EX/WHI :: Part Six

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The bottles behind the cafe’s counter might look full of alcohol but it is immediately apparent they’re empty, and not even made of glass. What Chris finds fascinating is the illusion they create: same weight, even with obvious transparency, but constructed from something unbreakable, that bounces back every time he throws one at the floor. As he attempts to destroy an increasing number of items from hand to ground, Ami is investigating fridges and storage areas. Her conclusions are not comforting: apart from what they jointly bought on arrival, everything else is an elaborate copy.

An incredulous mind is slowly adjusting to their new reality, because that’s what it is. They’ve already established in the last hour by their watches (which still work) that they’re prisoners, there’s absolutely no way in or out of this facsimile, the toilets still function and there’s water they won’t yet drink. With nothing sharp or dangerous enough to make even a dent in what appears to be an impressive and quite bouncy outer wall, they instead investigate the bounds of confinement. Chris has done his best to brute force anything that might look like it could act as a weapon but after the incident with the table, nothing budges.

‘We could try and hurt ourselves and see what happens.’

Chris looks at Ami, who’s holding something in her hand that is obviously not part of the illusion, which is a surprise.

‘I really wish this was a gun or a bomb and not just lipstick, but it at least allows us to make notes. We need to work out what we know, so there’s a chance of answering questions that make no logical sense.’

Her lack of panic or incredulity has been amazingly impressive since regaining consciousness: without Bishop’s pragmatism, he’d have probably just sat and hugged his knees for a long time before wanting to work out answers, not allowing reality to seep into this nightmare. However, she needs to be running the problem, and is already writing a word them on the top of the long, dark wooden serving bar which, as it transpires, was his first thought about their abductors too.

‘I read an inordinate amount of science fiction as a kid. Tons of the stuff, watched all the TV shows. I know what this is, because that’s the only logical explanation for what just happened.’

‘I was big on Buck Rogers, did you get him in the UK?’

‘Yeah, and Wonder Woman, and that thing with the metal bad guys -’

‘Cylons. They at least looked like aliens. What makes you so sure that’s what this is?’



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June Short Story :: Alias

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during May. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, and a number of small edits have been added to improve narrative flow.

Enjoy.


Alias

Christopher Ashcroft piles the white dish with Special Fried Rice, followed by a large portion of Pork and Mixed Vegetables. It is Friday night: this much-needed treat is his anticipated reward after week of healthy lunches and protein rich dinners, plus three nights at the Gym. However, this is nothing compared with the excitement and arousal he’s currently experiencing at possibilities from the evening’s entertainment. Anticipation of what is in store has fuelled Chris since leaving the office; so much potential chaos awaits after finishing this meal.

His current project is coming to a head: it is therefore time to begin organisation of the next campaign. This battlefield is already littered with thousands of angry and upset individuals, all fired by his own brilliantly executed, subversive approach to online encouragement. The almost foolproof technique has been honed over the past five years, allowing Ashcroft the ability to totally demolish other people’s online credibility without him ever being affected. The key is to start fires, but encourage others to stoke their potential for devastation.

With dinner done, it’s time to sit back in his custom-built gaming chair, surveying fresh wreckage of this latest endeavour: turning two online friends into enemies. He’s convinced the other their online confidante’s a conniving and duplicitous liar, slandering behind their back. A quick glance at Twitter notifications offers unexpected surprise: there’s no DM’s from either Abigail or Ruth, despite having formed complex relationships with both over the last month. With rising concern, Chris goes to their Twitter biographies. Both women have blocked him.

Logging to his alt account shows nothing untoward: no mention of his name, indication he’s been found out. Both women’s conversations continue totally as normal. In fact, one of their closest joint friends has chosen to follow on recommendation, which is quickly reciprocated.With an increasing sense of foreboding, timelines are scoured for any indicator of what might have transpired between lunchtime when he was chatting freely to both and now. Then there’s a notification: latest follower has sent him a message. Opening the window, Chris is stunned.

The solitary line of text suddenly turns his blood cold.

‘We know exactly what you’ve done.’

The instant temptation is to feign ignorance, but a second message has already arrived, stab to his heart.

‘Not just to us, but all those other innocent people since all this began.’

==

Chris tried to sleep, but to no avail. It is 3.25am, and time to do what he’s paid for during the week: troubleshooting. This time, all efforts are focused on his own online behaviour over the last month. The object of this exercise is simple: find out where the mistake was made. This game’s been played, on and off for almost ten years: beginning as a provocateur on tech support sites, moving up to an antagonist on LiveJournal, then a successful period of anonymous destruction via Facebook, until the rules were changed and he got bored of the responses.

A lot has been learnt since those early days: how to IP mask, withhold all personal details, have a cover identity written and committed to memory. Ashcroft is convinced no mistake’s been made; his next step is to work out what has missed in the pair’s complex text communications. Organisational fault is obvious, apparent since before this particular exercise was begun. It is not Abigail or Ruth who exposed him, but their mutual friend. It appears this user has been stalking his actions, active within several planned provocations over the last six months.

The same IP address keeps appearing again and again: tracing the machine to a London Internet cafe, he can now go to bed happy. Sending DM to his new nemesis, sense of ability and comfort soon returns.

‘I’m not afraid. No laws have been broken here. You have no power over me.’

==

There’s brief disorientation as Chris awakes, immediate realisation there’s no bedside clock illuminated beside him. It is soon apparent his flat’s without electricity: PC is dead, no smart devices are operational. All he has is mobile phone, on which a text message sits waiting.

“I have plenty of power, Mr Ashcroft. Stop your online intimidation of the innocent, or there will be consequences.’

As the message is read, entire flat springs back to life, and Chris is calling 999, before stopping himself. How does he explain what just happened to the Police?

==

The rest of the day is spent scouring house for potential bugs, disconnecting all internet-connected items that might be remotely controlled and trying to work out how this particular person not only knows where Ashcroft lives, but his real name, which has never been used online. A sense of discomfort and panic gnaws at a mind all too aware of the irony at play: this is what is meted out to those people whom he decides deserve to have their lives disrupted and manipulated to his own ends; drama created as entertainment now skilfully turned in upon itself.

After a while, pleasure emerges from this unseen, expert manipulation: his new online spectator could also be influenced for entertainment. This offered a chance to expose initial actions as illegal: shutting off electricity should be offence enough to get local Police involved. As he masturbates multiple times in the shower, Chris imagines being watched, making sure that performance is as assured as the online personal he knows will emerge as victorious. Going to bed, sleeping with confidence, Sunday will see the start of a new, focused plan of attack.

==

Over the next week, online activity means supportive encouragement of friends, plus a very public, heartfelt apology to both Abigail and Ruth. The entire time, his nemesis’ actions are tracked and recorded: by Friday, pattern of movement has emerged before a plan is executed. After a meeting in the City, Ashcroft suddenly and unexpectedly detours from his normal route back to Canary Wharf, heading for the part of east London where his nemesis’ Internet cafe is located. Arriving at the address, he is confronted with a burnt out, empty shell of a shop.

Sitting in his vanity-plated black Audi TT, Chris can’t work out what is going on. This is the address that Google Maps specified: location that, according to the Cafe’s web-page, is very much active and vibrant right now. Holding phone in shaking hands, a text message appears:

‘However hard you try and win, this reign of terror and arrogance is over, Mr Ashcroft. Time for punishment.’ Unable to move, sense of genuine panic grips his soul. As the man sits and watches, every application is methodically deleted, before the iPhone is effectively bricked.

Staring at darkness from his screen, glass surface unexpectedly ripples. Trying to move, Ashcroft is immobilised via countless thin, black tendrils of smoke that spill unhindered from the phone, wrapping around left wrist and arm… slowly spreading inside suit, onto his chest…

==

After failing to return back to work, it takes three days before anybody thinks about reporting Ashcroft as missing. The car is eventually located, after having been towed away and then impounded by the Metropolitan Police, with both his keys and phone inexplicably locked inside. Friends and colleagues are interviewed: only after his home is searched and PC taken in for analysis does it emerge that a popular, dedicated City trader led a shocking, double life. However, duplicitous alter ego is not a surprise to everybody, particularly his ex-girlfriend.

Andrea left Chris when it became apparent his lust for attention and control superseded all other rational faculties. It had taken some extraordinary measures to ensure she was no longer bothered by Ashcroft, the details of which are not shared when police finally interview her. The terms of her contract had been very specific: we will be happy to deal with your problem, on the sole condition you never mention who we are, what we do and how justice is served. In the modern world, sometimes, the less people knew of real truths within reality, the better.

In exchange for a promise to live decently and honourably, her soul’s forfeit wiped homophobic, narcissistic arrogance off the face of the Earth. Chris’ spirit, with a growing number of others was uploaded to the Angelic Cloud: there it would be saved, inaccessible, for eternity.


 

EX/WHI :: Part One

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Arrival Minus One

This hotel room is beyond his normal range: the British government are now paying for a polished, understated testimony as expert witness, so it makes sense that they’d offer the best. There is no time to worry about jet-lag either: Mark can sleep all afternoon, once the initial briefing is handled and his part in process outlined. To get this man to court at all was a miracle, and to then gather sufficient evidence to formally convict the bastard… normally, professional scumbags like Mehdi Alami were simply removed from the equation with a carefully-placed bullet in theatre.

This time however, the Moroccan’s handiwork with C4, a 747 and a bribed airport official had murdered innocent British and American lives: for that reason alone everybody got to wear their best suits and string him up to dry. The Brits had pursued this bomber, hoping to find him alive for close to a decade: Chambers had discovered him in a Russian brothel completely by accident, on CIA intelligence that suggested he was somebody else entirely.

All that had ever been seen of London before this was Tower Bridge and the Tower of London: as his holster is adjusted under the Tom Ford jacket, SIG not even removed, there’s a mental note to maybe do some sightseeing this time. His liaison will be meeting him outside, before driving them to Court, where he’ll be briefed on what will happen in the days going forward. If this all goes to plan, a couple of hours testimony is all it will end up being, and he can take his MI6 shadow out for a nice dinner at the best Dim Sum place in Chinatown.

Once his own barf had been cleaned up, her file made entertaining reading on the descent to Heathrow. Amelia was something of a folk legend amongst his community of professional assassins: if you asked certain Americans they’d laugh, making a convincing pitch that this woman doesn’t even exist, simply a PR stunt to make the Secret Service look good. You can’t have physical and mental brilliance and still be alive in your mid 40’s. There’s something wrong with that picture: she’s an amalgam of other’s statistics, never as good as her male colleagues, because that would just be wrong.

Mark knows better. This was the right way to do his job, an example in planning, execution and dedication to task. Other men would be jealous, or aroused by her pedigree. Not him. Ami is just the best at what she does, pure and simple, and if you let stuff like that intimidate, there’s never a chance to try for redemption. Instead, failing agents need to be inspired by brilliance and not look like a fucking loser when you tell her that she’s an inspiration.

There might be a decade between them in age, but she is fitter and smarter than Chambers will ever manage. It is time therefore to ignore the tiredness, go find her in the Hotel’s underground car park, and not fuck this first impression up.



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Emotional Breakdown

An opportunity has arisen to pitch my novel to a publisher.

Fortunately for me, I don’t need to be completely finished with editing. What’s required thus far is a really strong first quarter, which is easily done. However, there’s now the real need to be ready to go with what is considered as a ‘decent’ manuscript and so, this weekend, I’ll not be playing any video games or allowing stuff other than pre-planned family stuff as distraction. Starting from my last point where editing felt solid, it is time to button down the details over half-term, in quiet periods where I won’t be having to worry about acting as a taxi service.

This thing has to be ready and solid as soon as possible.

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I have become a self-professed expert at allowing this manuscript to be superseded by everything and anything in the last two months. In fairness, health and circumstances have been against me on several occasions, but now there really are no excuses. If there’s the chance of being read by a proper, grown-up editor, then it is time to stop mucking about and get serious.

Therefore, the next time we speak about MMXCI therefore, it will be to update my WiP site on the personal blog with the line ‘first draft and edit complete, with alpha readers.’

Writing as Therapy :: Beginnings

This is Not A Love Song

I’ve been trying to write with competence since my teens, and a lot of my issues have centred around an inability to listen to criticism. Once my daughter was born and I had my issues with PND, it became apparent that obstinance and arrogance were not going to help me get better. I would have to open myself to the notion of change, like it or not. Not for myself, but for the kids I was expected to bring up not being narrow minded as I’d become. The first step towards the change was diary writing, or in my case Live Journal. LJ was the beginning of a journey that eventually granted me sufficient confidence to begin blogging, and from that I finally pushed myself into what became and abortive Open University course, beginning with Creative Writing.

I realised very quickly that formal study was not the answer I was looking for, and even a study group at the local Adult Education College made the process too rigid. However, what these two things managed to combine to do was crack my creative brain open, pushing me into the realisation that daily repetition actually improved my mood and ability. The revelation, at least for me, was when I was able to combine this routine with my desire to get fit, once and for all, after two children. It began simply enough: I’d walk around the block to drop my daughter off to school. One day, I just kept walking. I made a playlist on my phone to listen to, and used this to help me work on a piece of fiction (which became Duet, as it happens, you can read that here.)

bf416-backdrop

I’ll talk more about my visualisation process in a separate post, but for now all that matters from this was that writing drove my feet, and eventually I would miss the longer walks when I couldn’t take them. As soon as this happened, I knew I’d made some progress. The understanding that the daily writing routine could produce physical as well as mental well-being was something of an epiphany, I must be honest. Most of this however hinged on the knowledge that I am lazy, I will easily allow myself to be distracted, and both of these together can be potentially catastrophic. Understanding how everything links together in my brain has helped a lot towards releasing the clamps on parts of my life that were before almost dangerously restricted.

Relaxation is still a problem, but undoubtedly the process of problem solving in my fiction alleviates the issues. Except, of course, when I find myself presenting a writing problem that has psychological connotations. For instance in Default I’ve written a section around the mental torture of my female protagonist. To do this I undertook research that I found actually quite unpleasant, and have come to the conclusion that people who think that psychological warfare is either fair or right are deeply disturbed individuals. Needless to say the section was written, but with a level of objectivity given to Ronni Flemmings that she didn’t previously posses as a character. My understanding of the situation gave her new strength to cope.

Reach for the Stars

However, undoubtedly at the core of all this understanding came the real belief I’d failed myself when my daughter was born, that I wasn’t good enough to be her mother. That quote in the header is particularly apposite: a series of circumstances prior to her birth (and to a significant extent the birth of my son) made me cut ties with just about everyone I knew at the time, simply because I needed to start with a clean slate moving forward. I have one friend that remain constant from my LJ days, and one from before. That’s it: everyone else is gone, and when (inevitably) someone attempts the Facebook/Twitter friending process, they are quietly and positively ignored. I have no desire to go back to the past, nor to ever live there again. I look now only forward, and with good reason.

I am responsible for all of my failings and shortcomings. Although I’d love to say circumstance and other people are to blame? It’s so really not the case I’d be foolish to attempt to suggest otherwise. I was the selfish, arrogant and thoughtless individual pretty much from start to finish. When I accepted all these things it became a great deal easier to move everything forward, with the understanding that building from scratch has its drawbacks. If I met certain people again I’d happily apologise for my behaviour, but I wouldn’t want to be friends with pretty much all of them. I made all the wrong choices in pretty much every single department, based on a fatally flawed outlook. Now that’s fixed? I still make the wrong choices, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much because I’m able to say I really cared to begin with.

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In my journey to explain how writing is therapy, it’s important to grasp that the words can’t be used to lie. There’s no point in trying to sugar coat your perceptions of the past. I was a bitch for a very long time, and I hurt an awful lot of people, often unintentionally. However, there were times when that wasn’t the case and I knew exactly what I was doing, and because of that fact alone, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who struggles to find themselves a voice of sanity on difficult days. You’ll never be perfect. You’ll never not fuck shit up. That’s life; make it a small part as much as possible. For all the other times in between, it’s a constant balancing act, and no-one is perfect.

If you can find a way to express your frustration as you live? So much the better.