Tag Archives: slightly silly

Increments

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

Increments

By Jason Gibbs

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

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

The phone went.

“Yes?”

“Oh hello darling.  Yes I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmph.”

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

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

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

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

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

He was silent for a moment.

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

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

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

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

“Ah, no, they’re imports.”

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

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

Just then Albert hummed politely.

“Yes?”

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

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

“Yes sir.”

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

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

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

“Yes Bill?”

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

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

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

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

He could see tears threatening to form.

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

Gladys looked at him sombrely and then started to laugh.

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

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

“Yes Albert?”

“Your lunch is ready sBill.”

“sBill?” enquired Gladys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s good Bill.”

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

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

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

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

Gladys looked confused.

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing Albert?”

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

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

“Please don’t.”

“Yes Miss Gladys.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What dear?”

“Albert, stealing the toothpaste.”

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

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

“Yes dear.”

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

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

“But Bill…”

“No buts.”

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

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

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

Bill looked up.

“Is she ok?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I like those biscuits.  Damned government.”

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

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

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

“But.  When, what?”

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

“I know, but Spain.”

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

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

“I didn’t think you two got on.”

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

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

“Trust me dear.  Will you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked out over the pool.

“Bliss.”

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

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

“Oh you are clever Bill.”

He puffed up.

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

The care robot returned.

“Your cerveza sBill.”

“Thanks Albert.”

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

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

###

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Asset Stripping

It’s a wonderful time of year, and I started thinking about the pragmatics.

 

Asset Stripping

by Jason Gibbs

 

“Right, we’re all here, let’s get started, point one…” said Vix sharply.

“But the old man…” interrupted Dash.

“Will be here in fifteen minutes, I felt we needed a…”

“Pre-meeting,” supplied Dan.

“Yes, a pre-meeting.  We need to be clear, otherwise you know how he is, he’ll be talking about the old days and we’ll be buried in anecdotes,” Vix continued.

“Fair.  He always likes to tell the one about how they used to have really bad fogs in the old days, and that they struggled to get through…” added Donna.

“Exactly, now can we please concentrate, otherwise we won’t be prepared.”

They all looked at him.  There was apprehension in the room, and Vix knew he needed to get them all gee’d up.

“Now, you know it’s been tough these last few years.  More deliveries, larger deliveries, harder locations.”

They all nodded agreement.

“It’s getting to the point where we risk failure.  And you know who’s going to get the blame…”

Dash started to say, “Who…”

“Us of course.  We do the hard work, but we’re not fast enough, or carry enough, or don’t stop in the right place.  The old man, he’s fine, it’s never his fault.  It’s all on us.”

“What are you proposing?” asked Blix.

“We pivot.  We use outsourcing for the manufacturing and logistics, and we concentrate on the marketing.”

They all looked impressed at the words he was using, and then Rudie, who’d been notably quiet, said, “Vix, what does that mean?”

Vix took a deep breath, and started to explain, “Look, everyone around this stable knows that our customers have been… supplementing… deliveries for years.  We’ve tried to keep up, but it just isn’t working.  So, what we do is licence out our image, and the customers can pay for the actual products.”

They all looked at him quizzically.  The man from the retail consortium had made it sound so easy.  It was time to be blunt.

“We get the parents to buy all of the presents, and we just appear on posters and movies.”

They all looked shocked.

“What about the elves…” asked Dash.

“We pension them off.  Their roles are moving to China.”

There was a pause, they looked at each other.  Then there was some nodding, their shock seemed to be wearing off.  And there had always been some bitterness that the elves got to stay in the warm and dry and weren’t flogging their guts out flying all over the world.

“So we get to be… movie stars?” asked Cupid.

Vix knew he had them.

“Yes, and TV, and on posters.”

They all nodded again, Rudie’s antlers scraped the side of his box.

“How is it going to work?  Do we just send letters with each delivery this year?” mused Dash.

“I’ve been speaking with some people who work for the various companies which have supplemented our products, and they have some ideas.”

“The toy companies?” Rudie was shocked.  They all knew what the old man thought of them.

“And the shops, and the delivery companies.  They have an offer.  They want to buy everything out, and they’ll manage the outsourcing of the manufacturing, selection and delivery processes.  We can concentrate on the marketing, and looking good.”

It all seemed to make sense to the reindeer.  And they’d all secretly been dreading this year.

“So what do they call that then?” asked Comet.

“I know,” said Santa, standing in the stable’s doorway, and not looking very jolly, “it’s called Asset Stripping.”

###

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Brain Ports

by Jason Gibbs

“There is no such thing as a soul!”

“Well, that was emphatic.  Can we at least ask…”

“No, that was the last question I am willing to take.”

With that, the minister stormed off the stage, leaving the press shaking their heads and laughing.  It was a game they liked to play with the new appointees, and normally they didn’t get such a good response.

#

“Minister Roberts…”

“I know Simkins, I should have held it together, but those press people, they’re like rabid…”

“Don’t worry minister, here is your coffee.  Also, Mrs Youre is on the line.”

“The Prime Minister?”

“Yes, minister.  Here she is…”

With that Simkins switched the mirror over and Roberts was face to face with his boss.

“Roberts.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Ah, Prime Minister, um, I, I’m sorry, I should have been prepared…”

She laughed, and then smiled at him.  He realised she was having as much fun as the press people.

“Don’t worry Roberts, that was actually perfect.  Your last two predecessors were too cool, I think the press were starting to wonder.  Your, let’s call it a performance, yes, your performance was brilliant.  They’ll be chuckling to themselves for months.  And not bothering about the other stories,” she stared at him.

“Yes, Prime Mini…”

“Your job Roberts, is to keep them off the scent for as long as possible.  We know this is going to get out, but we’ve managed to keep a lid on it for three years, and we’d like a little more time.  My people tell me they think they only need a couple more months, but they said much the same last year.  You hold on.  Do whatever is necessary.”

“Yes, Pri…”

She cut off.  Roberts was tempted to swear but held himself back.  She might reappear, and his day had been getting worse since she’d called for him that morning.

#

As he was driven back to the ministry he stared into the middle distance, remembering the brief feeling of joy when he’d received the call.  He was finally getting noticed.  He assumed it would be a junior position, but, the only way was up.

Instead she’d sat him down and told him straight, “Roberts.  You are cannon fodder.  The likelihood is you’ll do this and be consigned to the back benches for the next decade.  But your country needs you, I need you, are you willing to do it?”

There was obviously no answer to that.  He’d nodded, trying to look serious and ministerial.

“You are going to be our new Minister for Galactic Transport.  The fourth in 18 months so my aides tell me.  The last three are… well the wilderness would probably be preferable.  They slipped up.  You must not.”

He just stared at her.  The job was a poisoned chalice, and yet nobody knew why.  Ministers just didn’t last.  Maybe it was the souls thing?

“Now, I only have five minutes, so I’m going to give you the fast brief.  Your team in the ministry will give you background, but this is so important you need to hear it from me.  Firstly, the official line is that there is no such thing as a soul, and YOU WILL STICK TO IT.  DO you understand?”

There was a sharpness to her smile.  He nodded understanding.

“We have had some issues with the replication technology with teleports, this is true, but we believe that it is the central computer.  There’s a bug, a switch set to one, nothing more.  And you will not entertain any notion otherwise.  Got it?”

“Yes, Prime Mini…”

She’d stood up, and ushered him out, newly minted, a proper minister, and yet, a sword hanging over his head.  The previous minister had lasted 17 weeks, so at least he had a target.

#

“Right, so, Simkins, can you explain to me what the difference between the official line, and the unofficial line actually is, so that I might avoid abject humiliation next time I’m up in front of the press?”

“I’m afraid not Minister.”

“What?”

“There is no difference.”

Butter wouldn’t melt.

Roberts took a deep breath.  “Fine, tell me what the issue is, and why people keep mentioning souls.”

Simkins eyed him, but then clearly decided to take pity on him.

“Well Minister, do you know how the transportation works?”

“Yes, yes, brain ports, we get one put in, it maps the brain, a plug sucks the map out, spits it across the communicator and then we’re printed by a giant 3d meat printer at our destination.”

Simpkins nodded, though Roberts thought he detected a slight grimace.

“Quite so minister.  Though we tend not to use such… colourful language.  We’ve been doing this for some years, more than a decade of commercial licence in fact.  In the beginning we had strict rules, only one copy of a person at a time.  Obviously when the original person was, um, transported, they ceased to exist in their first location…”

“Why?” Roberts asked, he’d always wondered.

“We believe it’s the mapping process.  Nonetheless, from a legal perspective it makes it easy, one legal person, transports to another location, no duplicates, no… dare I say it, clones.”

They both shuddered.  Not worth thinking about that.

“Right, so what about the souls.”

“Minister please let me explain,” said Simkins sounding a little pained.

“Yes, sorry Simkins, go ahead.”

“And then two years ago there was the De Freito case, and suddenly the floodgates opened.”

Roberts looked blank.  “Um, if you could just remind me?”

“De Freito claimed that his human rights were being violated, because of the restrictions he was unable to be at home with his family and travelling at the same time.”

“Ah yes, I seem to recall something…” said Roberts, though he really couldn’t.

“So, they tried to send him to his destination, and a copy back round, and it failed.  He threatened to sue, it got a little ugly, and then… there was a small mistake and he ended up at a terminal station, which is at least a decade away from being able to send him back.”

“A mistake?”

“Yes, minister.”

More butter.

“Souls?”

“Of course, minister.  The tests didn’t stop there, they just found some more amenable subjects.  But what they found was that no matter what they did, there could only ever be one copy of a person in the galaxy.  The data would duplicate, triplicate or whatever, but whichever copy arrived first would be the person, even if the time difference was almost nothing.  The other copies would just… fail.”

“Ah, this is that glitch the Prime Minister mentioned, something to do with a switch.”

“That is the official line, Minister.  They are concerned about the fallout if people start thinking they have souls again.  Can you imagine?”

The wars of religion had been brutal, and religiosity was frowned upon in these enlightened times.

“What do they think it is?”

“Well, they have performed many experiments, even putting two ports into one candidate.  Nothing worked, no matter what they do, only one copy of a person can ever exist.”

“Do they know why?”

“Yes, they’re fairly certain now.  Empirically, there is a single point, a sort of essence of a person, which cannot be duplicated.”

Roberts nodded wisely.

“Ah, excellent, and what are they proposing to call this?”

Simkins looked at him with an expression approaching pity.

“A soul, minister.”

###

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Goatherd

“Ben, I can see my goats from this rock.”

“Yep, I’ve a good view too.  Any wolves come, we’ll stop them.”

“Thanks for helping,” I said gratefully.

“No problem George, that’s what neighbours do.  They take your goats and they’ll be on to mine next.”

I said nothing, watching the goats leap from rock to rock with a grace and insouciance; the capricious creatures were born for it.  They’d tried sheep at first, but damn things kept getting lost and really didn’t like the rocky ground.  Goats on the other hand loved it, gravity never having had much hold on them.

I watched Bill, my favourite goat, taking a bite out of a rock.  She looked at me while chewing happily.  She was a good producer, but cheeky.  I suspected she was the one who’d broken the fencing the day before.  It wasn’t there to keep the goats in, the gap to the next rocks did that.  It was to stop wolves.

“Fleeces look good George, lovely green, and their torso bubbles look smooth.”

“I’m always careful, I popped one a few years ago, and had to bring the injured goat inside to allow the chlorophyll fleece to regrow, and rebuild the bubble.  A real nightmare.  I always think it’s a pity they can’t live off the rocks, but that’s modern mechano-genetic-engineering for you.”

“Totally!”

A pause.

“You listening on the goats’ channel?”

“Nah, only so many ‘maaas’ I can take.  It’s obvious if they spot anything.”

Bill, bored with her position, bounced off, small pellets of pure metals coming out of her behind, and collecting in the little bubble I attached to her daily.  It still amazed me that they chewed into rock and pooed out these metals, but that was the whole point of bringing them up to the asteroids.

“Mind if I ask something George?”

“Course not.”

“You renewed?”

“Another three years.”

“Full term?”

“Yeah, I reckon if I double the flock over the next month, then I’ll be able to get most of the easy minerals out.  You?”

“I’m on rolling six months, I…”

Suddenly the whole flock looked up.  One of them had spotted a pirate wolf, I got my rifle ready, and hoped we’d get it.

“Got it, Sun-side top.”

“Where… got it too.  A single wolf raider.  There must be a back-up somewhere.”

“You take him out.  I’ll hunt the other.”

I aimed carefully and squeezed off a shot, then another.  The first grazed him, but the second was smack bang in the middle of his bubble.  It collapsed, and I could see the pilot thrashing before it exploded.  It was harsh, but if I hadn’t stopped him then I’d find stripped goat carcasses spinning in nearby space within the day.

I looked around to see how Ben was doing, and spotted another raider bubble collapsing.

“Yee-es!  Got the other.”

“Awesome.  I owe you Ben.”

“Beers next time we’re in town.  Unlikely you’ll see more wolves today.  I gotta check my flock, I bet they’ve scattered.”

Grateful, I watched my flock, oblivious once again and eating happily.  Despite the occasional wolf, it was a good life, for them and me.

###

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Magpies

One for sorrow, two for joy,

Three for a girl, four for a boy,

Five for silver, six for gold,

And seven for a secret which can never be told.

 

Boris flew to the meeting tree looking somewhat bedraggled, and down in the feathers.  He’d clearly had a bad day.

“Hey Boris.  Tough day?”

“Oh, hi Tony, you said it.”

Now my job as the Magpie barman is to serve the drinks and listen to the stories.  Occasionally I offer some advice, but my days of flying Informational Magics is long gone, and most of the chicks they send out these days seem to ignore me.

I lined up a stiff drink for Boris and said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

It was clear he didn’t, but then he shrugged his wings and took a long drink of his drink and said, “You know how some days if it can go wrong?”

“Oh yes.  Saw a single one today did you?”

I was joking of course, Magpie magic doesn’t work on Magpies, something I’ve always thought is vaguely ironic.

“Ha, almost as if I had done.  My day started with an easy one.  I needed to get a farmer to see me.  He’s going to get some bad news from his girlfriend it seems.  Farmers are easy I thought to myself, wait until they’re out into a field, and then, you know, pop up.  He conveniently headed out, and so I flew along.  Nothing, he was looking at his phone I think.”

“Bloody things have made it harder than in my day, and no mistake.”

“You said it Tony.  You couldn’t line me up another?”

I watched him finish the first as I poured the second.  I hoped he wasn’t going to drink too much, I’d struggle to carry him off this tree at the best of times, but my right wing has been giving me shooting pains when I extend it recently.

“Where was I?”

“Farmer.  Phone.”

“Yeah, so I had to get over the other side of town for my next job, and I was running out of time, so I popped up again.  The farmer looks up.”

“Job done?”

“I hadn’t spotted him, but Douglas was flying across the field, on his way to his first gig of the day.  Blam, we’ve now given the farmer Joy.”

“Oh, well, could be worse.”

“I know, but now I’m the one who has to go and give his girlfriend Sorrow, because her dream job evaporated and she’s staying with her farmer boyfriend.  Sucks for her.”

“Mmm.”

“Now of course, I’m running late, so I wing it straight over.  I reckon I can get away with it, so I cut over the Grey woods.”

“The ones with the footpath?”

“Yeah.”

“Risky.”

“At that time of day I figure it’ll be fine.  I was wrong.  A couple going for a mid-morning walk.  Blam they get some Sorrow.  Their car engine’s blown.  Then a man walking his dog, more Sorrow.  He’s going to get an unexpected, and wrong, gas bill, but it’ll take three months for him to clear it up.”

“Ouch.  You speak to Control about doing some reverse work?”

“You seen them recently?  Something strange is going on, they’re planning a load of Secret raids.”

“Awful tricky to pull off they are.”

It’s difficult to get seven of us in one place where a human can see, and count, all of us before we have to move on.  Anything getting in the way can turn it into something else, and I hated doing them when I was still in the field.

I went on, “I was involved in one of those once, we ended up giving three Silvers and one Gold before we hit it properly.  Control was mighty angry.”

“Well they’re so angry already, I wasn’t going to ask them to allow three Joys just to fix my mess up.”

“Fair.”

“I get to the meeting place, expecting Steph and Jon, and you know what?”

“What?”

“Bloody Yanis turns up.”

“Oh he’s alright…”

“Maybe, but suddenly the Girl we’re announcing turns into a Boy.  Then while I’m remonstrating with him another couple come along.  Now by this point Jon’s off, but they get a Girl, and they weren’t expecting anything if you know what I mean.”

“A bad day and a half.  Have another.”

His second had gone almost as fast as the first, but he sipped the third a bit more cautiously.

“Next few gigs went ok, but I couldn’t help feeling the day wasn’t done with me yet.”

“No?”

“No.  My last couple of gigs were over by Westfield farm, you know at the edge of our territory.”

“Bordering the Greenlark mob?”

“Yeah.  Bloody amateurs.”

“So I hear.”

I didn’t tell him my mother had been a Greenlark.  When I was a chick we’d been on best of terms with them, but last couple of years there’d been some bad blood.  Accusations of stealing of missions and suchlike.

“Well I was there to do a Sorrow and a Joy, with Steph again.  I like her, real professional.  Always on time, flies low, can disappear into anything.  Easy to work with.”

He was smiling in such a way that I imagined he wanted a little more time with Steph.  He was quiet for a bit.

“You were saying…”

“Yeah, sorry.  Steph.  She turns up as expected, and we’re about to do the double.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, the dossier on these two said they were inseparable, but that the man always looked round to the right when they got into a new field.  Steph and I were prepped.  The humans climbed into the field and we popped up.  At the same time some bloody Greenlarks are having a fight with a murder on the border of the land.  All sorts of squawking and whatnot.”

“Not good.”

“Not good?  Disaster.  She gets the Joy and he gets the Sorrow.  Her premium bond numbers come in and his ankle gives way.  Doesn’t seem fair.”

“It’s not about fair.  At least they didn’t see the Greenlarks.”

“True.  And I think Steph blamed me, though she didn’t say anything.  Just a bit off.”

“I’m sure she understands, we’ve all been there.”

At that point one of Control’s messengers turned up.

“Oi, Boris, get over to Control.  They need you for a Secret.”

“I’ll be there in two ticks.”

The messenger looked like he was going to argue, but then just flapped off, making a deliberate show of his whites.

“Bloody showoffs, think they’re better than us cos they do the planning.”

“It’s a tough job.”

“Yeah, whatever.  Not sure what the point of a Secret is, I mean they never tell us what it is anyway.”

“Um.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that’s the point.”

Boris slurped the last of his drink and then headed off, waving his wings a little unsteadily.

I watched him depart and thanked my stars I wasn’t out there anymore.  I’d enjoyed spreading Joy and announcing the little ones.  But the Sorrow was always hard.  I polished up the glasses and waited for my next customer.

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Outsourcing

I think we all outsource bits of our lives, and I wondered how far it might go?

 

Outsourcing

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for our guest of honour, Mr James Forbes, the leading light of the modern era.”

The room erupted in cheers and clapping, and a tall, austere looking man walked to the podium.  His measured stride ensured he reached the stage while the applause was still loud, and was positioned behind the podium just as it was starting to die down.

He brushed his once brown fringe to one side in a characteristic motion which energised the crowd again.  How they loved him, and even with his hair now almost white, they could still picture him as the winsome youth he’d once been.

“It is an honour to be with you, and for the first time in my life, to have you all in the same room.”

More cheers.  He let it run again, and then his face became sombre, the gathered guests at once responded.

“There are those who couldn’t make it today, but we have their images up there on the memory wall, so they could be present in spirit.”

There were sighs at this thoughtfulness, and many looked at the wall, remembering those who’d been lost along the way.

He turned on his thousand watt smile and the room forgot about the dead, and turned once more back to him.

“But now it’s time to talk about me, and all that you’ve done to help me.”

More cheers.

“Dennis over here, has, as ever, provided me with a script.”  He favoured the man who’d introduced him with a kindly smile.

“He assures me that he originally wanted to mention every single person in this room, but when he timed the speech, it came to 74 hours.  And that was without toilet breaks.”

He delivered the line completely dead-pan.  There was a pause and then the room erupted with laughter.  He’d always been able to work a crowd, with Dennis’ coaching of course.

“So instead I’m going to talk about my successes, and how you’ve helped.”

There was a hush as they waited, each hoping they’d been mentioned, and hanging on his words.

“I was very successful at school, in part due to Thomas Greenwood, yes stand up Tommy, who did my exams, and Philip Pulling, who represented me at football.”  He paused while the two men stood up and bowed to all around them.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask that you stand up and nod quickly when mentioned, to give us any chance of that toilet break I saved from Dennis’ machinations.”

Quiet reigned again.

“With my grades, and football scholarship, I attended a select college where Tommy once more excelled at my exams.  Poor Philip tore a hamstring, so was replace by William Turbot, who unfortunately can’t be here today.  However when he was representing me, he managed to get me all the way to the finals, and scored the winning goal on my behalf.”

Cheers, which he let run for a while.

“Now with a college degree, and in excellent fitness it was time for me to get a job.”

He looked a little put out, and was greeted with the obligatory groans, and a few wry smiles.

“My career strategists, Harriet and Joyce, there you are, advised me to become a lawyer, and they selected Mr Bryce Jones for the early part of my career.  He ensured I excelled at law school, and landed a job at the top law firm in the country, before getting me through my training and setting me up for a decent run at partnership.  He handed the baton to Pete here who got me through to become the youngest ever partner at the law firm.”

He leaned down and put his arm around another white haired man who was sitting next to him, looking a little confused, but smiled when he saw who was hugging him.

“All that hard work, just to get me to the bottom rung of partnership, and that’s when my strategists had an idea.  We decided to play it a little dirty.  So Jonathan was brought in to be me.  There he is the old dog.  He slept with other partners, or their partners…” an appreciative laugh. “… whatever was necessary to secure my advance, and knock out the competition.  I won’t lie, we had fun, but it was perhaps the least savoury time of my life.”

Hush.

“And then I met darling Alice, the love of my life.”

Alice stood up, still beautiful despite her advancing years, and smiled her quirky, knowing smile.

“Jonathan stepped out, and Russell stepped in.  As me he married Alice, and fathered our first child, young Jeffrey.  Sadly he became confused about his role and we had to let him go, and Jimmy stepped in.  He went on to father Paul and little Thesia.  Not so little now.”

He smiled at his daughter who barely managed to smile back.  She had been lucky enough to get many of her mother’s looks, if not her sunny temperament.

Dennis tapped him on the arm.

“Ah yes, sorry, my tempo is off.  So many faces from the past, all those who made my life what it was.  While the family life was going well, my professional career peaked, when I was made head of the firm.  George Dancing did the hard work, and I am forever in his debt.  Though of course the work was its own reward, hey George?”

George nodded dutifully, and the room chuckled along.

“Here’s where the strategy changed, and the answer was politics.  We felt there’d been enough time since my Jonathan phase, and we’d managed to buy off or get something on everyone affected.  I was squeaky clean, had three wonderful children, and a beautiful wife.  I was made for politics.  My early career, as a senator, was handled by Grace Riely, the first time I’d been a woman, but she was so talented we knew it would work, and it did.  Her schmoozing, and backroom deals, meant within two terms I was the only real candidate for the highest job in the land.  President!”

Clapping and whoops greeted this, much as they had when he’d been elected.

“Two terms, the first performed by Grace and the second by Adam, and my legacy was secure.  It was time to retire.”

They all knew his story, so they knew that wasn’t the case, but he held them there for a little while.

“But with the success we had, I knew there was more, so I ran for Secretary General of the UN.  Edmund Chung represented me, and as the first American SecGen, I set about changing that institution.  Under my tenure, aided by Ken Ho who took over from Edmund for my third and fourth terms, that institution became more than a talking shop, it became the most important global force.  A nascent government in all but name!”

They were on their feet now, he’d got to his true triumph, the one they’d all helped to bring about.  The clapping and feet stamping went on for quite a while.

Time to wind them down.

“Since then, well, I’ve played golf,” he nodded at Guy, “a bit of tennis,” a wink at Tony, “and spent time with my wife.”  He air punched Jimmy gently.

He smiled again, electrifying the room and they all went wild.  The cheering might have continued for a while except they noticed that someone was doing a slow clap.  Silence rippled out from Paul, the great man’s son until the only sound was the slow clap, clap from one of the two men who now walked towards the platform.

Until they stopped and the one who had been clapping said, “I have a question father.”  There was a slight emphasis on father.

Favouring first the clapper, and then his son with a smile he said, “Yes Paul?”

“What have you,” he pointed accusingly at the titan, “ever actually done?”

For the first time Philip Forbes looked confused as if he really couldn’t understand the question.  Then he smiled, “I recognise you now, sorry Albert, you’re my son’s troublemaker aren’t you?”

The young mine nodded, but maintained his grumpy air.  The room let go a collective breath they hadn’t realised they’d been holding, it was all going to be fine.

Philip answered his son, “And to answer the question Paul, I did all that I wanted to, I just outsourced the rest.”

###

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The Dog Ate My Phone

This happened to me (the dog eating the phone bit, not the rest…)

 

The Dog Ate My Phone

“Did I ever tell you about the time the dog ate my phone?” said the rough voice.

Thomas Jensen looked up from his phone to see who was talking. The only person there was a tramp and he seemed to be staring straight at Thomas.

“Ah, no. Not that you’ve ever told me anything. And now…”

He tried to get up, but the tramp had moved so close he’d have to push him out of the way, and he really didn’t want to touch the man.

“Worst day of my life really. Best as well if truth be told. It freed me.”

“Oh, er, how?”

The tramp took this as an invitation to sit down, and start his tale.

“I’d left the dogs in the car. Two lovely chocolate Labradors. Beautiful. You have dogs?”

“No.”

“Great companions. Only problem, particularly with labs, is they’re hungry. I’d left my phone in the car, I don’t know why because I never left my phone anywhere. I left it in the little shelf in the door. Right next to some sweets.”

Thomas tried to look at his watch, but the tramp leant over.

“Dogs had never bothered with the sweets before? Do you know why they did that day?”

“No…”

The tramp leant back, “Nobody does. Anyway they went for the sweets, but the shelf was small and they struggled to get the sweets out, and got the phone first. Crunch. Little bits of glass all over the place. Phone dead. Kaput.”

“That’s very sad, but I have to…”

“Know why I couldn’t just get a new one?”

“Um.”

“Well I ordered one. Or asked my wife to. Same model. But you see the thing was, there was a delay. I wouldn’t have my phone for a week. Can you imagine?”

Thomas really couldn’t, he shook his head.

“My car wouldn’t recognise me. Couldn’t get into my front door, couldn’t buy anything. My virtual credit cards were all frozen until I got a new unit. I had an old one, but it took a different sim see, so they wouldn’t reactivate it. Or would, but it would take longer than the new phone. Do you think I could go to work?”

“Yes?” Thomas ventured.

“No. Front desk wouldn’t let me past, even if they did elevators wouldn’t have taken me anywhere.”

Thomas was starting to be interested despite himself, “But you told your boss?”

“How? No phone. No messenger. No email. I tried to call from the reception desk, but without my phone id to authenticate me… well he refused the call.”

Thomas shook his head sympathetically.

“Then they fired me. No payoff, failure to turn up for work. Except the firing bounced, no phone you see, so I didn’t find out directly. I found out from my wife. What did she do to help me I hear you ask?”

Thomas wondered if he would have asked, but it didn’t seem wise to argue.

“She called me a fool. She also told me to stop blaming the dog, he was suffering enough. I realised then the hierarchy in the house, and I didn’t like it. I said some things. I didn’t mean them, it was just the pressure. You know.”

Thomas tried to look sympathetic, and also as if he had somewhere else to go.

“Well, she said some things too. Then stormed out, taking the dog. Told me to call her when I’d grown up. That turned out to be hard.”

He paused.

“I think she’s in San Francisco now.”

“Um…”

“Anyway, so I was stuck. But only for a week I hear you say?”

Thomas nodded.

“If only. You see she’d ordered the new phone in her name. Now if she’d been around we could have swapped the sims and heydee ho, with a couple of hours, on her phone of course, to customer services it would have all been fine. I had to break into the house. I was watching. Saw it delivered, they wouldn’t have given it to me, and broke in. Big mistake.”

“Why?”

“The house called the cops. That expensive security system I put in. Tied to our phones. I grabbed the phone and ran. And ran, hoping to fit my sim in. Couldn’t, cos of it being in my wife’s name and all, but kept it with my while I wandered. Found myself in the backend of the city. Tough times. I learned a lot. First thing was to drop the new phone, even without my sim it had a tracker and they were trying to find it. I paid for really good security you see. Met some people, learned how to live without the phone, without id, and money. Hard life. Good life.”

The man looked wistful, and Thomas thought he might have a chance to get away.

“Ah, well, that’s a good thing to know. I need to run I’m afraid.”

He indicated his phone, as if he’d had a message. The old man misunderstood.

“Oh no, I don’t want your phone. Don’t need one. Just wanted to share the story, maybe it can help. Wanted to help someone today of all days.”

Thomas hesitated, but had to ask, “Why today?”

“I’m dead today. Legally. After thirty years, all of the automatic payments and suchlike I’d put into place have finally ground to a halt, and the world, your world, has decided I’m dead. Saw the notice while watching one of those demo phones.”

“Um.”

“Go now. No use you wasting time listening to a dead man. But take care of that phone.”

###

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Filed under Flash Fiction

Lobbying for the Merchants of Death

This one came to me after a week’s holiday in Spain…

 

Lobbying for the Merchants of Death

By Jason Gibbs

“Thank you for smoking. Loved that film.”

“Film?”

“Old 2D movie, probably way before your time… anyway there’s this great scene where Aaron Eckhart’s character, who represents the tobacco companies, is explaining how his product kills more people than alcohol and guns.”

“Tobacco?”

“Yeah, you know smoking it? Seriously do they teach you nothing in school these days?”

“Um, yes, I see here it used to cause millions of deaths a year.”

“Yes.”

“More than your clients.”

“Exactly my point, exactly.”

“So it was banned, and alternatives found and now far fewer people die from it?”

“No, no, that’s the opposite lesson. Tobacco was rehabilitated, it’s used in all sorts of things now, paper, a lot of medicines. Tobacco production has grown for the last decade, even while smoking has been consigned to the wilderness of history.”

“Um, so your clients. You think they can be rehabilitated?”

“Of course. But first we need to stop painting them as evil. They do what they do, we just need to find a way of making it less, deadly.”

“But you admit they’ve killed a lot of people?”

“Billions according to some estimates.”

“So…”

“Does that justify wiping them from the planet? No. Are they an existential threat to us? Definitely not. They kill far fewer than they used to, and I think with a little research we can bring that number down to zero. I really do.”

“That requires investment.”

“Yes, and for us to stop this massacre. Do you know what the death toll related to the current programme is?”

“Human?”

“So species centric. Yes, human.”

“No, I thought…”

“Three thousand. So far. Accidents, chemical poisoning etc. That’s more than my clients killed last year and the year before put together.”

“OK, but…”

“But nothing. We stop the massacre, we put resources into finding a prophylactic. Everybody’s happy, the world is a better place.”

“And you have to find new clients?”

“There’s always more clients. And if I win this… well, the sky’s no longer a limit.”

“Who’s paying you?”

“First good question you’ve asked. There’s a lot people. They don’t necessarily agree with my clients, but they think their destruction is unwarranted. Something like, I don’t agree with what you do, but I will give my life to defend your right to do so…”

“Sartre?”

“Apparently not.”

“Ouch. What is that?”

“Might be a bite. If it is, you might want to stop scratching it.”

“Wait, are you telling me some of your clients are in here?”

“Of course. Couldn’t probably represent them if they weren’t here now could I?”

“And one of them bit me?”

“May have, no proof…”

“Um, do they carry malaria?”

“We have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on that.”

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Coffee Match

This is another using a similar theme to Coffee.  I’ve meant to come back to it, but reading it again I think it still works nicely.

 

Coffee Match

“Latte: I’m so boring. No muffins or pastries, thanks. Take away: Late as ever, no time to hang around here. Benito: today’s name, based on famous dictators, it’s not like they ever remember my real name.”

“Mocha: I need the chocolate hit, and yes to the cream: of course. Ooh, who’s that nice looking guy waiting for his drink? Oh, my name, it is Joan: not that you’ll get it right. I’ll be Joanne, or Jo, or even Jon that one time. Where did he go?

#

“Latte: one day I’ll order something interesting, I wonder what she drinks? I’m sure she was staring at me yesterday. Joseph: perhaps too subtle that one.

“Mocha, but skinny: I need to lose a bit of weight if there are going to be decent men coming in here, and yes, I think no cream either: as he’s definitely sneaking a few peaks at me. Jo: Does that sound more attractive?

#

“Latte: she was definitely looking at me. Actually, can I have that to stay: there’s hope she’ll be in soon. Where is she though? Oh name, um, Pol: no need to give me a funny look, I was distracted.

“Another latte: is she not coming in today? To stay: I’m already late, might as well wait another quarter hour. Mao: yep, didn’t notice the name change, and he only served me twenty minutes ago.

“Latte: boring, and, make it decaf: I’m buzzing from all this caffeine, take away: maybe I can recover some of the morning, wait there she is, I’ll try a smile when she gets to the waiting area. Didn’t ask my name that time, I wonder which one he’ll go for.

“Skinny: yes still, have you seen the weight I’m carrying, mocha: I need chocolate more than ever this morning, with an extra shot: I shouldn’t have stayed up late watching that box set, but it was soo good, and I really wanted to know the ending, and I couldn’t believe she actually did that, wait is he smiling at me? Jon: oh right, not even a double take, thanks so much.

#

“Mocha: mmm chocolate and soya milk: Caroline, yoga guru and all round wonder woman, said it was much healthier than even skinny milk and it would help me lose weight. Where is he today? I was hoping he might actually say something. Can’t hang around too long today, I have to get to that meeting with, hmm, what is her name?

“Latte: boring, but extra shot: I saw she had one, and to be honest today I need the extra jolt, that fifth pint last night might have been an issue, and make it a grande: I’ll need something to keep me going through the morning, especially as I must have missed her already. A blueberry muffin too please: it might help my stomach settle. Bashar: Nice pause there, shows they aren’t true robots yet.

#

“Decaf: I don’t know what happened yesterday but that extra shot made my heart palpitate and gave me an even worse headache, I might lay off the caffeine for a while, latte: still want the milk though. I think I heard her buy soya yesterday, that’s a bit new age for me. Still, she is lovely. Name is Daffy: crossover to cartoon characters today. I’m sure she told the barista her name was John, which seems strange.

“Skinny: definitely don’t want that soya stuff again it was so horrible I do not know what Caroline was thinking, I barely managed half my drink yesterday, mocha: sticking with chocolate, hope the soya hasn’t ruined it for me. At least he’s here today. Maybe he’ll say something. I wish he’d stop changing his name every day, it’s really not that funny.

#

“Latte: boring I know, and not decaf but I need a little pick me up; caffeinated Dutch courage. Oh, and a skinny: not that I think she needs it, mocha: this is it, hopefully she’ll go for it and not think I’m some kind of creepy stalker. My name? Oh, it’s James: yes, really.

#

“Skinny: still need to keep my figure, mocha: does a girl need to explain? And a latte: I told him it was boring, but he certainly isn’t, it was so nice that he finally got the courage to speak to me. What an amazing date, I feel like I’m walking on air. Maybe I should get a muffin? No, don’t want to scare him off. He should be here soon. John: I’ll stick with that as it seemed to amuse him so much.

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Purple Sky

Purple sky

“I want a legacy. I want people to remember me forever.”

“Is this really the right way to go about it?”

“Can you tell me a better way? I am not an artist, or a purveyor of literature. I have no political skills, and you’ve heard my singing.”

Jeremy shuddered. He had indeed heard his boss singing. It was unpleasant to say the least.

“But, turning the sky red?”

“I know. It will be magnificent. Every time someone looks up they will say, ‘It was Kelvin the Magnificent who did this’.”

“Except the ones who think you’re called Kevin.”

“They’ll know!”

Jeremy wondered. He’d worked as the assistant for Kelvin’s act for two years now. Most magicians had a scantily clad woman to help them, but Kelvin felt that was old fashioned. Jeremy suspected it was also because Kelvin had tremendous problems talking to women. All of them.

They’d been having a quiet drink when Kelvin had revealed his hobby. Or obsession. Anyway, it was the thing which kept him busy on the weekends. Jeremy had thought it was just a joke, but Kelvin’s eyes had lit up when he talked about it.

“You’ll see Jez my lad. Everyone will see!”

Jeremy hated being called Jez. It was also usually the signal that Kelvin had imbibed enough for the evening.

“Right then oh Kelvin the Magnificent, let’s get you home then.”

“Tomorrow Jeremy, tomorrow I shall change the colour of the sky!”

“Only if you can get through the hangover.”

“Pah.”

This was followed by Kelvin tripping over and falling to the floor. Jeremy sighed and picked him up, then bundled him into a cab and headed home. He grabbed a kebab on the way and thought nothing more of Kelvin’s crazy talk.

The next morning was a Wednesday, a day off from being a magician’s assistant, and Jeremy luxuriated in a long lie-in. When he finally got out of bed he flicked the TV on and got his breakfast. Fairly quickly he was left staring at the screen with half a weetabix dangling forgotten from his mouth.

On the screen was his boss, handcuffed and being led away by the police. He flicked on the sound to hear the commentary.

“…the Magnificent being led away from the site of the recent explosion. It’s not clear what he will be charged with, but the police are taking him in for further questions.”

“For those just joining us, there has been a large explosion off the coast. There were no casualties, and the man believed to be responsible is in custody.”

The story cycled around a few times, interspersed with some gossip about an American singer and a boy band. Jeremy didn’t hear any of it, and it was a while before he even finished his Weetabix. When he finished he realised he had no choice but to go and see if he could help Kelvin. The man had no family as far as Jeremy knew.

“Oh Jeremy, you should have seen it! It was wonderful.”

“Kelvin, look, just be quiet until we get into the car.”

Kelvin gave him a reproachful look, but subsided while they walked out of the police station. He’d been released on police bail, but they were clear they’d want him back for more questions. At the very least they’d want to know how his machine had operated.

Once they were in the car, Kelvin couldn’t hold silent any longer.

“It was amazing. She hove, hove! Out to sea. The generator started running and I could see the gas coming off. Then.”

“Then?”

“Well, then it blew up. I made a slight miscalculation. It turns out that producing lots of hydrogen and oxygen near an engine can sometimes go wrong.”

“What? Wait. Stop, why were you producing lots of oxygen and hydrogen? Do I even want to know?”

“I told you last night. To turn the sky red. I ran the numbers and if I could convert much of the world’s oceans into oxygen and hydrogen then the additional gases would increase the size of our atmosphere, and therefore the impact of Rayleigh scattering.”

“Erm…”

“That’s what makes the sky blue? Do they not teach anything at school these days?”

“Well, not in my school.”

“So the sky is red in the evening because the light has to go through twelve times the atmosphere to reach your eyes, so there’s much more scattering. Therefore, if I could increase our atmosphere by twelve times, then the sky would always be red!”

“We’d have no oceans!”

“But the sky would be red, people would know my name…”

“They’d know your name as the nutter who converted all the oceans into gas and as a result probably wiped out most of life on the planet!”

“Ah, yes. A side effect. I see what you mean.”

“That’s a pretty serious side effect Kelvin. One might even say a show stopper.”

“Hmm, yes. I need to think on this more.”

It was then that Jeremy realised that Kelvin might actually be properly crazy.

The next few weeks were tough. Obviously they lost their gigs, and Kelvin had to go court, and in the end received a suspended custodial sentence. He’d been quiet in the dock and hadn’t mentioned anything about turning the sky red.   He revealed to Jeremy that it was because he’d wanted it to be a surprise.

After the case Jeremy had to get a new job, while Kelvin seemed to be staying at home. Kelvin had once mentioned to Jeremy that he had a lot of family money, so perhaps he was just enjoying it. Eventually Jeremy moved away and lost track of Kelvin.

Several years later Jeremy woke up one morning, and went for his regular run. He’d been keeping fit for a while, something which seemed to make his recently betrothed happy. He was half asleep when he started, and the sun had only just begun to rise. By the time he finished his run it was full daylight, and that’s when he noticed it. The sky was purple. Well, violet. No matter how he squinted it refused to be blue.

He thought to himself that maybe it was a result of too much running? Or perhaps an atmospheric effect? However it didn’t change. Pretty soon all the news channels were full of it. What had happened, why was the sky violet?

Jeremy dismissed it when he got to work, and was happily tapping away at his keyboard when an awful thought occurred to him. What if it had been Kelvin? What had he done, and more importantly, what were the side effects. After all the last time the man had tried something similar he’d been planning on evaporating the oceans.

A quick internet search found Kelvin’s latest locale. Jeremy rushed there. Panic gripping him.

He knocked on the door, and Kelvin answered. His face lit up when he saw Jeremy and he invited him in.

“It’s so good to see you Jeremy, how are you?”

“Is it you?”

“Is what me?”

“The sky!”

“Ah, well, yes. In a sense. I’ve submitted my explanation to a number of channels. They rejected me as a crank initially, but I’ve had a call back from some eminent professors. Soon my name will be known!”

“Oh my god. What have you done? What else is going to happen? Have you destroyed the oceans?”

“Jez, Jez. Calm down. It’s fine. Nothing like that. You see, your lecture last time helped me understand. So I came up with a different way.”

“How?”

Jeremy had started to calm, or perhaps it was the unreal nature of the conversation which seemed to give him strength.

“It’s simple really. I looked at the problem a different way. I realised that red was the wrong way to go, so I looked at the other end of the visible spectrum. You see, the sky has always contained violet, we just don’t have enough sensors in our eyes to see it that way.”

He held up his hand to forestall further questions. Jeremy held his tongue.

“Rayleigh scattering actually produces a lot of violet, but humans, until now, have only limited ability to see it. I’ve just fixed that.”

He paused, and then continued, “I released a virus which makes some minor genetic changes, which causes human eyes to develop additional violet receptors.”

He saw Jeremy’s face and said quickly, “Don’t worry, I tested it thoroughly, there are no other side effects. Well, except it’s irreversible. It is completely targeted, and very narrow. I released it two weeks ago. The change takes a while, but by my calculations, everyone in the country will be seeing violet by the end of the day…”

“How did you do it? I thought you were just a magician…”

“Oh, well I built a lab. I told you I had family money? Would you like to come and see it…”

Just then there was a loud crash and suddenly the room was filled with hulking men with guns all shouting. They both had hoods put over their heads as they were bundled into some form of vehicle which sped off.

Some while later Jeremy was released. His interrogators soon realised he knew nothing of use to them. The last admonishment was still ringing in his head as he stumbled home.

“Nothing happened. You didn’t see us. You have forgotten all about Kelvin. If we find out you’ve been opening your mouth we’ll have you back here so fast your head will spin. We could have you in prison for a million years as an accessory to a terrorist attack. That’s what this was. You understand?”

Jeremy had nodded mutely.

It took Jeremy a while to get his life back together. He kept worrying he was being followed, but he slowly relaxed. The news was full of reports of biological terrorists, and the government claimed that the original intention of the virus was deadly, but that a lucky mutation had caused it to turn into the violet producing variant. They managed to supress any mention of Kelvin’s name. This caused a lot of debate and very quickly buried discussions of what had actually happened.

After a while Jeremy could even smile when he looked up and saw the violet sky, Kelvin had left a legacy, even if no one knew he was responsible.

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