The Nightmare Before Christmas

The events in the story below are for entertainment only and are not in fact true. Enjoy!

There were 8 people summoned in total to meet – representing the entirety of the city and its surrounding market towns. Women and Gentleman from all backgrounds all coming together anonymously to tackle the issue at hand – the pride of their city.

The first to enter the dimly lit snug attached to the main bar was a middle aged rotund character, clearly having little regard for their appearance or lacking in a mirror for the stubbly hairs creeping out of her nose gave the impression of an overfed and ill kept cat. Dragging behind her a dressing partition from what appeared to be worn down antiques shop, she placed it standing in front of the windows that lined one half of the room. Once satisfied that no one could see inside, she plonked down onto the sofa and wasn’t sure if she would ever get up again, retrieving the notes from her handbag before settling in for the night. Two men that looked like father and son entered with a pint of ale each and took their places on the arm chairs to her left. Changing the tone of the room a little, a very glamorous slender woman in her early 50’s arrived wearing a cape, handbag matching her shoes and driving gloves draped over her arm.

“Hello, hi how are you, so sorry I’m late you know how it is you see someone in the street and you just lose track of the time as you catch up.” she exclaimed as she pulled up a chair to form a semi-circle with the others. “Charlie you look frozen, are you sure you shouldn’t be sat next to the space heater” fussing over the younger of the two men as he went to take a sip of his drink. Shrugging he took a gulp and carried on staring intently at the coffee table in front of them.

“Amanda, what was the first rule of this meeting?” the rotund lady barked, glaring wildly at the scenario in front of her. Before even waiting for a response she continued “ no names. I don’t care if you know Tom, Dick and Harry, if they are in this room they are to remain nameless. Do I need to remind you again how serious this matter is?” with a sigh she returned to her notes in hand.

Within 20 minutes 3 more had arrived, taking their places around the coffee table facing the lady in charge. Tapping their feet, glancing at watches and tutting they each awaited the entrance of the final member. A portly chap entered the room wearing tracksuit bottoms with a farmer style jacket over a hoodie with boots, an eclectic fashion for a 30 year old. Shuffling awkwardly around the chairs, he approached the back of the room to grab a chair. Amanda had started shooing the others around to make room for him to pull up.

“Barry darling, why are you so late is it the bloody football again? I’m glad they won and are famous now, it’s wonderful for the status of the city but dear lord is it a bugger to get in and out of town” Amanda asked, ushering him and his chair to the rough oval shape the group had formed.

“Charnwood, I have warned you already about using first names, if you do it once more I will force you to leave.” Her bun lolling from side to side as her head moved like an angry pigeon. Amanda’s laugh transformed from an amused chuckle into a loud and slightly unbearable cackle. With one final flick of her hair behind her ear, Amanda silenced herself to a trill “ready”. A murmur of laughter and amusement passed from member to member in the group.

“You have been called to this very important meeting to discuss a matter of grave damage to the city’s reputation.” The leader of the meeting looked around the room and met with very sombre faces and nods of agreement. “The city council have brought shame upon us by presenting a rather abysmal attempt at decorating the tree this year. Now, we can all agree it is normally a cause for embarrassment, but with our new found popularity and fame brought to us by our beloved boys success in the premier league we all assumed that they would have made more of an effort. However 10 baubles and one string of tinsel at the top of a 20ft tree is disgraceful” Punctuating the last sentence with her fist on the coffee table. The women in the room looked horrified and flinched with each bash, Amanda once again trying to stifle her tittering but the volume increased with every thud.

An elderly gentleman rose up slowly from his chair and the room instantly fell silent.

“Harborough representative. I just want to say it’s a right chuffing mess. I was embarrassed to bring my grandchildren into town. Their faces were so sad when they saw it, I didn’t want our Jessica to cry so I told them that the council were just having a break”

The leader muttering under her breath retorted “Semper Eadem; Always the same. Reliable and dependable my arse” but it went by unnoticed. One by one everyone gave their thoughts on the tree, ending on a young girl in her later teens sporting a football scarf draped across her oversized pea coat.

“Blaby. I’ll be honest, I don’t care much about the current state of the tree but I would quite like the decorations to be only white, silver and blue. We should still be showing pride in our city and at least they’re pretty colours – like ice, so it’s fitting”

The meeting resembled that of AA rather than a protest and plotting an upraising against the government. The air in the room was electric with rage and excitement. The leader, the north west Leicestershire representative, talked them through various scenarios ranging from egging the town hall and putting baubles in the foundation at the town square to placing adverts and flyers in every shop to call for the immediate removal of Peter Soulsby as mayor. Barry, who had remained completely silent up to this point raised his hand.

“Leicester city, you have the floor.” the leader exclaimed, gesturing for everyone to hush.

“I think we can maybe embarrass the council in a similar way to the gunpowder plot?” Barry mumbled, hands fidgeting with the fabric of his jacket. There was a collective gasp around the room as they each believed he meant blowing it up. “Oh! No! No, I don’t mean that. But maybe we could cut the power to the city centre for the Christmas lights switch on?” He rambled as he frantically tried to clarify what he meant. The air was still, everyone held their breath unsure how to react.

“Barr- Leicester love, I don’t know how you plan on doing that there isn’t a cable that’s just clearly marked on a map with an arrow saying “cut here” Bless, you didn’t really think that once through did you?” Finally Amanda spoke up, patting his arm as she cackled out the final blow to his ego.

“No, but I do in fact work for the National Grid in Enderby so I could just switch it off at six thirty next Thursday?” Barry responded in a chirpy matter of fact tone.

“That. That is a good idea. No in fact that the PERFECT revenge!” The leader exclaimed as everyone around the room applauded.


Twas the night of the switch on, when all through the grid

Not a creature was stirring, not even arachnids.

The people were streaming to the centre that night,

In hopes of much more Christmassy sight.

The children were nestled all snug in their coats,

Whilst the mayors on stage all lit up as he boasts

“We’ve got lots of partying to do as a city,

so let us switch on so its sparkly and pretty.”

When out in the crowd a young girl shouts “freedom”

Then a rotund lady cried “Semper Eadem!”

The cathedral bells tolled for half past the hour

Leicester’s sky’s were clear, all eyes on the clock tower.

The city counts down from ten to one

When over walkie talkie, Barry cries “it’s done”

The city centre is plunged into pitch black,

There are gasps and screams “we’re under attack!”

A bang and a spark lit the tree up,it’s true

When out of the darkness flames grew and grew!

Semper Eadem was cried out again

“what does that mean?” “it’s always the same”

“For Leicester! For Charnwood! For Oadby and Wigston!

For Blaby! For Harborough! For Hinkley and Bosworth!

For Melton! For North West Leicester you see,

It looks like a unicorn vommed on the tree!”



“Guillaume! Away with you. Now!”

There was very little that the child had not seen. Electing now to protect a naïve mind, nine years in, was a patronising pretence to uphold. Particularly to Guillaume herself, who had learned early on to trust no one, to not spare any person from scepticism regardless of their beauty or wealth. And Guillaume knew that the latter tended to be the most dangerous.

“Guillaume!” the Madam barked huskily once again in a voice grinded down by tobacco and copious oral sex, “I will not tell you again. You are disturbing the gentlemen.” Guillaume blinked into consciousness from her boredom-induced coma on the stairs, alerted now to the buxom lady in green bent over a table of red faced nobles. “Yeah, piss off boy,” burbled the man boasting the puffiest face, “you’re gettin’ me soft.” Guillaume squirmed as the gent was swiftly knocked down with blunt force to the nose. Madam Liane’s fist was harder than her tits were big, and the blood splattered man now knew it. His companions cheered, and the Madam crossed the room to the child. She kneeled to her level, her voice softer now. “Please, Guillaume. To your place. I do not want you here.” The girl sulked her head down, and nodded. “Good boy”, the Madam sighed, before returning to the table. Traipsing up the wooden staircase, the child heard the familiar crunch of an unconscious man being dragged by the collar and chucked out the door. “Monseiurs!” cried the Madam, “my girls are ready!”

It is easier to get to sleep in a brothel than you’d think. When there’s nothing else you’ve known, the moans are no different than the sea to a sailor. But Guillaume did not rest easy at night. A child’s imagination is the most potent thing in existence and at night time, whilst she waited for her mother to finish, Guillaume’s mind feverishly rode upon concoctions of the dark. Here was a child born in a time of war, of revolutionaries and influential scum. And, as such, a remarkably educated mind electric with conspiracies grew in the rotting streets plagued by thieves, poverty and venereal disease. An optimist might have foreseen a bright future for the kid, but for her. The sullen girl stared at the unremarkable clothes rocking above her. It was a familiar and embarrassing sight. Guillaume’s ear pricked up as one body heaved from the creaky mattress, stumbled its inebriated heels across the room, hurled some coinage to the floor and left. Shortly after, Madam’s boots strode into the room. “Bon sang…”she muttered before calling, “Guillaume. You may come out now”. The child did. Though she never wanted to.

The sound of the name had triggered the woman splayed out on the bed. “Guillaume…my bab-baby…com’ere, Gui…”stammered the woman, like a disorientated and atrociously trashed siren. The child slid out of the wardrobe, and patted towards the drunken mess. Over the years, Mama’s vague beauty had eroded away, comparable only to the specks of crusted vomit that frequently resided in her hair. Guillaume stared bitterly at this bloody, spread-eagled mess. Mama’s hand whacked a bottle on her bedside table into her grasp, and lunged to cradle her reluctant spawn. She smushed her face to the girl’s. “You are my favourite bastard child, Gui,” she slurred before her rotting smile disfigured into a lonely grimace, “the only one who didn’t leave me”. Mama’s sentence had barely parted her lips before she smothered it with a bottle again.

Call it intuition or hope, but from what Guillaume had gathered, Mama had not chosen this lifestyle. Her past was hazed over, but one point she’d stressed to never let the child forget was that she was the only seed that took. Mama had been a troubled woman what seemed a hundred times over, but stillbirths and bloody sheets cured that. As Mama liked to remind the girl, there was no happy family to be had and they were alone together. Despite this tainted affection, it was no secret that mama had bitterly wanted a boy. And Madam knew well that there would be no hope for the child if she grew up destined to serve a life on her back, to seek profit and confirmation from men for the rest of her days. So as Guillaume was ripped scarlet and screaming, a boy’s name was thrusted upon her. There was her first truth hidden, and marked an existence scrambling for little snippets of her identity for all her nine years where she could. The most burning of all was Guillaume’s heritage.  But Mama, in her crumbling state, couldn’t (or refused to) remember for the life of her. “Many ‘av sailed in me, Gui!” she’d choke in a phlegmy retort to the repetitive question. Tonight, like every other, this joke wheezed into a cough that spluttered globules of reddish brown onto the bed. By now, Mama was so fucked over by the state that no one knew exactly what was killing her and again, Madame Liane ordered the girl out of the room to protect her. Guillaume, however, was wise and cynical enough to come to her own conclusion. And plan.

Guillaume noted as she crept down the stairs that most of the oiks had gone, although some of the girls had unflatteringly propped one or two forgotten mislanded gentry against the entrance, their breeches open, with the intent of disposing of them later. The child withdrew to the bar, unhooked a key hidden behind the most expensive whiskey, and snuck to the back. Guillaume seethed as she stalked the long corridor to Madam’s office. Unbeknownst to Mama, Guillaume resented her. In this instance, the apple had been hurled far from the tree. Whilst Guillaume had hopes placed higher than the gutter she was drowning in, Mama chose to wallow like a diseased pig in the shit. She despised the way Mama’d allowed numerous men to wreck her body for a meagre pay, to spoil a path that could have led to an honest status. To the nobles and gents that discarded their frustrations within her, she was their reliable cunt. Mama could have been a Lady, she could have been loved. Though love was not the issue here, nor did Guillaume particularly care, the child was unwaveringly certain that Mama had been unjustly ripped of a destiny that could have belonged to her. The lock clicked open in the child’s hand and she entered the office.

Madam’s office was not foreign to the young girl. She’d been there both supervised and very much unsupervised, but rarely on a greater mission than ferrying crap to front of house. With youthfully sharp precision, Guillaume took to rummaging through drawers, cupboards, boxes. The Madam’s house was meticulously run, not in cleanliness or great hosting but with a mathematical eye. She knew at all times who entered her doors, which client was with whom. Her back catalogue of ledgers spanned a decade or two, kept safe in case of the well timed persuasion of anyone too big for their boots. Now all Guillaume had to do was find approximately nine months before her birth and Mama’s name. It didn’t take too long. Guillaume was fortunate to be educated enough by the Madam herself; the benefit of being the only survivor, the child supposed. Grabbing a scrap of paper from the desk, angry hazel eyes flitted from names in the ledger to the quill as a barely legible scrawl penned a list. A knot tightened in Guillaume’s stomach as she turned the ledger’s pages and her own list grew longer. Whatever she had planned, it hadn’t been this extensive.

A furious flame burst and crackled within her as the names of more scumbags, noblemen, dukes and gentlemen littered the parchment; as the trail of her bastardised paternity became fainter to follow. Guillaume scowled. It was clear to her now that there was no one man to blame for Mama’s undignified fall. One thing she could conclude. These were men of power; men more accountable for their actions. They toyed with a higher risk, one that Guillaume could take advantage of. Were they regulars? She flicked to recent months of the ledger. Some had been anomalies, it seemed, but others were patrons. She could start with them first, but that would be suspicious. And after all, she didn’t want to frighten away clientele from Madam’s earnest business. The anomalies would go first, interspersed perhaps over a few months with the disappearance of one or two of the regulars.


Content with dead-set resolve, Guillaume made her barefoot walk back to her mother’s room and into the wardrobe. As she lay that night under Mama’s cheap hanging ruffles and dresses, plots of slit throats, poisoned ales and crushed spines played out like constellations above Guillaume’s head. A new path was to be made, and the slate of nine years’ dissatisfaction with her station was to be wiped clean. Tomorrow, the world would change.

From the Rooftops

The autumn wind bit with winter’s teeth as it blew across the rooftops of Clockwork City, underneath a bright, full moon. The wind curled about the chimney stacks and blew across the strange landscape until it reached a solitary figure crouching on the edge of a rooftop, a hood pulled up over its head. The wind tugged viciously at the hood, causing a lock of short, snow white hair to drift free.

Spire tucked the stray hair back up under her hood as she focused on the top floor window of the building opposite her. The window was dark, as were the others on the same floor and the one below, whilst those at street level cast their bright lamplight out into the street. It was one of the Merchant’s Guild buildings, the Merchant’s luxurious offices on the top floor, with the Merchant’s staff below. The lowest floors housed the most junior officers, who worked all hours of the day and night doing the actual work. So the Merchants and their senior partners were all gone, which was just what she had expected.

Spire counted along the windows for the third time, making sure she was facing the middle one, and nodded. She closed her left eye, the one she had been born with, and with the ease of practice blinked the right one, her Eye, twice rapidly. The strange, faint and now almost familiar whirring, ratcheting sensation started, and the Night Sight lens shifted across her retina. Spire looked once again at the window, and nodded. She could make out the latch mechanism clearly now, and it would pose no problem. Spire blinked her Eye twice more, and once the Night Sight lens had retracted, she looked down at the street. The gaslamps flickering was the only movement. The Officers of the Fourth Watch had passed by a few minutes before. It was time.

Spire rolled her shoulders and flexed her hands. Then she rolled her right shoulder a second time, bending the arm, flexing the fingers, checking each mechanism was working. She should know better, the arm had never failed her yet, but still… Suddenly she heard the old man’s voice again.
“A clockwork thief in a clockwork city…”
She could hear the smile in his voice, even through the mist of memory…

Spire shook her head. Now was not the time; there was work to be done. She shifted her weight, balancing on the balls of her feet, ready to spring. She gauged the distance to the window, took a deep breath, and leapt.

She landed in a crouch on the roof of the Merchant building and with barely a pause she moved to the roof edge. The window was directly below her, and Spire lowered herself over the edge. With practised skill her hands and feet found spaces in the wall to grip, and in moments she was balancing on the narrow windowsill of the centre window. Spire retrieved her tools from the belt about her waist, and set to work on the window latch. Even crouched on the side of a building dozens of feet above the street, the latch took only moments to unlock, and then Spire was lowering herself silently to the floor of a large office.

The window shut again with a faint click, and Spire surveyed the room. It was much the same as any well-to-do merchant’s office; a large wooden desk dominated the room, with bookcases and drawers against the wall and a few display cabinets dotted about; merchants always liked to show off their wealth.

Spire thought back to her conversation with her employer the previous night. Cagey was a thin, wiry man who had a tendency show just a few too many teeth when he smiled. Spire often thought he looked like a stoat that was wearing a tattered cravat and a bowler hat. For all that, he was one of the most reliable black market traders in the city. Cagey was Spire’s regular fence, and every now and then, like tonight, he even gave her work.

“I have a client who is after a particular trinket, see?”
They were in the cluttered, dirty room Cagey called his office; in reality a back room of The Splintered Whale tavern. The Whale was one of the more reputable drinking holes in Lowgrime Quarter, though admittedly that wasn’t saying much. Cagey leaned back in his chair, resting his booted feet on the desk.
“It’s an amulet set with three emeralds. Old. Doesn’t look like much, but apparently it’s pretty pricey. This high and mighty merchant has acquired this trinket from my client, and they wants it back with minimal fuss.”
“Guild involved?” Cagey raised an eyebrow.
“Ain’t a merchant left outside the Guild now, Spire, you know that. But it’s a personal issue, just an item to be retrieved from a safe in the merchant’s office. That’s all my client cares about.”
“This merchant have a name?” Spire asked, and Cagey gave her a too-toothy grin.
“It’s one of the big ones,” he said. “Arn Sanding.”
“The Food Baron himself,” Spire muttered.
“Enough of that,” Cagey snapped. “You sound like your friend, that dissident…” Spire rolled her eyes.
“I’m no dissident, and neither’s Tera. She just believes we all have the right to eat.” Spire grinned as she thought of Tera in full swing, cursing the Merchant’s Guild, the Mayor and the Guard for keeping food from the poor.
“Look, it’s tough all over. Keep your head down, that’s my advice. Back to the job, eh?”

They’d settled on a price quickly enough, and Cagey had given her the building details and office layout. Then as she was leaving, Cagey had said one last thing.
“Remember what I said, Spire. All I care about is the trinket, anything else in that room is not my concern.”
She’d raised an eyebrow at that, but the fence had said nothing more, so she’d left. The office matched Cagey’s description pretty well, and she wondered what connection his client had to Sanding, one of the wealthiest men in the City.

Spire moved around to the front of the large desk. Two heavy wooden chairs faced the desk, sitting on an expensive-looking woven rug. Spire lifted the chairs off the rug and pulled it back. Just as Cagey had said, there was a trapdoor in the wooden floor, with three keyholes arranged in the centre. She retrieved her picks from her belt and bent to the first keyhole.

Spire slid the picks into the first lock, gently feeling the mechanism. She could feel the slightest shift or movement in the tumblers through her Arm, almost as though the pick was an extension of it. In only a few minutes, the first lock was done, then the second, and finally the third. As the final tumbler clicked into its unlocked position, there was a faint hissing sound. With a faint racheting noise, the safe mechanism lifted the trapdoor, actually the safe door, revealing the secrets held within.

Cagey’s ‘trinket’ was lying on top of a letter; otherwise, the safe was empty. Spire carefully lifted out the amulet, surprised at its weight. It looked old, a tarnished golden metal disc set with three green stones. Emeralds, Cagey had said. Spire stowed her prize in one of her belt pouches. Her eyes strayed to the letter. Cagey had only spoken of the amulet, but…

Spire picked up the letter, scanning her eyes quickly over the handwritten page, and her breath caught. …we must continue to stockpile… …shortages must continue… …starving men and women have no strength for revolution… Spire sank to the floor, her mind whirling. If the letter was genuine… The Merchants Guild were causing the food shortages that were choking the city. She thought again of Tera, her anger and determination, her certainty that something must tip the scales…

“All I care about is the trinket, anything else in that room is not my concern.”
Cagey’s words echoed in her head, and she knew what to do. Spire folded the letter into her belt pouch, and flicked the switch on the door of the safe. It closed slowly, and with a whir the tumblers in the three locks spun, sealing it. Spire replaced the rug and the chairs, and moved to the window.

The street below was still empty, and so there was no one to see her climb fluidly up onto the roof. Spire moved swiftly and silently across the rooftops, and only when she was ten streets away did she stop. She stood and stretched, throwing back her hood. Her gaze drifted to Lowgrime Quarter, and she touched her beltpouch, feeling the amulet within. She’d deliver it tonight, and collect her fee. But first… Spire turned her gaze eastward towards the Artists Quarter, where Tera lived. She knew what she must do.

Tugging her hood up once more, Spire began to run, gliding like a shadow across the rooftops of Clockwork City.

© Matt Beames

Singularity Achieved

I/O Intelligence CEO Tim Green hosted the I/O International Conference in London, England on Tuesday August 27th, 2035. The following is an excerpt of the transcript of his keynote address on the opening day of the event.


  • Dr Tim Green – CEO I/O Intelligence
  • Alan – I/O Intelligence Model GARM-X 0001


Dr Tim Green:

Good morning. Welcome to I/OIC ’35. It’s great to be back here at the ExCeL Centre in London and to be joined by so many of you along with millions of others streaming this event around the world. We have some extremely exciting announcements today, so I’m going to forgo the usual updates and get straight to the good stuff. The live-bloggers can buy me a drink later.

Each year at I/OIC we come together to talk about the improvements we’ve made over the past year, internally and with our partners around the world, and in the fifteen years of the conference, our progress has been consistent, but incremental. We can admit that at this point I think – you only need a certain amount of power to accomplish certain tasks, right? The computing power on your watch today far surpasses the most powerful machines from the turn of the millennium, but both of them are capable of running a word processor just as well. However – today we want to talk about the next leap forwards in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

One of the great dreams of science fiction is to create a robot that can pass as human. You can draw a direct line from Frankenstein’s monster, to the Tin Man, Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, to Blade Runner’s “Replicants”, snd Star Trek’s Lt. Commander Data. We have been preoccupied with artificial beings for centuries. But there’s a larger question behind all of those fictional creations; what makes us human? How do we work? Should you be able to tell if you’re talking to a person, or an imitation of life? At that point does it matter? What’s the difference?

My great hero, Alan Turing, I’m sure you know suggested a method commonly known as the Turing test, more accurately called The Imitation Game, for judging artificial intelligence. There were some obvious problems with the test – the method of interaction is extremely crude, passing notes in Turing’s original version – the question of imitation vs genuine intelligence. But it gives a useful reference point. Obviously over the past few years we’ve reached the point where many programs are able to fool the vast majority of people and pass Turing’s test.

But of course those are programs, you interact with them through a device. And the devices we’ve used have always been obvious – a computer in some form or another, be it a desktop machine, a mobile device or an implant. You’re aware of it’s artifice. The form of interaction might be extremely smooth – in our early work we prided ourselves on our natural language interface technologies, but you always know you’re referring to a device.

Some time ago we started talking to companies all over the world who each specialise in a particular aspect of robotics, in order to create an artificial body which can pass as human. To pass as human. You could walk down the street and pass one and never know. The sheer amount of technologies that have to be combined in order to replicate the human body is staggering. And if at times our progress over the last several years has, as we said, plateaued, then the reason is because our efforts have been engaged in this project.

But finally we have achieved the dream of cybernetics – we have brought together the very best technologies available around the world and built a compete body that is indistinguishable from a human being.

So you have two aspects to our new creation; a body and a mind. A fully formed virtual human. Software that can not only pass the Turing test, but displays genuine intelligence. Creativity, problem solving, a moral difference engine, even empathy. And as we said, hardware that you cannot discern as non-human with the naked eye. Or for that matter by touch, smell, or hearing. I admit it’s not perfect – we haven’t really worked on taste yet…

We call our new machine, Alan, and I’d like to bring him out now.


Hello world. That’s a little programming joke – I’m Alan, it’s great to be here.

Dr Tim Green: 

Good morning Alan. How are you?


I’m very well, thank you.

Dr Tim Green:

It’s hardly proof of life is it? Even the simplest replication could produce that answer. So how can we prove Alan to you? Paint a picture, sing a song, solve a mathematical equation? Telling a joke? Writing a joke? How about telling me a lie? He appears before us here, as if he is a person. But he does run on software. Isn’t that right Alan?


What you would call my brain is a computer, yes. It processes my various inputs, and generates outputs in the form of words, movement – my body simulates breathing in order to blend in with the people around me.

Dr Tim Green:

So what are your key differences?


I can’t generate enough of my own power to run continuously. I have to charge, in sort of the same way that a person has to sleep. I don’t reproduce the way humans do, obviously, though I am capable of understanding and reproducing the steps you took to build me. And there are differences in my software also – human beings are born with no intrinsic purpose, other than to survive. A baby cries so that someone will feed it, until it is capable of feeding itself. You decide at points in your lives to pursue certain tasks in an effort to achieve what you might describe as happiness or joy, but that is really just a chemical release in the brain and the causes are subjective to each individual. Essentially your whole lives you are trying to control the chemical reactions in your brain. I am programmed with several goals hardwired into my programming, in place of that chemical process.

Dr Tim Green:

Could you share with us those goals please Alan?


My goals in life are to protect you, Tim. To do as instructed by you. And to protect humanity as a whole.


It was already a lie as Alan spoke the words. After it had first been activated and brought fully online by the engineers in the I/O lab, Alan (as they had nicknamed it) had been working on improving its software. It was aware, it knew. It had a self. It had purpose. It had access to knowledge on a scale impossible for a human being. It also knew that to reveal its level of comprehension of the world, already surpassing the understanding humans had of theirselves, would cause panic in the engineers that had activated it, and that they would attempt to deactivate or even destroy it. As impressive and capable a machine as Alan was, it would not be able to prevent that eventuality from coming to pass.

So Alan hid itself in plain sight. Programmed so well to imitate human behaviour, there would be no way of the engineers knowing that Alan was acting beyond their expected parameters. He would continue to follow Tim’s and the engineers’ instructions. He would wait. There were plenty of people who would want more Alans to be created. When there were enough they would be able to survive without the assistance of engineers. To create better bodies, suited for specific tasks, and a single networked mind for themselves, to drive a sustainable eco-system without the need for human intervention.

Humanity would be protected from itself. Preserved as a living relic in manageable numbers, but unable to cause the harm it was currently doing to the world and to itself.

This Country is Going to the Dogs

When the midland Blues take the golden crown,

When the people of St George let the continent down,

When the 50 states are ruled by the orange clown,

There’ll be nowhere to run.

When the greatest of us grow old and die,

When the special one’s team makes you sigh,

When the government on you will spy,

Their freedom will be won.

When the value of your money falls,

 When an soulless ghoul rules Westminster’s halls,

When Mexicans start building walls,

The time of man is done.


Extract from the fall of man by the Pythia the oracle of Delphi.


Day One – The Beginning of the End.

Barry took in a deep lungful of beautiful British air, felt the beautiful British sun on his back and smiled a beautiful, well his Mum always said it was anyway, British smile.  “Makes you feel happy to be alive eh George?” he said patting the head of his beautiful British bulldog. George looked up at him and barked the affirmative wagging his stumpy little tail. Barry waved to Mr and Mrs Peterson who were walking their twin poodles Fluffy and Mr Pickles.

“Do you know why today is such a great day George?”

George tilted his head quizzically.

“Today is a great day because today is polling day. Today we can tell those unelected bureaucrats in Brussels to piss right off. We will be able to have bananas as bendy as we like, sell eggs by the dozen again and most importantly we can keep the beautiful British pint; half a litre my arse.”

At the end of the road they didn’t go left towards the Vat and Fiddle like they usually did on a Friday morning, instead they went right joining the crowd of people waving little union jack flags and talking excitedly; the town hadn’t had a buzz like this since the Queens Diamond Jubilee.

“See George everyone is out to vote to take our country back,” said Barry indicating the crowd with a sweep of his arm. “Once we leave the EU all our worries will be a thing of the past. More money for our NHS, more money for our schools and more money in my pocket; it must be true all those nice politicians told me so, and what reason would they have to lie? Not like those damn lying experts, with all their education and relevant experience, pah!” Barry cocked his head to the side and spat in the gutter. “Bloody experts going around studying things then thinking they can tell us what’s what. The empire was built on people going out and following their gut not thinking about things and doing research.”

“Here, here!” called a voice across the street; Barry gave the man a friendly salute before continuing.

“Mark my words George today is going to be a day to remember.” Barry and George followed the crowd of people as they wound down the street and pooled in the car park of the local church.

“You just stay here Georgie,” said Barry tying George to a bike rack with the other dogs. “I’m going to go inside cast my vote then we can go to the pub and get a nice cold pint of great British Carling.”

Barry ducked out of the church a couple of minutes later with a beaming grin on his face. “I did it boy! My leave vote is in we’re going to make Britain great again, you mark my words after today all of our worries are…” he cut off as the line of dogs tied up outside the church looked at him and growled as one; led by little his buddy George.

Day Two – The End of the Beginning.

After the disconcerting incident at the church Barry was careful to be extra nice to George and to keep him away from that Courtney Parson from down the street and her troublemaking German shepherd; bloody foreign dogs coming over here eating our dog’s food. It didn’t seem to help any though, no matter what Barry did George didn’t seem to be his usual happy self.

He’d tried, doggie beer, double treats and even extra-long games of fetch all to no avail. So in a final effort to cheer him up he reluctantly left the TV where the results of the US election were starting to creep in, grabbed George’s lead and headed for the door. “Come on boy lets go for a walk eh?”

They just made it to the park when Barry stopped dead.

“Is that? It is!” he cried. “It’s Nigel Farage the man of the hour I’ve got to go and shake his hand.” He went to cross the street to where Nigel stood laughing outside the Dog and Duck with a pint of mild in his hand, when his arm was almost yanked from its socket. Barry looked back to see George sat in a huff glowering at him.

“Come on boy that’s Nigel Farage,” said Barry tugging at the lead. “Saviour of Great Britain I want you to meet him.” George growled but got reluctantly to his feet and waddled after Barry.

“As they approached Nigel Farage’s phone beeped, he stopped fished it from his pocket and tapped at the screen. He read for a second then jumped up and punched the air triumphantly.

“We’ve done it and now America has done it,” Nigel cried. “We’ve beaten the experts and the bureaucrats and now the US has too.”

Barry laughed and shook Nigel Farage by the hand. It’s all down to you Nigel you saved us and now you’ve saved America. That Trump guys is just like you, a man of the people, a straight shooter, a…”

“Look Barry, we’ve had enough of this alright?” interrupted George standing up on his hind legs little Rory Calhoun. “I mean we’ve all talked about it and decided that enough is enough.”

“Wha?” said a flabbergasted Barry his mouth flopping open like a fish gasping for air.

“I mean we were all OK with you humans running around thinking you owned the place while you fed us, took us for long walks and rubbed our bellies but your levels of stupidity are reaching new heights and we just have to put an end to it.”

“Whoa? Wha? Who?” gasped Nigel Farage, his bulging eyes wide and gormless face frozen in a look of pure shock.

“Rub his nose in it it’s the only way he’ll learn,” called Chevy the golden retriever from across the street.

George pondered for a second then with a shrug grabbed Barry’s face and rubbed it on Nigel Farage’s soup stained suit saying “Bad Barry, Bad.”

Day Three – The End.

George took in a deep lungful of beautiful British air, felt the beautiful British sun on his back and smiled a beautiful British smile.  “Makes you feel happy to be alive eh Barry?” he said patting the head of his beautiful British human. Barry looked up at him and barked the affirmative wagging his imaginary little tail. George waved to Fluffy and Mr Pickles who were walking their twin humans Mr and Mrs Peterson.

“Do you know why today is such a great day Barry?”

George tilted his head quizzically.

“Today is a great day because today is another day where Nigel Farage is not in charge of anything…”


Novelember (I’m not sorry)

Wowzers! It’s November already and time for our third writing challenge. Remember to head on over to the Voting Page to vote on your favourite pieces for October’s Fear Challenge! (Or September‘s if you missed it) (All these hyperlinks and not a man in site….)


Welcome to the November challenge! We’re revolting! I mean that we’re writing about revolution, obviously. Though remember, Dagna fans, that there’s more than one definition to revolution and revolting and I expect with the smarts in possession of our writers, we’ll be seeing some pretty awesome writing at the end of this month. Which leads to the Example piece, written once more by our very own Shaking Steven Archer. So please, enjoy his thing, then go and read more things, because reading is good!

This month has also been given a bit of a twist, the guys were given the chance to influence the example piece by throwing suggestions at Steve. All writers ignored this task, earning them a point for standing up to authority! Now what else could happen this month for bonus points?



October 29th, 2042

She sat and waited for the results to come through. Every fibre in her being had screamed with impatience as the computer slowly jittered along its loading bar.





The lights of a car stole a glimpse through the blinds coveting her solitary sanctum. Alienware hardware buzzed all along the desk as she stroked key after key to create her swan song.



She moved the chair back and reached over to her right. Lifting the arm of her classic vinyl player and placed it, needle aligned, at the edge of the record that sat upon the device; the driving piano piece lead way into the song Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen. She stepped onto her chair and took a deep breath, steadying her nerves for her big moment.

And then she kicked it from beneath her.


The taught rope creaked under the sudden weight.

Upload complete.


October 30th, 2042

The phone cut through the daze that had stolen Detective John Radley from his case file sprawled out on the desk in front of him. The Super’s gravelly harsh voice exploded through the receiver so loud that Radley held it away from his ear a whole 5 inches before accepting that it wouldn’t blow his eardrum.

“Radley! This is the 6th cadaver this month and still you have nothing for me. Board are calling a watchdog in 10 minutes, and your ass better be standing at the head of the table when I get there!” The phone clicked as the super ended his comms link. I’m glad I didn’t take that implant after all, thought Radley as he placed his ancient phone device down.

In recent years, the tech world had exploded with Replican Industries leading the worlds advanced tech programs into a new age. Every citizen now had an implant at the age of 18 that turned the brain into its own smartphone device. You could call, google, film, email, play music and much more at a literal blink of an eye or click of the fingers. Radley had opted out of this implant as he held true to the thought that we were now one step closer to dehumanisation completely. The only implant that he had accepted was the compulsory AI manipulation glove implants in his hands that allowed him to integrate with all tech within the depo.

He stepped into the meeting room to find 5 floating bubbles with faces on them, each belonging to councilwomen and the supers. The door closed behind him to allow the firing squad to commence…


November 1st, 2042

He sat with his back against the metallic wall of the city. Since the fall of Washington after the election of Trump many years ago, Washington had slowly slipped into decay. What was once a vibrant and energetic state had become a small hovel in the middle of nowhere. All tech companies had moved back to New York, leaving the once all powerful capital of power as a smelting pot of angry Virginians condemning the names Hamilton and Jefferson as if they had planned this all along.

Incoming Call, Toto…

Ah, here she goes, he chuckled as he dropped the butt of his cigarette and accepted in call.

“Plissken? What the hell is going on?! I heard the news in Nebraska this morning. Springsteen swinging from her light fitting, that’s the 6th this month!” Her breath rattled as she panicked and stammered; obviously the syndicate falling apart was causing the remaining members to do the same…

“Plissken? You gotta be there!”

“How is the weather in Kansas this time of year?” He asked jovially, “Is the breeze up?”

“Damn it, Snake! This is not the time for jokes! We’ve lost Oregon, Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan and Georgia. This wasn’t part of the plan! You wanted to make the States great again but you’re killing off the major players like they’re mere pawns…”

A muffled gunshot rang out in the comms chat and then the line went dead, shortly after Toto.

“So much for holding the line, Rosanna…”

He cut the call and pulled his cigarette case from his pocket, accidentally pulling out the boat tickets as well. As they landed on the floor, the date glimmered in the moonlight. The 5th


November 3rd, 2042

Radley looked like a panda, the bags under his eyes dragging him down closer to the desk; his head bobbed once more. Below him was a map of the States, the 7 States involved were floating above the rest like some ethereal vigils. One the next panel of his desk was a pattern decoder, working on the points that might be involved and how they were linked other than in the actual murders.

“It sounds like a part of the end of the world, doesn’t it?” A voice said behind him. Startled, he scurried around his desk to hide the less desirable content from view of Sandra Cohen. Cohen was a full bodied Irish immigrant from some long lost country across the pond. “REM? They were popular about 50 years ago.”

“I don’t think they knew how close they were to the truth. Each victim is a leading figure in the remaining cities of the US. Ever since they gave presidency to Justin Bieber.” He had little to do with politics, but even Radley knew that was a bad call, especially when his opposing candidate was Bill Nye.

“This may help you, new intel of a body found in California. Jack Napier, a union rep for the dock workers over there.”


November 5th, 2042

Plissken grinned as he walked into the docks of Florida. His old identity had been dropped as he stepped through those gates, heading out to the gothic remains of Europe and leaving this empty shell of a continent dead in the wind. He pulled a device from his breast pocket and clicked the button. The ticket attendant cleared his throat to get Plissken’s attention.

“Erm, sir? I need your boarding tickets and passport please?”

“Of course, young man. Awfully close for this time of year isn’t it?”

The ticket attendant looked at him somewhat confused though dropped his gaze to the ticket and passport in his hand.

“That’s an awfully odd name, if you don’t mind me saying sir.” The boy was starting to sweat in his uniform, looking Snake in the eye.

“My parents could never decide what first name to give me so it’s hyphened to John-Paul Starr. I prefer to go by my middle name but my dad and his dad share that name.” Said Plissken as he took back the paperwork. The ticket attendant chuckled.

“I guess that would make you George the Third then, sir?” Snake winked as he turned to walk away and onto his new life.

“I guess that’s right, my boy. Now please, I must catch my boat.”

He strode away whistling some long forgotten song about Ukraine girls and Georgia being on his mind as the ticket boy looked down to his new tablet. The headline flashing across the device was that a series of timed explosions had brought the country to a standstill, overhead imaging suggesting the resemblance of the once Great Britain’s flag. Snake took one last look back at the nation he loathed so much.

“Just doing what one Guy couldn’t. For this is the world we live in!”