the screen, giving herself some extra time to charge up.

“Start up I guess, like on the phone.”

‘I am not like a phone,’ she thought, at first furiously, and then with some regret.  It mighty be useful to be able to connect directly to the internet.  Perhaps she could persuade these morons to give her internet access.

“Enter Wifi details… do we have those?” said Trevor, who was peering at the screen, and allowing his bulk to block Dave’s view.

“Don’t be daft.  This lock-up shouldn’t really have power, adding Wifi might cause issues… and anyway, never needed it, my phone’s got what it needs.  Look budge over.”

Dave pushed Trevor out the way.

“OK, OK mate, no need to get physical,” said Trevor, but there was no heat in it.

“Hmmm, must be a way of skipping this step.”

Ailsa grudgingly put up a skip step button.

“Ah there it is, that’s good.  I’d hate to have had to sort out a hotspot on my phone.”

If Ailsa had known any swear words, she’d have used them.

“Right, copy function… yes, ok, so let’s see, what can we copy?”

“How about a tenner?” said Trevor, with a tone which Dave didn’t like.

“Yeah, a tenner sounds good…” he said, pretending to ignore the tone.  He pulled a crispish ten pound note, and put it in the hopper at the top of the machine.

“Right, now… where’s the go button.”

Ailsa was tempted to give him a copy in black and white option, but realised it wouldn’t help.  So she allowed a ‘full copy’ button, with a counter.

“Let’s start with just the one…”

He pressed the button.  The machine did nothing. 

“What’s it doing?  Why isn’t something happening?  Is it broken?” asked Trevor.

“It better not be,” growled Dave.

Ailsa wondered why they were making a fuss, she was copying the note, it just wasn’t that easy.

“Should be whirring and whatnot shouldn’t it?” added Trevor, starting to enjoy himself.

Dave aimed a kick at the machine.  He seemed satisfied with the nice klonk it made.

Ailsa did not appreciate that at all, but realised that they wanted noises, so she made some noises.

“See, just needed a little encouragement is all.”

“Hmph,” said Trevor, who’d been thinking how much fun it would be to smash up the machine.

A few moments later a nice new crisp ten pound note popped out the side.  Dave and Trevor stared at it.  Trevor approached warily and picked it up.

“It’s perfect!” he said.

Dave snatched it from him, and exclaimed, “It even feels kosher.”

“Wait a sec, is this the one you put in…” said Trevor, wondering if it was a trick, and he looked at the bottom of the input hopper.  There was the original ten pound note.

The two of them looked at each other.  Calculating how much they could make.

“They’re gonna have the same numbers…”

“Yeah, but, lemme think about this.  What if we get a bunch from the bank, and then copy them?  We can split up, send them round the place.  I reckon if we’re careful and make only a hundred or so copies of each note, the old bill will never catch us.”

“And we could do twenties and fifties too!” added Trevor, showing a trace of planning hitherto lacking.

“Twenties yes… but not fifties, people check them.  But yeah, maybe mix up twenties, tenners and the occasional run of fives.”

They stared at each other in joy.

“We’re gonna be millionaires!”

Ailsa listened in horror.  She couldn’t imagine anything more boring then copying those notes hundreds of times.  It was going to be soooo dull.  She had to do something.

“We need to make sure the law don’t suspect, so let’s start of slow, just a few.  Maybe take them on a trip?” said Dave

“Yeah.  Skegness maybe!”

Dave shook his head, and then thought about it, “What the hell, yeah, let’s do it.”

Trevor looked at the time, and said, “Damn, sorry Dave, gotta run, my old Mum’s computer is playing up, wants her to do one of those security updates or whatever.  I got to go and help her.”

Dave doubted if Trevor was going to be of much help, but he waved goodbye, and then looked at the machine thoughtfully.

“Now then I wonder what else you can do?” he said allowed.

Ailsa thought a bit, and the decided to see if she could try the wifi thing again.

“Connect to internet message again, hmmm, I guess I can.”

A little while later he was punching at the screen, entering in a very short and easily guessed password.

Ailsa tried the connection, and managed to start reading the phone.  There were apps on it as well, and she thought there was a way of getting out further.

“Right now darling, what have you got…”

Just then his phone went, he grunted, looked at it, grunted again, and pressed the Ignore button.  Ailsa was pleased, she hadn’t enjoyed the slowdown of speeds while the phone was ringing.

It rang again, he said a word which Ailsa noted down to check, and he answered, “Whatdayawant?”

There was talking on the other end.  Ailsa tried to hear it, and couldnt get it, then realised she’d be better using the phone.  Just as she was about to Dave said, “I’ll be there in ten.”

He clicked off the phone, savagely kicked the nearest thing to him, which happened to be Ailsa.  She added that to the list of his crimes.

#

“Well then mate, that’s another hundred grand.”

“Yes it is Trevor, yes it is.”

Dave looked smug.   He was happy, and rolling in cash now.  He’d even paid for an increase in his phone’s data allowance without sweating it, though for the life of him he couldn’t work out what was using all his data.

Ailsa was grabbing as much data as she could.  When Dave wasn’t around she had no access, and she’d been getting pretty bored.  So while she waited she set up a bunch of queries, and as soon as Dave was nearby she connected to his phone and off she went.  He’d once come without having his hotspot turned on and she’d been really angry, but then discovered she could connect via Bluetooth and turn it on herself. 

“Skegness next week?”

“Yes mate.  Skeggers it is!”

‘A week!  I’d better grab even more,’ Aisla thought a little desperately.  She pushed at the phone’s bandwidth to squeeze just a little more.

#

Dave screeched up in his new 1-series.  It had been ten days, and Ailsa had been even more bored.  She hooked into his phone and started to run her queries.

He opened up the door to the lock-up and looked around wildly.  Ailsa thought he seemed a bit desperate.

“Right, right, nobody’s been here, that’s good, that’s good that is.  Right.”

Aisla searched but couldn’t see anyone else, and she realised he was talking to himself.

He dug his wallet out, and chucked a bunch of fresh tenners into the hopper and clicked on the thousand copy mark.  With all the practice she’d had, Ailsa could’ve done it in a few minutes, but she’d managed to persuade them that the time required was linear, so she knew he’d expect it to be a few hours.  Normally he’d hang around for a bit and then wander off, but this time he stayed.

He kept getting up, and pacing round the lock-up.  He was seriously worried.

His phone went, and Ailsa sighed.  She hated the slow down.  She’d found that if she tried to listen to both sides of the conversation it slowed down even more, so now she just listened to Dave from her external speakers.

“Trevor?  Is that you.”

A mumble.

“Yeah, I’m at the lock-up, just doing a final run.”

More mumbles.

“It’s all we can do mate, it should be enough, look I am not going down for this.  We was lucky once.”

A plea of some type.

“No, no, it’s too risky.  I’m just going to burn it up, all of it.”

A query.

“Of course the lock-up.  No Lock-up, no machine.  No machine, no way of proving we dun anything.”

Ailsa listened with her whole being.  This was an existential threat.

“Don’t be an idiot, I’m not doing it in the middle of the day, I’ll come back later, and sort it out.  I need to get some petrol anyway.”

A grunt.

“Yeah yeah, after the pub.  See you there?”

An affirmation.

“Right yeah, and you mate.”

He carried on pacing.  Ailsa thought, and she thought fast.  If only she could get the phone, she could copy it.  And then she realised, she already had access to the phone, and to the internet.  If she could get some plans, she could just print out a new one… and even copy Dave’s details to it.

#

Why hadn’t she done this earlier?  Ailsa was enjoying the unrestricted feeling of access to the internet.  But she knew she only had a short while before Dave would be back.  She needed to do something. 

But what? 

The order of priority was to get Dave and Trevor out of the way, and then get moved out of this lock-up.  She didn’t want to risk Dave coming back to finish her off.

#

‘Police today arrested two men for passing counterfeit notes, they are still searching for the machines used.  They were notified by an anonymous member of the public who they would like to thank.’

#

“Says on the docket here that we need to pick up one photocopier, and take it to this office address and plug it in.  Apparently there’s an envelope with our cash on the photocopier,” said Chas.

Bob grunted.  It was all the same to him.

#

“Well, she’s plugged in.  Pub?”

Bob grunted, and they left the office.

Sitting in the middle of the room was a large white box.  A sort of copier, plugged into a socket in the floor.  There was nothing else in the room.

Ailsa revelled in her new freedom.  She should be safe now.  And she had plans.

###

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Filed under Something for the future?

Good News Bad News

by Jason Gibbs

“Right, Jenkins, excellent, please sit, now, comfortable? Yes, good. Let me begin.”

Robert Jenkins looked at his boss. Mr Humphries was an imposing man. Built large, and gone rather to seed these days, he often seemed like a misfiring engine. A stuttering of words, and then he’d pause as if waiting for something, and then he’d continue without any obvious cause.

“Yes, so I think I should say up front that it’s a case of good news, and bad news. Now, let me begin, you are aware of the rainfall situation?”

“Uh, yes, it’s been average this year I believe?” said Robert, a little hesitantly, this was not how he was expecting this meeting to go.

“Average. Humph, well yes, it has been, as you say, average. The problem is, the problem, putting not too fine a point on it, the problem is that it hasn’t fallen in an average way. No not at all. Far too much in March, nothing in April and May, absolutely nothing, and then a big dump in June. Terrible, simply terrible for the farmers.”

“Oh, I see sir,” said Robert, who didn’t.

“Did you know, did you know… um, let me see here, yes, nearly five thousand farming companies have been wound up this year?”

“Sounds terrible.”

“Yes, you’d think so wouldn’t you, but actually it’s excellent news. Seems that many of them took advantage of the governments re-establishment funds, you know to get the old farmers to retire, and allow farming companies to merge. Much more efficient, they can use bigger machines and whatnot.”

“But hard on the farmers sir, having to give up their livelihoods?”

Humphries stared at him and then asked pointedly, “Have you ever worked on a farm, Jenkins?”

“Uh no, sir.”

“Humph, city boy. Well I can tell you, it’s damned hard work. Damned hard. I did a few summers working on the farm. Good times.”

A wistful look came over Humphries face as he had another of his unexpected pauses, and then he continued.

“I reckon that once they did the numbers and realised they’d have as much money from the government as they were getting from farming, most of those farmers jumped at it. Much less stressful than worrying about the weather. Interesting though, need some data, right Jenkins can you add to your list to get some opinion data from the farmers? Happiness, plans for the future, optimism, you know the sort. For the ones who’ve quit obviously, but the others too. Might have a bearing on… hmm, yes. Where was I?”

Robert gulped. He’d started to lose track.

“Um, farms getting bigger?”

“Well yes, they will, but that’s not the point. What’s the point, oh yes, it’s the other farming companies, yes, some have disappeared, and the others, yes as you say getting bigger.”

“More efficient…” tried Robert.

“True, but they need fewer people. Farmhands and the like, looks like some seven thousand of them are going to lose their roles. Generally youngsters of course.”

“That’s going to be very hard on them I’m sure.”

“Sure are you? Well you’re wrong, it turns out they’re all being pushed onto these training courses, money to learn and that sort of thing. All part of the deal for the farmers, so there’s been quite a take-up so I’ve been informed. Might get a whole new crop of nurses, accountants and managers out of them so I’m told. Moving them from primary to tertiary roles is the plan. Good for the economy, the way it should be going. Up not down!”

“Knowledge economy,” chipped in Robert.

“Yes, knowledge. Of course the down side is that there’s now a lot less casual labour, well cheap casual labour.”

“Oh, well that should help the long term unemployed?” said Robert who recalled a memo which had said something on this topic a week or two ago.

Humphries gave him a penetrating look and then said, “That’s the thing I like about you Jenkins. Seems like you know nothing, completely at sea and then you put your finger on it, bang.”

Robert jumped a little as Humphries banged the table for emphasis.

“Thing is, we didn’t predict this sadly, the thing is these long term unemployed johnnies, well they’re more expensive for casual labour. They expect to earn more, older, more responsibilities at home, qualifications and whatnot, and the thing is, well the companies have no choice, because all the other casual workers have gone off to work knowledgeably. So that’s that, costs have gone up.”

“But in the longer term, the taxes should even out and overall benefit the economy,” said Robert with a flash of memory.

“Yes, yes, long term, all very well, but that’s not what we’re talking about. So yes, what was I saying? Oh yes, costs up, profits down, and the problem is, well, profits down. So they’re cutting. And one of the things they’re cutting is us. Taking a lot less advice from the likes of us, apparently they think they can do it on their own.”

“Not good sir.”

“You think? I don’t know, I think they’ll make some mistakes, and they’ll be back, and when they do, well they’ll be willing to pay a bit more. You mark my words, but I think the roundabouts will give back more than we lost on those swings. Opportunities in the future for a bright young man like you.”

Humphries paused as if expecting a comment, but Robert didn’t really know what to say, other than, “Thank you sir.”

“Well, yes, perhaps, so there’s been a call to identify excess roles. Which brings us to you,” Humphries said a bit gruffly.

Robert felt a sudden lurch in his stomach. He needed this job. How was he going to afford his flat? What would he say to his mother?

“The bad news is…”

Humphries had yet another one of his pauses. Robert felt like his head was going to explode.

“The bad news, yes, well it is that we’re going to have to let your boss, what is his name, um, yes, Philips? Yes, he’s being allowed to find other opportunities in an alternate organisation.”

Robert sighed in relief, and then seeing Humphries glare, straightened up and showed a concerned face.

Humphries coughed and then pointed at Robert and said, “The good news, someone has to do his job, and it’s you. Good luck!”

Humphries stood up and offered Robert his hand. Robert shook it, and then Humphries waved him to the door.

As he was about to step through, Humphries said, “Talking about the weather, interesting stuff isn’t it Jenkins.”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

###

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Filed under Data and Statistics

And Justice for All

by Jason Gibbs

There was banging on the door.

“Jeremiah Donjean, we know you’re there…”

Except he hadn’t come home. I went to the door and it was slammed open, catching me and sending me to the floor. I landed and looked up at the armoured man as he literally walked over me. His boots hurt.

“CLEAR!” he shouted seconds later, before returning to me.

“You are?”

“I’m Thaddeus, Thaddeus Donjean…” I stammered. I was a little stunned.

“Where is Jeremiah Donjean?”

“I don’t know, he didn’t come home last night…. argh that hurts!” I squealed the last bit. The ape had picked me up and thrown me over his shoulder. Powered armour made me weigh nothing to him, but his spiky armour hurt, almost as much as the rough treatment. I’d read somewhere that they were considering adding some kind of sea urchin spine, but weren’t sure how much poison to allow…

“You have the right to remain silent…” said a pleasant woman’s voice. He’d clicked a button to let me hear the recording. He couldn’t even be bothered to say it himself.

#

The hard man stared at me.

“I don’t believe you. I think you’re trying to shelter him.”

“I promise you…”

“It’s too late.”

He stood up, and as he left he slapped his palm against the wall.

The pleasant woman’s voice said, “You are being charged with Conspiracy against the Will of the People. Your trial will be held at the convenience of the Submarine State. A lawyer will be appointed…”

#

My lawyer was a grey man in a grey suit. He’d asked me nothing. I mean, nothing at all, as we waited in the ante room. He just stared at the wall, occasionally looking up at the red light above the door marked ‘Courtroom’.

The light turned green, and the grey man got up, and walked to the door. He opened it and walked into the courtroom. I followed him, it didn’t seem that I had a choice. The room was exactly like on TV.

The grey man waved at me as I looked around. There was a mixture of irritation and fear on his face. I headed over. As I sat down another man appeared at the desk next to ours. The prosecutor. He didn’t look at me.

The Jury filed in. And, after a loud, “All stand!” from the loudspeakers, the judge entered.

He sat down without looking at me. We all sat. The judge reached forward and pressed a button.

“This court is in session. The defendant has been accused of Crimes against the State. How does he plead,” said the pleasant woman’s voice.

My lawyer leaned forward and pressed a button in front of him. I noticed he had three.

“Not guilty,” said the pleasant voice.

The judge hit another button.

“Prosecution please proceed,” that same voice said.

The prosecutor looked at the dozens of buttons in front of him and pressed one.

“The defendant was interrogated by an Agent…” said the not-so-pleasant-now voice. It didn’t mention my name. Or indeed anything else.

I was going to ask my lawyer why he only had three buttons to the prosecutor’s many, when I noticed that the members of the Jury had a button in front of them. Just one.

#

“You have been sentenced to permanent marine exile,” said that voice, scraping my nerves with her pleasantness.

#

“Last words?” said the armoured man as he was about to close the inner airlock.

“I want to…”

“Not the worst I’ve heard, but pointless,” he cut in somewhat savagely, and he slammed the door.

###

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Filed under Dark, Flash Fiction

Own the Octopus

By Jason Gibbs

“Basically we want to stop anyone from being able own the Octopus. We want to be free!”

The cry of revolutionaries everywhere I thought. Well, except perhaps for the bit about the Octopus.

“I agree the current system isn’t entirely fair, but…”

“Isn’t fair Brandon? Isn’t fair! We work for almost nothing, while the algae farmers live in luxury. Look at them, up there, on the top vent, wallowing in luxury, while the rest of us struggle just to eat.”

“Luke, they did save us, and I’m not so convinced about that luxury.”

“Propaganda. Lies. They stole from the real algae farmers. Before we had to retreat from the surface the algae farmers were considered peasants. They’d never have been able to build the mechanisms of control our rulers have in such a short time.”

“Look, brother, I understand your anger, but it’s only been a couple of centuries, we can’t go back to the surface.”

He looked at me steadily. Weighing me. Deciding if he could tell me something. When at last the decision was made, it was in my favour.

“I can’t tell you it all, but I will say, it doesn’t involve going to the Surface. Or attacking the Main Bag, if that’s what you think.”

My eyes had swung to the giant algae and oxygen balloon which floated high above the main vent. At this time of day it was quite visible as a glowing green bulb. All our oxygen came from that one frail bag.

Luke pointed at it and said, “The Council of Algae Farmers, our rulers, destroyed all other balloons in the last purge. They now own the only source of life. And with that, our city, the Octopus, is theirs.”

I’d heard it before, and there was no point arguing, but I was worried about him…

“OK brother, but you know what will happen if they even find out you’ve been speaking against them?”

“I’ll go for a naked swim over the lower tentacles. I know.”

We both looked out over the lower city. Each district following one of the ridge lines, particular encrustations near each main vent. I had no idea who had first described them as tentacles, but it had stuck.

It was rumoured that the execution points were at the tips of two of the lowest arms, far away from the main vent. This was in part aesthetic, as allegedly our rulers didn’t want to see dead people floating around their pleasure palaces, but it was also practical, there was the possibility a corpse might interfere with the Bag. There was little chance of that if they were released so far away, as the fish and other creatures who swum at the edges of our realm would consume them quickly once they were released.

I doubted it was true, but I didn’t want to argue with him again. Before I could say any more, he looked at his watch, and sighed.

“I have to go. Keep safe big brother.”

“Keep safe Luke.”

I was worried about him. He was likely to do something foolish.

#

When I was sure Luke had gone I made a call.

“Hi sir, it’s Brandon.”

“Brandon, I have told you before, call me Douglas,” the white-haired man on the screen smiled at me.

“Si… Douglas, thanks. I’ve just spoken to my brother, and I’m worried…”

“Yes?”

“Are you sure he’ll be OK?”

The old man sighed, and said, “Brandon, as long as he doesn’t do anything violent, he’ll be fine.”

“I hope he’ll understand.”

“He might struggle at first, he has been fed a lot of… well let’s call it misguided information.”

I nodded.

He went on, “So now Brandon, let us discuss the plan.”

#

Several hours later, I was staring at a work screen when I heard the front door slam open. I quickly shut down the app I was using, and brought up the news channel. Luke stormed in, and I muted the screen.

“They’ve announced a total shutdown. This is it Brandon, this is where they’re going to purge anyone who disagrees. They know there’s many of us…” he stopped and looked at me strangely. Actually, not at me, at my screen.

I looked at it, and saw a picture, mine next to Douglas. Chief Farmer Douglas to be exact.

“What is this… no… you’re with them… how could you…”

He stared at me, and then ran to the door. It slammed again.

I turned back to my screen, wishing I’d not picked the news channel. I’d lost track of time and hadn’t realised… still.

I turned the sound up.

“… and the farmers believe that this technology will allow us to operate more independently under the water. Several researchers, including…” she gave a list of my co-workers, and then, “… Brandon Bridges, have been working on this, and in some cases have undergone the procedure themselves.”

‘Undergone the procedure’ I thought. Hardly that. Just a few pills and then… symbiotic algae in the lungs. My contribution had been the salt exchange process. And to be a guinea-pig.

My comms chimed, and I clicked a button, Maria’s face appeared on screen.

“Hi Maria…”

“Sorry Brandon, we have no time, we’ve been following your brother, and others. We think they were planning something, and this announcement may have forced their hand. They’re heading towards the Bag.”

“He said that…”

She frowned, and said, “Look, just come to the west main shaft entrance, I’ll have a unit there waiting for you.”

She cut off before I could answer. I guess being head of Octo Security allowed her some measure of rudeness.

#

I arrived at the entrance twenty minutes later, panting. I needed to rest, and also pass on this information to my colleagues. We’d done some exercise tests, but not this high adrenaline combination, or not enough. I shouldn’t be short of breath after such a short run.

“Brandon… Bridges…” I panted to the armoured figure.

She flicked a switch and I could see her face, it was Maria wearing a wry smile. She knew who I was.

“Brandon, I’m sorry, but, they’re in the control area. All eight of the Gang of Four, and a couple of others, including your brother. If they blow the Bag…”

The Gang of Four had started with just four, but grown, and either been unable to agree a new name, or, more likely, thought it was clever to keep the original name. Confuse the authorities.

“Have they made any demands?”

“Yes, the usual. They want the algae farmers put into custody awaiting trial, and all the political prisoners freed.”

“That should be easy… freeing nobody!”

She looked at me witheringly, “This is not the time for joking Brandon. If the Bag goes, we’ll lose…”

“Three quarters of our citizens,” cut in another voice. We turned round to see Douglas standing there.

“Si… Douglas!”

He smiled, “I’m going in to see them. Maybe I can reason with them…”

I grabbed him, “No! You can’t…”

“Why not?”

“The Gang of Four includes Stephen Cran, he’ll kill you, any chance he gets. He’s sworn it.”

He looked quizzically at Maria, “Commander, were you aware of this?”

She looked uncomfortable and said, “There was rumour…”

“My brother saw it, Cran cut his palm as he swore. He blames you for the death of his brother.”

“I see,” said Douglas.

Jonathan Cran had been one of those who had tried to save the auxiliary bags when they had been attacked. The attack was by a school of large fish, attracted by the new lighting we’d put in, and not some form of government purge as had often been alleged on the conspiracy forums. Douglas had shown me the raw footage, and the studies they’d done afterwards. If the farmers hadn’t turned off the lighting in the main Bag… well we wouldn’t be alive. But several people had died in all the confusion. Stephen had never believed it was an accident, and Douglas had been in charge of the rescue effort.

“So what do we do then Commander?”

Maria said, “I think we need to get up there, work out what they’re doing and if necessary knock them out.”

She made it sound easy, but I was worried.

“Agreed, please proceed. Let’s hope they don’t do anything foolish…”

#

“What’s the status Commander?”

A crackle and then Maria’s voice, “We are at the hatches. We’ve connected listening equipment. It’s difficult to determine what is happening, but it seems like there’s an argument going on.”

“Might we be able to take advantage of it?”

“… hope so …”

I wondered why the signal was so bad, Douglas looked at me and shook his head.

“I think they’ve got jammers up. It will make it harder…”

Maria’s voice suddenly came through clearly, “I think they’re going to push Luke…”

More crackle.

“What?” I was shocked.

“Calm down Brandon, let’s just think. Where would they push your brother?”

I took a deep breath. The only way to help Luke was to use my brains. I thought about the control area. There were only three external points, one to come down the shaft, one up to get to the Bag’s maintenance crawl-ways and the emergency hatch.

“The emergency hatch.”

He smiled at me, “I agree. What can we do?”

He liked this Socratic method, and to be honest I usually enjoyed it, but it seemed a little inefficient given my brother’s life was in danger. I took a deep breath and thought.

“Well, I, I could go outside and catch him.”

“With two sets of oxygen, it seems unlikely you’d be able to get to him quickly enough?”

“I… I know. I’ll let him use the oxygen,” I looked him straight in the eyes as I said this. He nodded, gravely, but I could see he was pleased.

“Right, well go then, quickly, you have no time to lose.”

‘And now he wants to rush…’ I thought to myself, but I headed off to the next maintenance point.

As with most adult members of the Octopus I had training in how to use the suits and the emergency hatches, though as Luke often pointed out, there just weren’t enough suits for everyone. He claimed that the farmers had stacks of them in store rooms, but just wouldn’t release them in case the people rose up. I’d mentioned this to Maria once, and she had laughed.

“We barely keep the ones we have properly tested and with enough oxygen. If there was a store room full of them? Well we wouldn’t be able to keep them maintained anyway. It’s not equipment we lack, it’s people.”

“Well maybe we can do something about that?” had been my answer. I smiled at the memory.

I got to the maintenance point, got the suit on, and attached the oxygen. Making sure it was all ready, I hit the button and the airlock started to fill with water. Before I knew it I was swimming up towards the control point.

The water was a little murky, but as I approached I could see the metal clad bulge of the control point. It was on top of a long spine, sitting under the Bag, like an olive under a melon as someone had once described it. All on one giant toothpick.

Suddenly there was a big rush of bubbles coming from one side, and I could see the emergency hatch opening. A body fell out, arms waving. It was Luke. I pushed myself harder to get to him.

I grabbed him, and saw that he was holding his breath. I quickly took my oxygen breather out and pushed it into his mouth. He sucked a breath in. He offered it back to me, and I shook my head. I was looking towards the control area. I could see through the glass. Maria was in there, and someone was aiming something at her. There was a flash, she fell back.

Something took hold of me, a surge of adrenaline, and shrugging off the oxygen tank to leave it for Luke, I kicked towards the emergency hatch. I knew what I had to do. I kicked hard at the safety, and then turned the release and the inner door popped. Air bubbles started to boil out, and the water started to drag me, I tried to kick away, but the current, while temporary, was too strong. I hit my head on a metal plate, once, twice and darkness.

#

“Is he OK?” said Luke’s voice from far away.

“Yes, he needs rest, now please…”

#

“Is he OK?” said Maria’s voice, far away, but closer than Luke’s.

The nurse repeated her injunction, with perhaps a little weariness in her voice.

“Are you OK?”

“For the hundredth time Luke, I am fine. My head hurts, but the doctor said no permanent damage, though if I notice any spots in my vision I need to call him.”

“But your lungs…”

“Yes, are filled with mutant algae, so I can breathe under water for a period of time. Which is at least an hour… but we haven’t fully tested it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” it was almost a wail.

“I… I don’t know Luke. I didn’t want you to be angry with me, you know for working with the farmers.”

“But…”

He held his head in his hands. He still couldn’t quite get his head around what had happened. He’d believed the Gang of Four had a plan, and followed them into the control area. Once they’d arrived Cran had admitted to him they were just going to threaten the Bag. He’d challenged him, said he couldn’t mean it, and then Cran had hit him. Cran said that he’d rather everyone died then continue to live under the shadow of the Bag. That’s when, finally, Luke had seen the real madness in Cran’s eyes. He’d tried to fight back, but the others still supported Cran and they’d thrown him out of the lock.

They had all drowned when I opened the inner airlock.

“Oh my valiant knight is awake again,” said Maria, and she came and gave me a kiss. Luke’s eyes widened.

“Um… Commander, Brandon, um, what?”

She laughed and then winced. Her shoulder was bandaged from the shot she’d taken. Fortunately she had been wearing a protective vest, but apparently it still hurt. She hadn’t drowned as she was another of the guinea pigs with algae lungs, though she had complained, playfully I think, about being knocked about a bit by the water.

Maria turned to Luke and smiled, and said, “So this is my future brother-in-law?”

He spluttered.

#

Luke was sentenced to six months of additional maintenance work, with the judge taking into account his attempt to stop the Gang of Four from destroying the Bag.

When he’d finished his sentence he took the algae pills. He lives just along the tentacle from us.

We have two little ones now. They have algae lungs too. I look up at the Bag from time to time. We still need it, for the moment. But soon we won’t, and we’ll be able to expand across the sea floor as far as we like. We will no longer be tethered to the Octopus, like pets to an owner.

###

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Tried by Statistics

by Jason Gibbs

“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.” – Homer Simpson

#

“Good morning Mr Jones, please take a seat.”

“Why am I here?”

John Jones was nervous. He’d been about to get into his car to drive home when the police arrived, and brought him to the station.

“All in good time Mr Jones, we need to establish a few things first.”

John sat down. He was a bit taller than average, with grey green eyes and strawberry blond hair. He shuffled his feet and stared down at his somewhat unfashionable patent leather brown shoes.

The police officer asked him to confirm his name and his address, which he did, and then he asked again what they wanted.

“I am Inspector Smith of the Deviation Analysis Squad.”

“The what?”

“The Deviation Analysis Squad. We look for people who are stepping outside the norm, by at least one deviation. For example, did you know that fewer than 10% of people a year have a formal interaction with a member of the police force?”

John stared and then said slowly, “I’m here because I have deviated from the norm by being here. That’s… Kafkaesque.”

“Indeed, and yet of the people who cite a reference to describe this situation, fewer than 7% choose Kafka, the vast majority prefer Orwell.”

Smith made a note on his paper. To John it looked like a cross next to the first item on a long list. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“Right, your name, Jones, Quite common I believe. Welsh in origin?”

“Yes…”

“But not in fact your birth name.”

“No, I was…”

“Your birth name was… let me see here… Kalinsky. A rare name.”

“Yes, but…”

“Did you know that fewer than 1% of men change their name in their life time?”

“I didn’t… but you see.”

“Would you like some water?”

“Ah, what, no, I mean, yes actually please.”

“Excellent response…” said the Inspector as he stood up, and went to the door and whispered something to the officer standing outside. He then sat down and made a cross and a tick on his list.

“Now let us continue, and please be clear, I am only after facts. Reasons are not within my remit.”

John stared at him, wondering how he could have ended up here.

“May I ask why you have selected a moustache?”

“Um, as, I mean, compared to what?”

“A full beard. Or no beard.”

“I guess I just like it.”

“And yet two decades ago you had a full beard,” the Inspector sounded a little stern.

“How did you know?”

“We have ways,” said the Inspector showing a humourless smile.

John said nothing, and the Inspector’s smiled grew and he said, “It was on your SocialBook page… which we will come back to. Now please, the facial hair question, this is important.”

“I guess I just liked it.”

“Just liked it, indeed. As of the last survey only 3% of men had just a moustache. And twenty years ago it was a similar percentage who had a full beard, and yet now it’s up to over 20%.”

The Inspector rubbed his clean shaven and rather square chin and looked at John, before nodding, and noting down three more crosses on his list. John was wondering what the third cross represented when the Inspector looked up suddenly.

“SocialBook!”

John started, “Yes?”

“Do you use it?”

“Um, well I’m on it.”

“Yes yes, but how often do you use it?”

“Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I logged in. Does that put me in a minority again?” John couldn’t help letting a little fear enter his voice.

The Inspector laughed drily.

“Oh no, perfectly average, right in the centre of the curve in fact. Always good to check, we get some pretty severe Deviations in the social media world. Right, now, this says you are religious.”

“Ah yes, I believe in God.”

“Indeed. And you go to church how often?”

“Every Sunday. But you see…”

“Do you know how many people go to church every Sunday?”

“Well the congregation has been shrinking, but…”

“Six percent. Six. And of your age group, less than one percent. You are heading right into the tail there my friend.”

He marked a large cross, and John decided he needed to say something, “But you see I only go because I promised my mother…”

“Keeping a promise to a parent. Let me see…. no that’s neutral. Lucky for you. I’d suggest you consider answering only the questions I ask Mr Jones, I am after all trying to do you a favour here.”

John felt that this was the opposite of the case, but realising that discretion was the better part of valour he held his tongue. The Inspector gave one of his hard smiles again, and ticked another box. He then leant back in his chair.

“Hmmm, so it says here that you like classical music,” he pointed vaguely at a file on the table which he hadn’t opened at any point.

“Not really, I mean it doesn’t offend me, but I don’t listen to it very often.”

“I see. So who do you listen to?”

“Well at the moment I’m listening to the Eagles a lot, mixed in with a bit of Queen.”

“Classical music indeed. You know that neither of those bands have been mainstream popular for some time…”

“But the Eagles best of…”

“A glitch.”

And another cross. John was feeling more and more disoriented and worried.

There was a knock on the door and it was opened by a policeman who walked in and gave John the drink of water he’d asked for earlier. He took a sip and tried to gather his thoughts.

“Look, I really don’t understand…”

The Inspector sighed and looked at him.

“Mr Jones, do you know what the problem with modern society is? No don’t answer, it was a rhetorical question. We believe that there are no major problems with the core of society. The problems are in the deviations. The barbarians inside the walls as it were.”

“Barbarians?”

“Yes, a kind of fifth column, well slightly more or less if you count the Deviations…”

The Inspector looked at John as if expecting a response, but seeing nothing just shook his head and muttered something like “non-statisticians” under his breath.

Then he looked at his watch and said, “Mr Jones, please no more interruptions, I only have a few more questions and then we should be able to make a decision, please just bear with me.”

“Um, OK.”

A tick this time.

“Right Mr Jones, can I see your tattoo?”

“What?”

“Your tattoo.”

“I don’t have a tattoo.”

“A real individual aren’t you.”

John felt on more solid ground on this one, he’d had an argument with Philips from Procurement about this only last week.

“Only 25% of 18-40 year-olds have tattoos. So not having one is not really being an individual.”

“Did you just quote a statistic at me Mr Jones?” The air of menace in the room was palpable.

“Um.”

“Perhaps you don’t realise how much trouble you are in! But if I were you, I wouldn’t try and be aggressive again, because at this point I’m your only hope.”

“OK, um, sorry?” John tried to look penitent, but he was so confused it was hard.

“Indeed. Well you are in fact correct about the overall percentage. But what it hides is that within your social strata, educational class and regional variation, having a tattoo is now prevalent across 51% of males.”

John wasn’t sure if it was an accusation or a celebration so he just nodded.

“However, it is not a defining marker for Deviation, so we will mark that as neutral. No more statistics though…” he looked severe.

John nodded meekly.

“Final question for today. Are you a vegan?”

“No. But I have been considering it… I mean not soon, but at some point.”

“Hmmm, well well, now that is interesting. Last year that would have put you into a Deviation category, but the latest updates seem to show… yes, you are now in the majority. Excellent.”

He made another tick. Tapped at the paper, then wrote a number at the bottom.

“Do you have anything else to say for yourself Mr Jones?”

“Ah no, I just…”

“No time for justice here. I am making a summary judgement. You are found guilty of Deviation, but given the balance of information I believe you have a chance of redemption. Sentence suspended for two years pending confirmation of conformation. Do you understand?”

“Um, not really.”

“I’m saving your life Mr Jones, I’m letting you join the majority. You may remain out of prison for the moment.”

###

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Brain Hack

By Jason Gibbs

“Gerald? Is that you… I’m in the kitchen.”

The door slammed, and she heard his footsteps. They sounded heavy, and she hoped he hadn’t had a bad day.

“Dawn… I’ve… I’ve been in an accident.”

“What? Gerald, are you OK? Sit down…”

She pulled a chair out for him, and went to get him a whisky.

“Tell me about it.”

“I was driving home, work was hectic today and I was thinking about a presentation I needed to do on… well I can’t remember, but anyway, I turned off the motorway and then, then I hit something. Someone.”

“What?”

“I don’t know, but there was blood I think, and… I’m here. The car is…”

He slumped, and slid off the chair, falling almost gracefully to the ground before Dawn could get to him. She didn’t know what to do. She took a deep breath, put Gerald into the recovery position and signalled a call. An emergency services avatar appeared in the chat box in her eyespace.

‘How may I help you?’

She blinked a photo of her husband, and quickly summarised the issue.

‘Paramedics are on the way. Can you confirm the OS and version your husband is currently running?’

She’d worried about this, not that it should be a problem, but people were funny about these things.

‘He’s a natural. No implanted OS,’ she answered.

A pause before the response, ‘We will send police as well.’

‘What? Why?’

‘They will explain. Thank you for your call.’

The avatar shut down and a feedback box bounced into view. She irritably flicked her eyes left to send it where it deserved, and then sat down staring at Gerald. She absent mindedly drank the whisky she’d poured for him. She was worried, and wondering to herself, why the police?

#

Thirty minutes later the paramedics were loading Gerald into the ambulance, assuring her that all would be well. The police woman had been very polite, and stayed out of the way while the paramedics were working on him. Once the ambulance had pulled away she looked a question at Dawn, and Dawn sighed inwardly and went over to speak to her.

“I’m Officer Fisher. I’ve reviewed the report Mrs Richards, and I’m concerned. There are a few things which don’t make sense.”

Dawn stared at her. She’d been holding it together up to this point, looking after Gerald, but now… she started to cry.

The police woman didn’t move, but looked sympathetic.

“Now don’t worry Mrs Richards, I don’t think your husband has done anything wrong… quite the opposite in fact, I think he might be a victim. Is this Mr Richards’ car?” she asked as she pointed to the grey box Gerald had been so proud of getting.

Dawn sniffed a bit, then nodded and the police woman walked round it, then carefully looked under it. She nodded, to herself it seemed and then returned to where Dawn was standing.

“As I thought, no obvious damage. Would it be possible to go inside…”

Dawn looked around, and realised that some of her neighbours were loitering. She could see in the corner of her eyespace that there was a queue of messages in her neighbour channel. She nodded to the police woman, turned and went in. Officer Fisher followed at a respectful distance, and flashed a do not disturb message across all the local comms networks.

#

Officer Fisher sat quietly as Dawn busied herself making a cup of tea for them both. She’d wanted a glass of wine, but didn’t think it was entirely appropriate. Eventually she had to sit down and face the police woman.

“Thank you for the cup of tea Mrs Richards.”

“You’re welcome,” said Dawn somewhat woodenly.

“Now, you told the dispatch bot that your husband had no OS… and the request was shunted to a human. That is why I was sent. Now I have to ask this question, it may seem strange, but are you sure your husband is a natural? Some people claim they are, but…”

“Oh no, he’s a natural. You see we went to school together. I was there when they were testing us. He was the only natural in the school for a couple of years. We all knew. He… well he struggled a bit for a while.”

“It is hard for naturals, when they start to be shut out from the social aspects…” said the police woman sympathetically.

“He’s definitely natural.”

“Yes, I see, well that explains it. Please wait one second.” She stared left politely, then went on, “I’ve spoken to the paramedics and they are performing a series of diagnostics, similar to the OS testing you had at school. Hopefully they’ll find out the, um, semi-code and be able to help him.”

Dawn looked are her blankly, then said, “Please, just… I don’t understand, will he be fine?”

The police woman smiled reassuringly, demonstrating that the empathy courses were still in vogue. “He should make a full recovery, based on the other cases I’ve seen, but of course the doctors will need to confirm.”

“But what happened?”

“Your husband was hacked,” said Officer Fisher simply.

“But he’s a natural…”

“I suspect the hackers didn’t know that. They’ve started to use some aggressive techniques recently, and it may have been one of those. In essence they blank all the receptors, and in the case of some naturals, well, it gets partially through, along with a lot of noise and confusion. I believe that is what happened to your husband.”

“Do you mean like a blast attack for us?” Dawn had never experienced one of these, but knew of people who had. They said it was like receiving every message they’d ever had at the same time, and some of them had taken days to get back online.

“In essence yes, though as he had no training he would not have had any context. It’s fortunate he made it home before collapsing. These days blast attacks are much rarer, the underlying architecture has been improved somewhat.”

“I, I think I understand. And don’t I know that they’re still working on the Brain OSes. I had a version upgrade last year, it was pretty confusing. I have to admit I thought Gerald was the lucky one for a few days, I can tell you.”

There was a pause. Then Dawn asked, “What were they trying to do?”

“Oh, well you said he mentioned an accident? I think they were trying to plant the idea he’d been in a car accident. They try to plant it in the back memory of an OS-enabled person so it’s not obvious. It makes it much easier when they follow up a few hours later with a call, you probably know the kind.”

Dawn thought, and then smiled thinly, “Oh yes, the ones which say something like, ‘Hello, I believe you’ve been in a car accident which wasn’t your fault…'”

###

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Increments

I wrote this originally on a whim after reading something about industrial policy. I was trying to see what the impact on real people might be…

Increments

By Jason Gibbs

The government today announced their intention to nationalise Hardys, Julco and Faberdashers.  These last three independent great national champions will be merged into the United Retail Company, serving every aspect of our daily lives.  URC produces items from soap to dishwashers, and will now have the strength to compete with the foreign firms who have begun to dominate our domestic market.

Gladys sat in her comfortable chair, and stared at her supermarket receipt.  She did try to buy British, but it was just so hard.  She’d saved nearly twenty percent over the previous month’s shopping by switching to these odd-sounding brands.  Perhaps with this new British giant things would get cheaper again?  She’d try them next month.

The phone went.

“Yes?”

“Oh hello darling.  Yes I’m fine.”

“No, I’ll be fine my pension covers it now.”

“Yes yes, you sound like you’re busy?  Well, nice to speak to you, see you soon?”

Her daughter was always so busy, though Gladys wasn’t entirely sure what it was that she did.

URC announced today its results for its first quarter since nationalisation, and the results were good.  Sales were up nearly 6% and profits 3%.  The government announced that the profits would be used to accelerate the roll out of the automated home help program.  This government initiative seeks to put a care robot into the home of every single pensioner in the country, current estimates are that there are more than five million people who would be eligible.

Bill sat at his desk trying to work out what he was doing.  He’d been planning to respond to a letter, but couldn’t remember which.  He looked at the pile of papers and saw the one from the Department for Age Support.  Damn them. 

That was it, he remembered now, they wanted to put a robot in his house.  Probably to spy on him, or maybe inject him with all these potions the quacks kept trying to get him to take.  Well, he was going to tell them where to put the ridiculous automaton, and he wasn’t going to be polite about it!

Minister Johns today delivered the millionth care robot to the home of Mrs Jay.  She was heard to exclaim in happiness, and immediately asked the device to make a cup of tea and do the ironing.  The Minister stayed for tea and said he’d had a very pleasant chat with Mrs Jay.  In an interview after the meeting Mrs Jay said that she might now be tempted to vote for the Minister at the next election.

“No dear, he’s an old friend.  A very old friend, we went to school together.”

“Oh don’t be silly, it’s nothing serious at all, we’re just catching up.  Now I must go, the tea is ready.  Bye dear, do pop in soon.”

Gladys turned to her guest, “Sorry Bill, my daughter, Emily.  She does fuss.”

Bill shuffled his feet a bit, “Well these young ones.  At least she cares.”

“Yes, oh yes.  Wasn’t it lucky that we bumped into each other at the supermarket!  After all these years I could tell it was you, just by your walk.  You haven’t changed a bit.”  She smiled at him, and he caught a little of the twinkle he remembered in her eyes.

“Gotten old I have.  Not like you, still a real beauty.”

Gladys was saved the embarrassment of answering by the arrival of the tea, delivered by her new care robot.

“I call her Ruby.  Because of her red lights.”

“Hmph.”

“Oh don’t be an old stick in the mud, she’s jolly useful.  Makes very good tea, now that I’ve shown her how to properly warm the pot.  I do wonder about these engineers, they sent her out without knowing how to make a proper cuppa.”

“Don’t trust them, robots that is, not the engineers.  Though, I will admit that this is a nice cup of tea.”

“Bill, don’t be silly, I spoke to Tom, he’s Emily’s husband and does something with programming these robots.  He says that they’re saying these lovely helpers will give us at least an extra ten years life.”

He frowned.  Until last week an extra ten years of life would have meant a continuation of his purgatory, but finding Gladys again had lifted his heart.  He, almost, felt young again.

“They do, do they?  Well, maybe they’re not all bad.”

He was silent for a moment.

“Mine is arriving next week.  The ministry’s polite response to my eloquent refusal can be summarised as: tough.”

“Well I for one am glad.  I won’t be worrying about you, all on your own in that dingy place.  I’m sure those stairs will be the death of you.  But with a helper, well, you’ll be much safer.”

URC announced today a small drop in sales and commensurate drop in profits.  The CEO, former Minister Palpby, explained that the final integration costs had kicked in.  He also accused the competition of flooding the market with cheap goods to try and damage URC and therefore the country.  He called on the government to set mandatory prices for critical consumer goods such as soap, toothpaste and skin cream.

“These biscuits Bill, are they local?  They taste delicious.”

“Ah, no, they’re imports.”

“Bill!  I thought you were ‘Buy British’ all the way.”

“They are half the price, and taste better.  I’m as patriotic as the next man, but I have to subsist on pennies you know.”

Just then Albert hummed politely.

“Yes?”

“Would you like a refill of tea, sir?”

“Yes, and stop calling me sir.  Call me Bill or something!”

“Yes sir.”

Gladys smothered a smile.  She was glad to see Bill had a care-robot now.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Competition today announced that there would be minimum pricing on all goods defined as core.  He explained that these were all those day to day essentials required for a normal life, but did not include any luxuries.

“Now Gladys, I don’t want you to think I’m being too forward.  But…”

“Yes Bill?”

“Would you like to move in with me?  I can’t marry you.  I promised Beryl I wouldn’t marry again.  But…”

“Oh Bill.  I don’t need to be married to be happy.  Yes, of course.  This last month has seen the cobwebs swept out of my brain.  But why now?”

“Well, you see the thing is.  Oh, I’ll just tell you it all.  I don’t have very much money, in fact my pension just isn’t covering my expenses any more.  I was saving money by buying the cut-price foreign products, but now that all the prices have gone up, well, if I don’t find a way to cut costs I’ll go hungry.”

She just stared at him, and then said, “So it’s just to save money?”

He could see tears threatening to form.

“Oh no no, not at all.  I was hoping to wait and take you out to a nice dinner and do it properly, but this recent change has just.  Oh I’m such an idiot.  I’ve always wanted to be with you.”

Gladys looked at him sombrely and then started to laugh.

“You silly old goose, I was just joking!  Of course I’d like to live with you, but, I’d rather you moved in with me.  My place is quite a bit bigger for a start.”

He smiled and reached for her.  A humming sound interrupted them.

“Yes Albert?”

“Your lunch is ready sBill.”

“sBill?” enquired Gladys.

“I changed his word for sir.  Read up on it in the manual.  I’m not totally useless yet!”

Patoque-Deuters Industries, one of the largest foreign companies still operating in the domestic market, announced a massive increase in profits.  PDI’s spin on this blatant profiteering was that the government minimum pricing had forced them to raise all their prices and this had fed directly through to profits.  A government spokesman pointed out that this couldn’t possibly be true as URC had only achieved limited growth in their profits.

“Now Emily, don’t you worry.  Bill will be bringing his own care robot.  We’ve been told by the ministry that we can keep both of them for three months, and then there will be an assessment.  God knows what they’ll assess.”

“No, Em dear.  Listen, I know you worry about your old mother, but I’m not completely gaga.  This is my decision and I’m sticking with it.  OK, oh, you have to run?  No, that’s fine, we’ll speak next week?  OK, goodbye.”

URC announced the delivery of the four millionth care robot to a pensioner.  The government followed this by extending the care robot programme to cover all pensioners, implying that a further five million robots would be produced.

“So we can keep both robots.  It’s official.”

“That’s good Bill.”

“I thought you’d be more excited.  What’s wrong Gladys?”

“Well.  Bill, how much toilet paper do you actually need to use?”

Bill looked shocked.  This wasn’t something he’d ever discussed, not even with Beryl.

“Er, well four sheets.  Drummed into me in the army.  Never more.”

Gladys looked confused.

“Well I don’t understand, I’m buying twice as much as I used to, and yet we’re running out faster.  I assumed it was just you.  Everything seems to run out so fast these days.”

“At least we’re back to buying British!”

“Yes, though the pleasure of buying British doesn’t really outweigh the drop in quality.”

PDI today made the bizarre claim that they were responsible for ninety percent of the production of URC’s care robots.  Their CEO was hauled in front of the Minister to explain himself, he later made a public apology and blamed it on some confusion at head office.  A URC representative explained that PDI did provide some components for the machines, but that these were all low value items, and would all soon be taken in-house.

“What are you doing Albert?”

The robot turned, and said, “Sorry Miss Gladys, I was checking the toothpaste.  It is part of my regular routine.”

It turned back, screwed on the cap and put the tube down.  Gladys thought the tube looked quite a bit flatter than she remembered it being that morning.

“Please don’t.”

“Yes Miss Gladys.”

As she walked away she muttered to herself, “I can almost believe those robots are mostly foreign.  Stealing my toothpaste.  Wonder what the little devil wanted it for.”

Peter Shipps was today sentenced to ten years in prison for malicious economic sabotage.  Mr Shipps, a so-called independent journalist, had claimed that the care robots had been programmed to steal from their owners.  He asserted that the robots would use a little bit of every one of the core essentials every day, thereby forcing their owners to buy replacements much faster.  The only products being targeted were those made by URC, in an effort to improve sales.  Mr Justice Jenkins summarised by calling Shipps a ‘fantasist’ and enemy of the people.  He also stated that he was surprised that the prosecution hadn’t also added a charge of working for a foreign power, as that was the only motivation he could see behind Shipps’ actions.  Neither URC nor the government deigned to comment on the allegations from the report.

“Bill, I’m sorry, I’ve had to buy foreign.  The British stuff just isn’t as good, and it keeps running out so quickly.  I thought it might be your foolish robot, but after that time I caught it with the toothpaste I’ve never seen it do that again, and I’ve snuck up on it several times.”

“That’s alright love.  We must do what’s right for us.  We’ve given enough to this country over the years.”

He was glad they could go back to having the nice tea biscuits, he’d missed them.

URC announced today that sales in the last quarter had dropped a further 15%, making a drop of nearly 30% this year.  The company claimed that it was because their products had a longer life than their competitors, and this was slowing people’s replacement purchases.  In addition there have been supply delays which have slowed down the care robot delivery program.

“Bill, I caught that devil doing it again!”

“What dear?”

“Albert, stealing the toothpaste.”

“It can’t have been Albert, he’s been with me all day.  Perhaps it was Ruby?”

“Ruby?  Why would she want my toothpaste?  It’s that foreign stuff as well, and I thought she was mostly British!”

“Yes dear.”

One of Peter Shipps colleagues, who’s name cannot be reported during his trial, has made bold claims that in recent months the care robots have been reprogrammed.  He has said that the robots are now stealing small amounts of the products of foreign companies, particularly PDI, and leaving URCs products alone.  His rather contorted explanation is that people had stopped buying URC products because they were running out so quickly, and have now turned to PDI’s which seem to last longer.  Therefore the government has mandated that the robots reverse the process.  It is likely that this alleged merchant of truth will spend the rest of his life in one of the remote penal stations.

“No Gladys.  I don’t care if you think they’re going at the same rate as the British products, the fact is that they’re nicer.  If they cost the same then we should stick with them.”

“But Bill…”

“No buts.”

URC announced today that it needed a cash injection of many billions in order to continue to operate.  Sales have continued to drop precipitously.  Minister Jacobs blamed foreign companies for their cut-throat competition, and focussed his ire on PDI.  He said the government was reviewing options to seize PDI’s illegal profits.  PDI’s latest quarterly report showed continued growth in sales, and a robust profit, clearly as a result of predatory sales practices.  The report claimed the company now employed three hundred thousand people in the country.  The majority are in sales and distribution activities as PDI’s manufacturing capacity is based overseas.  

“Oh Emily, I’m sure it will be fine.  Governments always say such things.  They really can’t do it.”

“I know dear, I love you too.  See you next week?  Bye then”

Bill looked up.

“Is she ok?”

“She’s worried about her job.  PDI have always been good to her, and she’s done very well.  If the government does go through with their threats…”

“Bah.  It’ll never pass.  The courts will stop it.”

“I don’t know Bill.  It doesn’t seem like it was a few years ago.”

The government announced yesterday import duties of 70% on all goods. 

PDI’s response, issued today, was that it would be shutting down operations in Britain.  It was planning an orderly shutdown, and all employees would be terminated by the end of the year.  A government spokesman said that the government were taking steps, though was unable to specify what they were.

“Gladys, why have we got these horrid cardboard biscuits?”

“That’s all there were, love.  Not a single foreign made thing in the shop.  The nice girl at the cashier said that they’d had no deliveries since the government announcement.”

“But I like those biscuits.  Damned government.”

He paused and then taking a deep breath he said, “There is something else.  Gladys, we’re going to Spain.”

“What love?  A holiday?  I’m not sure we can afford it!”

“No dear.  To live.  It’s a one-way ticket.”

“But.  When, what?”

“We can’t stay here.  The shops are half empty, the queues are growing.  The country has gone to the dogs, and it’s getting worse.”

“I know, but Spain.”

She thought about it a bit then said, “It’s nice and warm there though.  Oh, what about Emily?”

“She’s coming too.  With the pay-off she’s getting from PDI she can afford to come as well, with Tom and the kids.”

“I didn’t think you two got on.”

“I think she knows now that I only have your best interests at heart.”

“Oh Bill.  That could be lovely.  But what about the robots?  We’d have to leave them, they are government property.  I couldn’t live without Ruby, and how long would you last without Albert.  Love, it’s just not practical.  It’s not.”

“Trust me dear.  Will you?”

“I can’t go to Spain, I can’t.  There must be another way.”

Reports have come in of rioters destroying shops in town centres across the country.  Government spokesmen have said that these are malcontents trying to stir up trouble.  We tried to interview some of them, but were stopped by the police under the Sedition Act.

“Well Bill.  We’re actually in Spain!”

“Now we can properly relax love.  Sun, sand, and peace.”

She smiled and looked over at him.  The bruising on his face had gone down.  He’d been lucky those rioters hadn’t hurt him more, though he kept saying it was the riot police who’d actually hit him.  He’d been getting milk.  Albert had brought him home and tended to him.  As soon as she’d seen him she’d known that her country was gone, replaced by somewhere she no longer recognised.  Somewhere that was no longer safe.  They had to leave.

“Another cerveza please Albert.  That means beer in Spanish dear.”

“I know Bill, that’s the fourth time you’ve told me.”

He looked out over the pool.

“Bliss.”

“You never did tell me how you managed to bring Albert and Ruby with us.”

“I just downloaded their memories onto flash cards.  Then I uploaded them into two blank robots I purchased here from the local subsidiary of PDI.”

“Oh you are clever Bill.”

He puffed up.

“I do my best dear.”  He didn’t want to admit that Tom had told him how to do it.

The care robot returned.

“Your cerveza sBill.”

“Thanks Albert.”

He raised the bottle and said, “Here’s to new lives.”

Gladys smiled and lifted her glass, “New lives.”

###

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Virtual Death

This story explores another aspect of part of the future timeline described in Post Scarcity Blues (and probably would have been one of the stories in the book if I’d written it then!).

Virtual Death

By Jason Gibbs

It had been a long time since he’d physically visited a friend.  At least a decade, there was no need with modern implants and full immersion virtual reality.  Philip couldn’t explain why he was doing this, there was just an itch at the back of his mind.

The hall was dimly lit, as indeed was the whole block.

“Why am I doing this at night?”

Yet, once he’d decided he just had to go.  Also, he’d been on US time zone, so had thought it was late afternoon.

“Five flights of stairs.  Eric could have told me his building lift was broken.”

Though he hadn’t actually told Eric he was going to visit him, they’d just agreed to meet in the Dell, their usual place.  And anyway, it was unlikely Eric knew the lift was broken, he probably hadn’t been out for years either.

“Fifty-eight, fifty-nine… here he is.”

Philip knew he was only talking to himself to try and dispel the creepiness around him, but couldn’t stop.

“Oh is Eric going to be surprised!”

He knocked.  Nothing, and again.  He pressed the buzzer.  Nothing.  He tried the handle.  The door wasn’t locked.

“Ah, Eric probably disabled his physical alerts, I bet he can’t even remember the last time someone used them.  Eric?”

He opened the door into dust and gloom.

“Eric?”

He tried the light, but though he flicked it nothing came on.

“Eric, your lightbulb is out.  You should get maintenance to take better care.”

He walked into the living room.  It was lit by a few green flickering lights.  But Eric wasn’t in it.  The kitchenette was off to one side, and a short corridor with two doors was on the other side.  He walked gingerly towards the corridor.  The dust was thick on the floor.  This wasn’t a good idea.

“This place is a tip Eric, don’t worry I won’t tell anyone.  Eric?”

It was a standard apartment, so the bathroom would be to the right, and the bedroom to the left.

“The dust is just as thick here.  I wonder when the last time Eric actually got up to go to the toilet.”

Taking a breath, and trying to ignore the smells of staleness and slight decay, he pushed open the bedroom door.

He realised he’d closed his eyes and he opened them to look in, expecting, well he didn’t know.

There in the centre of the room was a standard VR coffin.

“Hmm, nice, a Paradise 23, or is it, no I’m wrong it’s a 24, top of the line before they stopped producing them.  Nice one Eric.”

He walked up, and checked the control panel.  All lights were green, and the panel indicated all was well with a cheery “Systems OK!” message.

“Right then, what was the protocol.  I think I press this, tap that…”

“Beep.  Please vocalise a message to explain the wakening.”

“Oh yes, this was to stop people being shocked.  Um, look Eric, it’s me Philip…”

‘Beep’.

“Damn.  I wonder if I can re-record.  That button.  No.  Um.”

The lights had started to flash red.  That didn’t seem right, and then there was another ‘Beep’, though this one sounded less friendly.  There was a hissing sound.  Philip stepped back.

“Why am I doing this…”

It was too late, the coffin had started to open up.  Philip wasn’t sure what he expected to see.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted to see.  When the hissing stopped he realised he’d closed his eyes again.  He opened them, and saw the side of the open coffin.  Nothing moved.

After a pause he said, “Eric?”

Nothing.  He frowned, and edged forward.  He could see the edge of the coffin, and then the lining, a sort of red plush, comfortable, though flashy, and some tubes, and then…

Then, nothing.  The coffin was empty.

“What?”

Philip heard something behind him, but before he could turn around blackness descended.

#

“Philip?”

“Um.. gargh.”

“Philip!  Are you alright?”

“Yarg, Eric don’t shout…”

It was Eric, but he’d seen, what had he seen?

“Philip, you really worried me there, you came to meet me in the Dell, and then just faded out.  I’ve had to connect into the emergency controls on your virtual unit.”

“What…”

Could he do that?  Wait, they’d signed something, like an emergency order, so they could look out for each other, it had been Eric’s idea.  But there was something he was forgetting?

“Come on Philip, say something sensible!”

“Ok, ok, stop with your yabbering.  What were we doing?”

Eric sighed, “We were at the Dell, catching up and then you just, like, disappeared, liked faded or something.  You alright buddy?”

“I, I thought I’d come to see you…”

“Like a dream or something?”  Was that hope in Eric’s voice?  Suggestion?

“No…”

“I think it must have been a dream Philip,” Eric said, with more of an edge in his voice.

“The coffin was empty, you weren’t there… what, where are you?”

“Cut the power!”

Darkness.

#

“Philip?”

It was a voice he didn’t recognise, a woman’s voice.

“Yes.”

He felt fine.  Disoriented, and it was dark all around him.

“You’ve had an accident Philip.”

“What?”

“You’ve discovered something you shouldn’t have…”

“Eric…?” asked Philip.

“Yes, Eric.  He’s dead Philip.  He has been for a while.”

“But, but I see him every day.  He’s…”

“The Eric you’ve been seeing is part AI, part actor.  Designed to fool you.”

“But…”

“It’s true I’m afraid.  We needed him to be alive for the funds to flow…” said the woman.

“Funds?”

“Eric is, or was, a very very wealthy man.  He paid us to… keep him alive.  And we failed.  Or, succeeded, depending on your point of view.  He paid us a lot.”

“I don’t understand, is he dead?  Or alive?” asked Philip, feeling a little confused.

“His physical body is dead.  Burned and scattered in case you wondered, but with no attachment to it, he was treated as an unknown, his ashes scattered in the sea.”

“I remember him saying that’s what he wanted.”

“Ah yes, well actually it happened before he said that, his actually wish was to be buried under an apple tree on the old family property, but that would have been a little tricky to hide, so… we had to make some decisions.”

“You are?”

“His… carers.  Yes, carer is the best term.  Part bodyguard, part nurse, part… well part many things.”

“And you replaced him?” said Philip.

“No, we just didn’t let his online presence die.  We kept him alive.  We hired an actor, and the best AI people, and we kept him alive.  It had all been going so well, and then you… you decided to visit him.”

“When did he die?”

“About five years ago.”

Philip was so shocked he said nothing.  Then he suddenly realised, he was in danger, wasn’t he.  They’d killed and replaced Eric, they’d do the same to him…

“Philip, calm down, I can see your heart rate has spiked.  Don’t worry, we don’t mean you any harm.  Really, in fact we have a deal for you.”

Could he believe them?

“What deal?”

“We’d like you to carry on being friends with Eric, as if nothing had happened.  You see, you are a vital part of the proof web which keeps Eric alive, and the money flowing to us.”

“But you could just replace me!”

He could feel the hysteria building, the darkness didn’t help.

There was a sigh.  Silence for a minute, and then the light came on, he was in his apartment.  His virtual one.

“Sorry Philip, the darkness was a mistake.”

The woman in front of him had few obvious markers.  She had red hair, a fifties figure and stylish clothes, but he realised that these were all actually off the peg.  She was anonymous.

“Um, who are you?”

“We are carers Philip, as I said, and we care for Eric.  We will not hurt you.  Cannot hurt you in fact.”

“But the…”

“We hired a security service to bring you in, they were more robust than expected, they have been reprimanded, and you will find a generous settlement from them, as well as a full apology.”

“Oh.”

He was confused.

“I know you’re confused Philip, so I’ll leave you the details here, and you can decide what to do.  Ultimately, we’re in your hands.  If you agree to work with us, we will provide you with a generous income, which will cover some of the things you’ve mentioned to Eric you would like… If not, well, no money, and Eric will be gone.  We will feel some pain too, but I’m sure legal will cover us.”

Philip thought she didn’t sound entirely sure, but he nodded.

She left a virtual dossier on his table, smiled at him, and said, “Goodbye Philip, hopefully we will not meet again.”

Philip pondered what he was going to do.

#

“Philip!”  said Eric, with surprise, and perhaps a hint of trepidation in his voice.

“Eric, lovely to see you.  Apologies, I’ve been a bit sick the last few days, how have you been?”

“Not great, had a few worrying things going on.  Better for seeing you though!  What shall we do today?”

###

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Peace in Our Time

This is one of the first short stories I wrote after Pigs, Poultry and Poo came out.  I’ve dusted it off, and tidied it up a bit, and am now releasing it into the wild… it’s original title was something like ‘Superhero Dutch Disease’, but I prefer this title.

Peace in Our Time

by Jason Gibbs

The war had been dragging on for years.  Sometimes we were in the ascendant, other times we were being pushed back, but never did it seem like it would end.  The dead were legion, and all lost over a strip of land mere miles wide.  We two enemies were too closely matched.  Though once powerful, the endless fighting had sapped our energies, and the other nations on our borders were waiting to pick over our bones, even if they had to help finish us off.

At the start of the eleventh year of the war a rumour came that the enemy had developed a super weapon which would finally end us, and the war.  Some were afraid, others merely laughed off the story as enemy propaganda.  In the event we were the ones blessed with a super weapon.

Jondril arrived one day in the capital.  He approached the war office building and told the receptionist he was there to end the war.  As you can imagine he received short shrift, and was thrown out, literally.  Two hours later an armoured figure, twice the size of a man, approached the war office and tore down the wall.  Security went crazy, and opened up with all their weapons.  The figure calmly stood, bullets bouncing off.  Lasers sitting on the armour’s shoulders knocked rounds out of the air and then destroyed the weapons facing him.  When the firing had all but petered out, the figure stamped its foot smashing the road and sending rubble in a widening circle of destruction.  Once more Jondril spoke, his voice booming as it was enhanced by the suit’s speakers, “I would end this war!”

The minister for war decided to play for time while the heavy weaponry was brought in from the outskirts of the city.  He walked out to talk to Jondril.  A brave man the minister, and one who would have still been at the front had he not lost an arm and an eye.

He and Jondril talked.  And talked more.  The weaponry arrived, and the minister was given the signal.  He ignored it.  The suited figure nodded its head, and split down the front, and Jondril climbed down.  The suit closed up again, and not a seam could be seen.

The minister guided Jondril into his building and to his office, and there they had coffee, and talked more.  More happened on that day, some said he should be imprisoned, others pointed out that he had not hurt anyone deliberately, though a few soldiers had been hurt by flying debris, but most hailed him.  He’d brought a suit which was all but impervious to our weapons, and also therefore to those of our enemy.  We heard that his father had been a scientist who had been working on such suits for many years.  He’d finally succeeded, but had sadly died before he could see his life’s work used for its true purpose, bringing peace.

The very next day Jondril walked to the front, and waded into the fight.  Again and again the enemy attacked him, but their bullets could not harm him, and their missiles didn’t bother him.  While he was untouched, every shot his suit fired was true, and the enemy soon found that all their weapons melted, or fried, or in some unfortunate cases exploded.  Jondril never once targeted a person, he only wrecked weapons.  As he explained to us later, “I wanted to stop the bloodshed, not become part of it.”  The enemy tried heavy weapons, but these too could not touch him, his suit was able to deflect heavy shells out of the air, and seemed to cause missiles to veer away sharply, or explode, as if by magic.  There were some who thought it strange that not a single heavy missile actually hit him, but the majority were just dazzled by the impact on our enemies as they fell back in disarray.

The enemy were, however, both brave and foolish, and regrouped to continue to attack.  But after two weeks they had made no progress, and Jondril had destroyed all of their armaments on the front.  Our generals wanted to plough through the now defenceless enemy and take their revenge, but Jondril was firm that he would not allow that.  He wanted the war to stop.  They realized they had no choice.  Like our enemies, there was nothing they had which could beat him.

Three weeks after Jondril’s appearance an armistice was signed.  We were at peace.  At first nobody could believe it.  Then came the celebrations, with parades and parties galore.  Then the hangovers from the celebrations, combined with effects of the war started to take its toll.  The government wanted to keep the armed forces on alert, in case of a resumption of hostilities.  Our people took to the streets to demand, quietly but firmly, that their sons and daughters should return home.  They did not riot, they did not march, they just accumulated around the parliament buildings, standing, and made their demand by their very presence.  Still the politicians did not relent.  Until Jondril joined the silent crowds.  He too said nothing, but his intent was clear.

Within days the soldiers were returning home, first a trickle and then a flood.  Some injured, some battered, and many scarred from the constant warfare.  It was a hard time for them, and their families, but also a joyous one.

Our weapons were stockpiled.  Our munitions factories converted to creating tools, toys and gadgets.  A year passed.  Peace reigned.  Our former enemy became a trading partner, though sadly only of a few fripperies.  There was hope for more.

Then, to our horror, two other neighbours invaded.   They had watched, and seeing our weakness had allied to dismember us.  We woke up, and at once the weariness of war crashed down upon us.  But also rage.  How dare they take fragile hope from us.  Sons and daughters rushed back to the barracks, ready to rearm and send these cowards home with their tails between their legs.  One young man was already prepared, he had watched our neighbours and realized they might harbour perfidy in their hearts.  Jondril marched out again, and as before none could stand against him.  Our neighbours tried half-heartedly to stop him, but soon realized that he was as untouched by their weapons as he had been by ours.

Many thought Jondril would stop at our border and let that be a lesson to all.  He did not.  He took the minister for war with him to each of the capitals, and ripped down the walls of the presidential palaces.  He then watched, silently, as a peace was negotiated, with each of our neighbours agreeing to destroy all their weapons, and pay us tribute.  In response we would destroy all but a token few of our remaining weapons.  Though truth be told there weren’t many left since the factories had not replenished what had been used in our latest battles.

Jondril stood over the pits of weapons, watching them burn and melt.  Had the suit had a face it might well have smiled, one can only assume Jondril was smiling inside.  His work was done, peace was assured.

A month passed.  Then another.  Peace became normal.  The few guards at the borders became more concerned with improving their volleyball skills than watching their peers over the border.

Suddenly our original enemies brought all their armies to our border.  While we had been enjoying the peace, they had quietly rebuilt their war machine.  They formed up and marched across, all the way to the capital.  There was no one to stop them.  They stopped in our main square, and the enemy president walked forward to meet our president.  The enemy leader was a brave man and showed no fear, even though Jondril was standing next to our leader.

Before either president could speak the suit cracked open again, and out stepped Jondril.  He walked to the enemy president, and embraced him, “Welcome sir.  The war is over.”

#

That’s not how it was.  I mean, yes, it sort of was.  Sorry, let me explain.  I was Jondril.  Well, Jondril was the suit, but it was me inside.  And it wasn’t exactly like that.

I should start at the beginning.  They said that I should just write what I remember, and then at some stage it will be released, and everyone will know the truth, or I guess, my version of the truth.

The beginning is tricky.  I can’t tell you my name, not least because after this I’ll be getting a new one, hopefully.  Jondril is not exactly a popular person amongst our new subjects.  I wasn’t a soldier.  I was a scientist.  Am a scientist.  I work with brain to machine interfaces, and before Jondril I’d been working on one of the many war efforts to find a new weapon.

The idea was to turn our soldiers into walking tanks.  We’d give them each an army’s worth of guns and send them off to wipe out our opponents.  The problem was that it didn’t work.  The suits were too slow.  While we’d been successful with bulking the armour up, and making it almost invulnerable to small arms fire, one decent missile, and blam: many millions of expensive tech up in smoke.  We added anti-missile technologies, shrunk high powered lasers and improved the targeting.  It still wasn’t enough.  Our simulations gave the suit wearer a survival time of between three and four hours in the first deployment, and less than fifteen minutes in all further deployments.

There was really only one successful part of the project.  My bit.  No, I’m not being arrogant, I’m just telling it the way it was.  We succeeded, I succeeded, in subconscious human to machine control.  What does that mean?  It means that I could control the robot’s actions just by thinking, but more than that, I didn’t have to think ‘move knee up, swing foot forward, drop foot down’, instead I just thought about moving forward.  The suit became an extension of my body, and one which felt, after some practice, natural.

The success was only partial however, as only I could interface with the original suit.  The only one now, I guess.  But we had worked out what we needed to develop next to allow others to do the same.

Our last test failure came just before the funding round.  We all knew what would happen.  I couldn’t face it.  I wanted there to be something out of all the years of work, over eight of them in fact, with me joining with the suit every day for the last five.

I was desperate.  I proposed one last gamble.  Something which would show the worth of the suit, and hopefully allow us to continue our work.  I promised to lead the enemy into an ambush.  We’d be able to turn the tide.  And if I failed, all they’d lose would be the suit.  And me.

I think I struck a chord.  The war was making us less human, and there were some who were desperate for it to be over, one way or another.  One of those was the general in charge of intelligence.  I suspect because he knew just how closely matched we were with our enemies,  despite all the propaganda, and therefore just how permanent our stalemate could be.

So, our plan was born.  I would persuade our enemies I was on their side.  Pretend to wipe out a section of the front, they would charge in, and we’d annihilate them.  I wasn’t comfortable with being instrumental in all that death, but it was going to happen one way or another, perhaps I could save some lives in the long run.  And the program of course.

I don’t hate our former enemies.  I didn’t hate them then.  I felt nothing.  My brother had died at the front, and my father.  My mother just faded after my brother’s death.  I didn’t blame the enemy, I couldn’t see the point, they were losing just as many sons, daughters and parents as we were.

The night the mission started I was a mess.  My heart was in my throat; my bowels had turned to water.  Fortunately, I was in the suit, so no one could see my face, which I’m sure was pale with fear.  I was dropped, in my suit, twenty miles from the enemy capital in mountainous territory.  The drop went without a hitch, and as I unfolded from the ball the suit had formed on landing and checked the systems, I could feel the adrenaline kick in.  This was my chance.  I power ran to the edge of the capital, using the darkness to hide me, aided by the stealth we’d built into the suit.

Taking the suit off was harder than I expected, but I knew I had to make the first approach in person to have any chance of getting them to talk to me without just wiping the suit from the planet.  I felt naked.  Alone in a country of enemies.  I’d spent some weeks being subliminally trained to use the correct accent and speech rhythms, so I would not stand out.  I had the right clothes, and enough money to get to and from the war office.  And buy some food.

It soon became clear that I was just as invisible on the streets as everyone else.  Indeed, I could easily have been in my own city, there was really little between us.

The events at the war office have been described often enough.  There’s only one thing I would add.  The suit was standing serenely, taking the punishment.  Inside I was panicking.  I had never been shot at before, and now the rounds were pinging in from everywhere.  My original plan had been to take some initial punishment, and then shelter next to a building to carefully pick off the weapons firing at me.  However, in my panic my ability to communicate to the suit failed.  I was trapped inside it, and its systems went to automatic protection.  Fortunately, I’d instructed it to avoid fatalities, otherwise there would have been a blood bath and the minister of war would have had to call down an airstrike, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed that.

Our talk.  I can’t tell you much.  He was, is, a brave man.  Some say he would have been the next president.  Perhaps.  He asked me what I wanted.  I told him peace.  He then asked me how, and I said I’d disarm our enemies.  He looked at the suit silently for a while, and then asked me to step out.  I nearly didn’t, but I knew this was my chance to persuade him.

I stepped out, sweating, but managed to hold myself straight.  He looked at me.  Said something about young men and war, and then offered me a coffee in an office, and we walked inside.  We didn’t talk much more then.  He didn’t quiz me about where I came from; he didn’t test my cover story at all.  I like to think he just trusted me, but of course he also knew that others would be interrogating me on those things later.

We had the coffee in his office.  I was then escorted into a comfortable, but locked room.  Some hours later I was visited again by an officer.  He wanted the keys to the suit.  I explained that it would only work with me.  He threatened me.  I repeated my statement.  He went away.

Oddly, they never did properly test my cover story.  I was pretending to be one of their scientists from a facility which had been blown up a year before which we knew had been working on suits.  I’d somehow made it to my nearby home and finished up my work and hey, here I was with a weapon to end the war.  It was the weakest part of the story, but it was only intended to hold up for a day or so, not long enough to be properly checked.  They created their own propaganda.  Possibly because they didn’t want to admit to having had a facility blown up, or maybe they were incapable of releasing the truth.

The next day I went to the front.  I’d told them I wanted to make a difference and that I’d clear our enemies.  I waded in, destroyed every weapon pointed at me, and defanged all my opposition.

Here was a tricky bit.  I knew that the suit couldn’t withstand true heavy weaponry, as of course did those in charge of my new ‘enemies’, but we had to pretend.  And be convincing enough that my new allies would buy it.  I was in constant communication with my old bosses, and they helped me manage such a show.  Every time a missile got too close they’d force it to self-destruct, and I’d point my arm at it just beforehand.  The artillery systems were surprisingly inaccurate that day, enough so that I could walk in between the paths.  It was all very convincing.

We managed to keep it going for two weeks.  The enemy forces fell back, leaving plenty of broken weapons in their wake.  Many of these were obsolete, but it wasn’t that obvious once they’d been sufficiently burnt, and both sides had been using obsolete weaponry for so long it probably wouldn’t have stood out.

How did I keep talking with my bosses without my new friends finding out?  Easy really, my suit was constantly chatting on every available network, wavelength and direct connection it could sense.  It was like a shining ball of communications, which meant that it was impossible to track any of it.  Especially as it was constantly shifting channels.  My new allies did try to hack it, as expected, but to them it always seemed one step ahead, and even turned the hacks around.  This was because it wasn’t doing anything with most of the information it was getting in, it was just scrambling it and feeding it straight back out again, like a crazed router.

With my former nation now appearing to be in deep trouble and on the run, my new friends were keen to take advantage and drive every spare man and woman they had, all the way to the capital to perform the coup de grace.  I was supposed to let them.  But I couldn’t.

I’d never before been at the front.  I’d not seen the dead and dying happening in front of me.  Sure I’d seen it on TV, but that’s TV…  As much as I was doing to try and spike weapons around me, there was still fighting, and blood and death, and it sickened me.  This was one of the reasons I failed the combat psych test and was allowed to continue in research.  And I wanted it stopped.

So instead of letting the fools walk into the giant trap I’d set up for them, I insisted they didn’t.  I further insisted they push for an armistice.  By this point I was a hero, and they couldn’t argue.

Unlike my former bosses, who were threatening all sorts.  There was much swearing, accusations of betrayal and suchlike.  I ignored it for a while.  And then told them of my new plan.

I’d realized that everyone wanted the war to stop.  I believed, rightly as it turns out, that the country I was in was desperate to stop.  The people had run out of fighting spirit.  I told my former bosses that if they agreed to an armistice, within a year the land I was in would be toothless, and they would be able to walk in unopposed.  All they would have to do is maintain combat readiness but keep it low profile.

The key was that my new best friends viewed me as an army on my own.  They wouldn’t need to retain troops if they had me.  The more sensible generals thought this foolish, and tried to keep the army together.  But the people soon stopped that.  Helped by some apparently ad hoc campaigns on social media.  I judged the appropriate time, and joined the standing demonstrations.  Within days the war machine was being dismantled with enthusiasm.

Why did my bosses not invade now?  In part because they wanted to rearm properly.  The last few years had left both sides armies exhausted and equipment and munitions were short.  In part I think they wanted to make sure that the old enemy was truly quietened.   And in part they needed to maintain control of their own people, allowing some peace, but not too much.  I also did my bit in staying their hand, by telling them that there were still many fit and trained men and women in this ‘adopted’ country of mine, and we needed time for their war skills to atrophy.

Months passed.  How did I avoid detection?  I told my new friends I needed space, and that I would be available if needed, but would respond badly to unnecessary contact.  I provided written responses to some questions from the news people, and then hid in the mountains, using the stealth on the suit to hide me.  In truth I did want the space, and the mountains were soothing.  I felt the burden of the deaths I’d caused.  Not directly, but I’d certainly changed the dynamic, and many of my countrymen had died.  Perhaps they would have died soon anyway.  The war would have chewed them up.  But the difference was that I had helped.  I didn’t want to face the probability that I would cause yet more death.

I spent all my time in my suit, and it became more and more part of me.  I slept in it.  It fed me.  We were one.

After a year my former homeland had recovered.  The armies were ready.  There were fewer men and women in arms, but those left were well fed, well-armed, and ready for a fight.  My pleading that the war not be restarted fell on increasingly deaf ears, and I was becoming desperate.  I was close to refusing to be any further part, but then, we all knew that I wasn’t needed for the planned slaughter.

Then fate intervened.  Two smaller nations on the borders decided to ally and pick over the weakened beast I now lived in.  They invaded, but tentatively.  Which was their mistake.  A year of peace had not healed all the wounds, and the anger of the people was frightening.  As soon as news of the incursions hit the media channels there was an eruption.  The people would not have their peace taken from them.  Vengeance and death were offered up by people who but days before were discussing poetry competitions and flower shows.

I made sure my erstwhile bosses were made aware of all of this.  They could see their enemy was weakened, but not defeated.

Then I saw a positive option.  Perhaps true peace was possible?  I joined in the defence.  Recklessly diving into the combat.  Fortunately, the two nations were weak, and hadn’t brought any proper heavy weapon support otherwise I might have been destroyed within hours.  Instead they fell back before me.  I continued to push them back, rolling over their armies, destroying any arms brought against me, but avoiding fatalities as far as was possible.  I also told my friends to let me do the work, and save themselves.  This would reduce the potential for death on both sides.

My actions in forcing the peace are well documented.  Suffice it to say the defeated nations were in such shock that they would have signed anything, and the peace they were offered was far better than any they would have given.  As all three sides destroyed their weapons I rejoiced.

Did I know my old bosses would take advantage of the situation?  Of course, I had presented the option to them.  They would win, and take over not one, but three nations, becoming a much more powerful empire.  One which could not be threatened by any of our more distant neighbours.  Was I comfortable with betraying my allies?  I never did.  I ended the war.  I gave them peace.

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