Jasmine shivers

WP_20170616_16_16_42_ProIt’s strange that during the hottest June days for forty years I have been writing about Jasmine shivering with cold (see below). But at least I have been writing. It’s been lovely to have a week when I can get on with the business of authoring.  Apart from the second part of Viewpoint that follows, it is has included completing the final (?) edit and extra bits for Cold Fire, the fourth September Weekes novel out soon, and starting to plan a promotional push.  I may even get further with Jasmine’s fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir.

I’ve signed up for the UK Indie Lit Fest in  Bradford  https://www.ukindielitfest.com/  on 26th Aug.  It promises to be a huge gathering of independent authors, and I hope general public looking to buy books.  That follows the smaller, but closer, Llanidloes Tattoo Festival  (yes, tattoos and books!) on 8th/9th July.  Looking forward to both but if you run a lit fest or any other fest for that matter and want a speaker, someone to complete a discussion panel, or simply to run a book stall, then get in touch (paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com) – I’m up for it.

That’s enough of the self-promotion, let’s get on with the story.  Viewpoint is the latest novella that is a prequel to Painted Ladies, the first Jasmine Frame novel.  It’ll also be the last chronologically as it takes place just a few months before Painted Ladies starts.

Viewpoint: Part 2

She stamped her feet, wrapped her arms around herself and tried jogging on the spot but nothing could stop the shivering. Her legs felt as if they had bags of sand tied to them and her feet didn’t belong to her. While the cold numbed her mind, Jasmine’s eyes were filled with the pale shape of the body lying on the towpath. Through the veil of drizzle and her blurred vision some details registered on her consciousness. The body was naked and the person, she had to remember that this lifeless object had been a person, was female. Something didn’t seem right though, and then it penetrated to her – the chest was flat.
Jasmine leant down, almost stumbling over the corpse as the shivering affected her balance. There were scars that suggested breasts had been removed. Short black hair framed a face marred by bruises and grazes.
She overcame the urge to rest down beside the body and pushed herself upright. The wail of a siren came from across the canal and, shortly after, a blue flashing light appeared through the rain and stopped just short of the opposite bank. A uniformed figure ran across the hump-backed bridge over the channel and approached.
‘Did you report a body in the canal near here?’ The police officer called when he saw her. He negotiated the approach to the bridge and came along the towpath towards her. Jasmine pointed a shaking hand at the corpse. The PC halted, looked down and then up at Jasmine.
‘God!’ he said, ‘Are you alright?’
‘C..c..cold,’ Jasmine mumbled.
‘Shit! You’re soaked. Did you go in the canal?’
Jasmine nodded, unable to speak. The PC bent down to look at the corpse. He shook his head and stood up.
‘Can’t do anything for them. Let’s get you to the car.’ The officer put his arm around her and supported her. They staggered towards the bridge and went over to where the police car waited with its light still flashing and driver speaking into his phone. He looked through the rain spattered windscreen, and seeing them approach, opened his door.
‘Is this the casualty?’ the driver asked.
‘No, there’s a body on the bank. I think this is who reported it. She may be suffering hypothermia.’
‘Get her in the back. I’ll get the blanket from the boot.’
The PC opened the rear door of the Vauxhall Astra and eased Jasmine in. The other officer came up with a silver blanket which he unfolded and passed into the car to Jasmine. With shaking hands, she wrapped it around herself.
The officer who had escorted Jasmine rummaged in the boot.
‘I’ll set up the tapes. We have to make the site secure and stop other walkers bumbling into it. Although who else would be out on a morning like this I don’t know. You stay and watch her. See if she can tell us what happened.’ He ran off, back over the bridge.
The partner resumed his position in the driving seat, started the engine again and turned the heating control. He twisted in his seat to look at Jasmine.
‘How are you feeling?’
Jasmine was grateful to be out of the cold but she was still shivering and her limbs felt dead. ‘B..better,’ she managed.
‘I’d better call a paramedic to see you.’ The PC reached for his phone again and put in the call to the control centre. The car’s fan was blowing hot air over Jasmine and she managed to clamp her jaw so that her teeth didn’t chatter.
The policeman twisted round to face her again. ‘Was it you who reported the incident?’
Jasmine nodded.
‘Do you know the, er, victim?’
Jasmine shook her head.
‘They were in the water, were they?’
Jasmine nodded again.
‘And you went in and dragged them out?
Another nod.
‘Dead?’
And another.
Jasmine found she could take a deep breath rather than the snatched gasps which her uncontrolled shaking had allowed, but her limbs and body still trembled. The officer looked over her out through the rear window at something, and reacted by turning around and opening his door.
‘At last, the plainclothes guys show up.’ He got out. ‘Stay there. I’ll check on you in a mo.’ He closed the door, leaving Jasmine gratefully enjoying the growing fug of hot air in the car. She sat with her eyes closed, grimacing as the feeling returned to her fingers and toes with agonising prickling. There was a tap on the window beside her. She saw a familiar face through the pattern of running raindrops. She wound the window down a little.
‘Tom!’
DC Tom Shepherd peered through the gap.
‘Jasmine? What are you doing here? It wasn’t you that found the body was it?’
‘Yes, it was me.’
‘What were you doing here?’
‘I was out for a run.’
‘In this weather? The officer says you’ve got hypothermia.’
‘Rain doesn’t bother me when I’m running. I didn’t expect to be wading in the canal or standing around.’
‘How do you feel?’
‘Getting warmer.’
‘Good. Look stay there. I’d better go and check on this body you found and make sure they’ve got it cordoned off.’
‘Are you on your own?’
‘No, Derek’s in the car, reporting in. I’ll get him to come and join you and find out what happened.’
Jasmine nodded and Tom’s head moved away. She wound the window up and breathed deeply. She was relieved that it was DC Derek Kingston on duty with her friend and former partner. Kingston accepted her as a woman which wasn’t too surprising since as a young black officer he had no doubt experienced some prejudice himself. She was relieved it wasn’t the cynical older DC, Terry Hopkins, and especially not her nemesis, DS Denise Palmerston.
A few moments later the front passenger door opened and DC Kingston, dressed in a thick anorak, got in. He twisted to speak to Jasmine.
‘Hi, Jas. Tom says we’ve you to thank for this call out. What happened?’
Jasmine explained how she had noticed the body in the water and had gone in to check it wasn’t alive.
‘I’m not surprised you’re suffering from hypothermia. It’s bloody freezing.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I don’t think I’m that bad.’
‘No? Well, I think that’s the paramedic turning up. They’ll check you over.’
Jasmine noticed another flashing light reflecting off surfaces inside the police car. Kingston opened the door.
‘I’ll send him to you. Speak to you again soon.’ He got out.
A few moments later the paramedic, a her not a him, opened the door beside Jasmine and peered in. She asked Jasmine questions, did a few simple tests, and pronounced her fit.
‘But stay in the warm and get out of those wet clothes, a.s.a.p.’ She withdrew and closed the door. Once again, she was left alone for a few minutes until the driver of the police car returned.
‘I’ve been told to take you home so you can get dry,’ he said buckling himself in, ‘That’s if I can get us out of this congestion.’ Jasmine gave her thanks and tugged a seatbelt round herself.
With repeated backwards and forwards movements, the police car turned and manoeuvred around DC Shepherd’s car and they set off along a straight, rough track along the edge of a field. Jasmine estimated that it was about half a mile before they came to a cluster of buildings and a metalled road. The police officer turned left, picked up speed and soon they were in the outskirts of Kintbridge. The morning rush hour traffic delayed their passage through the town but soon they pulled up in the carpark outside Jasmine’s flat. The driver got out and opened Jasmine’s door.
‘I’ll see you in, make sure you’re okay,’ he said. Jasmine was reluctant to leave the growing warmth of the police car but realised she couldn’t stay put. She stepped onto the tarmac and pulled the foil blanket round her tighter. She hurried to her door, fumbling in her bumbag for her keys, her hands already starting to shake again.
‘Here let me help,’ The PC said from beside her. He took the key from Jasmine’s hand and inserted it in the door lock. He pushed the door open. ‘There you go.’ He followed Jasmine into the small, dismal flat. ‘Hey, it’s not very warm in here. Haven’t you got the heating on.’
‘I don’t usually have it too warm,’ Jasmine said, her voice beginning to wobble. She didn’t add that it wasn’t her preference but a means of saving money.
‘Well, I think you need it a bit warmer now. Where’s the controls?’
Jasmine nodded to the electric fire. The PC bent down and switched it on; all three bars. He stood up, turned and faced Jasmine.
‘There, I hope that’ll warm you up soon. DC Shepherd said you worked together.’
Not any longer, Jasmine thought.
‘I thought I recognised you,’ The officer went on. ‘Aren’t you the DC who’s having a sex change?’
Jasmine sighed. Why couldn’t she just be recognised for who she was and not her gender history. Who else would be asked such personal questions so early or even at all in a conversation.
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s right. Look I need to get these clothes off.’ She let the foil sheet fall from her shoulders and started to unzip her running jacket. Waterproof it may have been but that didn’t allow for wading into canals.
The officer’s face showed horrified anticipation. He backed towards the door.
‘That’s right. Look, I’ll let you get on. I’m sure one of the detectives will look in on you soon. I’d better be getting back.’ He let himself out closing the door behind him. Jasmine let out an audible sigh, stepped closer to the electric fire and started to strip off her wet running clothes.

…………………to be continued

Jasmine in Viewpoint

Too much news. After the excitement of the unexpected election result the last three days have been filled with the horror of Grenfell Tower. After all the posturing about security and fighting terror, one inexcusable fire has killed more people than have died in all the terrorist attacks in the UK since 7/7 in 2005 and probably scared people living in similar tower blocks far more. Will the government be as keen  to name those responsible for this un-natural disaster as they are the terrorists? Was it austerity or simply a lack of concern that saw so many immigrants housed in what was so obviously a fire-trap.

Perhaps, after a calamity of this nature, brought on ourselves, it is even harder to say that life must go on than after a mindless act of terror but we must. We need real leadership, not empty words, to hack through the lies and obfuscation to sort out the real priorities for this country – not meaningless demands for sovereignty and taking back control that has long since been handed to overseas and multinational corporations, not putting more money in the pockets of the rich or into pointless vanity projects like Trident, but using the remaining  resources of the country to help all its inhabitants.

That’s enough politicking. Last week saw the end of the Leominster Festival following the Bookfair on the Grange. It wasn’t the big sales drive that I hoped for (but didn’t expect) so now I am on the look out for marketing opportunities for my work – both the Jasmine Frame transgender/crime stories and the September Weekes fantasy novels. I have to get busy.

WP_20170616_16_16_42_ProAs promised last week, I have started the next Jasmine Frame prequel. Started being the operative word as a bit of research and planning was necessary before I could get writing. A short first episode follows of Viewpoint. It is set just a week or two after the end of Perspective, which took place towards the end of 2011. This I think will be the last prequel to fit in the time-gap before the events of the first novel Painted Ladies so I’ve got to be careful that it all matches up. Anyway, here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Viewpoint: part 1

Rain water mixed with sweat dripped from Jasmine’s nose. She looked down at her running shoes, muddy from splashing through puddles on the towpath and was grateful that she had chosen to wear her older pair this morning. The dark oak gates of Renham lock loomed through the December morning drizzle. She glanced at her watch pleased with her time for completing the two-mile run out from her flat in Kintbidge. Her heart was beating a little faster but she felt strong today, for a change, and eager for the return.
She turned and glanced out across the rain spattered water of the canal. Something bobbing in the water caught her eye, something white, smooth and round. An inflated plastic bag perhaps? No, it was bigger than that. She peered through the veil of drizzle. A dead sheep? You didn’t get those very often on this stretch of water. She rubbed away the water dripping from her forehead and stepped to the edge of the bank to look more closely. There were limbs attached to the main body of the object but they didn’t seem like the legs of an animal. Her heart thumped. A body.
Jasmine paused only to undo her bumbag and drop it on the grass beside the towpath. She stepped off the bank. Her feet sank into the ooze but only up to her calves. The water was cold, icy even. She waded out. The canal got deeper with each step. She knew it was V-shaped in profile but the water only came up to her waist when she reached the body. She could see now it was a person not an unfortunate farm animal. She took hold of an arm. It was as cold as the water. She towed it with her as she struggled back through the water and mud to the side of the canal. Her legs were feeling heavy and numb; the cold penetrating to her bones. She let go of the body and placed both hands on the bank. It took all her strength to haul herself out of the water.
She crouched on the waterside, breathing deeply, shivering, and reached down to grab the arm of the body. Thoughts from her police training passed through her head. Evidence. Make sure that no evidence is destroyed. Don’t contaminate what could be a crime scene. But she had to get the body, the person, out of the water. She hauled on the arm; pushed herself upright; staggered back. The body rose from the water, a dead weight.
Jasmine fell backwards, sprawled across the wet grass. She released her grip. The body fell into the mud on the bank, its feet still dangling in the water. She panted, exhausted by the effort, shaking all over now as the wet and the cold penetrated to her core. Jasmine crawled to the edge reached out across the surface of the water and grabbed the leg of the body. She tugged it to land, the body twisting to lie parallel to the canalside.
She scrambled away from the cadaver to where her bumbag had dropped. Her frozen fingers fumbled with the zip but at last she took out her phone. She stabbed the 9 button three times.
‘Hello? Police please. Renham lock. Sorry, there’s not much signal here. On the canal, west of Kintbridge. No, I don’t think an ambulance will be needed, just a pathologist.’

………………to be continued.

Jasmine waiting

I am not going to comment on the UK General Election partly because at the time of writing there are no results and partly also because I do not think I am going to be happy with the outcome. Instead I want to write about matters closer to me personally.

This week I have been on holiday with family and having one of the infrequent opportunities to watch my (step) grandchildren growing up. Not having witnessed children of my own growing day by day, seeing these small persons grow into individuals has been and is endlessly fascinating.  The expressions on the face of a two year old indicating his emotions and his thoughts – needs, wants, opinions – and talking (in two languages) sometimes unintelligibly but in great earnest are wonderful to watch. Then there is the five year old, coping with ease with conversations in those two languages and while not yet able to read, in possession of a tremendous memory of many if not all of the numerous books read to him and able to follow, faultlessly graphic instructions for a Lego model amongst other skills.

I don’t feel sentimental about childhood innocence. I’m not sure what age it begins but children are very young when they learn how to behave to get certain reactions from their parents and other adults. Stubbornness and a sense of their own needs come very early. They quickly learn envy and the joy of winning and a feeling of injustice if deprived of something, but prejudice towards any particular group of people is only learned from the people around them. They are amazing.

…………….

WP_20170505_15_05_43_ProThe next Jasmine Frame novella will start next week, though I haven’t sorted the plot yet, so this week is the last for the time being when I’ll “treat” you to one of my other writing efforts.  This is a short piece for a writing club assignment on gothic romance. It’s not particularly original and it isn’t complete, but perhaps it will occupy a couple of minutes pleasantly.

 

 

Desire

The wind off the sea swept her long, blonde hair from her face leaving beads of moisture clinging to each strand. Ignoring the rain-flecked gale, she looked down at the waves crashing over the dark rocks far below and then her gaze lifted to the boundary between the dark green, angry sea and the narrow band of red-hued dawn beneath the glowering clouds. No masts broke the smooth line of that horizon, no ship was tossed on the roiling ocean.
‘When will you come?’ she whispered. The question was superfluous. There was no answer. Her wait would end when it would end. There would be no precognition. One day, perhaps like now at dawn or perhaps at sunset, the sails would appear and then, soon after, she would be in his arms, their lips touching.
A cry made her turn. The house brooded in the vale a couple of hundred paces from the cliffs, crouching low out of the storm winds. The glass in the windows of the top floor just now reflected the light of the early morning, but the fiery glow hardly lifted the gloom of the stone, as dark as the rocks of the cliff, from which it was built.
Another cry, and now she saw him fighting his way along the narrow, over-grown path from the house to the cliff-top. He beat at the nettles and brambles with his crop as he strode towards her.
She shivered, not with the cold, though her thin woollen shawl hardly prevented the cold easterly from freezing her pale skin. It was anticipation that made her shake. She turned again to face the sea and looked down to where the jagged rocks withstood the besieging tide.
‘Jump,’ part of her told herself, ‘Leap to oblivion. Leave this world of pain and sadness.’ She remained motionless, limbs frozen not by cold but by indecision. Her eyes rose again to the distance. If she ended it now, what would he feel when he returned? Did she want to give up all hope of love and happiness?
Hands thudded into her shoulders. Arms encircled her, dragged her back from the edge, spun her around. She looked up into his bearded, scarred face. The single open eye, glaring at her.
‘I’ve told you before, Emily,’ he growled, ‘There is no point to you staring out to sea. He’s not coming back. You are mine.’
She dropped her head. There was no response to give. Declaring her last remaining iota of hope would bring her no joy, more likely a stroke from the crop tucked under his arm. His hand grasped the hair at the back of her head and tugged. Her face tilted up and his rough, chapped lips descended to hers. His tongue forced her lips apart and she tasted the stale, last night’s whisky. She gagged and coughed. He pulled back, straightened, grabbed her wrist in his hand and dragged her back down the path towards the house. She stumbled along behind him, emptying her mind of the dread of whatever he had planned for her this miserable morning.

…………………………………

Jasmine goes to a festival

I am not going to write a political comment this week, not here anyway. Instead I want to tell you about the Leominster Festival. Now I know readers of this blog come from all around the world and have no interest in where Leominster is and what’s happening in its annual Festival.  That’s as it should be – this blog is about my writings and not about where I live. Nevertheless I would like to urge anyone who lives close enough to come and have a look at this lovely pace and join in our yearly extravaganza – in particular come and join in our literary events.

The Leominster Festival is a much smaller affair than well-known Festivals like Edinburgh Fringe, Hay, or Glastonbury but it has a bit of the flavour of each.  There is music, there are a variety of theatrical events and there is literature. The last is where I have an interest.

We run a writing competition. This year the theme was “Paint the town – with words” as the theme of the whole Festival is “Paint the town”. We don’t have huge prizes but we do have some vary nice certificates for all the shortlisted entrants courtesy of our sponsors, Orphans’ Press (there’s a story there). The entry isn’t large, which is good as there are just three of us doing the judging, and mostly comes from our primary school. We have an Awards Ceremony which I compere.  I am always delighted to find that the children on the shortlist have a wide variety of backgrounds and characters – and as many boys as girls are winners. We have a guest of honour to hand out the certificates. This year it is Anne O’Brien. She is a local author who writes historical fiction based on the lives of the formidable women who were daughters or wives of medieval kings. There are a number of writers that occupy the same genre but Anne is successful – a top ten best selling author no less. We have a short break after the ceremony and then Anne will give her talk – that’s a ticketed event.

On Saturday 10th June we will be holding our Bookfair which this year is part of the Family Funday.  As well as bouncing on the bouncy castle and eating ice creams and watching the various entertainers and the dog show, children can come to our tent and be enthralled by storytelling. Meanwhile, the parents and older children can browse the books by local authors that will be on display and for sale. The authors will be on hand to chat about their work and there will also be discussions on topics such as fantasy fiction, short stories and romance, and writing memoirs.

The Bookfair is an opportunity to sell.  All my books will be on sale and I hope, that just for once, people come with some cash in their pockets.

Bookfair poster

From what I’ve just described, perhaps you can understand why I haven’t done much writing recently. For a couple more weeks I am raiding my box (well, computer file, actually) of discarded stories, but then I will get down to writing: a new Jasmine novella in which she finally resigns from the police force (that’s not really a spoiler because that is where Painted Ladies, the first Jasmine Frame novel, starts), Molly’s Boudoir – the 4th jf novel, and a new project (I do like to have a few things on the go.)  Here, then is this week’s stopgap.  This is a short, light-hearted piece. I can’t remember precisely when I wrote it but it was a task for one of my writing groups. The assignment was to write a short piece for radio.

5 minute theatre –  Mission to Mars

[ theme music]
Presenter:  Welcome to this special edition of the Universe Tonight when we are going live to the USA for an interview with Professor Zarkov of NASA who is leading the team directing the Mars rover Curiouser and Curiouser. Good evening Professor.
Prof.Z (East European accent):  Good afternoon.
Presenter:  Thank you for joining us Professor.  I gather this is a busy time for you.
Prof. Z:  It is.  As you know the rover is currently traversing the Wells crater which has provided us with some interesting results.
Presenter:  What results are those Professor
Prof. Z:  Well, initially we noticed that the floor of the crater is completely flat and only covered with dust.
Presenter: That is unusual?
Prof. Z: Definitely.  Nowhere is completely flat and Martian landscapes usually have rocks and boulders in them.
Presenter:  So what does it mean?
Prof.Z:  We are about to find out.  Curiouser is using its moveable arm to drill into the surface.  We have a sound and vision feed from the rover.  Of course with the time delay we are hearing what happened about fifteen minutes ago.
[sound of metallic screeching]
Presenter:  That’s not a very nice sound, Professor.
Prof.Z:  It is a most unexpected noise.
Presenter:  Why?
Prof.Z:  Because it reveals the surface of the crater is not made of Martian rock at all.
Presenter:  What is it made of then?
Prof.Z: It seems to be…I can’t believe it… the spectroscopic instruments are saying that beneath the dust the surface is a mixture of iron, nickel, chromium.
Presenter: Those are metals.
Prof.Z:  Yes.  It’s stainless steel.
Presenter:  Does that occur naturally.
Prof.Z (getting  heated) : No of course not.  Are you stupid?
Presenter (flustered):  I’m sorry Professor Zarkov.  What is your opinion on this discovery?
Prof.Z:  Well, obviously it shows … good lord.
[Deep sounds of a tray being scraped across a floor]
 Curiouser’s position is changing.
Presenter:  You mean the rover is moving?
Prof.Z:  No, the floor of the crater is moving and carrying the rover with it.  I think I can see… (speaks away from microphone) yes, tell it to move the camera.  Yes, damn it I know it will take half an hour.  The floor of the crater seems to be, um, opening.
Presenter:  You mean the floor is hollow.
Prof.Z : Apparently.  A section some twenty metres in diameter has opened up.  I can just see down inside.  It’s dark but I think something is moving.
Presenter:  You mean there is something alive under the crater.
Prof.Z:  I didn’t say it was alive, you fool.  I just said it was moving.  Hold on. It’s climbing out of the hole.
[sounds of feet shuffling through sand together with other rustling, slurping noises]
Presenter:  This is remarkable Professor.  What is happening?
Prof.Z:  I don’t know.  It’s gone out of the field of view. The Rover is pointing its camera in the wrong direction.  Oh, it’s coming into sight.  Urgh!  It’s disgusting.
Presenter:  What does it look like?
Prof.Z:  It is difficult to describe.  Sort of crab-like, with an insect-like head and octopus-like tentacles.  It’s huge.  Purple goo is dripping from its legs and abdomen and orange smoke is rising from its carapace.  Oh, no, it’s tentacles are reaching towards the rover.  It’s lifting the rover up holding it close to its head.  Those must be eyes
[ booming noise which rises and falls in pitch]
Presenter:  What’s that noise, Professor?
Prof.Z:  It’s coming from the creature.  I think it may be speaking.
[The sound changes to a garbled voice which quickly resolves into English.
Creature:  This planet is an area of special scientific interest.  Fly-tipping is not allowed.  This material will be disposed of sustainably and a fine imposed on the owners.  Our bailiff is empowered to confiscate goods to the value of the fine plus expenses.
[noise of metal being compressed]
Prof.Z: It’s damaging Curiouser.
Presenter: Can’t you stop it? Tell the creature to leave it alone
Prof.Z: Of course not.  The rover wasn’t built to make conversation.  Good heavens, what’s happening now.
Presenter:  What Professor?
Prof.Z:   Something is rising from the crater.  It’s like a rocket except there aren’t any exhaust gases.  It’s rising into the sky. Oh. The camera feed has gone.  Curiouser and Curiouser has been destroyed.
Presenter:  This rocket-thing, Professor.  Where is it going?
Prof.Z:  You heard the creature.  They want to collect the fine.  The Martians are coming here.
[theme music]
The End.
…………………………..

Jasmine in mourning

Social media is probably awash with comments about the Manchester bombing but I can’t let the week pass without adding my thoughts. It is awful to think of the suffering of those children, young people and parents, killed and injured. They and their families and friends have my sympathy. I don’t know how I would react if I or someone close to me was caught up in a terrorist outrage.  The nearest I’ve been was driving with my girlfriend a few streets away from one of the IRA pub bombings in Bristol in 1975 and that hardly affected me at all. Despite my lack of any authority or intimate knowledge I do nevertheless have some thoughts on the incident and its consequence.

It is often said that bombers, suicide or not, are cowards, and they are, for targeting innocent and unprotected people, particularly the very young, as in this case. We would hail a soldier a hero for giving  his/her life on behalf of their fellows and their cause, but it requires little courage for a terrorist to blow themselves up if they have been persuaded that death is just a door to eternal happiness and that the rewards for their act are great. For those with such deeply held beliefs any horrific atrocity has point and meaning. They do it not only to kill and maim but to draw attention to themselves and their cause and to disrupt the lives of others. They succeed.

The Manchester bomber has got exactly what he intended: the newspapers, TV and radio dominated by the event and its aftermath and immediate reaction from the government. I’m not sure whether seeing armed police and soldiers guarding buildings makes anyone feel safer – it doesn’t have that effect on me. I jus think that the terrorists will either sit back for a few weeks (probably looking to act itn a different country) or alternatively will look for a different method or less well-guarded site as happened in France with the truck killings after the shootings.  Police forces always have armed response teams ready at a moments notice so I don’t see that dispersing their manpower thinly around the country has any great effect.  It can’t be maintained – it’s too expensive. If the UK was to persist with a high level of security for an extended period the cost of the extra manpower would cut into other budgets for example the NHS, education  or social care.  The most important response is the one we don’t see, behind the scenes, in secret –  the eavesdropping, surveillance and the infiltration of terrorist groups by truly brave officers.

The only response to terror is to ignore it. I don’t mean ignore the deaths, they must be mourned, and the injured looked after. No, we must learn to carry on our lives the way we want to live them.  Terror will continue as long as people hold different views and beliefs.  Thanks to the world being awash with arms, courtesy of governments’ support for regimes and rebels around the globe, determined groups will always be able to find the weapons they seek. We must ensure that our security services do what they can, as indeed they have done quite successfully. That is, to sniff out the terrorists before they can act, but shows of strength by increasing security are meaningless and pandering to the terrorists desires. While being wary and observant we must carry on doing what we want.  On that point I was appalled that Birmingham Cathedral closed on Wednesday for security reasons and cannot understand their reasoning.

We must also ensure that that while being aware that the terrorists live amongst us we do not blame innocent members of the ethnic or religious groups from which the terrorists come. All Irish people were not held responsible for IRA or UDA murderous acts. Not all animal rights campaigners were blamed for the ALF outrages. Similarly, Moslem people must not be accused of all being jihadi extremists. Anyone who does react by attacking ordinary Moslem people is just doing what the terrorist wanted and heightening tension. Human nature being what it is I don’t think there is a complete solution to terrorism and while we must do all we can to remove the opportunities for terrorist acts and the causes which the terrorists espouse we must accept that atrocities will occur but must not be allowed to deter us from living our lives.

So, difficult as it might be we must look forward to a warm and pleasant bank holiday weekend.

………………………..

IMGP5960-2Last Saturday I attended an excellent workshop on marketing self-published books. I was reinvigorated and will be re-examining by strategy and re-launching my books – but not yet.  The next couple of weeks are going to be busy with the Leominster Festival, particularly our Bookfair on 10th June on The Grange. But after that . . .   That is also when I will be starting the next Jasmine Frame novella (I’m getting some ideas).  Here, therefore is another older short story.  It was written at and for a different time of year than now but is, I hope, something completely different and light for this week.

1 in 1461

 I can’t argue that it had never crossed my mind.  When you reach your late twenties, I expect every guy begins to wonder if they’ll get married and “settle down”.  I suppose I was waiting for that special moment, a suitable occasion, when everything would fall into place.
It’s an important step, “getting hitched”.  Changes things, doesn’t it.  Makes two people into a family.  Soon it’s children, one, two, more!  I suppose I was a bit scared.  I like excitement and thrills but I do like things to get back to normal afterwards, back as it was, steady, untroubled, and, after all, I quite liked the life I had.
 I got up early that day.  It was always early, six a.m., dark and cold; well, it was still February, just. It was the worst thing about the job.  What am I saying – it was the only thing about the job that was less than fun.  I had to get up at that time to be sure of getting a seat on the train.  Kate, as usual, made breakfast, still in her p.j.s and her old, pink dressing gown – how long has she had that?  She didn’t have to leave for her school for over an hour or so but every day she made sure I had something to eat before I left home.
“I’ll be a bit late this evening,” I said, going out of the door, “important meeting.”
I glanced at her as I picked up my briefcase and a look of disappointment flashed over her face but it passed and she said,
“Okay, take care.”  She blew me a kiss as I stepped outside, as she always did.
It was that routine that I loved about Kate.  We’d been together since student days.  Back then we’d shared the house with Russ and Chris but they left to buy their own place.  We could have moved to a better postcode, I suppose, but, well, it was handy for the station and for Kate’s school. Kate loved the area as it was so different to her father’s country parish.  Mind you, you can take the girl out of the church but not the church out of the girl.  She was so honest and fun-loving but a little bit uptight about some things.
 ……………….
I can’t say my mind was on work much.  I signed off on a few deals, set a few other things in motion, just a few mil., nothing special.  I left the office soon after five and picked up the flowers I’d ordered from the stall down by the station.
Becky was already in the restaurant when I arrived.  As usual she’d found a table that couldn’t be seen from the entrance or from most of the other tables.  We’d been there once or twice before but Becky was always keen that we shouldn’t become well known in places.   Her new dress looked just like the bunch of spring flowers that I handed to her.  She smiled so cheerfully that I knew that this meeting was going to be special.  She gave me a hug and big, sloppy kiss and cooed over the flowers.  We sat down; she poured me a glass of wine, spoke the usual pleasantries then she said.
“It came through today.  It’s all over.”
“That’s fantastic news,” I said, genuinely feeling happy for her.
“I’m no longer married to that man,” she said with a sense of relief that was so apparent on her face.
“Has he been in touch,” I said guardedly.  I knew that even hinting that he might have sought her out could set her off in hysterics.
“No, thank god.  He hasn’t got my new address or my mobile number, and he won’t get them either.  I’m free of the vicious bastard at last.”
She took a sip of her wine and the cloud that had covered her face evaporated.
“Now we can get on with our lives.”
The waiter approached and took our order and then we talked about our shared memories and our plans.  It was when we’d finished the dessert that Becky bent over and rummaged in her handbag.  She placed a small box on the table in front of her.   It was square and covered in black leather.  I should have recognised it at once for what it was, but, well I suppose I can be as dim as the next guy sometimes and the significance of the date hadn’t occurred to me.
“I’m so glad that the divorce went through so that I can give you this today,” she said, “the one chance in four years a lady gets to propose.  You’ve been so good for me these last years, helping me get through it, not minding when I’ve got a bit anal about keeping our meetings secret.  I love you and I want you to marry me.”
She lifted the box up and handed it across the table to me.  I took it from her but in fact I was choking, speechless.  I opened it and there was the engagement ring.  Well, not an engagement ring with diamonds and sapphires and things like girls wear but a man’s signet ring, white gold with her initials and mine engraved in it.
My mind was racing.  Of course, I had known her divorce was due; we’d talked about it often, but I hadn’t planned for a change in our relationship at least, not straight away.  I loved spending time with her, we were good together but marriage hadn’t entered my head.
“What do you think?”
“It’s, um, gorgeous.”
“Does it fit? Try it on.”
I took it from the box and slipped it on my third finger.  Of course it fitted.  She knew me so well.  I looked at it and looked at her.  She was glowing with happiness.
“Well?  You haven’t given me an answer.”
“To what?”
“My question, silly.  It’s the twenty-ninth of February and it’s a lady’s prerogative to ask her lover for his hand in marriage.  So, what do you say?”
She was so expectant, so full of joy, I couldn’t say anything else could I.
“Of course.  It’s what we always planned isn’t it.  You beat me to it.”  Actually, despite all our plans to do things together I can’t recall discussing getting wed.  I looked at my watch.  “Oh, dear, it’s that time already.  Look I’ve got to go, got to meet a client.  I’m sorry, love.”
She looked disappointed for a moment then brightened.  She was used to me dashing off to “meet clients” and after all how was I expected to know that she was going to propose that evening.
The waiter got my coat and I paid the bill.  I kissed Becky on her cheek and made a pretence of having to run to make the meeting on time.
……………….
 Sitting on the train, I looked at the ring on my finger and tried to imagine having another one, simpler, a wedding band.  In some ways, the idea was attractive but although Becky may have been sure, was I?  I took the ring off, placed it back in its box and dropped it into my suit pocket.
 Night had fallen when I reached the house of course, but strangely the house was dark as well.  I put my key in the lock and opened the front door.
“Hello,” I called into the unlit hallway.  Kate opened the door from the kitchen diner.  The yellow glow of candles silhouetted her but I could see she was wearing the gold lame dress she’d worn at the New Year, with her blonde hair flowing over her shoulders.  She looked stunning.
“Hi, I’m glad you’re not too late,” she said, approaching me, kissing me on the cheek and taking my briefcase from my hand.  She took my hand in hers and led me into the candlelit room.  The dining table was laid for dinner for two, there were daffodils in a vase and a bottle of red wine breathing.   She pulled my overcoat off my shoulders and signalled for me to sit.
I was nonplussed.  We evidently weren’t expecting guests to join us so what was the special occasion?  Kate poured wine into two glasses and sat opposite me.  Her right hand enclosed something.  Something small.  She lifted up her glass.
“Knowing you, I knew you would never do anything about it, and this chance only comes around once in four years so I decided it was now or never.”  She reached out her hand towards me and uncurled her fingers.  A small red box lay on her palm. “Will you marry me?”
I stared at the box.
“Take it,” she urged, “try it on.”
It was a simple silver ring with two threads engraved around it, criss-crossing and forming a never-ending knot.  I slipped it on my finger.  It fitted perfectly.  I knew it would.
“Well?”  She said giving me one of her large-eyed smiles.
“Well what?”
“Stop kidding,” she giggled, “you have to answer.  On the 29th February, you’ve got to.  Will you marry me? Yes or no?”
My right hand fell down to my side brushing the pocket of my jacket.  I felt the box containing Becky’s ring.  I looked at Kate’s on the finger of my left hand. I didn’t like decisions. Which future should I choose? I cursed the calendar for adding this day every four years.
………………………………………..

Jasmine is considering

After a couple of weeks of idyllic holiday it is difficult to get back into routine, especially when there is so much to make one want to just curl up again – I won’t say what.  One thing did concern me. It was a report in the news over a week ago about the transwoman who committed suicide while in a male prison. I was concerned to read that she was only 19 and had been living as female since the age of 10.  But, and this is what got to me, she had little idea of what being transsexual means and had had no advice, medical or otherwise to help her transition. Despite all the publicity in recent years about various trans people, she still felt isolated and did not know where to go for help. She had not even begun to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, probably because she had not started any authorised medical treatment.

My understanding is that you do not need to go through surgery or even drug treatment to get a GRC but you do have to have a medical opinion that you are gender dysphoric. I have also heard that your mental state is taken into consideration. You can get to a sort of Catch 22 situation where if you are mad i.e. have mental health issues, you can’t get a GRC while a lot of people consider wanting to change gender a sign of madness.

This woman obviously had issues as she was convicted of crimes and sent to prison. What is appalling is that she received no care from the authorities that were responsible for her welfare while in custody. It also shows that there is still a lack of information about being trans available to the general public, despite the heap of material on the internet. We may be just 1% of the population but that just makes it that much more difficult for people who need help to make contact with those that can provide it. It also shows that the majority of people have a poor grasp of gender issues and do not understand how to help someone who is struggling to come to terms with their gender identity.

………………

IMGP5962I have a busy two or three weeks coming up so a new Jasmine novella will be on hold for a bit longer. In the meantime I’ll continue with other short stories I have stored away (there are lots).  This week I have a recent SF story I wrote (somewhat hurriedly) for a competition.  It didn’t get anywhere which I’m not surprised about.  I think it reads more like a synopsis than a short story.  It is also a familiar theme – colonisation of the Moon – but I hoped I had an original slant. Anyway, here it is.

Life on the Moon

The dark sky. That’s what surprised me most when I got here. I spent lots of time staring at the sky back home. There wasn’t much else to do lying in a cot. I watched the clouds move, that’s all. Then they gave me the neuro-interface. Here, on the Moon’s surface with my suit working at one hundred percent to keep me cool and my visor filter at maximum, the sun’s still too bright to look at directly and yet the sky is black. Yeah, that’s what tells me I’m on the Moon. It’s not the lower gravity, that’s just a pleasure. The weight on my chest is less and my useless muscles don’t have to work so hard.
The thing is they didn’t mention it during training. I suppose those career guys who’d been up to orbit lots of times didn’t think of it. Perhaps they weren’t allowed the time to just stare out of the windows of the space station. Me, well, when I’m turned away from the Sun and see all the stars on that black background it still takes my breath away. That’s probably not a good way of putting it. A break in my breathing would set off all sorts of warning alarms and have the monitor reprimand me for wasting time – time we haven’t got.
I’m outside for almost all my ten-hour shift, keeping an eye or more accurately a few brain cells, on the drills and the rock shifting kit, making small adjustments here and there, occasionally taking control of the waldos and really moving stuff. I love it. I feel useful for the first time in my life. Useful and important.  When I hand over to one of the others I feel as if I’m giving up a part of my body. In some ways, I am.
Yesterday, when I got back from my shift there was a celebration going on. Li told me all about it. We’re friends. She’s so like me; in abilities if not looks or personality. The fuss was over the completion of Cavern 1. Now they can start filling it with all the kit they’ve been hauling up from Earth. That gear will make this place self-sufficient in water, oxygen, metals, and lots of other stuff. The bosses were pleased because the hole was dug ahead of schedule and that was all down to our team.
Soon we’ll finish Cavern 2. It’ll be great to start filling it with the permanent living quarters. The temporary surface pods are cramped and there’s always the chance of a meteor puncturing the skin. The next bunch to come up from Earth will find their cosy apartments all ready for them.  By then the bio domes should be producing real food. I’m looking forward to having something to chew on instead of the concentrated, dried, pre-cooked mush we get from Earth. Once we’ve got our own food supply we can really start calling ourselves colonists.
Some of the guys talk about going home when we’ve finished the heavy work. Not me. Why should I go back to that gravity-well where I can’t move a muscle and I’m treated like a dependent waste of space? Here I’m free and a respected member of the gang. I’d happily see out my life working as a farmer or extending the caverns. Li feels the same. We may pair up and take a shared apartment in Cavern 2; maybe even have kids. I wonder if they would be like us?
Anyway, who really wants to go back to Earth now? It’s not exactly a pleasant place to be these days. The guys who want to go back have family down there so perhaps that gives them a reason. There’s no one down there who wants me back, not when getting food and staying alive is such a struggle, even for people who have the use of their own limbs.
I saw a meteor today. You don’t see them very often because there’s no atmosphere for them to streak through. It caught my eye, well, my camera lens, when it reflected the sunlight. A brief flicker, then it was gone. Thinking about it, perhaps it wasn’t a meteor after all. It wasn’t moving fast enough. Some of the states on Earth don’t like what we’re doing and have threatened to lob a bomb at us. One or two of them still have the capability. That’s why we’re on the “other side” facing away from Earth. Some of the guys are upset that we don’t have a view of Earth but I don’t care. I don’t want to see what we’ve done to that place, or let the bad guys down there have a good view of what we’re doing.
………………..
It was a missile. Li told me that someone she knows in admin said that our defences took it out before it got anywhere near. They’re not expecting many more as they’ve started lobbing nukes at each other down there. That should take their minds off us. Mind you the chances of us getting more supplies look pretty slim. Just like the chances of some of the guys going home.  I’ll just get on with my job managing the machines fitting out Cavern 2. I’m a builder now not a digger.
…………………
That’s it. We’re on our own. The multi-nationals who were behind us don’t exist anymore, like their customers, or most of them anyway. Admin have cut our rations to tide us over until the first crops are ready in a few weeks. It’ll be tough but I don’t need much to eat.
Chatting to Li, she thinks that the company bosses knew this was going to happen. That was why there was such a rush to get the colony set up. She says they used up all their capital to move as much stuff up here as possible in the time that was left. They had to do it without the governments noticing as otherwise their resources would have been commandeered for the patriotic wars.
……………………..
Li and I moved into our new home today. It’s on floor 6, two hundred meters below the surface but handy for the elevators. We’ve got more room than we expected because there’s no more people coming up from down below.  We celebrated with a special dinner – a tube of protein paste saved from yesterday’s ration, re-hydrated rice and a fresh lettuce from our first crop.  Food may be short still, but we’re nice and cosy down here and the solar energy collectors on the surface are 100% as it’s mid-moon day. We selected a view of the surface for our video-screen. Some of the others have selected scenes of Earth relayed by the satellite. I don’t know how they can look at that spoiled place now. It’s not the blue, white and green globe it used to be but a dirty brown ball.
………………….
We had boiled egg today. Okay, Li and I had to share it, but it was a real egg; shell and everything. We spent as much time looking at it as eating it. I had no idea that we’d brought chicken embryos up with us. Once we got the bio pods up the chicks were incubated. Now they’re hens and laying.  We had bread with the egg; real bread made from grain grown in the bio pods. Food is still rationed, probably always will be, but we’re self-sufficient.  Li and I talked about raising a kid. Of course, we can’t actually make a baby by ourselves, not us two, but we’re going to have a chat with the meds.
……………………
We’re going to be a mum and dad!  I supplied the sperm and Li the egg and the cybermeds did the rest. Nine months’ time we’ll have a daughter called Selene. We decided against gen-eng so she’ll be like Li and me. Admin agreed to it. In fact, they suggested it. They need our brains but being immobile we don’t need as much food as the ables. Selene won’t be the first child. Dmitri and Makena are having theirs the traditional way, a few weeks sooner. Admin were delighted. Without the extra people that were expected from Earth we’re a small number. Now that the food situation is easing, they want more mouths to feed, and hands and brains to do the work.
……………………..
I’ve got a new job.  Admin have patched me into the colony’s mainframe. I’m making sure that all the systems are running to plan. I look after the farmbots in the bio pods, energy generation, the foundries extracting metals and making plastics, the water and oxygen extractors, life support, everything really. It’s not just me of course. Li does a shift and there are others like us.  I wonder if the guys who designed the neuro-interface that give us a life, guessed that one day we’d be running the first colony on the Moon. Okay, it’s probably the last as well, but we have a future, which is more than those poor folks on Earth have got.
………………………..
It’s a good job that we can override the default settings. A few of the guys who couldn’t go home to Earth got a bit upset. I had to cut their oxygen. They won’t cause any more problems.
I love this job. It means that I’m on the surface any time I like, looking out through the cameras on the bio pods, the solar collectors and the communications towers. I can see the ragged ridge that surrounds our crater, the grey dust that’s now criss-crossed with the tracks of our machines and I can look up and see the stars in that black sky.
………………………………

Jasmine at rest

IMGP5962I’ve been on holiday and had a thoroughly relaxing time. So relaxed in fact that I have not done any writing, which is unusual when I am holiday. There’s been lot’s to do like reading and walking and gazing at the glorious views and lying on the sand with my eyes closed listening to the waves and watching the sunset (not the sunrise – haven’t been up early enough). It has been lovely just being. We have kept up to date with the news and there have been plenty of emails to delete every day but for once we have just not felt like bothering. I know that getting home will change all that but perhaps this feeling of “let it be” will continue. We have decided one thing – that I must do more to market Jasmine but how remains to be seen.

To fill in the gap, here is another of my older short stories. This one is fairly recent. I wrote it as a test to see if I could write an SF story based on an article in a random edition of New Scientist. The trouble is I am not sure how fictional it is or how far into the future it is set..

Potential for Evil

The room I was shown into reflected the contradictions of the British Security Service. An antique comfy sofa and dark wood panelling denoting the history of the service while the holographic projector on the mahogany desk signalled that technologically it was up to date. The projection blinked off as I entered like a bubble bursting and the figure behind the desk rose to greet me.
‘Ah, Professor Isabella Boyle.’ He pronounced each syllable of my title and name as if making sure he wouldn’t forget it. He was tall and dark and, I suppose, handsome in a 2020s sort of way. It looked rather dated today, like the pale blue summer suit he was wearing. He indicated the sofa and invited me to sit.
I settled into the soft, low cushions, thankful that I had chosen to wear trousers rather than a skirt despite the continuing summer heatwave.
‘You know who I am but I do not know your name,’ I said, perhaps showing a bit of irritation in my voice.  I had been summoned by my comm implant which let it be known that I couldn’t really refuse but with no information whatsoever about why my presence was required.
‘We don’t go in for identities here,’ he said lowering himself onto the sofa beside me, ‘It’s an historical thing I suppose. You can call me N if you like.’
‘N?’
‘It comes after M. Now Professor I want you to watch this.’
He wiggled his fingers and the projection formed in the air in front of us. ‘Resume, rewind, start,’ he said.
I saw a planar view of some dusty middle-eastern town. There were lots of people, men, women, children going about what seemed to be their normal business. They were surrounded by a cloud of buzzing insects which seemed to hover over or near each person.  As the picture moved I realised we were following one particular character, a young man. He seemed to know where he was going as he strode through the awning-covered streets until he came to the steps of a white concrete building. It appeared to me to be a meeting place where people got out of the extreme heat to eat, drink, chat, play games and do business.  The man we were pursuing stopped, took the bag he had been carrying off his shoulder and drew out a compact automatic firearm, bigger than a pistol. He held it in one hand and started firing.  Immediately people fell to the ground, bleeding, dying. Some fled but he shot them in the back. He turned, shooting continuously, spraying fire into every corner of the building, the gun automatically selecting targets, aiming and firing without any likelihood of missing. The assassin stepped forward and our viewpoint moved with him deeper into the shadows. Many people had no escape because the exits were blocked by those who had the time to start to flee. He carried on shooting, mercilessly cutting down everyone in line of sight.
He reached the far end of the building and paused. Now as well as the cries of the dying and the incessant chatter of his gun there was another noise – answering fire from outside the building. He stopped shooting, held up his hands and exploded. The image disappeared.
‘So?’ I said looking at N, ‘an act of terrorism in some foreign town. I can see plenty of those on newsfeeds if I wish – many closer to home.’
‘Of course,’ N said, a thin smile playing across his lips. ‘Didn’t you notice anything unusual?’
I thought for a moment, ‘The point of view followed the killer. You had a surveillance drone on him. Why couldn’t he be stopped?’
N smiled. ‘It wasn’t one of ours. We hacked it after the incident. The state follows everyone over the age of twelve with flybots but while it stores the uploads it doesn’t have the AI power to analyse them in real time so they’re only good for reviewing events not influencing them. The incident happened three days ago but what was interesting was who committed the atrocity.’
I was surprised at his use of the word “atrocity”.  It reminded me of my childhood when events like we had watched were not daily events. What had happened to make an atrocity an everyday occurrence?
‘A member of a rival faction?’ I suggested.
‘Could have been. There are plenty of jihadi groups vying for the reputation of being the most barbarous. Not that this was any more deadly than many others – just a hundred dead. No he wasn’t with one of them. His home was one of our supposed allies.’  He seemed particularly gleeful by that revelation.
‘How do you know? Whichever country he originated from he could have been a radicalised member of one of these terrorist organisations.’
‘Ah, that’s where you are wrong. You see we have accessed his i.d. He worked for one of our “friends”.’
‘How did you find out?’
N smiled broadly. He was enjoying showing off. ‘We’re not as out of touch as the public sometime think. We have agents in the field. One of them managed to get hold of the bomber’s body, well, his head actually. It arrived here yesterday.’
‘So you were able to read his implant.’
‘Yes, we know exactly who he is, what he’s been doing, what porn he’s accessed, everything. Except we don’t know what this is.’  N reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small, clear plastic bag. He handed it to me.
The bag appeared empty until I held it up to examine closely. Inside was a bundle of fine wires, each much thinner than a human hair, almost too thin to see. Attached to the wires were slightly larger nodes.
‘Where was this found?’ I asked although I was beginning to get ideas.
‘I think it is called his prefrontal cortex – the PFC? Separate to his comm implant anyway.’
‘Why are you showing this to me?’ I asked although I was pretty sure of the answer now.
‘You’re a top neuroscientist, Professor,’ N said, beaming at me and taking care to look at my face and not my breasts. ‘We think you can explain what this was doing in the agent’s brain and what it has got to do with his actions on behalf of our “ally”.’
I took a deep breath. ‘I suppose you realise that it was connecting to the neurones in the part of the brain that you named. The PFC is responsible for our higher functions – rational thought, decision-making, that sort of thing.’ I dangled the packet in front of me. ‘This is a behaviour modification device.’
‘I guessed that. But what is it doing exactly?’
‘Ah. I would need to know exactly where it was situated.’
‘I can help you there,’ N said, and began waving his hands in the air again. A new image appeared in front of me, 3D this time, – a full colour scan of the brain. ‘You can manipulate it,’ N said.
I raised my hands and fingers to hold the image of the brain, turn it, expand it. I reached in to grasp the piece I wanted to examine more closely.  The silver neural modifier stood out from the grey brain cells.
It was as I thought. ‘It’s made him evil,’ I said.
‘Really?’ N said as if I had confirmed his own guesses.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A couple of decades ago it was discovered that a part of the PFC was involved in giving the person the potential for evil. That is the ability to perform violent acts frequently and without emotion and be willing to follow orders and adopt the belief system of the group which they have joined. It’s called Syndrome E.’
‘Your typical jihadi,’ N said nodding.
I pointed to the image that hung in the air. ‘This part of the PFC was found to be active in suppressing the moderate, altruistic, risk-averse instincts of other parts of the brain.  It seems that someone has engineered this implant to control the function – turn the evil on and perhaps off.’
‘So it seems. Thank you Professor. I suspected as much but needed your opinion as proof. You see N stands for Neurological Section Leader.’
I was confused. ‘But why would someone do that? Why put that thing in someone’s brain?’
N smiled again. ‘It seems that our ally has decided that trying to bomb our enemies into submission isn’t working. It isn’t. We’ve known that for decades but there hasn’t been any acceptable alternative. So they’ve decided to copy the enemy’s tactic of indiscriminate brutality.  Give them back the terror. But they needed a single minded, evil assassin happy to blow himself to bits if it killed enough innocent bystanders.’
‘Would they be able to find such a person?’ I asked realising immediately that I was being naïve.
‘Of course they could. Think of the Nazis, Irish IRA and protestant militia, Serbians in Bosnia, numerous American college boys.  Every nation has its reservoir of easily led, homicidal maniacs. The problem is controlling them.  With this device the guys in charge, like me, can turn anyone, or almost anyone, into a multi-murderer whenever we wish.’
I suddenly felt cold. ‘You said “we”.’
He gave me that broad grin again, like the cat that not only had the cream but a tasty dead bird as a side dish. ‘You don’t think we’re going to let our “friends” go on with this on their own do you? The Prime Minister wants our own Syndrome E Squad a.s.a.p. and as the leading authority on neural implants you are the person we are relying on to provide it, Professor.’
‘But how will releasing our own programmed killers end the war on terror?’ I asked.
‘It won’t,’ N replied.
‘Then, why?’
‘Because it will be a damn sight cheaper than operating the current fleet of drone bombers. Now, Professor, you’re not getting moralistic qualms about this are you? Not after developing the neural implant that has connected the whole population to the internet and allowed governments and corporations into everyone’s heads.
My uncertainty surfaced as an ‘Umm.’
‘I am sure I don’t have to remind you that under the state of emergency that has existed for the last twenty years your citizenship is dependent on you carrying out your government’s, that is my, wishes.’
I had no choice, unless I wanted to be deported from my own country. Any other that took me would make the same demands on my knowledge and skills. It appeared that from now on I would be harnessing the evil present in most, if not all minds, but perhaps I would also be able to insert an off switch.
‘When do I start?’

…………………….

Inspired by Roots of brutality, Laura Spinney, New Scientist p.40, no.3047, 14/11/15

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