poetry, politics

Cigarette Break

Someone who

Went to a better school

Holidays in places

Most of us see only in magazines

Tells me about my privilege

Because of the structural nature

Explained like this,

Words I’ve read but not heard pronounced before,

Phrases with the sheen of practice

To them,

Qualifications emerge on my lips

But there’s a light in their eyes

When they’re speaking

Which

Makes

Me

Stop

The edge of something sharp

And as they lecture,

I wonder

Who they’re really talking to,

Because I don’t think they see me,

Just my sex,

My skin,

And isn’t there a name

For that behaviour?

But I say nothing,

Wondering if these feelings

Would be cast aside

If they were in charge,

Because it starts with ambitions

And romantic notions,

It ends in lists,

And not poems,

Chants

And not songs,

Fair isn’t too much to ask,

But we cannot build

Anything strong on

Such inconstancy.

Still, not my hill to die on,

And sure it’s my fault,

But I’m not invited to anything

I didn’t create myself

So instead I smile,

And thank them

For their opinion.

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Standard
men, poetry, politics

Outside

I’ve seen them

Online, mostly

The occasional one

In real life

Rick and Morty t shirts,

Lines memorised

And analysed

A pedestal for every woman

They meet but no volunteers

For a fey adoration,

And they smell of a subtle danger

Women find abhorrent,

Recognizing the tribe

Is a bitter sweet thing

Seeing as I’m outside of it

These days

Happier in some ways

Because things were simple

There were enemies and allies

Lines fed via prompt

But the script needed work

And my writing made me

Conscious of where the lines

Needed work

But it wasn’t my draft

And soon, I struggled

To believe in myself

And the immature grimace

Borrowed sentiment

Doesn’t fit so well

So I see them

Wish them well

See the sour, seething

Sweating need

And give thanks

For the deeper,

Darker truths

Brighter kindnesses

I live within these days.

Standard
fiction, short fiction, writing

The Chorus

 

The Chorus

 

Purity Clause

 

Thomas had his eyes closed and a wry smile alive on his lips. He heard the chirp of birdsong and the muted tones of the city in the distance. He wrote the script and sent it the studio and in before the deadline so he was taking a break from everything. He had woken at dawn, did yoga on the balcony and then made coffee before he sat and drank it. There were cigarettes in his pocket but he decided not to smoke one. He was trying to be virtuous with no one watching.

 

His phone rang.

 

It was an unknown number, but he answered after a few rings.

 

The automated voice was a digital collection of voices, different accents and pronunciations strung together with care. All women. Thomas shuddered.

 

The Chorus.

 

‘Did you believe you would escape your fate?’ it said.

 

A hint of breathlessness, something which would excite him at any other time made his stomach wrenched inside him and he sat down, his amiable mood evaporated into a needling panic.

 

‘We have registered an accusation. It will activate your belt in three minutes. Please do not pass urine or ejaculate during this time.’

 

The studio made him agree to the implant. It was a synthetic tumour, benign until activated via wireless signal. It threw you into a state of racked agony for thirty seconds if you went near a woman registered online as being NC or non contact. Women could waive being registered, because by then, an entire generation of men had been broken down and rebuilt. There were those who lived apart from the network, but most men went along to get along, he thought.

 

He was being given a multi-million dollar franchise to reinvent. They wanted to protect their investment and reputation, so he had to sign away his autonomy to keep working. Yet he swore he had been scrupulous in behaving himself.

There were cigarettes in his pocket, and he lit one.  He realised being good didn’t matter. His sex defined him, and in the world which he tried to make sense of through his art, had decided he was not only disposable, but he was dangerous.  

 

Simple And Complicated

 

The needle stung as it went into the meat of his buttock but he didn’t react beyond a slow blink.

 

‘You can dress now, Mr Agnew.’ the nurse said.

 

Pete got off the examining table and dressed without looking at her. It was safer to pretend he hadn’t heard or seen her. Once he was dressed, he left the room without speaking. She whispered a swear word under her breath. Once, he would have called her out on it, but it was different now.

 

The implant saw to that.

 

He left the clinic. There would be no paperwork to sign because he had paid for the implant in cash. His insurance wouldn’t have covered it, anyway. His head hurt to think about how much he had handed.

 

It meant he got to see his children again. His lawyer had got the porn clause taken off, so he had means of relief. The excess energy would go into his work, make money and get custody. Yvonne had a lot of friends out there, who used the Chorus to settle scores, creating accounts online and meeting men without deactivating the permissions. They shared videos of grown men on their knees, sobbing and vomiting from the pain. One man had died, and the women sued his estate for stress-related damages. They won, too. His ex-wife and kids had to move in with family for a while.

 

Pete caught sight of his reflection. His face was tight and pale, anxious whenever a woman spoke to him now. He had asked Yvonne out, hands sweating and heart thumping against his ribs, and she had said yes. It used to be simple and complicated at the same time. Some people were better at it than others, sometimes it happened by mistake or design, but Pete mourned a world where it wasn’t used to hurt other people with the resources of government behind it.

 

Castrati.

There were men who paid for the implant with no accusations hanging over them. It made things easier as these men worked from home, video games, the internet and silicone companions who would orbit their existences in a compelled erotic obedience met their needs. Real women were too much of a risk. An exile supported by society was a good way to avoid falling into the slow quicksand of love.

 

If everything told them they were dangerous deviants who couldn’t be trusted to restrain themselves why keep refuting it? Dropping out was easier and so long as they kept producing and spending money, it was something people laughed at without thinking about what it meant.

 

Wrath Of The Gods – The Chorus and the new face of state feminism, I R Mohoney, University Press, pp 124.

 

Let The Fire Come

The conference had sold out. A line up of feminist speakers and activists, hosted in Greece for its symbolism, both a return and an appropriation of ancient times.

Costas set the briquettes of compressed paper in a pile and squirted them with lighter fluid. His eyes blurred with tears as he looked across the stretch of forest. All of it perennial and virginal, soon to be so much ash. The villas would be collateral damage but if the conference centre burned, it would be a necessary evil. He had said goodbye to his children via Skype, alluded to in his cracked whispers of devotion, ignored as they showed him their new toys. Paulo walked past, a smug grin twisting his soft face into a mask of Victory, wearing nothing but a towel. She only entered the frame to end the call, disconnected and yet disdainful towards the father of her children. It had strengthened his resolve for what he was about to do.

 

Once the flames were going, he lifted his phone to his eyeline and spoke the prepared statement, mirrored around the world and released in an instant.

 

‘Men are disposable and our sacrifices are ignored and dismissed by the world. Women create, men destroy is the message and-‘

 

A memory of his daughter, soft and mewling on his broad chest made his voice crack, but he swallowed and continued.

 

‘We will honour this message.’

 

He took the pistol from his pocket, ceramic and put together in the rack of 3D printers which had been running for weeks, all from one design. The curved butt fit into his palm.

 

‘I love my family.’

 

He pressed it against his temple and squeezed the trigger.

 

The flames caressed his cooling corpse, grateful for his sacrifice as he laid there, his skull distended from the pressure of the shot.

 

Standard
poetry, politics

Whilst they watch the fireworks

Of course it is an experiment,

The sun never set

On us

And so we have a Petri dish

Infected with democratic process

All the choices

Freedoms

A dream big as King Kong

Taller than the tower he climbed

Beautiful as the woman he carried

Results are beyond initial parameters

And people don’t laugh at them

Nations have darkened for

An offhand act of tradecraft

They even spy on us

But the subjects are

Awarded all the freedom a cage allows

Still, when I go there,

I wonder if it will bottleneck

If it’s a dream which is killing

It or a nightmare

Squabbling over professional slights

And genuine primal pain

Blueprints of histrionics

Written in ink and blood.

They’re beautiful

Even if they’re torn between

Looking up

And

Looking

Foreward.

Standard
compassion, love, politics, women

On politics and kindness

Does anyone else feel disconnected from politics and political debate at the moment?

I don’t write overt political fiction. I used to be an activist and it’s a condition akin to a long term illness, periods of remission and infection but I’m much better at the latter, in so far I’ve focused on improving my self and making my art, but I still care. I was a socialist after a fashion, campaigned locally and was quite outspoken online, which is as pathetic as it sounds now. Self righteous and outraged, which hits the brain in the same way cocaine does and yet the stories aren’t as good.

I used to be a true believer, that if we instituted equality of outcome, then people’s innate goodness would bloom like flowers in spring. History tells us otherwise, and I was guilty of the sin in believing if ‘my version’ of socialism was implemented, it would be perfect. I used to consider myself a feminist, and wondered why I was anxious and angry, all the time, made to believe being a man was somehow a broken path through identity.

It’s not true, but it’s a controversial statement to say it aloud, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with being a man, any more than there is being a woman. It’s the individual choices we make, whether they come from nature or nurture and whether we accept the responsibility of their outcome. That is a subject for another time, because I have a lot to say in that regard and probably won’t because it riles people up, and I prefer to think out loud without it being seen as a provocation.

I don’t consider myself to be any one thing politically. I get why people believe what they do, even the worst things make sense to us, if we sit down and really look into ourselves. It’s part of why I write, because in the dirt of ourselves, we find the real treasure. What gets me about politics now is it is insular, with the same sins on both sides – the left have gone all in on intersectionality, where they’ve stopped empowering people to be anything other than victims whereas the right don’t come out and say ‘fuck you, I’ve got mine.’ I think the truth is somewhere between the two, but the debate is getting insular and shrill, and I watch it the same way I watch sumo. Two fat guys trying to slap one another of the ring whilst we all suffer, regardless of the outcome.

I got approached to run as a candidate once, and rejected it wholly which was the beginning of my move away from political activism towards art and working on being a better person. There are those who will say I have a long way to go in the latter, but I keep working towards it through my actions and art.

My politics, such as it is, is sourced in common sense and kindness and evidence. I don’t think someone’s origin defines who they are, but I can see how it hurts or helps. I think both sides ignore class and economic disparities because telling someone the colour of their skin or who they sleep with means they’re hobbled before the race starts is easier than trying to look at how resources get allocated and what opportunities are available. Poverty is corrosive and the scars run deep, but the left focus on nurturing a hierarchy of oppression hurts more people than it helps. I don’t believe a white male has anything close to inherent privilege. If you disagree, look at the homeless population and the suicide statistics. I think virtue signalling hides flaws which are better addressed through contemplation and therapy.

On the right, they could benefit from more empathy and listen to everything Jesus said, and I mean everything. I don’t think bombing everyone helps although the left governments are as excited about war as the right wing ones.

You get the idea, I like freedom of speech for everyone, because if someone puts an idea out there, we can talk about it. We debate or have dialectics because we are civilised and don’t have force of arms, but we hurt one another emotionally instead and wonder why nothing appears to get better.

I don’t have the answers, I used to think I did but I can do is think about how and why I behave, why I feel about certain things and issues, and vote. In this country, it’s a dismal set of choices to make come election time.

The writer Michelle McNamara, late wife of the comedian Patton Oswalt said something which makes sense to me. It applies to all points on the political spectrum.

‘It’s chaos out there, be kind.’

Raam Dass said something which I quote a lot.

‘We’re all just walking one another home.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pacifist or passive, but I prefer civilised discourse over violence and direct action. I loathe antifa as much as neo-Nazi activity because all it does is hurt and frighten people. An adolescence of comic books and mythology has taught me we are capable of being better, without a power ring or a radioactive spider bite, there are millions of good people doing good things to improve the world. Shit, Mr Rogers said something which I will end on, because it’s beautiful and it sums up how I feel better than another few paragraphs.

‘Look to the helpers.’

We’re all in this together, surrounded by miracles and horror. I write stories and poems which qualifies me towards nothing and I read a lot of books, trying to synthesize together all the information into some form of knowledge. I mispronounce words I’ve read but not exclaimed aloud, but I laugh at myself about it because it reminds me I’m human and as flawed as the rest of you. We make our own heaven or hell, and sometimes I can’t choose between horns or the halo, so I have fur and friends instead.

We all want to love and to be loved. It’s an elegant idea but difficult to express in action but we try.

Thank you for reading.

Standard
politics, short fiction

The Man Who Sold The World

The town I grew up in died slow. Large stretches of land where people used to live and work, made their dreams, small as they were, into something you could reach out and touch. Each boarded up window was a headstone for a dream and soon we were experiencing the acute joy of adolescence in a dying town.

 

Places which make you angry as you grow older.

 

My mum would rather suffer in silence before asking for help. There were days she didn’t eat so I could. She pretended she wasn’t hungry, but it was the same day every week and I was not a stupid child.

 

She worked two jobs and fasted one day each week so I had a hot meal every day.

 

Does that sound like an economy which works for you?

 

This is the point in the story where I tell you a goofy anecdote about an early science project which caused widespread panic, like an electromagnet which kills the electricity to everyone on the street, something like that.

 

It would illustrate I am smart and also human. Everyone relates to a child, don’t they? I mean, there’s the Macaulay Culkin movie, where he is an evil kid and even when he dies, you’re led to feel upset about it, aren’t you?

 

It also establishes my credentials as a scientist. The mad variety, which if you’ve read a book or two, you might learn is more common than you think.

 

Harry Harlow raised rhesus monkeys in isolation chambers and made surrogate mothers out of wire to test maternal separation and dependence needs.

 

Sidney Gottlieb slipped LSD into people’s drinks without their knowledge and recorded the results.

 

Giovanni Aldini electrified corpses for large crowds via a metal rod inserted in a place you never want a metal rod.

 

Well, some of you anyway, I’m in no position to judge.

 

I did nothing like it.

 

You’re welcome.

 

If you say the s-word again, I will have you killed.

 

Not socialist.

 

I’m not anything you can quantify. I am, post-political, not post-modern. I grew up looking at these people who got into power and did nothing but get elected, get rich and leave office. They started wars to be fought by people I grew up with. Jeff Gulliver lost his leg in Fallujah and he couldn’t tell you what he was fighting for. He shot himself last year and I went back for his funeral.

 

Anyway, I’m qualifying myself.

 

My girlfriend says I do it when I am nervous.

 

Plus if you built crazy giant shit, you had people come after you.

 

I’ve never been to The Sphere. It is a prison designed to use people like me. It is seldom at maximum occupancy because the mortality rate for our kind is high. You don’t get the luxury of due process when an eighteen-year-old who can phase through walls traps your head inside a metal railing.

 

That was the fate of Mickey Francis also known as Proton.

 

When you’re exposed to a blast of two thousand degree celsius from the eyes of a thirty three old failed actor and your head melts in a pink and black torrent down your shoulders.

 

Adios, Lady Death. Poor choice of name.

 

They got sponsorship deals, spoke at the united nations and got television shows. We got murdered, crippled or sent down for life. I decided I would not go down either path.

 

The s-word I hate is super villain.

 

I could breed giant lizards or build death rays but it changes nothing.

 

I rigged an election so things could be better. I didn’t corrupt democracy.. I came from the places it fucked over repeatedly.

 

Free will is a measure of incalculable value.  I did not want to invent a cure for cancer or develop free energy. I wanted more opportunities for those things to happen regularly. There was no such thing as a free lunch in any capacity, everything had to be paid for and I knew my efforts in those directions would change nothing for the people I grew up amongst and the town I lived in.

 

I studied the great engines of our society.

 

Ah, you thought I would say physics or chemistry. The latter would have been smart. I watched Breaking Bad, figured out the recipe from what they left out in the cooking scenes in five minutes.

 

Marketing.

 

Advertising.

 

Social Media.

 

Business.

 

I stole identities and gathered intelligence., Hired people to run departments,  with legitimate jobs and established places of business where they worked on the project. I achieved more tracking social media metrics than I ever could with a death ray. They had health insurance, performance bonuses, generous vacation packages and college funds set up for their kid.These things made their lives comfortable and when you looked at Julian Assange living in a cleaner’s cupboard in the embassy or Edward Snowden hiding in Russia, comfortable is a good reason to keep your head down and not ask questions.

 

I made groups on Facebook. Muslims For America. U.S Pride. The South Will Rise.

 

In one room, I had groups of people having arguments with each other across the internet as they talked about their plans for the weekend. Real people joined in and we put our messages across.

 

I bought space on US servers, installed VPNs and studied the metrics like they told the future. We learned what content causes people to react, the semiotics and images which provoked the responses we needed to generate.

 

You saw our advertisements and sponsored content, read the stories and posted something insulting to a comment one people made. We hid in a haystack of LLCs, moving the money between them and spending it where we needed it to go.

 

I put adverts online for actors to stage protests and got footage online within minutes. Above my head, men with capes and bulletproof skin punched one another whilst I sat in a massage chair and watched the country bend to my will.

 

My strategy came from the one game Mom and I played all the time.

 

Even when she would fall asleep during the games.

 

Go was a game invented by the Chinese. It’s been played for two and a half thousand years on a continued basis. We played on a 9 x 9 board but my mom taught me the same principles I used now to build a world where she wouldn’t have had to work herself to exhaustion.

 

She nodded off at the wheel driving home from her third job. She wouldn’t take my money because she figured out where it came from and it felt worthless if I couldn’t make her comfortable.

Go has several strategies available to it. The opening one is the hardest for professional players which is why I spent time on it and then let the tao of the internet do the rest. I nudged them along.

My achievement was in using what was already there.

I didn’t weaken your press so everything they said was mocked over being investigated.

I didn’t make you dependent on marketing and advertising.

I didn’t make you derive validation and identity from social media.

Our democracy was corrupt and money-serving long before I was born. The big crimes they committed were nothing compared to what I did.

I was Jesus kicking the moneylenders out of the fucking temple.

 

Except people were paying me for advertising space on the social media pages.

 

I had people fighting in the streets over the opinions I gave them.

 

I chose the presidential candidates. Eliminating the ones I had no interest in was easy enough People can be talked out of their vote, and third party candidates were sinkholes  people poured their votes into.

 

I chose the president.

 

I’ve never met her. It would be pointless when she knows what her agenda is for the next four years.

 

Eight, if she can get Universal Basic Income in before the Christmas break. Weed is the next one after it because I’ve got plans to establish farms for it back home. I can generate jobs and rejuvenate the economy in six months. It was too late for my Mom and Jeff, but I decided it was worth trying to get someone in charge who would do what they promised to do.

 

Ecbert the first King of England united all the kingdoms in twenty five years. I did it in twenty five months.

 

I’ve seeded both House and Senate with enough votes to ensure the bills pass with enough resistance to look plausible.

 

The Mighty Tiger can’t fight legislation which requires mandatory training or face incarceration. I’ve established a new market for superhero insurance which is why Proton and Lady Death’s families are living well. The CDOs on it were unpleasant but there are people doing serious time for it now so that’s good. There’s only room for one bastard here and it’s me.

 

I built a house on a large stretch of land. I have room for animals, my own water supply and grow vegetables, keep some livestock. I have a converted barn where I run everything although these days it is more massaging than running. My girlfriend isn’t ready to move out here yet, so it’s me and the dog as I point my country to a finer world on the horizon.

 

They blamed the Russians which is a change from the usual targets when things go wrong, immigrants and poor people. I grew up one of the latter and for once; I wanted to give the fuckers a reason for it.

 

Just once.

 

Up in the sky, I see figures flying towards me. I pet my dog and send it back to the house as the black helicopters emerge behind them. I hear the vehicles driving down the dirt track and put my hands behind my head as the end game begins.

 

Standard
politics, short fiction, women

A Walk In Winter

dark_winter_by_baxiaart-dc0llaj.jpg

 

https://baxiaart.deviantart.com/art/Dark-Winter-726601483

 

They watched her through the glass.

 

Her eyes were red from the gas and a livid bruise had spread across the bridge of her pert nose, but she sat with a quiet smile on her face, as she slipped her spectacles onto her nose. The minute ghosts of old piercings around her nose and lips lent her face a ruined grandeur but Newman and Peterson paid more attention to her wide shoulders and posture. A predator posing as a housepet, Newman thought as she looked at the file on the tablet.

 

‘Thank god for the Matriarch Act. She’s here until we decide otherwise.’ she said.

 

Peterson pinched the bridge of her nose and straightened her back. Her green eyes were dull with fatigue as she stared at the woman. She muttered something under her breath. Newman asked her to repeat herself.

 

‘I don’t like it. Too convenient.’ she said.

 

Newman, with her blonde curls and chipper, can do smile resented Peterson’s inability to see a good thing when it happened. Activists seldom lasted without psychological damage or, as in this case, arrogance, both of which ended in someone’s ass in a chair, blubbering and naming names. Why should this one be any different?, Newman thought as she considered how to respond.

 

‘She got sloppy, they always do. Look, the law backs us up, all we have to do is get her to talk.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson sighed and shook her head.

 

‘Sedition got tossed out of common law, back when I was in school. Do you think that’s a good thing?’ she said.

 

Newman grimaced, hiding her concern at Peterson’s rhetorical questions. Their cases were made easier by the Matriarch Act, and women were safer for it,but all Peterson could do was pick at the loose threads of things and pull them apart. It made her a great agent but prickly company, which was why they never spent time together outside of work. Newman wondered if Peterson went home and hung herself on a hanger in a cupboard, waiting to be called into service. She had been active in SocJus for decades and her reputation was impeccable, but Newman noticed the tea stains on the sleeves of her blouse and the lipstick on her mouth more than she used to. Peterson brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and peered at Newman.

 

‘Let her stew for a minute, I could murder a cuppa.’ she said.

 

Newman prickled with an indignant surprise.

 

‘We’re going to have her sit there?’ she said.

 

Peterson pouted and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘She’s not going anywhere. Plus you need to read the file before we go in there.’ she said.

 

Newman turned to hide the blood rising in her cheeks. She admired Peterson but could not say she liked her, all the observations had begun to overwhelm her respect the way carbon monoxide overwhelmed oxygen, and the inconsistency of her approach riled Newman in ways she could not quantify.

 

‘OK, but I’ve read the file. Some of us do our homework.’ she said.

 

Peterson sniffed as she reached into her jacket for her cigarettes.

 

‘Some of us don’t need to, dear. You’ll learn that once you’ve been around.’ she said.

 

Newman walked behind Peterson, glaring daggers at the back of her head as they left their prisoner in the room.

 

Peterson smoked to offend, and Newman stood in the doorway, leaning out to talk to her partner but unable to bear the acidic tang of the cigarettes. She had left leaflets on Peterson’s desk about stopping, but they had gone in the bin and so Newman endured this as part of the price of Peterson’s mentorship.

 

A few months and she could apply for Debate Enforcement, with a corner office and a driverless car. Peterson would stay in SocJus, a wizened, nostalgic fish in a small pond.

 

‘Look, she’s clever, but who gives a shit? I remember the antifa professor who twatted someone with a bike lock, this is just the other side of that, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson puffed on her cigarette and shook her head.

 

‘Read it again. It’s not a series of qualifications, look at the gestalt of it.’

 

Newman read through it again.

 

‘So she was into the holistics, big deal. Meant she had another source of income.’ she said.

 

Peterson inhaled, fought the cough which seemed more common as the years went on and exhaled smoke in two grey plumes through her nostrils.

 

‘Hypnotherapy? Clinical psychology? Did you see anything related to gender studies in there at all?’ she said.

 

Newman shook her head.

 

‘Wasn’t it mandatory back then?’ she said.

 

Peterson chuckled and shook her head. Newman returned her attention to the file rather than confront her on the perceived slight.

 

‘Ah, no it wasn’t. Bet it was like the stone age.’ she said

 

Peterson glanced across at Newman and felt her chest well up with a piquant nostalgia, grateful for Newman’s capacity to take umbrage and return insult at every opportunity to hide what she felt.

 

‘No, I always thought we’d figure it out. We’d follow the evidence and make things fairer.’ she said.

 

Newman looked up and stared at Peterson. The balance of power tilted towards zealotry now, and everyone was cautious of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Newman tolerated Peterson’s cynicism like her smoking, because she had to but things like this had a way of getting misinterpreted.

 

‘Things are fairer, and that’s a conversation for another time.’ Newman said.

 

The twelfth of never, eleventeen o’clock, Peterson thought as she ground the cigarette out under the toe of her shoe. Her back hurt and Newman’s enthusiasm had worn into belligerence and arrogance like a callus on her soul, inflexible to the nuances which made cases stick outside of heavy-handed legislation.

 

‘Let’s go see what she’s about, shall we?’ she said.

 

Newman backed up to allow Peterson inside as she studied the file again.

 

‘Funny.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson asked her what she meant. Newman chewed the inside of her cheek before she looked up.

 

‘Says she’s a black belt in a couple of martial arts, but Cradle Team swooped her up whilst she was sloshing milk all over her face for the gas. Thought she’d have put up more of a fight, wouldn’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson winked at Newman and grinned.

 

‘See, few more years and you’ll be handling cases on your own. None of that Debate Enforcement bollocks for you, my dear, I think.’ she said.

 

Newman smiled but it did not reach her eyes.

 

A few fucking years, she thought as they went to start their interview.

 

3.

 

She knew the qualifications would arouse suspicion. They were genuine, and had been a source of great pride for her but she trusted to the suspicious nature of her gender to tease the covert nature and placement.

 

It had been a simple act of will.

 

Noor Inayat Khan had studied child psychology at the Sorbonne but she had also served as one of the few wireless operators in occupied Paris.

 

Nancy Wake had been a nurse before being recruited to the SoE. So had Sarah Emmons.

 

Mary Bowe had been a slave.

 

What united them was a decision to set themselves apart.

 

She had done the same thing ten years ago, after watching the queues of broken men receiving their implants in return for receiving basic income.

 

They thought her name was Catherine De Sauve and she would maintain it under pain of torture. It was no more representative of her than the knitted pink sweater and the leather jacket she had worn to the protest.

 

She smiled as the two agents entered the room. One of them had the faint diesel perfume of cigarettes clinging to her, and the worn, papery skin of a career in SocJus. Her eyes were green but dull, stained with too many sights for them to sparkle. The other was petite, blonde and held her zealotry behind an air of professional enthusiasm which verged on the indecorous. She had a tablet in her hands, loaded with Catherine’s file.

 

Catherine sat back in the chair

 

‘Any chance of tea at this juncture?’ she said.

 

The elder woman sat down and shook her head.

 

‘All in good time.’ she said.

 

Catherine guffawed and folded her arms, enjoying the differing levels of irritation her bonhomie evoked in the pair of them.

 

‘Look, I know you can keep me here, and you’re both itching to kick ten bells of shit out of me, but we’re still British, aren’t we?’ she said.

 

The elder woman tried to hide her smile but the younger woman leaned forwards, shining with a professional zeal which told Catherine everything she needed to know.

 

Catherine focused her attention on the older woman, turning to face her with a degree of theatre which prompted a snarl from the younger agent.

 

‘In a minute, Catherine, let’s talk about today for a bit first then we’ll sort you out a cup of tea.’ she said.

 

Catherine shivered, restrained herself from wiping a stray snowflake from her cheek as she made eye contact with the older woman.

 

The woman shivered and repeated the gesture. Peterson, Catherine thought with a quiet sense of triumph. Yvonne.

 

‘I can’t place your accent. Not local, are you?’ Catherine said.

 

The agents exchanged a questioning look before the younger woman slid the tablet across the table.

 

‘Don’t pull the hocus pocus shit here. I’ll give you something which will make the stun gas feel like a spa day.’ she said.

 

Catherine felt the vibration of the bottle breaking against the bricks travelling down her hand. The group holding the man down, giggling as they pulled his trousers down and an ophidian uncurling of resentment and fear tasting like a stolen kiss on her lips.

 

Newman, Erika.

 

‘What hocus pocus, Agent Newman?’ she said.

 

Catherine revolted at Newman’s disgusted snarl before it was slipped back behind the cheerful mask of authority again. She returned her attention to Yvonne Peterson. Her synapses hummed with recognition as she smiled and rested her chin in her hand.

 

Peterson coughed into her hand and rested her forearms on the table.

 

‘No, I was born in Burnley. You’re clever, Catherine, we all know it.’ she said.

 

Catherine heard the change in her accent and wondered if she noticed the drifting vowels coming to her words.

 

‘You got some weather up there, didn’t you? When it snows, it really fucking snows, doesn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson shivered and sat back, her face was pale and taut with unresolved tension.

 

‘Stop it. Cold reading is one of the first things you spot. It’s something people use to grant themselves unearned status, and it doesn’t intimidate me.’ she said.

 

Newman swallowed and tapped the table.

 

‘Drone footage shows you directing a group towards the Cradle Team, and passing them harmonic batons. On that alone, you’ll be on a zimmer frame before you get out.’ she said.

 

Catherine glanced at the footage with a smirk and returned her attention to Peterson.

 

‘You look like you get your best ideas when you go walking, would you agree?’ she said.

 

Newman smacked her fist against the table. Catherine turned her attention back to her.

 

‘I bet you were part of a Grrl Squad, weren’t you? You look the type.’ she said.

 

Newman scowled as her cheeks reddened and she sat back.

 

‘Grrl Squads were a legitimate expression against patriarchal misogyny.  There were a lot of scare stories, but most people know they were bollocks.’ she said.

 

Catherine ran the tip of her tongue over her lips and smiled.

 

‘Bollocks.’ she said.

 

‘What was it like slicing open his scrotum?’ she said.

 

Newman narrowed her eyes and slid the tablet back into her hands as she looked at Peterson.

 

‘You called it. Fake scares and attitude.’ she said.

 

Catherine rolled her eyes and chuckled.

 

‘Yes, that’s me. I bet, if you tell anyone, you say you were surprised by the amount of blood but really you were delighted, weren’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson coughed into her fist.

 

‘Tea sounds good, Newman.’ she said.

 

Newman pushed her chair back and stood up, passed the tablet to her and left the room, not before she glared at Catherine with loathing.

 

‘Everything’s recorded anyway, so talk all you want. You’re fucking done.’ she said.

 

She strode out of the room and Peterson shook her head.

 

‘She’s not wrong, you know. I’m disappointed, if I’m honest.’ she said.

 

Catherine folded her hands over one another.

 

‘Me too. Not with her, though. She was born to this.’ she said.

 

Catherine turned and stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You weren’t though.’ she said.

 

Peterson shuddered and brushed something from her cheek again.

 

‘You can stop. It’s pathetic without an audience.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You would walk for hours, out in the snow so you could think. All those ideas and they kept you warm.’ she said.

 

Peterson brought her right hand up and smacked Catherine across the face. She wiped her nose and sniffed.

 

‘All those ideas and what did you do with them?’ she said.

 

Peterson swallowed as her stomach churned with discomfort.

 

‘Fuck off. The next time, I’ll use my fist.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared at her, and Peterson was mesmerised by how her pupils shifted colour and size, in perfect synchronicity with the pounding in her temples.

 

The pounding grew in volume and substance. Peterson tried to stand up, but her legs would not respond and all the world was reduced to Catherine’s gaze.

 

She had treasured the walks. Her lumpen father had no inner life, and her mother was a grey, exhausted ghost long before she took ill so she would take to nature and think about the world around her. The cough, she realised, had started there but it used to be a badge of honour, a feeling she had put herself out there, even if it was into herself.

 

Her thoughts slid away as the edges of her vision went black.

 

4.

 

Newman was holding the chipped SocJus mug in her hand, as the kettle boiled, wondering how it would feel to crack it into the middle of the smug bitch’s face. The alien nature of the thought did not shock her at all.

 

The alarm did.

 

She tossed the mug down and ran back, shoving past colleagues and security as she barrelled into the room.

 

Peterson was stood up, her hands covered in blood as Catherine laid across the table, staring out at nothing with a final smile on her face. They pulled Peterson from the room and shouted for medical but Newman gauged the horrible angle of Catherine’s neck and knew it was too late. She envied Peterson, but the atavistic thought was stored away. She was too close, too shaken by Catherine’s conceit, and despite her warnings, Peterson had been taken by it too.

 

Newman wondered how this would impact on her career as she stared at the body.

 

  1.  

 

Yvonne sat in the holding cell. They had taken her clothes and given her a unitard to wear as she sat in the corner and looked at her feet.

 

It had gone well, she told herself. She had adored Catherine De Sauve, but she had been a cartoon, useful to a point but neutered by position and reputation. It was a suit through which to encounter the world and discarding it was a bittersweet experience.

 

A death in custody was an inconvenience when filtered through the Matriarch Act. The crime of sedition was pinned to a corpse and held no consequence. Yvonne Peterson would undergo a psychiatric assessment and a board review, both of which had been accounted for when she had sat with Matt all those years ago, watching what was happening and deciding to go to war over it.

 

A year later they were in Tibet, sat in an ancient temple learning things which were inconvenient to the world which was being built.

 

Yvonne Peterson had been recruited into a war being fought on a scale her previous personality had begun to contemplate on her long winter walks. It was enough for Catherine to force a connection then a transfer. In the dark of the cell, she smiled to herself.

 

She was looking forward to getting back to work.

 

(https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett if you enjoyed this, and are feeling generous.)

 

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