Coffee Break Read – A Highly Flawed Genius

What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted…

“The final Future Data field trial started five years ago and was originally focused on one man, Avilon Revid,” the woman went on, this time giving a slight, supercilious nod to Cista Tyran to acknowledge her previous mention of the name. “It seems that was something of a mistake, in retrospect.” She paused and shot a meaningful look at Jecks, who frowned.
“Right. But at the time the evidence was highly convincing,” he said, a little too quickly.
“And faked.”
Five years ago? Playing catch up, Grim realised, that implied Avilon Revid had not died in the Specials and had — presumably — been released. Which was probably the most chilling piece of information he had encountered so far in this briefing. No wonder there was so much secrecy being padded around this. Politically sensitive was not in it. If word that Revid had been released ever became general knowledge, there would be a massive public outcry from Central all the way out to the Periphery and so many scalps demanded that even the top echelons of Central government would not be safe. He glanced at Cista Tyran and noticed she was looking thoughtful. He had a distinct feeling that it was not news to her.
“So we have an interesting situation in which a half-run field trial has caused a number of issues and left some highly irregular loose ends. Ends we thought had been tidied up, but which seem to have re-emerged onto the scene.”
The woman sat back clearly satisfied she had said everything that needed saying. Grim, translating the obscuring words, took them to mean that despite what the presentation had implied, there was evidence that Chola and Baldrik were still alive.
“Right,” Jecks said into the strained silence. “So we have the job of clearing up a potentially critical mess. Just because the Future Data project was aborted does not mean that the consequences it was predicting have also been terminated. In the original plan, there would have been a sweep of all those — ” He hesitated fractionally, but enough for Grim to notice that he had needed to find a different word to his first choice. ” — implicated in the project to ensure none of them was left at large, endangering the security of the Coalition.”
“People like Avilon Revid?” Grim found himself asking, feeling just a little appalled at what he was being told.
Jecks shook his head. “No. Not at all.”
“Avilon Revid is dead. He died in the ‘City in a turf war,” Cista Tyran said, as though it was a well-known fact. “But seriously, sir — it’s not like — “
“Right,” Jecks cut across her. “That is a very valuable point. Avilon Revid is not an issue for us to worry about anymore.”
“And Baldrik and Chola are?” Grim asked, faintly relieved to be assured that at least Revid had not survived to make this mess worse than it looked already.
Jecks gave a half-nod and looked at the unknown woman who cleared her throat.
“Kahina Sarava is a genius. A highly flawed genius. But that does not detract from the power of her mind or the quality of her achievements. We have to take very seriously the consequences that were foreseen by her work.” She gave a tiny nod as though she had just explained everything.
“So what you are saying is that even though this Future Data project failed to predict things correctly — you still think the things it predicted incorrectly might happen?” Cista Tyran asked, her tone sweet and convincingly ingenuous. Grim found himself warming towards her.

From Iconoclast: Mistrust and Treason a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook which is only 0.99 to buy for a limited period.

Darkling Drabble – 10

A darkling drabble offers a shiver of horror in a hundred words…

He was a big plain-faced man with a small, brown wife. Nobody would’ve taken a moment’s notice if they hadn’t found oil on his land. 

Suddenly he was accounted handsome and his wife insufficient to his new status. They weathered the storm, until the young wife sickened and grew frail. The farmer unearthed the moppet with her hair and menstrual blood and burned it, but the need for vengeance was aroused. 

It cost a great deal of money, but he accounted it worthwhile when the smallpox left every woman in the valley scarred – except his own little brown wife.

©jj 2022

Sir Barnabas and the Dragon – Four

The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…

Marplot didn’t move, so Barney gave him a not too gentle shove.
“Go on, man, be about your business.”
Marplot scuttled off and Barney swore.
“We need to be not here, my friend.”
Salazar neighed at him, and he got the feeling that meant someone was about who might overhear should they converse.
Indeed, the tent flap opened almost immediately to disclose a hard faced man with the impressive muscularity of someone who takes fitness very seriously.
“Are you Barnabas?”
“I am.”
“Good. The name’s Gawain.” When Barney didn’t react, he carried on speaking. “Are you aware that a certain lady may have what we could call designs on your person?”
“I am.”
“And what do you propose to do about the situation.”
“Run like fuck!”
Which must have been the right answer because the hard face actually broke into a grin.
“That makes things nice and simple then. His Majesty was of the opinion you might be a reasonable man. I wanted some convincing, particularly when I saw that toad Marplot sneaking out of this pavilion.”
“He wasn’t here by invitation.”
“Oh. Right. Lucinda sent him did she?”
“The Queen. You really haven’t got close, have you?”
“I have not. And I’m currently looking for a way out. Yesterday for preference.”
“Of you are serious about legging it I can help.”
Barney raised an eyebrow.
“Okay. His Majesty can help. He’s just been asked to provide a dragon hunter and…”
Barney lifted both his eyebrows.
“Yes. I know. But His Majesty has a peculiar sense of humour. However it would give you an excuse to be gone.“
“I suppose it would. Details please.”
Gawain handed over a scroll and clapped Barney on the shoulder.
“If you stay away for a couple of months she’ll forget you and set her sights elsewhere.”
Then he was gone. Barney waited a few moments before speaking with elaborate casualness.
“Salazar. How do you fancy a dragon hunt?”
“A dragon hunt? Have you completely lost your mind?”
“No. I just thought it was a good excuse to leave here. We could maybe go for a long walk together. And perhaps not come back.”
“Now you are making sense. Just as long as you aren’t proposing to ride around the countryside in an iron suit.”
“As if I would. Serviceable leather is what I’ll be wearing.”
“If that’s the case, I’m with you.”
So it was that as darkness fell a tall man and a tall horse made their quiet way out of the royal encampment and up into the peaceful hills.
It was sunrise on the very next morning when it all started to come unravelled.
Not very far away from the green meadow and its gaudy pavilions, a grey stone castle stood at the head of a metalled causeway. As the sun poked over the horizon the portcullis squealed its way upwards, the sally port opened, and half a dozen heavily armed men dragged a cloaked and chained figure across the drawbridge. The group began to climb a grassy ridge with the armed men setting a punishing pace. The chained figure stumbled, but they had no mercy, dragging their captive along in their wake. At the head of the ridge stood a rough, granite obelisk with iron rings set in its pockmarked sides. The soldiers quickly chained their small charge to the stone and jogged back from whence they had come leaving a forlorn figure spreadeagled on the cold dewy grass.
After a while, the chained one sat up. She, for it was a young woman, put back the hood from her face and surveyed her predicament. The soldiers had freed her hands, but that was of little assistance as she was chained to the rock by both ankles and by a steel hoop around her slender waist. She dropped her face into her hands.
“Princess Aurora,” she sighed. “Your beauty and virtue aren’t a lot of use to you now.”
For a moment there was despair written in every line of her body. But then she sat upright and set her chin.
“If I’m going to die,” she muttered, “I’m going to do it sitting up.”

This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…

Weekend Wind Down – The Circus of the Damned

The circus wagons move from town to town, with the brightly-arrayed creatures tumbling and dancing about them – animated only by the strangely compelling music of the singing oil drums. And all the while, the masters collect money in their horny palms.
Do we ever feel the joy of the dance? No. It is not permitted. We must remain with the freak show, alongside the moustached lady who flaunts her tattooed self and the strangely misshapen beings whose birth was unfortunate and whose lives have rarely been more than burdensome.
We sometimes wonder if we were born as we are now. Truth to tell, we do not know. Although we sometimes speak of where we might have come from none of us has even an idea of before we were as we are.
But our life isn’t hard. Not now. Not if we can manage not to mind the staring eyes.
We speak of that, too, in the quiet of the night – understanding that, hate the eyes though we might, they are less troublesome than the hurled rocks and stones that were overwhelming us in the only other place we can remember. We still feel the hurt to our bones, and the strangeness of relief when the masters drove our persecutors from us with cudgels and harsh words. They removed us from the place and we understood that we became their possessions from that day on.
Our present owners are never truly unkind, although they think of us as animals who have no more comprehension than the heffalumps and the prancing unicorn.
So we stand in our wagon, and those with a brown penny to spend come to look and enjoy their own revulsion. Sometimes those with coins of silver or gold pay to come into the place where we are. They are permitted to do certain things to us. Things that are unpleasant, but never as painful as the rocks of those who sought our deaths. We endure, and are rewarded for our stoicism with treats of honey and brief walks in quiet woodland glades.
Sometimes we think of escape. If we ever get a chance.
Opportunity comes to those who are patient, though, and ours knocked in a most unexpected way.
It was a hot summer night and the circus was leaving town in a hurry. There were whispers of inquisitors in the district and the dark ones had no mind to lose any of their pets to the heavy hand of such as those. The procession hustled along as fast as was possible given the need for discretion. The only sound to be heard was wagons softly creaking in the darkness, while the rising dust clogged our nostrils and besmirched our robes. Nobody capered in a foolish dance, and no music heralded our movement. All was tight-lipped quiet and care to be unobserved.
At a certain place in the deepest shade of the trees our party left the road and turned its face to the hidden ways, where the old trees moved their limbs aside making a path between themselves for the swaying wagons.
We judged it to be coming towards dawn when the wagon beneath us lurched and broadsided itself across the barely discernible byway. There came a horrid cracking sound and we shuddered to a stop.
“Blasted, buggering axle.”
The master who had been driving the patient burden beasts swore in a bitter undervoice. For a few moments there was sufficient chaos to awaken the hungry flesh eaters in their shiny cages. But the masters are resourceful and they soon regained order although we feared certain of the chattering ones would have felt the lash of a stock whip before they quieted.
And we?
We stood in our customary quietude whilst they argued the best way forward.
“Leave them. We can return for them tomorrow night.”
“Leave them, and have them run away? What foolishness is this.”
We knew that cold, harsh voice. It belonged to the ringmaster, who was heavily handsome in the way of humans, and whose anger all the circus feared. Or almost all.
Around him, the talk subsided, until only one was left to brave, or foolish, enough to argue. It was the old one. The one whose voice rustled like last years desiccated leaves and was so discordant as to make our mouths and throats feel as if we had been thirsting for many a day.
“Have them run away? Think again grandson of my son. Where would they go?”
The silence fell heavily cold into the breathless heat of the night, but then he laughed. “Where indeed.”
In a very short while they were gone and around us there was no sound save for the noises as the forest herself awoke. Emboldened by our unaccustomed aloneness we sat swinging our feet over the sides of our broken home.
The air grew cooler and the scent of grass came to our nostrils.
“Such beauty,” one of us spoke into the softly verdant air.
We watched as the sun rose and the creatures of the day took over from the night fliers and crawlers.
Another of us spoke into the pinkness of the dawn.
“Do we dare?”
“Do we dare what?”
But we knew. We knew that if we would ever leave the wooden prison in which we dwelt, now was our time.
Nobody moved, though, and our hands stroked the smooth wood of familiarity.
It must have been high noon before yet another found voice.
“After all. Where would we go?”

Jane Jago

This story was inspired by the image created by Paul Biddle


If I ruled the world,
Though I’d never wish to,
With banners unfurled
I’d gift it to you-
To you who are poor,
Who are lowly and weak,
To you who have nothing
And never dare speak
To you who have knowledge
Who’ve seen what’s been done
Who study this world
And know how it’s run
To you who ask little
And suffer so deep
Who’d care for this world
and it safely keep
Then maybe I’d sit back
And know that these lands
Were shared and protected
And in very good hands
But for now is this world
Torn by folly and greed
And lusting for power
Trumps all our need.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Granny Knows Best – ‘Reality’ Television

Listen to Granny because Granny always knows best!

Reality television is a concept that leaves much to be desired, though I suppose it’s relatively cheap to make and panders to the human love of schadenfreude. But it’s so getting on my nerves. To the extent I’ve started only watching live football and people making pots.
But what has so wound granny up?
I will elucidate.
Me and Gyp happened to turn on the flat screen the other night in time to be ‘entertained’ by some old guy doing the splits on ice and persuading a diverse panel of celebrities to jump through a hole in said ice and halfway drown in water colder than my late unlamented’s feet in bed. All of which is, apparently, going to help with their mental health. Excuse me if I cry bullshit…
Then there’s a show where a swearing man decides who he is going to help start up a catering business. Which involves a shitload of swearing and posturing by the very annoying host and a load of challenges designed to make the contestants look inept. I have some advice for whoever wins: run away as fast as you can, or you will have swearing man sitting on your back like a monkey until the day you go bankrupt.
We can follow that with the chance to be mentored and invested in by a short, tetchy man with fat fingers. This is a programme in which a group of dislikable young people vie with each other to see who can be the most unprincipled, being whittled down one by one until only the truly least admirable remains. That floats doesn’t it…
But it’s not a patch on the social experiment that sends couples to stay in a fairly grim looking ‘hotel’ where a ‘life coach’ encourages them to ‘experiment sexually’ under the eye of a camera or two. Even Gyp brought up his doggomeat.
My final example of televisual inanity comes in the form of a show where a contestant picks someone to go on a date with, based on the visual appeal of their genitalia. It almost makes me long for the days of ‘Blind Date’ at least the contestants thereon spoke – even if what they said was mostly embarrassing and clumsy innuendo.
My conclusion?
I really don’t have one, except to say I’m sometimes very glad to be old and not to have misplaced the tv remote.
Don’t have nightmares

Darkling Drabble – 9

A darkling drabble offers a shiver of horror in a hundred words…

A ghostly fairground on Walpurgis Night. The girl pressed on through the sights and smells, careful to touch nothing in her passing. She knew her goal, and music pulled her onward to the place that would test her fortitude and prove her a true witch. There it was. The horses pranced and the music screeched and groaned. Each waltzing horse had a laughing child on its back. Until you looked closer and saw that the pink mouths were stretched wide by agonised screaming, not laughter.

Moved to pity, she was glad of an empty stomach as she stood and endured.

©jj 2022

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