Friday, 5 January 2018

Another Job

The warehouse door was open. There it was, one of the most advanced cases Felix and Matt had ever seen. The rollers of this particular machine had hauled themselves off their frame. There were scrape-marks left where it had dragged itself across the shop floor. The ‘mouth’ was gorging itself on great bales of paper while the rear end was weaving the beginnings of a cocoon.

The Foreman shook Felix and Matt’s hands. “Brian, I spoke to you on the phone. I’m so glad you’re here” he said. So, uh…” the Foreman clapped his hands, “what can you guys do…?” He hovered nervously round the pair. Some yards away a huddle of workers was also watching. One of them said:
“Who ya gonna call…?” as if Felix and Matt hadn’t heard that one before.

“I’m not sure yet” said Felix, pondering the situation. “Matt…?” he turned to his colleague, who just shrugged. Back to Brian, Felix said “every case is unique. How long has it been…?”

“Since it…”

“Since it started being actively anomalous?” said Felix.

“It started this morning” said Brian, “it was a limited run before the evening papers… What do you think caused this?” he added.

“Commodity fetishism, innit…?” Matt chuckled. 

“What’s that…?” Brian asked, perplexed.

“You do know your Marxism, right?” Felix deadpanned.

“I’m sorry…” said Brian, now quite panicked. He didn’t.

“Commodity fetishism” said Matt, twirling his beard, still grinning “it’s when stuff comes alive.” Brian nodded as if he understood. They looked back on the machine-caterpillar still gorging away.

“So, what are you going to do?” Brian asked again.

“Not sure” said Felix. He walked toward the caterpillar slowly. “There’re two… general options” he said. “We can destroy it…”

Brian quibbled, “But…?”

“You want to stick around” said Felix sharply, “and see what comes out of the cocoon?”

“Well, no…” said Brian, following after Felix.

“We could deactivate it” said Matt, also in tow. Brian audibly smiled at that. “But you’d still have a big heaping mess” Matt added, “a dead mechanical insect on your hands.”

Brian sighed, his face fell. “Do what you have to.”

“Oh we will” said Matt with an even broader smile.

“We’ll want an engineer” said Felix, absently to the Foreman. “You can stay too, if you want, but…” he turned on his heel and realised the crowd had gathered round them. “You lot can all go home.”
“Are we still getting paid?” asked one of the workers.

“Get a union, boys” said Matt. “And girls” he added, noticing the gender mix.


So” said the Engineer, “are you all commies in your department?” She glanced up at Felix with a defiant look. Felix tried not to look phased.

“No” he said eventually. “Matt here is an accelerationist.” Matt was circling round the meta-beast, tentatively. The Engineer just shook her head and said:

“But how’d you end up working for the Man?”

“Same way you did” said Felix, nodding up at the control room where Brian the foreman was negotiating with several staff members.

“There are those who say that since the ascent of social democracy the state has become contested” said Matt. “Not me” he added. “I’m in it for the monsters.” Matt grinned. He was holding a strange device, pointing it at the caterpillar. “Readings are off the chart.”

“Literally…?” said Felix.

“Almost” said Matt. “Look” he walked over to where Felix and the Engineer were standing. He showed a set of readings to Felix. The Engineer leaned in. Felix frowned:

“You know much about noumenometers?”

“Humour me” said the Engineer, irked but deadpan.

“No” said Felix abruptly. “Do you have schematics for this machine?”

“Of course” said the Engineer.

“Stress tests…?”

“The supplier comes in and checks it annually” said the Engineer, still taken aback.

“OK” said Felix. “What we’ll need to do is put up a reality anchor as a frame, stabilise the situation and dismantle the whole thing, carefully.”

“What…?” said the Engineer, incredulous.

“What’s your name?” Matt asked.

“Amber…” said the Engineer, now looking concerned.

“The thing is, Amber, this is a particular infestation of late-capitalism that seems to be concentrated on the means of production. You might have heard of some cases.” Amber said nothing but Matt had her attention. “Fixed plant, raw materials, equipment, is all getting up and taking on life.”

“An imitation of life” said Felix.

“It’s all down to quantum fluctuation” said Matt, “tremendous leaps of improbability, localised in… things like this.” He pointed to the machine. “If we can find the source we can switch it off. But in this case the source is the entire body of the machine so what we do is…”

“Put it in a box” said Felix. “Nice mansplain” he added, smirking.

“Thanks” said Matt. “It’s just a set of special metal alloy panels that absorb the Hume Rays.”

“Hume Rays…?” said Amber.

“It’s what we call them” said Matt. “Hey, why do we call them that?”

“I don’t know” said Felix. “But if we call the depot now we should be able to get them up by end-of-day.”

“You're kidding...?”

“I'm kidding” said Felix. “We've got some in the van, we should have it up in no time.”
Amber thought about it for a moment then shook her head. “And what has any of this got to do with communism?”

“We don’t make the rules” said Felix with a silly grin.


A little over an hour later the trio were standing in the near dark. “Keep some room for the cable” said Matt. They’d put up a box round the mecha-monster. Felix held a torch while Amber and Matt heaved equipment inside through the makeshift door. The caterpillar, now half-cocooned, had calmed down a lot. It was looking more and more like it should have done, a pile of broken machinery. 

“What’s the levels’ like?” Matt asked.

“Almost one-for-one” said Felix, consulting the noumenometer in his other hand.

“Really…?”Amber asked. Matt had been filling her in on more of the (non-confidential) details of the job. “Is reality a one-for-one chain of causality?”

“Dude, she has a point” said Matt as he laid down the last of the tools they’d use.

“It depends on the time frame” said Felix, “but for the duration we’re operating at sub-real levels of causation.”

“Let me get this straight” said Amber. “If we brought the generator inside and closed the door everything that then happened inside here would be…?”

“Inevitable” said Felix, fixing her gaze. “We’d better leave the door ajar then.”

“Are you sure about this?” Matt asked.

“Its fine” said Felix. “Look” he pointed to the junk in front of them. “If anything happens we’ll get back-up” he added. “We’ve dealt with the ice-cream cows, hanging-file bats and so many scaffolding vines” he said with a sly smile, “I’m sure we can deal with this.”

“But you do have back-up?” Amber asked, deapan.

“We’ll start with the joins” said Felix.



 Matt and Amber got started with a pneumatic bolt remover. The first bolt fell to the floor with a muffled clink. Suddenly there was an almighty sound, a cross between a moo and a roar. “What was that…?” said Felix. Before anyone could find out the floor began shaking. “Quick! Out…!” The trio darted for exit. The earthquake continued, getting louder, loose objects clattered all around. The ground outside the warehouse was falling away. There was another moo/roar. The warehouse lifted itself off the ground and began to walk.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Buy this now!


Price: £7.99 (excl. VAT)

THE CITY HAS TWO FACES Our long-cherished dream of Utopia is always just out of reach. We are doomed to know what we want but never to reach it. Inside this book are stories of cities filled with dreams that have become nightmares. THE CITY WEARS MANY MASKS From shining towers to filthy back alleys; from bright sunlit parks to dingy, cramped basements; this misguided tour through our dream cities is beset with dangerous pitfalls. Here are 11 diverse visions of cities that are unsettling, horrific, outlandish and bizarre in turn. Come and visit...but don't forget your return ticket.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Coming soon...

I'll actually have something published, a story called Cameras In London. It's been many months coming, so who knows when soon will be... a snazzy looking cover though. I'm sure the rest of the anthology will be great too. Depressed, much? It takes so much effort, so many stories started, so many finished, so many sent off, to get so little out. I've even had a story UNpublished this year by a website (somehow) going bust.

Still, it could be worse...

The Rite of Odobena

It was a dark, cloudy night. A group was gathered in a corner of Old St Pancras Churchyard. They were not a regular congregation. They were men and women of various ages, pepper-pot faces, ordinarily dressed, mostly; a true cross-section of London. They were stood in a circle. Each was holding a bucket and glancing, quietly, reverently at the bare, muddy ground in front of them. One did not however.

He was a man, middle-age, with short, white hair visible under a bright yellow, hooded seafarer's coat; the Elder of the First Order of Odobena. He held a tusk in front of him, gently, as if it was fragile. Through the quiet hum of the city he spoke:

"Welcome" he said, raising up the tusk, "on this momentous night...” He had a soft, theatrical voice. “We are privileged” he said, “all of us, privileged to be here, to witness the resurrection of the Goddess. Hail the saints!"

"Wozencraft, Linnaeus, Laptev" the Congregation mumbled.

"Glory to the prophets!"

"Goo goo g'joob" the Congregation replied.

"Blessed be her many names!" the Elder exclaimed

"Odobena, Alice, Minazo, Sedna..." said the Congregation.

There was a short pause. The Elder lowered the tusk. He looked around the Congregation and resumed. "She was imprisoned, not far from here, taken by infidels in their wooden box” he pronounced ‘wooden’ as if a curse. “She died and was bound in clay, in a plague pit, side by side with mortals, human mortals. Oh, wretched humanity! Tonight we will liberate the Goddess… the Falling Woman… Queen of the Ice Shelf… Scourge of the Darkened Seabed... Spirit of Odobena! It is promised!"

"In Wozencraft, in Linneaus, in Laptev" the Congregation responded.

"Let us begin the rite" said the Elder. He got down on one knee, stabbed the tusk into the greasy mud then stood again. He raised his hands and the Congregation looked up from the floor in unison. The Elder then walked around the circle. "Salt" he said, tapping the first of the gathering on the shoulder, who threw a handful of salt from his bucket onto the earth. "Stone..." he continued, a woman lobbed a pebble onto the ground. On he went, "seaweed... seal-hide... raven-feather... moon-dust..." He went round the circle, then once more, repeating the words. The Elder returned to his original spot. "Fall" he said. The Congregation dropped their buckets and got onto their knees. "Call for your mother" said the Elder, who was still standing.

"Arf!" said one of the Gathering.

"Call for your mother!" the Elder enjoined. The Congregation began calling:

"Arf...! Arf...! Arf...!"

"Louder!" said the Elder, "make her hear you!" There was a cacophony of replies:

"ARF...! ARF...! ARF...!" The Congregation kept going, swept by passion.

“Flap your arms, make her see you!” The Congregation started flailing:

"ARF...! ARF...! ARF...!"

There was a soft rumble. The ground began to shake. The tusk fell over. "ARF...!" It was working! Louder! "ARF...!" Was it working? "Arf..." The shaking stopped. It wasn't working. The flailing and the cries slowly died down and the quiet hum resumed. Shaken faces; disappointment began to ooze. Everything was about to turn onto the Elder when there was a thud, another thud, and another, then a grunt:

"Ugh!" It was a salty, sodden, oceanic grunt, coming from behind the church itself. The Congregation turned to look and with great joy realised:

"She is here! She has come!" A huge Pacific Walrus, grey, wet and bristling emerged into the night, shuffling towards them. The Walrus stopped a few yards away from the Congregation, reared up onto her tail, spread her flippers and undulated in an impossible pose, glowing beatifically.

"I am the Goddess” she cooed, “Spirit of Odobena. Who are you?"

The Elder stepped forward. "We are your children" he spoke slowly, pie-eyed, "humble… and reverent pups… we have come to..."

"You are not my pups!" the Walrus exclaimed suddenly. She fell onto the ground with a thump that seemed to reverberate. "Inferior specimens!" she barked, shuffling toward the Congregation, gaining momentum. "Insolent little bulls!" She was charging. "Get off my beach!"

"Please" said the Elder, stepping in front of her now. "We have come to..." but she swatted him away, sent him flying, snapping his neck with a loud break. The Congregation scattered in terror but the Walrus kept charging. 

"Inferior specimens! Insolent little bulls! Get off my beach!"

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Cyberplebs

Imagine a future cyber-capitalism where work is extremely silly and demeaning. Everyone is a Task Rabbit. You will get instructions beamed onto your eyelids:

"Go to the town square and do the hokey-cokey with six other people for ten minutes."

After that you get:

"Go to a warehouse at this address. Insert 22 grams of Smith Square crisps into your body without ingesting them. Do it within the hour and you get to choose which orifice you use."

Then you get:

"Congratulations, you have earned enough credit to eat today. While you are eating please post twelve things you like about the current Prime Minister to facebook."

After lunch you're told to:

"Go to this sewage treatment plant. Join the team there. Collect four tonnes of sewage and dump it on an abandoned school."

Later on that day you will "take blood from seven convicted murderers... competitively eat raw turnips for a YouTube clip... sort soiled underwear for a wealthy client... fellate a muppet in Second Life..." and at the end of the day you get a special message.

"Congratulations, you've made rent for the fortieth month in a row. As a bonus you get ten free minutes of Tinder access - Happy Shagging."

It's this or Fully Automated Communism.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Eleven

To begin with no one paid it much attention, literally, for the first three weeks the only views or followers the channel got was bots. Why would anyone pay much attention to a direct-to-camera diary hosted by an individual, a boy in his late-teens1 called 11B-X-1371, especially when the initial videos were between two to seven minutes long and mostly referenced pop culture or personal minutiae?
           The first video of interest was posted on the 18th of January 2017. The video featured a prank2 derivative of the ‘Big Stranger Rodeo’ where the Individual jumped on a stranger’s back, in this case a boy of similar age in an unknown hallway. It was the first video that was not delivered direct to a fixed camera, the first to be recorded by someone other than the Individual (though this person has not been identified) and the first in the manner that would come to define the channel, which was renamed “Fear No Darkness.”
            The immediate result of the video was am uptick in views, more than 100 in 24 hours after posting. This led to the Individual in the following video putting out a call for suggestions for more ‘pranks’3. The video following was posted on the 20th of January 2017, showing the Individual attempting to steal a ball from an informal game of basketball4 (also derivative5). In subsequent weeks the Individual posted videos of himself:

  1. Eating raw cinnamon
  2. Dropping a cola-bomb in a busy supermarket
  3. Giving a nazi salute at a Rememberance Day service
  4. Egging a woman pushing a pram from what appeared to be the back of a moped.

The last episode was posted on the 7th of February 2017 and got 1,000 unique views in 48 hours. The channel was logged at GCHO three days later and a cursory investigation conducted, indicating that the channel and user were both operating behind multiple proxies, with the ultimate location being a site in Belize. The site then placed under continual surveillance.
By the end of February the site’s output was dedicated almost entirely to self-described pranks. The pranks also changed in content and tone. The Individual (by this point known to followers/viewers as “Eleven”) was filmed:

  1. Attempting (and failing) to ride a moped over a brook
  2. Surfing on a tea tray down a set of stairs
  3. Releasing a pig in a mosque
  4. Using a medical stapler to attach his scrotum to his left leg.

The channel was taken down after the last video, dated the 3rd of March, two days later6. An APB was placed though the Individual was impossible to locate7. The Individual reappeared on March the 24th 2017 on a largely self-constructed site called “Where is the Rider?” The Individual has been subject to numerous denials of service since but for a period was able to return to online broadcasting. The videos made by “Eleven…” became progressively more racist, violent and/or self-destructive, which in turn encouraged more and more outlandish suggestions from viewers. This culminated on the 23rd of May 2017 when the Individual posted two videos in twelve hours, in the first he appeared to amputate his left hand, followed by one where the hand reappeared, the Individual apparently unaffected, recounted news from that day to prove the date and time. There were a combined total of 95,000 individual views for the videos on that day alone8. The case was handed to a specialist unit, called the Special and Metaphysical Crime Squad. A D-Notice was imposed on the media and denial of service re-established.
After this point no site directly hosted videos of the Individual however a train of videos emerged on a number of forums9 and formats, shared widely10. Known examples include the Individual:

  1. inserting a chili in their anus
  2. deliberately crashing into a brick wall riding a moped
  3. having a swastika branded onto their thigh
  4. shooting themselves in the foot then sticking the foot into boiling vinegar.

As before the Individual, AKA “Eleven”, would reappear unharmed however no such person was identified or apprehended in real life. By July 2017 however, after reverse engineering the share-route the videos took, the source of the videos was eventually narrowed down to a university campus in Central London.
Though a search of the campus, students and staff did not turn up an “Eleven…” a scan of the IT mainframe found a rogue subroutine, called 11B-X-1371, that had been entered into the university’s intranet on the 1st of January. No one knows who entered it but the programme was designed to create the ultimate YouTube star, a completely fictional entity based on a composite of internet celebrities. While the phenomenon itself has been successfully contained online there has been a proliferation of actually existing devotees of 11B-X-1371, fans committed to bigotry, violence and self-abuse until the ‘Mad Rider’ returns. So far there have been twenty-three known casualties. The case continues.

1 Slim-to-medium build, short sandy hair, blue eyes, the Individual speaks with a mostly non-regional English accent.
2 It was listed as a ‘prank’ in the video description.
3 To be left in the comment section. The Individual specifically requested viewers not “DM” him.
4 The court was later found to be just off the Camden High Road, between Camden and Holloway.
5 And not one of the archived suggestions left in the comment box.
6 In which time it accrued over 4,000 unique views.
7 The suggestion for the staple video came from a site user known as “Tokyo Fist.” The user was put under surveillance but found to have no connection to the Individual.
8 The prank was suggested by a viewer called “Jimmy Vespa” who also apparently won an unknown prize. The Individual said “this time you can DM me.”
9 Including a members-only sub-reddit called “The Mad Rider…” a later nickname for the Individual.

10 An average of about two hundred thousand shares for each video.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Eddie Versus Dangerous Dave

A stupid smile spread across his face. “Are you OK, Dave?” I asked. He leaned back in his chair, slowly, and I realised he was more than alright. Still, I tried: “Dave…? Dave…?” It was no good. He pushed the chair back, stood up and spread his arms, stretching very slowly. It was all too familiar. Lara noticed; then Ali, Evan and Steve. Dave started walking. I realised he got up half-an-hour before, mentioned something about being bored and went missing for a bit. He came back and sat down not saying anything, very quiet. He must have taken it somewhere then.

‘It’ went by a few names, Quark, Timewarp, Drop, 3AM Eternal. Dave was the first of our group to try. He had a sixth-sense for scoring, where to go who to ask; also when to go clean. He was forever getting patted down in nightclubs but I don’t remember him ever getting caught – good old ‘Dangerous Dave.’

He wanted to share the latest buzz with his friends. “You have to take it to know” he’d say. “There’s no contact high with this.” We eventually turned on one afternoon in our house in the second year of university. Dave had already persuaded the others, Lara, Ali, Evan, Steve. I came home from a morning lecture and found them in the kitchen. He was telling the others, “run your hands under the tap… hold them up… now watch the drops fall.” He'd been trying with me for months. I didn’t want to be stuck in my room dodging bliss-zombies so I gave in and it was good. People wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t I suppose.

I was a typical first-timer apparently. I got caught up staring at the railway line down beyond the bottom of our garden. The trains flowed like fluid metal singing in a clear pipe. The sky was fascinating too, watching the banks of clouds like waves dragged along by an invisible force. This gave way to night and the small dusting of planets and stars tracking light across the sky. It all happened in what seemed like twenty minutes. Stargazing, I felt Dave plant a hand on my shoulder. He looked at me with a patronising grin:

“Come inside. You’ll get cold.”

Forty-eight hours of normal time sped by before the effects wore off. It helped that my first experience was at home. If we had taken it somewhere else we could have caused trouble. One of the side effects is people living through normal time cannot physically touch the user. There are lots of theories as to how it works. Most of them involve misinterpreting Einstein. Back then it was a legal high. Users were merely a nuisance to the sober. When Dave got up at the reception and drifted slowly through the crowd to the dance floor it was illegal. A ripple of embarrassed laughter billowed over the room, followed by gasps and angry stares.

“I’m sorry” I said to our silent accusers, “I don’t know what’s going on.” It was Lara’s Sister’s wedding. We hardly knew anyone there. We were practically crashers. One of Lara’s Aunts referred to our table as the ‘ravers from university.’ Unfair but it was the consensus, probably why someone shouted:

“Yeah, you do!”

I stood up, as if that would help, and followed. “Dave” I said, “knock it off, it’s not funny.” I tried to grab his arm but my hand glanced off him. He was definitely on. The hubbub reached the top table.

“I’ve had enough” said the Voice. It was the Best Man, a human spud called Eddie. He was bowling toward us in anger. I also knew him from university, a sport science student who turned top-heavy steroid abusing personal trainer. He had wanted to ‘have enough’ for years. He hated us ‘druggies.’

Evan lived with him for a bit after university in a flat-share-of-convenience. Though our group went separate ways we always stayed in touch, Dave made sure of it. One evening, after a reunion night out, we crashed round Evan's place. Eddie often prowled around the house at night, eating a chicken or drinking a shake. He usually wore a silver dressing gown. This time though it seemed he was asleep. We tried to be quiet, sat around the front room, but it seemed we woke the beast. Eddie almost fell down the stairs, yelling in unintelligible fury. We all stared at him, silently, waiting for him to peter out or hit someone. Eventually he looked at Dave and asked “are you high?”

We were only drunk but he squinted at Eddie and eventually said: “Hang on… you’re a massive Dairy Lea.” Everyone laughed, except for Eddie of course, mostly because it was true. Standing there top heavy in his silver dressing gown Eddie was a massive Dairy Lea. If we hadn’t laughed Eddie might have torn Dave to bits like a chicken.

Back at the wedding, Eddie started bellowing and pointing at Dave though it had no effect. He still retreated in the face of Dangerous Dave’s silent serene smugness and the protestations of his girlfriend, I assumed, grabbing his arm and insisting it wasn’t ‘worth it.’ Dave stopped in the middle of the dance floor. Eddie snorted, shook off his girlfriend and drew back to punch Dave. He hit him. 

There was a colossal clanging sound. Eddie howled in pain and recoiled. His blow rebounded like bone on steel. There was general pandemonium. Eddie fell back, slowly, slowly. Everything was slowing. The pandemonium faded. The whole room practically stopped but the six of us, our table, we were moving through normal time. I think Ali said something like:

“What's going on?”

For a moment Dave did not answer. He seemed awestruck. He looked our table, then at me and eventually said:


“Wow, so there is a contact high.”