The genesis of metamorphosis

FLASH FICTION

One story from when paper and ink were rationed, written sparingly at one word per weekday over a whole year, a chapter for every two months of one history. As life changes daily, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a species can re-evolve in a year…

metamorphosis red-42761

SEEDS

(i)

“Most of us are fake people. We never wanted to be, we just ended up hiding so many emotions that we started wearing a mask. We do this so easily now that we’ve taught ourselves to believe these lies are truth. It’s quite the opposite actually. We are so fake that we don’t even remember our true identity…”

I

…It’s why we’re all locked inside now, contemplating ourselves. We’ve been forced by authority to obey for our own good. And actually, we shouldn’t resist…”

II

…Political divisions are forgotten as quickly as new language evolves, and a dictatorial government shifts its rhetoric to one of a nation together, rather than nationalism. Old foes are united against a common new enemy and the citizens largely accept the restrictions placed upon them…”

III

…and when we emerge, no matter how we look at it, we’ll be different. It’ll be a new world, which we approach cautiously, as we learn a new way of life. None of us will forget this, because it affected every single one of us. We’ll say it was a unifying human experience…”

IV

…We should stay where we are for now, do as we’re told, while there’s such an opportunity to find ourselves and each other inside. We’ll need that when we all get out of here. Maybe we’ll eventually remove the masks, like we could when we were locked in together…”

V

…A safe journey to all those who made a new humanity, and with our gratitude. You do not go in vain. We will forever remember the sentinels who changed us.”

VI

And that’s how you indoctrinate a populace, all the while suppressing resistance, by sowing the seeds of martyrs.”

© Steve Laker, 2020

I give it two weeks before we see martial law, unless everyone calms the fuck down and starts behaving as they’re told,” said a liberal socialist.

Recycling the middle classes

FLASH FICTION

As I begin, I don’t know how I’ll end. After a gestation of roughly nine months., we’re in the latter stages of the pandemic. For many, the end of days. Tonight’s lottery is the last, so I have little time to write this…

Disposable People

REDUNTANT OCCUPATION

It’s all happened so quickly. The last year has seen situations develop and casualties rise, more than in any global military conflict. A year ago, we were fighting over toilet roll. Even then, Brexit had been largely forgotten.

Those of us who wrote conspiracies in the UK, theorised that Coronavirus was the perfect smokescreen to divert the media’s attention from trade deals the government was signing with the USA, China and Saudi Arabia.

With the mainstream news agencies diverted, a few of us took up unofficial journalism posts, writing mainly for free in the gig economy. We were certain that Corvid-19 was a population control mechanism of human construction.

Having recently made my way through the social cleansing apparatus of the UK benefits system, I was grateful to have won back my human rights, at one of the last tribunals to be held before the system was shut down. I had to put the freedom and liberty I’d regained to good use. I had to explore to be able to report.

After the government departments closed, the indirect death toll from the disease increased the overall figures dramatically. But there was a bigger story.

A man-made virus, designed to reduce the financial state burden of the weak and elderly, benefited the balance sheets of disaster speculators, spread betting on casualty numbers, as hospitals were re-purposed and operations deemed non-essential were postponed. Eventually patients with existing terminal diagnoses were included in this group.

We suspected that those with underlying medical conditions and the over-70s were “shielded” for three months to give doctors time to hasten their demise. The weak and costly were being erased by social cleansing.

Over just a few months, there was a ripple effect. Medical staff succumbed to the virus, so that a situation could be forecast where those needing care outnumbered those able to provide it. Then a financial tsunami, for the invested gamblers and their sponsors. In the last few weeks, despite curfews and marshal law, the streets have become post-apocalyptic, while the protected hide away with their money.

The shops closed months ago and there have been no deliveries for weeks now. The law enforcers have fallen just as quickly as those they’re meant to police and protect. Most stay home, like they were told. A few hunt the rich.

The now invisible government has published a guide, available only sporadically online since the telecoms infrastructure is burning out under the pressure of human want and need. I got hold of a copy, which is why I needed to write.

The document is entitled ‘Professional Education: A New Vision for a Revised Population’. It prioritises specific occupations, and plans to switch education funding to support those professions. They include lawmakers and medics, educators and builders; First and Third class.

And that’s why I had little time to write what may be my last journalistic dispatch. Because like everyone else not in those categories of jobs listed, I’m in the lottery. I may be needed to help care for one of those people in the other two groups.

This is the day of the lottery, when a knock on the door may herald the beginning of many new lives, as disposable people like me are taken to provide blood, limbs and organs for those who need them the most.

It was a financial as well as a public health catastrophe, for all but the disaster capitalists. Suicides increased the death toll but helped as donors for the survivors. They were just part of the gamble to reap the harvest.

Clinical waste, where once we were slaves. 

© Steve Laker, 2020

The evolution of sentient plastic

FICTION

Easter is on sale and the world faces another tidal wave of plastic…

Blonde doll

HOMO POLYMER

A surprise in every egg. Yes, Kinder, there’s a selection of small plastic choke hazards in each toy, but the plastic egg which holds them can be a handy cunt plug. Keep this warm in there for me baby.”

Mummy, who are you talking to? I need a wee.”

Ocean opened the bathroom door and a bolt of blonde hair dashed past her legs. “Who were you talking to?” Conscience asked again, enthroned on her Peppa Pig toilet seat.

No-one,” Ocean replied, “Well, just myself.”

But you’re not no-one mum.”

Thanks. Now, come on, back to bed.”

But you’re not no-one mum, so who were you talking to?”

Honestly, Conscience, just myself. I do that a lot.”

Will you read me a story, please?”

We don’t have any, Conscience.”

But we all do, in our heads. Tell me one of your stories of being Ocean, mummy.”

Well, there was this one time. I was about your age. I had a dolly. Hated it. Your nanno and grampo wanted me to be a girl. Well, they both wanted me to be girly, but grampo had wanted a boy, so I had to be a really girly girl.

It’s funny now I think about it, because he’d probably have liked the boy inside me more.

And apparently you’re asleep. In any case, I think I made the perfect mix in the only one I kept. You’re you, and even so young, you have a personality which transcends gender. If I can be proud of one thing in my life, it’s you. So, whoever’s still listening, even if it’s in a dream I hope you won’t inherit…

They lived in different times. In those days, the only costume you could wear to play yourself was a uniform, and I hated everything that stood for. I resented my school uniform, but I used the skirt I despised to score one over on the system. I lost my virginity at 12, then got my English teacher sacked when he broke up with me at 14.

There could have been loads of kids before you, but any one of them might have meant I never met you. I only had you because I remembered who your dad was. You remind me a lot of him. He could be a cunt sometimes too.

We were broke. Still was an artist and an eco-activist. We lived in communes in fields, usually just tents near protest sites, but sometimes on local traveller camps. I knew what it was all about but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was 15 then and the nearest I’ll ever get to true romance, that summer of love which made you. A brief history of anarchy, peace and freedom.

So here were are, five years later kid. I wonder if you’ll want what’s inside this Kinder egg, or if I should throw it away like the rest. See you in the morning. Don’t dream of this.”

Dreams are made of plastic. Unpaid cards become CCJs, then bailiffs emerge from eggs. Everything in the flat is made from plastic. All that we eat, drink and wash with is bound by plastic.

The council don’t recycle all plastics, so I put what I’m unsure about in the general waste. If the council won’t take the rubbish, we can pay Bill to take it away in his van. One day, he might take me.

The plastic in me will probably be recycled into the non-conscious parts of robots for those entitled to them. Or as parts of a toy, so many child’s dolls. Either way, I’ll be enslaved in the plastic which gives lives to those implanted in the chips and to those around them. Eventually those body parts, inanimate but for the host brain, will need upgrading. Always disposable people, eventually the parts which don’t work will be returned to the food chain.

Food, drink, we’re all part-plastic. We are the polymer population. We dream of becoming one with technology, our minds inside plastic androids. In Japan they already have home robots to deal with loneliness and social isolation in an ageing population. I Can’t help think how that would benefit me. They’re already a species in their own right, made from the same cosmic matter as us, but theirs was an explosive evolution.

Christmas will be paid for with hidden plastic. Christmas will bring more plastic toys to unwrap. We are the consumer generations, products of the industrial and technological ages. Each generation contains more plastic than the last, every child a greater part of the plastic population conditioned by human greed. I don’t know if I can afford another baby doll. Mum always said she wasn’t sure if I could have a brother or sister.

We’re all made of the same stuff. Last night, another mother; tomorrow, another soldier.

Ambulance, is the patient breathing?”

It’s my mum?”

What’s happened?”

My mum’s cut herself.”

Where?”

In the bathroom.”

No, where on your mummy has she cut herself?”

Her cunt. She’s cut a baby out of herself.”

Is the baby breathing?”

How would it? It’s made of plastic. Do you have a chip I can put in it to make it work?”

Is mummy still there?”

No, mummy’s gone. She’s left me my Christmas present. I’ve got a dolly I have to look after. Bye.”

© Steve Laker, 2019

Where the robot rejects work

FLASH FICTION

In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In Gestalt psychology (an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world), the Zeigarnik effect has been used to demonstrate the general presence of Gestalt phenomena: “Not just appearing as perceptual effects, but also present in cognition.”

This was a flash fiction story to fill some column inches, so I used the word limit (800) to experiment, play, but didn’t throw this one away. It’s a simple device, of using pre-emoji ASCCI emoticons to convey facial expressions (:-)) (on the page, and on most screens), and it uses hashtags (but sans-octothorpe) for things like AiThinkingAloud, in a place where thinking is suppressed but can be found.

It’s a story of inclusiveness and belonging, of fitting in and being yourself. It’s told through the face of a defective android called Frenchie, who’s pink…

Steam Hell SinkiSteam Hell Sinki, Helsinki Finland

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN

People are better when remembering the actions they didn’t complete. Every action has potential energy, which can torture its creator when stored. Release is the metaphorical pressure cooker letting off steam, a camel’s broken back, or a reject pink robot with Tourette’s.

Frenchie was made in China, and one of the Pink Ladies’ range of android personal assistants. Designed as helpers for the aged, vulnerable and lonely, the Pink Ladies could help around the home, both practically and intellectually.

Frenchie’s AI had objected to gender labelling, when “she” realised she lacked genitals, and the Tourette Syndrome diagnosis was made: “Artificial fucking alignment is what it is. Fuck.

Now waiting tables in Infana Kolonia (Esperanto for “Infant colony”), Frenchie approached a couple seated in a booth.

“Good evening, how may I,” she twitched her neck, “Fuck you!”, and her pink LED eyes blinked from her tilted head: (;-/), a closed eye with the hint of pink tears behind her spectacles, held together with pink Elastoplast. “Drinks?” she asked, pushing her glasses up, “Fuck it!” She fumbled with her order pad. “For you sir? Combover!” (8-|)

“I’ll have a whisky please, a double, on the rocks.”

“Okay, number 80. And madam? PleaseBeCarefulWhenYouGetHome.(8-/)

“Sorry?”

“Sorry, it just comes out. BadCardigan. To drink?” (8-))

“Should you be working here?”

“Who’s the judge?” (8-/)

“Pardon?”

“Sorry madam, management algorithms. To drink? Cyanide?(8-))

“Er, number…” the lady looked over the menu, “…number 33.”

“Very well. I’ll be back with your drinks. HopeYouDrown” (8-))

Frenchie shuffled towards the bar, then turned and trundled back.

“Can I take your order sir, madam?” (8-|)

“But we just ordered drinks,” the man replied.

“For food?” Frenchie looked at her notepad. (B-))

“I’ll have the soup,” the man said.

“Me too,” the lady concurred.

“Very well,” Frenchie jotted on her pad, “two soups.” (8-)) Then she turned and walked back to the bar, “One sociopath, and one supplicant…”

She stumbled through the double doors to the kitchen, blowing the misty oil away as she wiped her lenses. (8-O)

“Frenchie!” Jade looked down. His golden smile extended through his body in Frenchie’s pink, plastered eyes. To her AI, he was raw elements. She blinked up at him through her misted tortoiseshell windows. (q-/) “Are you keeping your inner self in out there, Frenchie?”

Frenchie cleared her throat, and wondered why she did that. (b-( ) “Erm,” she started, “no. Fuck it!”

Splendid behaviour,” Jade smiled. “Be yourself out there, my person. That’s why people come here, to meet people. Anyone don’t like that, they not welcome.”

Au, 79,’ Frankie thought. “Drinks, and soups. Fuck! Yes, thank you. Parp!” (8-))

Extractor fans in the roof began sucking the old oil from the kitchen, as the machine below started belching lunch. Cogs and gears clunked, cookware clattered, and polished brass organ pipes parped, like a living machine, a visiting craft playing a five-tone melody. Pink Ladies rushed, bumped into things (and each other), cursed, and dropped utensils (and food).

Frenchie’s friend Sandy wandered from the spiced steam, carrying a tray, a subdued yellow droid, looking at her feet as she bumped heads with her friend. She looked up at Frenchie, “For you?” (:-( )

“No, for customers. Arses!” (8-/)

“Okay. Tell world hi. Bye.” (:-( )

Frenchie wafted into the bar in a pink puff of steam, leaving the brass and wind orchestra in the kitchen. The room was perfumed by vapers – people making vapours – first jasmine, then the seaside, and cannabis. She wondered why she thought about all this with memories.

“Your order, sir, madam.” (B-/)

“Thank you,” the cardigan said. “What’s your name?”

“Frenchie?” (|-/)

“Thanks Frenchie.”

“Welcome…” (P-]) ‘I found a new way to smile (:-))’

Frenchie repeated to herself, as she fumbled through the vapers, ‘A new way to smile, (:-)), where did that come from? (:-/)’

“Sandy,” she called, as she carried her tray through the pipes and cauldrons, “Look.” Sandy looked at her feet. “No,” Frenchie said, “you need to look up. I found a new way to smile. All I have to do is tilt my head, see?” (:-D)

“Why did you take your glasses off?” (:-[ )

“Because they were put there by someone else. I always knew I’d see more without them. And besides, they can fall off my head when I tilt it to one side.” (:-D)

“And that’s funny?” (:-/)

“Only if you look at it a certain way.” (8-D) “Wanna go home?”

“Okay.” (:-))

© Steve Laker, 2017.

Pink_or_Plum_Robot_Face_With_Green_Eyes

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN
WE MAKE
YOU EAT
WE DO DISHES
WE STAY HOME

This story taken from The Unfinished Literary Agency

 

Somebody else’s family

MICRO FICTION

Knitted familyEtsy

KNITTED

It had been a long night and I was hungry. Single-crewed, I was lonely too. And it was cold. Working the moors can mean you don’t see a single living soul all night. So it was a relief when I was alerted to an emergency nearby.

The sky glowed a dark shade of pink as a beacon lit my path to be first on the scene. Two cars in a head-on collision, both on fire. I no longer felt cold. My first priority had to be survivors.

There was a single male in the first car, late for wherever he’d been heading. The second car was a family. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone.

Working the sparse but tight-knit rural beat means you may never see a living soul most nights. It could be hours before anyone else arrived. This family moment was mine.

© Steve Laker, 2020

Realty on the Nextworld estate

FLASH FICTION

moche_fruits_vegetables.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scaleTreeHugger

ARTIFICIAL FRUIT

When we first moved in, he told us not to eat the fruit. Very decent of him to point things out in our new home, where you don’t know what’s real and what’s plastic. We were planning a family here.

Long story short, he promised us a garden. He said we’d have to work the land, as otherwise there’d be no harvest. That’s how it all began, and now we’re stuck here.”

What did he look like?”

Distinguished old gent. Long hair and a big beard. You could hardly see his face. I think it was to cover his burns. Poor guy, his skin was charred.”

What was he wearing?”

A long coat which covered his feet. When he walked, it sounded like he was wearing heels.”

Have you read the bible?”

Yes. Many years ago.”

I think you’ve been victims.”

Now you mention it, neat trick.”

© Steve Laker, 2020

The invention of the pencil case

Get rid of a word and start the story again. Erase a species and another will evolve…

FLASH FICTION

Dog Pencil Case

THE INVENTION OF THE PENCIL CASE

The strangest lunch I ever had was with a veterinary doctor, and it was the meal which finally turned me vegetarian. I should note at the start, we didn’t eat any domestic pets.

I first met Dr Hannah Jones when we worked on a film together, and we’d remained friends since. We’d meet up every now then, I’d tell her stories from the writing world and she’d give me ideas from her field of science. It was Hannah who’d suggested we meet, as she said she had something important for me.

We met at a pop-up cafe at the Camden end of Regent’s Park. It was an indifferent day weather wise, unable to decide what it wanted to do. We sat outside nonetheless, as we both like to people-watch: me making up stories of what people in the park might be away from that setting, Hannah priding herself on identifying the bits of cross-breeds and mongrels, and sometimes scoring the dogs’ humans on parts of their anatomy.

The Camden end of the park is quieter nowadays, and at one point on that particular Saturday, we counted only 16 legs besides our own. It’s been that way since the last fire at the zoo, and that’s what Hannah said she wanted to tell me about. But first we ordered food. I went for a rare steak with fries, and Hannah chose a vegetarian pizza.

The cafe backed on to the old zoo, now a construction site. The distant sound of hammers and saws competed with the clatter of dishes from the cafe, which was quite arresting. The animals’ former home was being demolished in the background, while I was waiting for part of a former animal to arrive before me.

So I turned to Hannah, and asked her what she wanted to tell me. Something she’d been working on perhaps, some veterinary breakthrough, or anything I might use as a story.

You remember the first fire,” Hannah said, “and the cause was unknown?” She didn’t have to remind me. The London Zoo fire of 2017 killed four meerkats and Mischa the aardvark, and the cause of the blaze was never made public. I nodded. “Well,” she continued, “some colleagues of mine found out what started the latest one.”

Many more had perished in the great fire of 2020, and there was extensive structural damage. Most of the remaining exhibits had been moved to other zoos, and all who remained were the rarest and most threatened in the wild. Our food arrived and suddenly, char-grilled animal wasn’t terribly appetising.

So what was it?” I asked, as Hannah chewed righteously on her veggie pizza.

The kind of thing,” she said, “that is never likely to be made public.”

So why would you tell me?” I wondered.

Because you’re a fiction writer. If you write it, no-one will believe you.” I wasn’t sure how to take that, but I smiled nonetheless as I ate a fry.

Go on then,” I prompted. Hannah looked at my steak.

Aren’t you going to eat that?”

It doesn’t have the same sort of appeal it once had,” I said.

But that’s such a waste.” She was right. “Such a shame that not only does someone have to die to feed you, but their selfless act is unappreciated and their sacrifice goes to waste.” She had a point. “And pity the poor chef, cooking that for you, only to have it returned like there’s something wrong with it.” The only thing wrong was me eating it. As I chewed reluctantly, Hannah told me the story of the great fire.

I’ve got a friend who was in the forensics team. She told me this, and she told me not to tell anyone.”

So you’re telling me,” I said, “because if I write about it, no-one will believe it.”

But you’ll believe me,” she replied. “So, after the fire brigade put out the fire, they identified the seat of the blaze, in a pile of hay.”

Someone’s bed?” I wondered. “Did it catch in the sun?”

No,” Hannah replied, “it was deliberate.”

Someone started it deliberately?”

Yes.”

Arson. Why?”

We don’t know if it was. It started in the mountain gorilla area.”

Someone threw a lighter in?” I imagined it wouldn’t take long to work out how a lighter worked.

No,” Hannah said again. “It was all enclosed in strengthened glass.”

A keeper dropped a lighter?”

Nope.” She was getting quite smug now, knowing what I didn’t. I tried again.

So maybe the sun did start it, like the magnifying glass effect.”

All of the above remained possibilities for a while, and that’s how it’ll remain on the public record. Just like the first one: cause unknown.”

So what do you know which no-one else does, including me?”

This.” She unfolded a sheet of paper, a photo, and handed it to me. It was like a scenes of crime picture: little plastic signs with numbers on, dotted around the ground, like a golf course for ants, and an arrow pointing to a singed spot of earth about the size of a dinner plate. “That’s the seat of the fire.”

And this is inside the gorilla enclosure?”

Yes. Where this came from.” Hannah rummaged in her bag, then handed me something rolled in newspaper. “It’s what’s inside.”

Inside was a piece of dried wood about the size of a pencil case, with a small crater burned into the centre.

What the actual…” I didn’t finish.

Hold on,” Hannah said, “there’s this as well.” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a burnt pencil.

I knew by now what it really was, and it had a much bigger story to tell.

It seemed somehow poetic to write it down, lest anyone hear, so I used the charred, sharpened end:

THEY DISCOVERED FIRE?

Hannah nodded.

© Steve Laker, 2018

Simon Fry first meets Doctor Hannah Jones in Cyrus Song, where this story was born.

Buy me a coffee one off