Jasmine’s back

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProIn four weeks I’ll be at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancashire for the BLISS Book Lovers event (Sat. 14th July.)  It’s another of those bookfairs where the authors display their books and engage visitors with enthralling chat about their work. It really works best if there are lots of people wandering around who aren’t the participating authors. For that reason I have a few free entry tickets available for anyone wanting to attend.  Just send me a message on paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com and if they haven’t all gone I’ll see that you get a ticket. Also send me a message if you want to pre-order any of my books for delivery at the event.  They will all be priced at £8 on the day except for Painted Ladies, which is free with either Bodies By Design or The Brides’ Club Murder. The Evil Above the Stars trilogy will be £21 for all three volumes.  There will also be free bookmarks and postcards of scenes from the September novels, particularly Cold Fire.

Of course, if you can’t get to Southport you can order the books direct from me by sending a message to me at the same email address above.  All books are £9.99 inc p&p each and the free offer for Painted Ladies stands. The package of the three Evil Above the Stars books is £25.

……………….

And so Jasmine returns. I’ve had a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a couple of months although the fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir, is still on the stocks. This new story is something of an innovation.  It is both a sequel and prequel.  It fits into the short period of time between the events of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I am not going to give away any of the plot of Painted Ladies other than to say Jasmine is recovering.  You’ll have to wait and see how the story develops but I do want it to be a little more reflective.  Jasmine is stuck at the stage in her transition where she’s living as a woman and taking hormones but the body she wants is a distant goal because of the time it takes to get Gender Confirmation  Surgery. She’s alone and self-employed and has just completed a traumatic case so she has reason to be reflective.

By the way I’d welcome beta readers for Molly’s Boudoir.  If you would like to read it in its pre-copyedit state and are prepared to make comments (positive and negative) then please send me a message on the email address above. In  return you’ll get my grateful thanks and a signed (yes, really) paperback copy when it is published.

So here is the first episode of Negative.

Negative: Part 1

The forest of wind turbines on the horizon in a flat calm sea seemed to be unchanging. It was only the rattle of the railway carriage that told her that she was moving. She kept her face close to the window gazing at the scene. It had been a long time since she’d seen the sea, but it was almost like coming home having grown up in a coastal town. This was a different bit of sea though and turning away to look out of the other side of the carriage she could see that she was travelling through unfamiliar country. Hills clothed in bright green grass and dark trees rose steeply from the narrow coastal strip and beyond, partially hidden in cloud, were the dark blue hints of higher mountains.
Jasmine looked back at the sea. She needed a holiday, a break, a change of scene, but it felt a little like she was running away. Angela had recommended it, as did Jilly, her GP. While her injuries were healing, the dreams still disturbed her nights. She woke feeling she couldn’t breathe. The media interest in her, though lessening, was irritating and stopped her from getting back to work. Not that she was sure she would have much work. Frame Investigations might be defunct. Who wanted a private investigator whose picture had appeared in the local and national newspapers and on the internet?
She’d argued. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to curl up in her drab, small flat. She was alone. What was she going to do on a vacation? Anyway, she couldn’t afford it.
Angela had argued back. The change would do her good, refresh her. She’d meet new people; people who didn’t know her. She had some money coming from the Police for her work and in victim compensation, and why didn’t she use some of her savings. That was for her transition, she’d responded.
Angela had replied, ‘Your wellbeing now is more important than having money in the bank for whatever surgeries you decide you might need in the future.’ Jasmine had wanted to retort that future treatment was what was going to make her what she wanted to be, but she had accepted Angela’s point.
So here she was, on a train to somewhere unfamiliar. On her own because, of course, Angela had her own career she couldn’t desert at short notice and anyway they were divorced now. There was no-one else.

The train pulled into the terminus station. Jasmine collected her small case and stepped onto the carriage accompanied by a couple of dozen fellow travellers. It was summer, but not yet school holiday time so the season hadn’t really taken off. Her companions were largely grey-haired. Though they might have noticed her in her t-shirt and short skirt, none seemed to take any interest in her. She checked the map on her phone and strode out of the station towing her case behind her. The hotel she’d booked wasn’t far. It was in one of the streets that lead down to the seafront, but she noted, didn’t have a direct view of the sea. It was a small independently run establishment. The grey stone Victorian building looked as though it had had a coat of paint applied to its woodwork but didn’t seem to have had any recent improvements. Not seedy anyway. She’d booked it because it was cheap, offered breakfast and dinner and had a single room spare for a fortnight – that was as long as she thought she’d survive being on holiday.
The owner showed her into the room. Its narrow window looked out at the row of buildings in the next street with just a peek at the hill that rose beyond the town. He was welcoming and explained the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing and informed her of the mealtimes. She examined his face. Had he guessed what she was? Did his eyes display any sense of judgement? No, he was treating her as she thought he would any other guest who happened to be a single woman, taking care not to fuss over her in case it was interpreted as being sexist.
After asking if there was any other assistance she needed, the proprietor left her alone. Jasmine unpacked her bag and then decided to explore. She left the hotel and walked down to the seafront. Although the sun was still shining it was now late afternoon, her journey had taken most of the day, and there was a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Her bare arms and legs felt a bit chilly. To keep warm, she strode out along the promenade. She passed retired couples and families with young pre-school children, but the wide concreted pavement wasn’t crowded. On one side were the large, at one time grand, hotels and on the other, brightly painted wooden huts offering the usual seaside goods for visitors – buckets and spades, sunhats, ice cream, soft drinks, and fast food accompanied by the sickening smell of over-cooked fat.
She went to the iron rail that marked the boundary between the shore and beach and gazed out at the curve of the bay with the mountains on the right and the headland to the left. Why was she here? She knew no-one and knew nothing about this area. It was simply a retreat, somewhere to be herself, unknown and hopefully unbothered. For a moment she wondered what the attitude of the locals was to transitioning transwomen. Were they likely to be more or less accepting than in the cities and towns she was familiar with? She didn’t know, and it gave her a little anxiety about what she might discover. Holiday-makers, surely, were only interested in their own enjoyment so would be unconcerned by her, that is unless there were some young, single men looking for women to satisfy their vacation lust. She’d have to avoid them.
She wasn’t sure what she would spend her time her doing. There were plenty of things to do and see, walks to do and she’d brought a few books. Swimming in the sea was out. No bathing costume helped her look more feminine, and her scars would show. Relax, that was the main thing – and recuperate; dispel the nightmares of the slashing knife, ripping through her skin, chopping at her penis and scrotum. Yes, she wanted rid of them, but in a controlled, clean, anaesthetised manner where they would be used to build her new genitalia. She shivered, not just with the breeze on her shoulders, and turned to walk back to the hotel.

After kicking off her shoes and lying on the bed to read a not very interesting novel for a while, her watch told her it was time for dinner. Did one dress for dinner in hotels these days? She wasn’t sure but decided to change from the clothes she had travelled in. Instead she put on a calf-length dress with a thin cardigan. She powdered her face and re-did her lipstick. She looked in the mirror. What impression did she give? A young(ish) woman on her own in a small holiday hotel. Would people wonder why she was alone and perhaps examine her for reasons for her aloneness? Would their examinations note the wide shoulders, the mannish angle of her nose, and firm jaw-line? Would they suspect her for what she was?
She was used to these worries although it was the first time for a long time that she had been in a new place to test them. She took a deep breath, picked up her bag, checked her new smart phone was in it and stepped outside her door.
The dining room was half full. Most of the occupied tables by couples although one had two pairs sitting at it. Glances noted her entry, but none lingered. A waitress, dark hair, probably in her forties, indicated that she could sit at any of the smaller tables set for two, and left her to choose. She went to a table at the corner of the room which, while unobtrusive, gave her a view of the diners. She sat, pulling the hem of her dress under her bottom and looked at the brief menu.
There was a buzz of conversation around her. She caught snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, and discussions of the news of the moment – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and preparations for the London Olympics, now less than two months away and the media, at least, becoming frantic that the organisation was incomplete.
Jasmine was approached by the second of the waitresses on duty. She was young, slim and tall, at least as tall as Jasmine’s five foot nine. Her long blonde hair was tied in a bun so that it wouldn’t flop into the dinner plates when she served the diners. Like the other waitress she was dressed in the typical waiting uniform of short, black skirt, black tights and black pinafore but the younger girl’s skirt ended higher on her thighs. She gave Jasmine a thin smile but there was a nervousness about her, her eyes not looking directly at her, that caused Jasmine to examine her. She noted the heavy foundation on her chin and cheeks, and the bold colour of her eye and lip make-up. The shirt was tucked into the skirt but the girl didn’t have much of a waist. The hand that gripped the notebook had painted nails but was large with stubby fingers.
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said in a way that Jasmine suspected she’d prepared herself to speak rather than just spill the words out. She smiled at the girl and the thought came to her, what were the chances that the hotel I chose to stay in had a trans employee?

………………………..to be continued.

 

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Jasmine is waking

I could start this week’s piece with a rant about inept solicitors but I won’t. Let’s try to be positive.

There was the lovely news about the person in the Netherlands who has become the first legal non-binary person. They were born with an intersex condition and has spent time living as male and female but now has settled for a non-gendered life.  It was a struggle but the Dutch government finally accepted it. Perhaps it opens the way for other intersex people to adopt a similar life-style. However, I don’t think it offers too much hope for those like me who are not intersex but identify as gender-fluid or gender-variant and want to reject labelling as male or female.

Then there was the great day we had at the Hay Literary Festival last week. We always have a good time at Hay but this was different as I was contributing to a workshop on Gender, Sexuality and Identity organised by the young people’s mental health charity, Strong Young Minds. In fact I was asked to introduce the topic and guide the audience into the discussion groups. We had a good and varied audience who took part enthusiastically and the group facilitators and notetakers did a fantastic job. We hope the outcomes are greater awareness, a network for LGBTQ+ youth and further opportunities to spread the message viz. BU (i.e. be yourself).

Of course there was another highlight to the day – a peer inside the Green Room at Hay where all the speakers relax. Actually a bit more than a “peer”. We were welcomed in, given a glass of wine and had a sit down to eat our packed lunch.  Oh, and the loos were pretty smart too.

IMGP6569 (2)………………………………..

This week we reach the concluding part of my SF story, Benefactors. Well, it’s the last part so far. When you get to the end you will see that it’s not really the end of the story. I have been thinking about a millennia spanning tale taking humans out to perhaps meet the Benefactors but it has rather ground to a halt at the moment. Meanwhile, I have been thinking about Jasmine Frame’s return.  Yes, she will be back in a new transgender-themed crime story next week – I just have to write it. . .

Benefactors: Part 9

The change in engine note after the helicopter touched down was what woke Jock. Moments later the door opened revealing another helmeted military figure standing on a small landing field of old and cracked concrete. Jock undid his harness, stretched his arms and legs and stepped out into a cloudy evening that was considerably colder than the previous stop. Not having had his personal possessions returned to him Jock had no idea how long the journey had lasted. He looked around, seeing that they were in a valley between moderately high and rugged mountains. Scotland, Jock decided.
There was a row of single storey huts on one side of the landing field. From the distance, they looked practically derelict relicts of the Cold War or even earlier. A figure was striding towards him from the buildings. Jock thought the person was familiar. He began to walk to meet her. A few steps confirmed his hopes.
‘Professor Patel,’ Jock called, his words drowned by the roar of the helicopter taking off behind him. He turned to see it rise and turn and head off down the valley.
‘Jock!’ Helen called and ran towards him. They met and embraced in an awkward but emotional hug. ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ Helen said when they parted.
‘I don’t know where “here” is, Professor. What’s going on?’
‘It’s Helen. We don’t need titles here and I think we’re going to be together for some time. I don’t know where “here” is either and it hasn’t got a name but it’s where we’re going to study the data in the tree genome.’
Jock stopped walking, shivered and shook his head. ‘I don’t get it. They killed my guide, destroyed the last tree, and shut me away. I thought the next stop was an unmarked grave. Now you say they want to know what the tree’s all about.’
Helen nodded. ‘I’ll explain all I can, but let’s get you inside. It’s a colder autumn here wherever we are.’ They entered the nearest building. It had paint peeling from the concrete walls and the vinyl covering on the floor was lifting in places.
‘What is this place?’ Jock said.
‘I think it was a research station from the 60s. Biological warfare I expect. It’s been mothballed for half a century but that doesn’t mean it’s been looked after. I think the government thinks it’s remote enough to keep our work secret.’
‘So we’re working for the British government,’ Jock shrugged.
‘I think so.’ Helen explained how she and Darmaan had been arrested or kidnapped depending on your point of view and how she had been facing a memory wipe given some sort of legitimacy by government anti-radicalisation laws. ‘But I convinced them that they needed to take the tree data seriously.’
‘How did you do that? They seemed to be paranoid about any of it getting out.’
‘They are but they’re more scared of others using the data first. I suggested that there may be more examples of hidden messages in genomes waiting to be found in other parts of the world.’
Jock shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. The Rift Valley was where modern humans evolved. There’s the pinch point where they almost didn’t make it. You know we’re all descended from one female. Well, perhaps there were other women in that surviving group but their descendants died out. Something happened to improve the odds of survival for that bunch of humans a quarter of a million years ago. I think it was the Tree. We were given one chance.’
‘Shh,’ Helen held a finger to her lips. ‘Keep that to yourself I don’t think they’ve had time to install surveillance yet. Let them think that we’re in a race to decode the data.’
‘Maybe we are. The Chinese mining operation that destroyed the grove could be a cover. Perhaps they took samples too.’
‘So we’ve got our work cut out.’
‘But there aren’t any trees. They’re all gone.’ Jock shook his head sadly.
Helen stopped at a steel door. She pushed on the handle. The door swung opened as if recently greased. They stepped into a small laboratory. There was plastic sheeting draped from the ceiling and covering the windows. It felt warmer than in the corridor. A bench in the centre of the room was covered with trays of small glass jars.
Jock let out a gasp of glee. He leapt forward bending to peer at the bottles. ‘They’re . . .’
‘Tissue cultures,’ Helen said leaning to look inside a bottle at the short pale shoot and the tiny leaves that were just beginning to open.
‘How. . .?’ Jock asked almost speechless as he examined jar after jar.
‘Your employers. Your un-named drug company. They had started the cultures to obtain the neuroactive drug you discovered. All their work has been transferred here along with their staff. I think the government has done a deal with the company to keep it secret.’
Jock straightened up. ‘The God-tree survives.’
Helen took Jock’s hand and tugged him back to the corridor. ‘Yes, but that’s not what we’re here for. Come on.’
They walked a little further until Helen pushed open another door. Jock was dazzled by the colours and flickering illumination. The room was filled with holographic displays hanging in the air, moving, changing, flicking off, new ones appearing. In the centre of the room, almost hidden by the maze of pictures and text, was a figure.
‘Darmaan. Jock Fraser’s here,’ Helen called. The displays disappeared revealing another drab, decaying room with a single pendant light hanging over Darmaan Adams. Darmaan stepped towards them arm extended.
‘Jock! At last. Helen’s said so much about you.’ Darmaan grabbed Jock’s hand and pumped it vigorously. Jock always considered himself an action man, a fearless explorer always prepared for the unexpected but the way today had turned out was too much for even him. He collapsed onto an old wooden stool and stared at Helen and Darmaan with his mouth open.
‘I’ll explain,’ Helen said. ‘The government guy who was organising my memory wipe believed my story of what the Tree meant. I have to hand it to them. Once they make up their mind to act things happen. I was left alone in a comfy cell for less than two days. Then they came for me and brought me here. That was yesterday evening. Darmaan arrived this morning long with the drug company guys and gals. That’s it for now except for a company of soldiers who are guarding the perimeter. I’m not sure if they are keeping snoopers out or us in.’
‘Probably both,’ Jock said. ‘Where are the tissue team now?’
‘Having some supper in the common room,’ Darmaan said.
Helen nodded. ‘We were going to join them until I heard the helicopter.’
‘And I was too engrossed here to stop,’ Darmaan added.
Jock looked around the bare and decrepit laboratory. ‘But you said this place was out of action for fifty years.’
‘It was,’ Helen nodded vigorously, ‘It’s a mess but the soldiers cleaned up some of the rooms, rigged up a power feed and brought in a water supply. As I said, they did a lot in two days. For now, we’re going to be living rough. You’re used to that aren’t you, Jock?’ Jock nodded, ‘’But we have the Tree and the data Darmaan extracted from the genome. We can make a start on understanding it.’
‘Working for the government.’ Jock said.
‘Yes, but we’re still alive with our minds intact and we have an amazing task in front of us.’
Jock didn’t look as grateful as Helen expected. ‘The drug in the Tree enabled the people to work together for the good of the race. It gave them the edge over their competitors and here we are today. We don’t know who planted the trees but what did they expect to happen when their protégés became successful enough to decode the genome.’
Darmaan said, ‘That’s what we’re going to find out.’

……………………..The End (for now)

Jasmine and the end of the world

IMGP6557 (2)Earlier this week I spent an enjoyable day at How The Light Gets In, the “other” Hay festival. I attended some interesting talks and discussions but the last got me hopping mad. The topic “Out of the Apocalypse” was billed as a discussion  about:

“From climate change and superbugs to nuclear strikes, visions of man-made apocalypse fill the headlines. Is this because we don’t really believe them and as a result are simply entertained? Should we see impending apocalypse as very real and act with more urgency? Or is apocalypse a perennial human narrative that sells books, magazines and news and is mostly fantasy?”

Unfortunately the contributors circled around the subject although none appeared to be climate-change-deniers. First there was discussion of the meaning of the term “apocalypse”.  Apparently it is derived from the Greek word for Revelation as used in the last book of the Bible and so refers to religious hopes for the end of the world where God triumphs, believers get their reward and the rest get punished or annihilated. It perhaps doesn’t quite mean what the title was intended to mean.  This meant that apart from a bit of discussion about nuclear holocaust we never dug into the impending disasters facing us. The chair even asked at one point why we “don’t see any evidence of the coming apocalypse.”  I felt like shouting out “how many more pictures of retreating glaciers, disappearing Arctic ice, burning rainforest, turtles with stomachs full of plastic bags, heaps of rubbish, city smogs, etc., etc., do you need?”. The participants seemed to approach the Apocalypse, or whatever it is, in an almost religious manner i.e. that it was all about an abrupt death. Yes, it is about people (and wildlife) dying, but that’s not the worst part of it.

The coming Armageddon, (another term of dubious applicability) will not be a one-off event. It will be a slow (in human if not geological terms) process, as the environment dies, food becomes short, order breaks down and people gradually die of starvation, disease, “accidents” and violence. The causes are numerous.  Here are just a few:  climate change caused by excessive use of fossil fuels and deforestation leading to drought, violent storms (causing landslides), mass extinctions et al; death of marine life by pollution (not just plastics) and acidification; soil degradation (we’re losing a massive amount every year); air pollution; pollution of fresh water sources; invasive pests and diseases (e.g. flu, ebola); etc.

I don’t see governments making any real attempts to solve these problems.  I hope I am being pessimistic but what I see does not give me cause for optimism. In the future we will see rising prices for food, increasing unrest in areas where food and water are in short supply, leading to break down of law and order, wars, refugees and migrants. In richer countries, those with power (corporations, the wealthy) will take steps to protect their interests (perhaps by supporting populist groups that give them the tools of government), while the ordinary people will see their standard of living and rights slowly eroded.

It sounds like a dystopian novel. I wish it was, but I fear it is a forecast for the next hundred or so years.  I hope I can see out the rest of my life in relative safety and comfort but I fear for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of the speakers wants to cut the world population by reducing births. While a reduction of numbers is essential, a lack of young people with new ideas and energy will only hasten the descent into chaos. So, I don’t know what the answer is.

I don’t have any solutions, but welcome ideas.

………………………….

So, let’s look the other way, forget reality and delve into my fictional world of Benefactors.  Here’s the next episode.

Benefactors: Part 8

Chapter 8

Helen didn’t know how long she had. It turned out to be what felt like a couple of hours before the lock clunked and the door opened. A young man appeared with a tray. He was unimportant, a junior, a servant perhaps. Behind him stood a pair in military style dress though without any badges or insignia. One was male and the other female although they looked almost like twins with short hair, bulging muscles and coms implants in the side of their heads. They both held weapons.
Helen wasn’t sure which of them to address her words to. Perhaps none of them. Perhaps there were invisible listeners who would act on the message.
She spoke loudly and clearly. ‘I need to see someone. The man that visited me before or someone else. I have important information I must divulge. It is vital that you pass this message on. If my memory is wiped before I am able to speak then the future for this nation is dire.’
The servant and the guards made no sign that they had heard her. The tray was placed on the desk and then he withdrew. The door closed and the lock clunked again. Helen sat and tasted the food – a tasty chicken casserole. She found she had an appetite.
She had only just put down the blunt plastic fork when the door opened and the gaoler entered.
‘I understand you have something to say to me, Professor,’ he said in a bored voice that did not take Helen in. The speed of his response showed his interest.
Helen stood up, composed herself as she would before delivering a talk to a packed lecture theatre, and began.
‘I do and I think you will be interested. First of all let us put aside this idea that the tree’s genome is a hoax designed to fool me. Your involvement shows that this matter is far bigger than my reputation.’ She paused for a breath and to examine his face. He was impassive, but listening. ‘I can understand the concern about how people would react to the news that someone or something visited us eons ago and left us a secret message. I am not sure what effect that information would have on the populations around the world.’ The man’s headed nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘I also understand the government’s fears about what might happen if some of our, um, competitors made use of the information in the genome more successfully than ourselves.’ Helen noticed the man stiffen slightly. That indeed was his principal concern. ‘You think that by removing me and Darmaan and Fraser from the picture, by destroying the trees and the people who tended them, that the secrets can be hidden for ever. I’m sure you are also aware that history suggests that that course of action is not going to work. You can never be certain that the secret will not get out, and that has got nothing to do with whether, Darmaan or Jock or I managed to spread the word before we were, er, taken out of the picture.’ The man’s eyes flickered; a hint of anxiety. ‘How do you know that it was only Jock Fraser who took samples from the trees and got a hint of the secret that they hide. Who was it that destroyed the trees and killed their gardeners?’ The man shifted his weight on his feet as if uncomfortable. ‘But just think for a moment about the people or creatures, or whatever they were who planted the message in the trees all that time ago. How do we know that they just left the message once? Why just one tree in the Rift Valley. They could not be certain that the people they left tending the trees would survive for ten thousand generations. Okay, that is where we think modern humans originated and spread out from. But wouldn’t it have been sensible to leave copies in other plants in China, say, or South America, anywhere, to ensure that they would be found when we were capable of it.’
Helen stopped talking and watched the man. He had taken his eyes off her. He was thinking. She continued. ‘Our benefactors, let’s call them that shall we, did their best to see that our race progressed. As well as the message in the DNA they provided a drug that helped the people cooperate and work together. Yes, I’m sure that is the purpose of the toxic narcotic that you mentioned. They knew that it would be a long time before we were ready to understand their gift and I am sure they would have taken every step to ensure that when the time was right it would be available to us.’ The man was definitely agitated now, his mouth moving and his hands clenching and unclenching.
Helen went on. ‘If we are the first we must do what we can to interpret the message, and very carefully let the news out so that others do not try to stop us, steal it or keep it to themselves.’ She had made the case, now her statement had to get personal. ‘I, and Darmaan and Jock are already involved but what a waste it would be to wipe our memories. You need me, us, to lead the work of using this gift. I’m not being boastful but my main talent is running teams of researchers. I learnt it on the Human Genome Project. Now you need me on this which is far, far more important. Please give me, all of us, a chance to help.’
She finished and stood waiting for a response. The man looked at her then turned and departed without a word. Helen flung herself on the bed, her heart beating fast as it did at the end of any presentation. Had she said the right things? Had she done enough to save her mind? Had she saved the world?

Chapter 9

Jock had spent time in various prison cells in nations across the world. Sometimes his papers had not been “in order” or landowners had got upset at his “trespassing”, or rivals had had words with the authorities. It had never been more than a few days but he was familiar with bare walls, lack of furnishings and amenities, unpalatable water and food. This wasn’t one of those simple gaols in a developing country. This had freshly painted, strong walls, a bright light in the ceiling (which didn’t go off), an effective lock on the door, and was so insulated from the outside world he couldn’t tell whether he was still in the tropics or had been ferried to one or other of the poles.
Time passed. He rested on the hard rubber bed fixed to the wall. He was fed by a bowl pushed through a letterbox sized slot in the wall. Most of the time he lay thinking, feeling anger and remorse for the death of Ekuru Lengabilo and wondering at the fate of the boy and the old woman. He wondered what Professor Patel had found in the genome but realised that it must have been as special as he had guessed to have brought Special Forces all the way to the Rift Valley to extract him.
He was actually beginning to get bored with his company, particularly as he had no means of writing or recording his thoughts, when the door to the cell swung open.
‘Please step out of the cell,’ a voice said from outside. Jock jumped to his feet but walked very slowly to the doorway and looked through it. There was an honour guard of helmeted, armed and uniformed but unidentified personnel on both sides of the short corridor.
The squad leader at the far end of the corridor spoke with a firm but unthreatening voice. ‘Come with me, please, Dr Fraser.’ He beckoned Jock to join him. Jock walked passed the soldiers examining each. Their dark visors prevented him from seeing if there was any emotion at all in their eyes, but they held their weapons at the ready, with fingers on triggers. Jock joined the officer who turned and pushed the door open and they stepped out on to a small parade ground. A one-man quadcopter rested on the tarmac with its canopy raised. The seat was empty.
‘Get in,’ the officer commanded. Jock did as he was told, settling into the body hugging, memory foam seat. The canopy lowered. The craft took-off vertically, the four rotors whirring but the electric motors silent. Jock rose above the roof of the surrounding building and then the craft began moving horizontally.
‘What is the destination?’ Jock asked. Perhaps there was a communications link with the drone pilot wherever he or she may be or perhaps the craft was autonomous and would tell him itself. There was no reply. Jock looked out trying to interpret what he saw. He soon worked out that they were travelling north and the landscape looked as if it could be British but could equally be northern Europe or even some parts of North America. Britain was most likely. The small craft didn’t travel in a straight line and Jock presumed it was avoiding urban areas. He guessed that being battery powered the journey would not last long and indeed after an hour they descended to an air field. A helicopter stood alone on the concrete with a guard of soldiers around it similar to those at the prison.
The quadcopter landed and the rotors slowed to a stop. The canopy opened. Without waiting for an order Jock got out. Having recently been in Africa and then confined inside, he shivered in the cool breeze. One of the helmeted soldiers beckoned him towards the helicopter whose rotors were already turning slowly. The door in the side was open and Jock climbed in. There were no other passengers. Jock took a seat and the door was closed on him. At once the engines grew louder and Jock felt the slight lurch as they left the ground. He hurried to fasten the safety belt. The windows had been opaqued so he had no sight of the disappearing airfield and no way of determining the direction of travel. The change of transport persuaded Jock that he was in for a somewhat longer journey and with no companions to talk to decided that sleep was the best pastime for the journey.

…………………to be continued.

Jasmine has an opinion

WP_20180516_13_28_54_ProWhat makes a woman?”, the Channel 4 programme with Munroe Bergdorf continued the exposure of gender issues in the media and to which I referred last week. The first part dealt with Munroe’s facial feminisation surgery which covered the same ground as Transformation Street.  What was more interesting was Munroe’s meetings with various people to discuss the question of whether transwomen are women.  This brought out many well-worn opinions e.g. women have beauty (!), women are mothers, women have a vagina, what you are born with is defines who you are. There were also scenes outside and inside a meeting of radical feminists opposing changes to the Gender Recognition  Act which would allow some form of self-identification of gender. The speeches were frightening in their dismissal of transwomen and using fear of men to whip up anger at transpeople using the spurious argument that if men could self-identify as women they would invade women-s spaces in order to rape them. If men wanted to they could already dress up and lie in wait in those spaces. It doesn’t happen.  The bitterness of these feminists made me sad and worried.

The problem is that 99% of the population are not only satisfied with the gender they were assigned and brought up by family, friends and society to accept, but they have given little thought to what gender is. Most people accept the binary view of the world without noticing or acknowledging that everyone has their own identity, characteristics and individuality.  If you examine the behaviour of people it is easy to see that there is a spectrum of gender. The 99% see no reason fir changing their views. But modern society has changed. On the one hand western society has become somewhat more accepting allowing transpeople (and other minorities) to be more open and assertive. Hence all the media attention. But on the other social media has provided a platform and a shield for people to be more outspoken in their views. The Brexit business in the UK and the election of Trump in the USA showed that the population is split with a sizeable proportion holding entrenched bigoted views. People are less prepared to allow others to express views that they don’t hold.  It is dangerous.

Going back to the question Munroe posed, I don’t know what the answer is, except that gender or identity is not determined by the physical form of a baby at birth. I identify as gender-fluid, although I still use “trans” for convenience. I do not know how a “woman” or a “man” thinks, despite having lived my working life as a man and being married to a woman that I love for over 30 years. I don’t think any person can know what every other person feels and, to be specific, radical feminists cannot know how other women feel about themselves.  I do know that I am comfortable being feminine rather than overtly masculine and that I am attracted to styles of dress and appearance that are labelled female. For us 1% I think it would be wonderful if there was no such thing as gender and that everyone was treated as an individual, but I’m wishing for a fairytale.

………………………

To change the subject. I had a lovely day in Aberystwyth this week attending a meeting of the Society of Authors.  As always I find writers wonderfully accepting and I am increasingly seeing the SoA as my union, providing advice and support to me as a writer. I’m looking forward to the next meeting of the Welsh chapter.

And so to the next episode of Benefactors, my SF novella or fragment of a novel.

Benefactors: Part 6

Chapter 6

The sky was bright blue but the Sun was still below the peaks of the eastern hills when Ekuru Lengabilo started up the Toyota. The boy and the old woman sat in the seats behind Jock, the boy pointing the direction to take. It took just half an hour bumping over the rough ground till they came to the entrance to a gully.
Ekuru pulled up. ‘I think it’s too narrow for the car.’
Jock got out and helped the woman and boy step down from the vehicle. ‘Lead the way,’ he said to the lad. Ekuru translated and they set off with Ekuru and the boy helping the old woman to walk. The steep-sided valley weaved left and right but within a couple of hundred metres it opened up slightly. There, standing alone on the patch of sparse grass was the tree. It was less than a metre taller than Jock with twisted, gnarled branches which were thinly leafed.
Jock stopped to take in the view. He felt joy that at least one tree still existed.
The air fizzed just above his head. The tree exploded in flame and smoke and splinters.
Jock, froze, his breath halted. On the ridges on either side of the gully, figures in full camouflage kit rose, weapons trained on him and his companions.
‘Don’t move,’ one soldier commanded in English. Ekuru turned and ran back the way they had come. Jock turned to warn him but a gun fired and Ekuru fell.
‘No!’ Jock ran to him and knelt beside his body. Blood covered the flesh-torn back. Jock knew there was no hope. The boy and woman joined him muttering in their own language. The soldiers surrounded them.
‘You will accompany us,’ the commander said and signalled them to start moving. They retraced their steps to the Toyota. A helicopter stood a short distance from the smoking wreck of the vehicle. Two of the soldiers carrying Ekuru’s body placed it by the side of the burnt-out car.
‘Get into the ‘copter,’ the commander said. Jock did as he was told helping the boy and woman to clamber on board. There was nothing else to do.
‘What’s going to happen to us?’ Jock asked. He felt the loss of Ekuru, the trees and almost all the people more than fear for his own safety.
‘Not my business to know,’ the commander said. ‘Sit down and belt yourselves in.’

Jock still didn’t have an answer to his question. They had flown at low altitude over the sparsely populated country until they reached the coast and then on out to sea. Far out in the ocean they approached a small flotilla of ships. One was an aircraft carrier that Jock recalled seeing in the news at various times in the last ten years. They landed on the deck and sank into the hanger beneath. Jock, the boy and the woman were escorted off the helicopter and then separated. Jock found himself in a small cabin with a hard bed, a toilet, a light that was permanently on and no windows. He’d taken the opportunity to rest and had dozed. The door had opened briefly at intervals of some hours and he had been given a bowl of typical naval fare but the sailor had not spoken a word.
One, two or it may have been three days later, Jock was marched from his cell to a larger cabin where he was surrounded by armed marines. He was brought to a halt in front of a desk. A senior officer, the ship’s commander sat behind the desk. He examined Jock.
‘Dr Fraser, I am instructed to inform you that you will be taken from this vessel and transported to an unnamed location.’
Jock cleared his throat trying to find his voice. ‘What about the boy and the woman?’
‘I cannot tell you.’
‘Is Ekuru Lengabilo’s killer under arrest.’ Jock felt renewed anger.
‘Mr Lengabilo was a terrorist,’ The officer said without hint of emotion.
‘Like heck he was.’ Jock clenched his fists. The commander nodded to one of the marines. Jock heard the sound of a cork being released from a bottle, a sting on his neck and his legs became like jelly.
Chapter 7

The bed was comfortable, there was an efficient shower in the en-suite, and there was an easy chair and desk. It could have been a reasonably priced hotel room. It was a cell and Helen knew it. The door was locked, there was no window and she had no access to the Net. All there was to do was read one of the paper books that had obviously been selected according to her reading tastes. She’d read them all before.
Meals were brought to her and she considered trying to make an escape but there were always guards in the corridor outside the door. Helen wondered how long she could stand this pampered but restricted existence – two days, three?
She thought it was four before he came to her. Of course her sleep pattern may have been distorted but it felt like four days.
‘Professor. I do hope you are comfortable,’ he said. He was younger than her and obviously kept himself fit but he acted as if he was at least her equal. He obviously wasn’t just an interrogator. They stood facing each other.
‘What a pointless question,’ She said, ‘I’m a prisoner. This is intolerable. You must release me.’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid we must not. You see Professor you are a danger to the security of this nation.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘You intended to distribute restricted material. That is what I mean.’
Helen glared at him. ‘I was about to share scientific data in order that we might learn its meaning and importance.’
‘Data whose owner had not released it for public consumption. Data that had been classified by the government as of national importance.’
‘Why?’
‘I do not have the authority to tell you that.’
Helen turned her back on him, walked to the easy chair and sat down. She crossed her legs and looked up at him.
‘Who are you?’
The man stared at her impassively. ‘You can refer to me as Orange. That is my designation.’
‘Are you and your colleagues all named after fruits?’
He gave her a thin smile. ‘My boss is Apple but that is not proof of the pattern you have postulated. We use the Naval Phonetic Alphabet from the First World War for our designations. Letters and numbers are somewhat clichéd. As you can tell I am quite low in the department.’ Helen wondered what government organisation he was referring to but the trouble they had gone to to keep her captive suggested something.
‘You’re scared. Or your bosses are. You think there is something in that plant genome that could threaten your position of power.’
‘That is pure supposition. It is unusual for you, Professor, to follow such a fanciful line of thought.’
Helen bit her lip. He was right of course. What was it in the plant’s genome that had caused her to ignore her normal caution? Was it Jock Fraser’s incomprehension, Darmaan’s excitement at solving the puzzle, or simply her hunch that it was special?
‘But Darmaan found a pattern, figures, mathematical formulae, physics, chemistry, biology beyond our understanding, stored in the genome of the tree.’
‘I’m afraid, Professor, you were misled. There is nothing remarkable about that tree.’
Anger welled up in Helen’s throat. ‘Misled? By whom? Not Dr Fraser. He may be an excellent botanist but he doesn’t understand genomes or binary code.’
‘How well do you know Jock Fraser?’
Helen paused. ‘We met once.’
‘And you spoke to him in Kenya.’
So they had been hacking her netlink. ‘Yes.’
‘That was all?’
Helen snorted. ‘You know it was.’
‘Well then, you didn’t know him at all.’
Helen leaned forward. ‘Are you saying that this is all a put-up. I’ve been conned by some scam or other into throwing away my scientific reputation.’
Orange shrugged. ‘There. You’ve said it.’
Helen flung herself back in the chair and looked away from him. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘And that Professor is why you are here. The government considers your attitude and behaviour dangerous to the general well-being of the nation. That is why you have been served with a Neurological Adjustment Order.’

………………………to be continued

Jasmine is worrying

WP_20180223_21_21_16_Pro (2)

This is what a transgender/gender-fluid person may look like.

It is disappointing (probably an understatement) when a group of people trying to end discrimination break into factions which fight each other. It’s happened in the fight for female equality where certain radical feminists now seem to devote their time to accusing transwomen of not being women and of retaining their “male privileges”.  That dispute has become very bitter with trans activists attempting to prevent well known feminists have a stage to speak their anti-trans thoughts.

Now there is a split in the transgender/non-binary world caused by possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act. A group of transwomen (it looks like all women, I can’t see any men named) wrote to the Guardian last week, and perhaps other papers, and at  least one of the named has spoken out in public.  They are protesting at proposals to make it easier to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, mainly by demedicalising transition, if someone declares that they will live for the rest of their lives in the gender they identify with. This is already being done in a number of countries.  It will of course mean that there will be transmen and women who have not undergone any surgery and possibly not even taking hormones. The protesters say that this change will “blur the distinction” between themselves i.e. those who have gone through gender confirmation surgery (they have vaginas), and others who have not.  Actually at the moment there is no distinction because the current act only asks for an intention to go through with surgery when the time is right. For many transpeople the time is never right for health or other reasons.

These transwomen are setting themselves apart from other transgender and non-binary people. They want to be considered as “real” women and so wish to cut themselves off from other trans/non-binary people who they see as “damaging our credibility”. They are asking the politicians who will have to vote on changes to the act to “show courage”, presumably to resist the overwhelming numbers of transgender/non-binary people who are lobbying for the right to be women (or men). No, we’re not.

Since the GRA become law in 2004 under 10,000 people have obtained certificates while the total number of transgender people in the UK is a half to three-quarters of a million.  The GRA is obviously not working.  Also the Equality Act of 2010 only recognises those with a GRC (or applying for one) as a protected minority with all sorts of safeguards against hate-crime etc. Not all of us want to transition; there are many non-binary/gender-fluid people who just want the freedom (and protection) to be themselves. Unfortunately this group of transwomen want to retain stereotypical gender roles so that they can blend in as women. But they will never be accepted by the “women have babies” faction.

It is all very disappointing and worrying.  The more infighting there is, the more prejudice is allowed to bubble to the surface so that even comedians like Peter Kay (Carshare Unscripted) can use the beating up of a trans person as grist for a joke.

…………………………..

Now for something completely different, as they used to say. Here’s the next episode of Benefactors. Here you will easily detect two influences on the story (if you know your 1960s SF) which made me ultimately decide that it wasn’t original enough. What do you think?

Benefactors: Part 5

Chapter 5

Helen met Darmaan by the lake that formed the centrepiece of the campus. It was a hot summer day and Helen was sweating. She wondered how her father’s family survived the heat of summer on the Indian sub-continent.
‘They’ve deleted the lot,’ Helen said, ‘and threatened me with a memory wipe if I make a fuss. I’m not risking that. Who knows what else I might lose if they start zapping my brain.’
Darmaan held her shoulders trying to calm her. ‘It won’t come to that.’
‘Won’t it? You’ve seen what was in that genome. They know how excited people will get if people learn what’s in the code.’
‘And we’ve got to make sure that that is just what happens,’ Darmaan said staring into her face.
‘I’m scared Darmaan. We’ve got lawyers threatening us and the government hacking our comslink.’
‘Which only shows how important that data is. Think about it Helen. You said that the genome is about two-hundred-thousand years old and only found in one spot in the Rift Valley where it’s been tended for generations by a local tribe. Yet it contains ideas and data beyond my knowledge and I suspect beyond any scientist on Earth today.’
‘You’ve found out more?’
‘Yes. I did a comparison search with the equations in the genome and what’s on the Net. I got some very strange matches with theories on the edge of quantum and cosmological physics. I saw hints of ideas that I can only describe as science fiction. And there’s that whole section of DNA that isn’t but is something similar. I think it is an organism but one like nothing that exists on Earth now or ever.’
‘But how. . .?’ Helen was scared of the answer as she knew it would tear her sense of being a rational scientist apart.
‘Aliens,’ Darmaan said in a whisper, ‘It’s got to be. They came here millennia ago and left a gift for us.’
‘But modern humans were just evolving then.’
‘Yes, right where those trees got planted. My parents came from Somalia when they were children. They thought of themselves as coming from an ancient people but the Rift Valley is where humans became human. You know what Fraser told you about those leaves. They make people more cooperative. Wouldn’t that have been a useful trick for those primitive people.’
Helen considered, ‘It’s too incredible.’
‘Is it?’
‘Whatever. It’s too important to let this Company whoever they are and the government turn it into a secret. We’ve got to do something.’ Then Helen remembered, ‘But it’s all gone, your copy too.’
Darmaan smiled and leaned to whisper into her ear. ‘Not quite. They wiped my Net files. They thought people like you and me would only keep data uploaded via our net storage.’
‘I do.’
‘Well, it’s not only old guys like Fraser who keep personal memory backups.’
Helen’s eyes widened. ‘You’ve got a button?’
Darmaan grinned and tapped his pocket, ‘A few here and there. It’s not all lost.’
Helen grabbed his arm and started to walk around the lake. ‘They could be watching us now. What are we going to do, Darmaan?’
‘We’ve got to get this out to some physicists, chemists and synthetic biologists who would know what it means. You move in the upper reaches of science, Helen. Surely you know a few Nobel Prize winners.’
‘Hmm. I’m not sure they’re the best – but their postdocs may be. The more we can spread it the more protection we’ll get.’
‘You get me the list. I’ll get copying.’
‘How? As soon as you logon the hackers will be on to you.’
Darmaan grinned again. ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for ages. I’ve got a scroll which I disconnected from the net and a few more buttons. I can make copies and get them couriered to the people you name.’
‘Hmm, well, let’s split and meet first thing in the morning.’

Helen tried to act naturally on her journey home but in actual fact she was anxiously looking for people watching and tailing her. It was a long time since she had felt that she stood out as a woman with an Asian appearance but now she was worried that everyone was looking at her. She didn’t pick out anyone though. She got home, made some supper, tried to read a book. Finally, she unrolled her scroll and put in a call to Jock Fraser. The screen announced that it was “searching” for some time until a fuzzy picture appeared with Jock’s weather beaten face in the centre. There was darkness behind him and he appeared to be out in the open.
‘Hello, Professor,’ Jock’s voice was somewhat distorted.
‘Where are you, Jock? It’s a very poor signal.’
‘I’m in the Rift Valley. The nearest Stratonet balloon is probably a long way from here. But I can hear and see you.’
‘You went back.’
‘Yes. I wanted to see the trees again. I hoped the People would let me take more samples. But . . .’ His voice broke up and Helen felt that it wasn’t due to interference or a weak signal.
‘What’s happened, Jock.’
‘The People have been killed and the trees destroyed.’
Helen sucked in her breath, ‘All of them?’
‘Nearly. There may be one tree left.’
‘What happened?’
‘The government did a deal with the Chinese mining companies. There are rare earth metals in these hills. They didn’t realise the value of the Trees.’
‘Are you sure. I think your Company and our government have. They’ve confiscated your data and wiped my files.’
‘What? Did you find anything in the genome?’
‘Yes, Jock. It’s remarkable, there’s . . .’
‘Don’t tell me. We mustn’t talk like this. They’ll be listening.’ The connection broke.

The following morning, well before her usual time for starting work, Helen was strolling through the park next to the university campus. It was definitely not her normal routine and she felt exhausted. Sleep had not come for thinking about what Jock had said and the warnings from the company lawyer and anti-terrorism officer.
A figure jogged towards her. It was Darmaan. He stopped when he reached her barely showing a sweat.
‘This isn’t where I usually train,’ he said, ‘Running is in my genes.’ He grinned.
‘I’ve got the addresses of some people who may help us,’ Helen said, ‘Have you made the copies of the decoded genome.’
‘I left them hidden away in my flat,’ Darmaan said, ‘I didn’t want to carry them.’
Helen held out a folded sheet of paper. ‘Here you are, then.’
‘I’ll take that thank you.’
Helen turned to see the tall anti-terrorist operative. There were two other men beside him wearing helmets that covered their faces. They carried weapons. Darmaan grabbed the paper from Helen’s hand, turned and ran. One of the helmeted men raised his arm and aimed the gun. It fired with a soft “pfft” and Darmaan fell, convulsing.
Helen gasped. ‘You haven’t . . .’
‘Just a knockout pellet,’ the man said, ‘You’ll get the same if you resist arrest.’
‘Arrest?’
‘For conspiracy to assist a person with terrorist associations.’
Helen felt an unusual anger, ‘If you are referring to Jock Fraser again, he’s not a terrorist. He’s told me what’s happened to the people who tended the trees. They were just defending their homes. They didn’t hurt anyone.’
‘I do not know what you are referring to, Professor. I am commanded to arrest you and Dr Adams. Please come with me.’ He took Helen’s arm and marched her towards the park exit. His two subordinates pocketed their weapons, picked up Darmaan and followed. A van with dark windows waited at the gates.

………………………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine’s having a holiday

I lost track of the days this week and almost forgot to write this blog page. It was partly because I’ve been getting on with my new September Weekes novel, provisional title, Malevolence. Not completely sure where it’s going yet but things are developing . . .

Anyway being late gives me a chance to comment on the local government elections that took place in many parts of England yesterday. I didn’t get the chance to vote as all of our local councillors face an election next year.  Nevertheless this election  was hailed as the big chance to see what the electorate felt a year after the General Election.  The answer – not a lot. As usual I think the turnout was about half what it is for the parliamentary elections – so, very poor. The results show that a surprising number of people are still willing to vote Conservative despite the incompetence shown by May’s government and total disregard given by the Brexiteers to the wellbeing of the country and the sovereignty of  parliament. But we knew all that – a large proportion of the population are incapable of seeing the disaster that Brexit (and a Conservative government) is. There again people in general do not have a lot faith in Labour either, whether lead by Corbyn or anyone else. The Lib Dems made some gains but just can’t get their message across – the media still gives more time to UKIP (who lost almost everything) and Farage (who isn’t even in politics anymore) than Lib Dems or the Greens.  In fact the bulk of the media is conniving with the Conservative Leavers to drag the country into a future which will see most people a lot worse off, financially, environmentally and safely. (is that grammatical?)

So we limp on to a future which no one, especially the Leavers, can foresee.

WP_20180413_13_48_54_Pro

………………….

No news on Jasmine Frame at the moment, so here is the fourth episode of my SF long story or novel fragment, Benefactors. Hope you like it.

Benefactors: Part 4

Chapter 4

Jock was a little concerned but not too worried when Ekuru Lengabilo wasn’t at the dusty airstrip. His small plane landed early in the morning after the flight from Nairobi. Jock took a ride in a local’s beaten up Chang’an pickup truck into the small town of Isiolo. There were more Kenyan government soldiers hanging around the low concrete buildings than there had been the last time he was here, but either they didn’t notice or didn’t care that a highly tanned westerner was in a local truck. The driver dropped Jock off at the corrugated-iron lock-up garage and Jock was greeted by the Samburan mechanic that looked after his Toyota 4×4. Jock dumped his bags inside and checked that the alcohol tank was full. He was pleased to see that the mechanic had followed his instruction and allowed the sun to reach the solar panels on the roof so the batteries were fully charged.
Jock signalled to the mechanic to open the rickety door and he drove silently out on to the unmade road. He stopped to check there were no other vehicles or carts obstructing his route.
The passenger door was wrenched open. Jock glanced to his right and saw Lengabilo climbing in.
‘Drive!’ said the guide in Samburan. In Jock’s ear the translation came through without the urgency. He engaged forward, put his foot to the floor and they shot forward with a whine from the electric motors. They headed north.
‘What’s up?’ Jock asked when they were clear of the town.
‘The army were looking for me,’ Ekuru said. He twisted to look out of the rear window.
‘Why?’
‘They think I support the terrorists.’
‘What terrorists?’
‘The people of the God Tree.’
Without thinking, Jock pressed his foot against the brake and they came to a sudden halt in a cloud of dust.
‘What do you mean? Those people are the most peaceful and cooperative I’ve ever met. Probably something to do with those leaves they chew. They’re not terrorists.’
Ekuru nodded. ‘You and I know that. The government knows that too, but they also know that the way to get western support is to label opposition groups as terrorists.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Jock drove off again. ‘The people were worried about the Chinese plans to survey their land for minerals.’
‘It’s gone beyond that.’ Lengabilo said.
‘How?’
‘A week ago the Chinese arrived with all their vehicles and drilling machinery. They set off north west.’
‘To the Tree People’s land?’
‘Yes.’
‘We need to get there as quickly as possible,’ Jock thrust his foot against the accelerator. A light on the dashboard showed that the fuel cells were supplementing the batteries and solar power.

It was dawn next day when they left South Horr, heading west. Jock had stocked up on alcohol for the fuel cells and supplies for himself and Lengabilo. He was feeling anxious. He’d told the elder of the Tree People that he would present their case to the government but he had failed to get passed the lowliest of officials back in London. Now he was keen to get to the people’s homeland and the grove of trees that he had left just a few weeks earlier.
The roads through the forested hills were no more than tracks and passage was slow, but eventually Ekuru, driving the 4×4, carefully negotiated the steep descent into the Rift Valley. Jock scanned the view looking for landmarks that would show that they were close to the grove of trees. At last he thought he recognised the shape of the gullies and bluffs.
‘There,’ Jock said pointing, ‘where that smoke is rising.’ As he said it he realised that something was wrong. There shouldn’t be a pall of smoke over the People’s home. They rounded a bend and emerged on the savannah. Ekuru stopped the vehicle.
‘No!’ Jock cried. Ahead of them, huge vehicles were parked where previously wooden huts stood. Beyond, where the grove of trees had grown in the shade of a narrow valley, the earth had been gouged out to form a quarry.
‘They’re gone,’ Jock said meaning both the people and the trees that they tended.
‘We’d better get away from here,’ Lengabilo said reversing and turning the truck. He drove quickly away from the mine site.
‘What have they done?’ Jock said.
‘It’s what I feared,’ Ekuru said, ‘The government declared the Tree People terrorists for opposing their deal with the Chinese. Then they moved in. The people are probably all dead and the trees chopped down and burned.’
Jock’s heart hammered as if he had been running, ‘But those trees. . . they’re so special.’
‘The Tree People worshipped them,’ Ekuru said.
‘Not worship exactly. They cared for and protected the trees for thousands and thousands of years and I let them down.’
‘It’s not your fault that the government sold the ground beneath our feet. Where do you want to go?’
Jock thought for a few minutes as they trundled slowly over the rough ground. ‘I don’t know but I need time to think and get in touch with friends. Get us off the plain and back into the hills out of sight.’ Lengabilo did as he was told, turning back towards the rising ground that marked the eastern border of the Rift. As they approached the first hills they spotted two people in traditional dress, sheltering under an acacia tree. Ekuru stopped the vehicle and they both got out. The smell of the heat and dust and the vegetation struck his nostrils.
An elderly woman and a young boy sat in the shade. The boy stood up as they approached. Jock thought he was familiar.
‘It is the boy who gave me the leaves and seeds,’ Jock said. Ekuru nodded. The boy looked fearful and stepped close to the woman.
‘Tell him not to be afraid,’ Jock instructed, ‘Remind him who I am.’ Lengabilo spoke in the language that defeated the translator. The boy and the woman relaxed and invited Jock and his guide to join them. Jock returned to the car for water and food and offered it to the couple. They professed their thanks in a manner that did not require translation. Ekuru gradually extracted the story. The vehicles had arrived without warning. The people had tried to protect the trees, ignoring their homes, but had been gunned down by the soldiers that accompanied the miners. Only the boy had escaped because he had been tending the old woman who was ill. For two days they had been moving slowly away from their home that was now a scene of destruction.
Sadness, regret, guilt filled Jock. ‘All the trees are destroyed?’ he said. It wasn’t quite a questions but Ekuru translated his words. The boy shook his head and spoke.
‘There is one left,’ Ekuru said.
Jock jerked upright, ‘Where? How?’
Ekuru and the boy talked and then the interpreter turned to Jock. ‘The story is that hundreds of years ago an animal or a bird, versions of the story differ, plucked a seed pod from a tree in the grove and took it away. Many years later a goatherd came across the tree growing in a gully just a few miles from here. It was a young sapling then. Now it is a mature tree. The People have looked after it even though it is separated from the main grove.’
‘We must get to it. If I take cuttings, then perhaps the genome can be preserved.’ Jock got to his feet.
‘Not today,’ Ekuru said, ‘It’s too late.’ He pointed to the Sun dropping over the western horizon.

………………………to be continued.

 

 

 

Jasmine is not at home

With the Conservative government embroiled in another scandal caused by its own incompetence while the looming Brexit disaster grows on the horizon, I have been wondering why our politicians appear so useless, and that goes for the opposition too. I don’t believe all politicians are “in it for themselves”, though some are; some really do think they can improve things, however misguided their thinking may be. The problem is the type of person attracted to politics. You have to be single-minded. Politics is a long hard slog.  Unfortunately I think it is the long, hard slog to get elected that politicians enjoy more than anything, it’s what gets their endorphins going.

I have had a couple of brief periods involved with politics.  Most recently I got elected to our town council and was a councillor for three years. It was an awful experience. It could have been a full-time job except it was unpaid. I became disillusioned by trying to reach a consensus with other councillors whose only aim seemed to be to keep themselves in public view and dealing with uncaring elected and unelected officials in the county council. I was relieved to stand down. However, I observed that my political colleagues only really became lively when elections were on.  It was that simple competition to get people’s votes that excited them. So many MPs are career politicians (okay, many of the Conservative MPs may have little sidelines like running off-shore accounts) that it is only fighting elections that they know how to do.  The people with experience, skills and ideas that may actually do the country some good are not turned on in the same way.  So, in local and national government we get the egoists, the megalomaniacs, and the deluded.

………………………

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProJasmine is still taking a rest although of course the three novels, Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder are still available on Kindle and as paperbacks from paintedladiesnovel@btinterent.com. Also available on Kindle are the novellas/collections  Discovering Jasmine, Murder In Doubt, and Trained By Murder.

Here however is the third episode of my SF long short story or novel fragment, depending how you look at it, Benefactors.

 

 

 

 

 

Benefactors: Part 3

‘Yes. One of the permutations of the bases produced what I can only describe as a non-random sequence.’
‘Oh? What do you mean?’
‘Well, your string of base letters translates into a series of numbers which in decimal start out as 1, 2, 3, 4, up to sixty-four. Then it goes into prime numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on. Then it gives some other figures. . .’
‘What figures?’
‘Universal constants, pi to a dozen places, e, G. Where does this come from Helen?’
‘I’ll come and see you,’ Helen pressed “end”. Now she felt the same excitement as Jock Fraser and realised why he had felt it necessary to visit her. It wasn’t something that she felt she could talk about over the public netlink. Who knew who might be interested in her research.

So rarely did she actually meet her colleagues in person, Helen had forgotten how extensive the campus was. It was a good ten-minute walk to the IT building. When she opened the door to his office she saw Darmaan standing in the middle of the room staring at a semi-circular holographic screen hovering in the air a couple of feet from his face. When his eyes focussed on her the screen dissolved.
‘Ah, Helen. Where did you get this DNA code? Or is it something you’ve put together to fool me? It’s not April 1st is it?’
Helen grinned, ‘No, it’s real, at least I think it is. It depends what you find in the rest of it.’
‘The rest?’
‘It’s on here.’ Helen handed over Jock’s memory store.
Darmaan examined it. ‘You don’t see many of these. Who doesn’t exchange data over the net?’
‘Perhaps old people like me who don’t fully trust the net or perhaps people who spend their time out of reach of it.’
Darmaan still looked mystified. ‘Where do they go then? Jupiter?’ He squeezed the button between his fingers and his screen re-appeared with the start of the DNA sequence. Darmaan waved his hands, scrolling through line after line and page after page of letters.
‘Hey, there’s a huge amount here. What is it?’
Helen shrugged. ‘I don’t know. As I understand it some people have suggested using DNA as a way of storing libraries of information for posterity.’
‘What’s the point?’ Darmaan said, still staring at the pages flashing by.’
Helen took a breath. ‘They build the artificial sequence of DNA and then insert it into the nuclei of plant cells. Then they culture the plants and harvest the seeds. When they have checked the genome, the sequence was embedded in it.’
Darmaan nodded grudgingly, ‘I can see it being a possibility for long term storage but surely even with your latest sequencers it would be too slow for practical use.’
‘Yes. That’s why it hasn’t really been developed commercially, but it’s incredibly compact with each bit of information held by a single group of atoms, and not requiring anything special for preservation other than a cool, dry environment.’
‘So this is from these experimental seeds is it?’ Darmaan seemed disappointed.
‘Um, no. The experimental plants don’t even hold a short story let alone a whole library.’
Darmaan glanced at the still scrolling screen. ‘But this is vast. Where does it come from?’
Helen described Jock Fraser’s visit to her office.
‘A thousand-year-old tree? That’s a joke, surely. Do you believe him?’ Darmaan stopped the readout and dismissed the screen.
‘Why should he be telling me tales? I’d never met him before.’ Helen wondered whether Jock was indeed part of some conspiracy to set her up but that seemed even more ridiculous. ‘Look can you decode some more of it and see what’s there?’
Darmaan shrugged, ‘Yes, now I’ve got the key and set up the algorithm for finding familiar data it’s just a question of time.’ He called up the screen, wiggled his fingers and then held out the pebble to her. ‘You can have this back. I’ve copied it onto my net storage.’
Helen felt that she should give a warning. ‘Don’t tell anyone else what you are doing, just in case it is a fraud. I don’t want to be associated with any whacky science.’
Darmaan grinned, ‘Ever the cautious one, aren’t you, Professor? On this occasion I think you’re probably being wise.’

Helen managed to do a whole day’s normal work including meetings with students and colleagues without constantly checking to see if Darmaan had sent her a message. Nevertheless, when she finally had a bit of time to herself in her office it was as much as she could do to check her other messages. Why was this crazy puzzle exciting her so much? Surely it was a hoax.
The beep announcing a call had hardly reverberated before Helen answered. Darmaan’s face appeared.
‘Hi, Darmaan. You look tired. Have you been watching your screen all day?’ she said. The young man’s eyelids looked heavy and his dark skin had lost its usual lustre
‘Yes. I haven’t been able to take myself away from it. This is incredible. I mean it. It can’t have come out of the cells of an old tree.’
‘What have you found?’
Darmaan sighed, ‘It gets complicated. After the initial simple stuff, it goes into sets of coordinates.’
‘You mean positions of things?’
‘Yes.’
‘What sort of things?’
‘Stars. I put them through the online astronomical atlas. It came up with some of the brightest stars in our sky: Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and so on.’
‘Oh, and?’
‘Some others you can’t see with just your eyes, but they’re in the catalogue. They’re stars similar to the Sun but quite a distance away so they’re pretty faint.’
‘How far?’
‘The nearest is over three-thousand light years from here.’
Helen was confused. What did it mean? ‘Is that it?’ she asked.
Darmaan laughed. ‘That’s just the start. It goes into mathematical and physical equations next. Simple stuff like Pythagoras, Newton and Einstein, but quickly works up to stuff which is beyond me.’
‘Is it correct?’ Helen said, still not understanding what Darmaan was implying.
‘Well, the simple stuff is. I can’t tell about the rest. It’ll need a team of top theoretical physicists to decide what it means. But that‘s just for starters. There’s a section on chemistry, too.’
‘Chemistry?’
‘Yeah. It starts with a comparison of the masses of atoms of elements in the periodic table which provided a key for the elements. My pattern recognition software then picked out a modelling programme. It gave me a molecule of hydrogen, then water and ammonia, ethanol. Soon it was into sugars and proteins and stuff I have no idea about.’
‘So the sequence is a kind of catalogue of science.’ Helen said.
‘Or a guide, but there are other stretches which look like an actual DNA sequence except they don’t match any of the stuff your genome analysis recognises.’
‘Have you finished?
Darmaan laughed again. ‘No way. My program is still trundling through it.’
‘I don’t get it, Darmaan,’ Helen said, shaking her head.
The door to her office opened, held by Sarah. ‘I’m sorry, Professor, these people . . .’
Two men pushed passed her, one short and plump and the other tall and slim.
Helen waved her screen off, cutting the call to Darmaan. ‘What do you . . .’
The short man interrupted her, ‘Professor Patel. My clients have instructed me to recover property illegally given to you by one of their employees.’
Helen stood up, leaned on her desk, glaring at her uninvited guests. ‘Clients? Employee? What do you mean?’
‘Please calm down Professor. I cannot name my clients but the employee was a Doctor Johann Fraser.’
‘Jock?’
‘That is the name he goes by. He gave you something, a memory storage device.’
‘He did give me a button. He said it was his.’ Helen held it in her hand.
‘The device may be his but the data on it belongs to my clients. Dr Fraser broke his contract by divulging the information. You must return it to me.’
‘How do I know that you are who you say you are?’
‘My identification and the injunction is on your personal netlink now.’
Helen summoned her screen and the face of the small man appeared with the phrase “Identity Recognised” alongside it. Beneath was a legal document. She scanned it and saw that it went on for page after page of lawyers jargon but she got the gist; it authorised the recovery of data belonging to “the company”.
‘It doesn’t give your name or the name of your clients,’ Helen said still suspicious.
‘You don’t need those. The Net recognises my authority. Please hand over the memory store.’
Helen reached out and dropped the button into the little man’s waiting hand.
The tall man spoke up, ‘The data has also been removed from your cloud account and that of your associate, Dr. Darmaan Shamarke.’
Helen felt her cheeks burn, ‘You’ve hacked my netlink.’
‘Yes, Professor,’ the tall man said, ‘In accordance with His Majesty’s Government’s Anti-terrorism Network Surveillance Act of 2024.’
‘Anti-terrorism? What do you mean. It was scientific data.’
‘It was given to you by someone with links to people associated with a terrorist organisation.’
Helen gasped, ‘Jock Fraser! What’s he got to do with a terrorist group. He said he was a botanist.’
The tall man drew himself up to his full height. ‘I am not at liberty to reveal the identity of his associates but I assure you that the deletions have been made in accordance with the laws governing His Majesty’s Government Anti-Terrorism Authority.’
Realisation came to Helen. ‘The company and the government have done a deal haven’t they. They realise that there’s something in the DNA of that tree which is of vital importance. It’s data that should be available to all scientists for humanity’s sake.’
The tall man’s face was impassive, ‘I should warn you Professor that if you divulge what you know of this information that Dr Fraser stole from his employers you will be arrested and will undergo a neurological adjustment by deep brain stimulation.’
Helen shivered. She could see that the threat was real. She let her shoulders sag.
‘Thank you, Professor,’ the little lawyer said cheerfully, ‘We’ll leave you now. Thank you for your compliance.’
The two men left her office. Helen stared out of the window, thinking. A few minutes later she saw a two-person quadcopter rising from the patch of grass outside her faculty building. A moment later, Darmaan burst into her room.
‘We’ve been hacked,’ he said.
‘I know,’ Helen said, ‘I’ve just had a visit from two men. I had to give Jock’s button to them and they said they’ve wiped all the data from the Net.’
‘But why?’ Darmaan held up his hands in exasperation.
‘The government and the company, Jock’s employers, know that the tree is remarkable.’
‘But it’s thousands of years old; older if the tree Jock took the DNA from is descended from trees with the same genome.’
‘Don’t say anything more Darmaan. We’re probably being watched. Let’s take a walk, but keep your voice down.’

…………………..to be continued