Category Archives: Fiction

An Indulgence

The monster, who was once a man, sat on the bonnet of the burnt out car and looked out across the London night.

He was deciding what to do, after all immortality could get boring after a while. So he sat on the car and tried to decide whether he should let himself die.

The problem, he thought, was that with endless years the space in your mind would fill up – forgotten names, faces without names, memories blurring into one another.

It wasn't that long ago he had London in the palm of his hand, ruler of the night court. Taken through fair means and foul, politics and violence, from the one who came before. And he couldn't remember her name.

He remembered other things though, the massacre at Osbourne house – trading on his survival at that bloodbath gave him his first footstep on the ladder of power. He'd risen through the ranks, slowly at first, then ever faster – his comrades at his side. One he would trust, the others could only be trusted in a well lit room.

Then the one he trusted returned to his homeland, the monster smiled at the thought of him now, probably dancing around burning orthodox churches.

He thought of the reward he had received for waging war against the other half of the city, the reward that ended in his near assassination.

But his survival fed his fame even more.

He remembered the lord of the undercity, he remembered him from when that lord was still a man and not the twisted but honourable monster he became. That lord had met his final death not too long ago from monsters older and nastier than he.

The things he had seen, the monstrosities in Norwich, the art gallery filled with elephant dung somewhere on the south coast, the things that flew invisibly in the air and invaded your thoughts.

The friends he had made, sitting around swapping war stories, insulting those who had not truly lived before they died and became monsters together.

The people he had killed to slake his thirst for blood. The murders he had planned, the murderers he had sent off to do his bidding.

The sky was lightening, too slight for human eyes, but easy to discern with his predators eyes. His decision would have to come soon.

Those of his kind that he called friends were largely no more, he had outlived most of them. The humans he had cultivated were now all moved on, taking roles that were of no consequence to him. Those enemies that still lived, to smart to fall to his blades, he could not count them all.

Back before he was made the monster he was just a man, a soldier, endless battles across Europe, fought for King and country. Different kings but the same country. He didn't care for the cause, but he cared for his brothers in arms. When he was a man he belonged to a family, now he was the monster any family he'd built had scattered to the winds, under their own steam or as ash, it didn't matter.

Perhaps, he thought, the choice to be made wasn't so black and white as to be a choice between life or death.

Once, when he was a man, the choice had been simple – to avenge his fallen comrades, hunting the monster through the alleys of London until cornered the creature that he thought a man turned bared it's fangs, and leapt for his throat. Life or death, it didn't matter, he would die for his family.

Now he couldn't, for he had no family.

So, if not life and if not death, then what should he choose?

Perhaps rest, a slumber for a decade or so, buried beneath the earth where his dreams could wipe away the last fifteen years. What changes would he see when he woke?

The bluing of the sky was more pronounced, his skin starting to itch from the sun's power. His choice would have to be made soon. To stay on the banks of the river and turn to ash, or to hide in the shadows and continue for one more night into the endless stretch of time.

He was bored. He'd won his game and kept his prize. But the boredom was his undoing, he'd would take more and more risks just to spice up each night. Seizing the praxis of the neighbouring counties, returning the power when he was bored.

And one night that boredom led to him losing the power in London. He'd tried to go it alone, but knew that it would not last, so one night he stood up and left – and didn't return.

Since then he travelled, looking for something to keep him interested, but the same old fights were repeated everywhere.

So now he sat on the bank of the river waiting for the first rays of the sun to appear over the horizon. To burn his flesh and blacken his bones.

The moment was approaching – to choose. Life, death or something else.

'I think a nice rest', he said quietly to himself, 'one day I might be wanted again. And besides, I wonder what will happen next.'

He strode out into the river and, picking a spot no different from any other spot, buried himself deep in the silt. Feeling the cold of the water and the slickness of the riverbed he thought that this would be a good place for a sleep of a few decades.

'I wonder how interesting the future will be', was the vampire's last thought before he slipped into the torpor of ages.

—–

An indulgence, an inside joke and a banishing with laughter. Tomorrow a big step to be taken and a line to be drawn under the past.

Mr And Mrs Sundin

A couple of days at work and then two days off where my brain refused to get out of idle means that I've seriously fallen behind schedule for NaNoWriMo. If I don't have the chance to get going then I'm unlikely to 'win'. Still, even if I don't finish the 50,000 words by the end of November, I'm still planning on finishing this thing.

What I do with it once it's written may be something… interesting.

—–

It would seem that Judith’s lead has paid off, she’s leading be down some cobbled Swedish backstreets to a bar where I’m to meet a family that is dodging their responsibility to the ‘Home Care Plan’. They have a relative that is comatose in hospital and while they should be taking care of him, instead they had sold everything and gone underground.

Judith is ahead of me, and I’m watching her short ponytail swinging left and right in from of me. Every few steps she takes another puff on the cigar that she has clenched between her teeth.

She was late back to the hotel last night, I heard her crashing into the ajoining room at 4am. This morning she smells of sweat, smoke and alcohol. She’s also in a grumpy mood.

“In there”, she has abruptly stopped and started pointing at a tiny ramshackle bar, “I’ll be in later, I just want to make sure that we haven’t been followed. Lots of dodgy bastards around here.”

She then ignores me and pretends to take an interest in the clothing shop opposite the pub, staring deep into it’s large shop window.

I enter them pub and it’s so dark it take a moment for my eyes to acclimatise to the dark. Sitting at a table, a bowl of bacon pasta in front of them are the two people I’m here to see.

Mr and Mrs ‘Sundin’, (not their real name), are essentially on the run from the law.

Every family in Sweden (as in much of the developed world) has a responsibility enshrined in emergency legislation to look after any close relative that becomes affected by CLBD-7. These laws were passed to enable hospitals in countries with socialised medicine to continue providing care for those unaffected.

One year ago Mrs Sundin’s mother failed to wake up from a night’s sleep, since then she has been comatose.

The law says that, once all other causes have been ruled out, the nearest relative takes on the responsibility of caring for that person, be that in their own home or by purchasing private healthcare. Either way the state isn’t going to help you.

The Sundin household is not a rich one, Mr Sundin tells me that he has work as a freelance web consultant and Mrs Sundin gave up her work as a secretary when her mother became ill.

The thought of having to look after her mother filled Mrs Sundin with fear, she tells me, she has had no training in how to care for people and hates the thought of having to spend twenty four hours a day looking after a ‘vegetable’.

She says that she tried, her mother was transported home by ambulance only a few hours after the ‘Home Care Advisor’ had left the family home, the advisor had told Mrs Sundin about pressure sores and cleaning incontinent patients as well as how to change the food bag that led directly into her mother’s stomach. She counts herself lucky that she got that advice as soon afterwards the Home Care Advisory Service suffered a number of cutbacks making people rely on advice from the internet.

After one week Mrs Sundin tells me that she had stopped crying, that instead all her emotions left her and she settled into the routine of turning, washing and, after her mother was incontinent, changing the bed.

She tells me that her home used to smell nice, that it was clean and presentable – but that now it only smelt of urine and shit and talcum powder.

She tells me that when she was working she used to spend time socialising with her work-mates, every Friday the staff at the small insurance office where she worked would go out to a local bar for dancing and drinking. Now, as she was not at work, she never went out except to get shopping.

Two months into the care of her mother and she finally snapped. No-one to turn to, no one except her husband to help, no support from the government all wore down her resolve and she started to make plans to run. She tells me that she no longer saw her mother as her mother, instead she saw her as a lump of meat, there was no spark of recognition. Sometimes her mother would open her eyes and Mrs Sundin would stare into them hoping for some spark of intelligence. But it never happened.

Mr Sundin had made a number of contacts in the internet community so when it came time for them to disappear he knew people that could help them. They sold the house, placing Mrs Sundin’s mother in a short term care facility, they then took the money and vanished.

Mr Sundin tells me that they had to make deals with several people from outside the law. Those are his exact words, ‘outside the law’. These people, and he doesn’t elaborate any further, gave them new identities. Now Mr and Mrs Sudin have new names and a new address, the house that they rent is much smaller and Mr Sudin had to give up his job, the web market is too well connected for him to take his new identity anywhere else. Mrs Sundin returned to secretarial work, although she doesn't attend the Friday night drinks at her new workplace.

Mr Sundin now has work in a postal office.

As for Mrs Sundin’s mother, I cannot say. In Sweden they have large warehouses full of comatose patients, stacked away and looked after by minimum wage carers. The death rates are terrible there, but it is all the government can afford.

Mrs Sundin doesn’t know if her mother is still alive, she knows that she’ll never find out.

If the law ever catch up with Mr and Mrs Sundin they could be put in prison for up to ten years. Mrs Sundin tells me that she would rather be in prison than tied to a house looking after someone who doesn’t recognise her any more, feeling the love for her mother, the woman who raised her, slowly ebb away.

I leave Mr and Mrs Sundin at the bar, nursing their drinks, eating their pasta. Judith is still outside, still smoking the same cigar.

We head back to the hotel.

Sweden

Sweden has long been held as a perfect example of socialised healthcare, that and the UK. I went there to find out how Sweden coped with the first outbreaks of CLBD-7

I’m speaking with a Doctor Anders Kask in a beautiful park. Judith meanwhile is next to some trees aggressively smoking a cigarette while watching some young men play football. She’s got her back to me and I think it’s the first time she hasn’t had her eyes on me. I swear she waits outside the toilet for me to finish, eyeballing the other patrons to see if they are international assassins.

I ask Dr. Kask how the healthcare system of Sweden coped with the early days of CLBD-7.

“Like everywhere else we didn’t know what was happening”, he says in thickly accented English, “People going mad in the streets, emergency rooms filling up with what we thought were psychiatric patients. And of course those who just slipped into unconsciousness.”

For the first time I’ve heard a doctor mention those who died. We are so fixated on those that were left alive we often forget those who died.

“It was the unconscious ones that we tried saving first – it’s all about triage. Triage is this wonderful idea thought up by the French in the first world war. You deal with the most serious life-threatening cases first, then the less serious and finally the walking wounded. We’ve been using it for years and it’s a good way to deal with problems coming in quicker than you can deal with.”

“In an emergency room setting you deal with unconsciousness before you deal with psychiatric problems, the unconscious patient can not wait to be treated. So you put your resources towards helping them while the other patients wait.”

“But there is one part of triage that often doesn’t get spoken about, and that is for the patients for which you can do nothing. You don’t treat them at all. The dead are dead and they remain so.”

“Of course, if we have the resources we attempt to resuscitate the dead – in 2010, the year before CLBD-7 we have a cardica arrest survival rate of 10.7%. Not a good rate, but better than a lot of other places.”

“What we didn’t know was that the unconscious ones were beyond our help. And even if we did know, how could we be sure that it was this new disease and not something that we could assist with?”

“It turns out that of those people showing symptoms of, er, I believe the colloquial is ‘being Clubbed’ around 20-30% would become unconscious, never to re-awaken, another 20-30% would become increasingly violent and the rest would follow normal, if rapid, onset of dementia. Around half of those who became violent, your ‘zombies’ if you will, further progress to a more normal dementia. Those who do not? Well, you have to decide what to do with them.”

But in those early days we didn’t know this, so we would have people brought in by ambulance deeply unconscious, some from stroke, some from diabetes, some from other causes, but a vast majority of them would be due to the disease. We had to treat them all the same, rule out the obvious causes and then find beds for them if they remained unconscious.”

“All the time of course our emergency departments were filling up with deeply psychotic patients”.

“So we were terribly stretched, in a normal week we might deal with three, maybe four or five patients who were persistently unconscious. Those who did remain so would normally go to the intensive care department. The ITU in my hospital has eight beds, and barely enough staff to run those beds. You see, it is not enough to merely have the physical bed, you also need the doctors and nurses and cleaners and all the others to staff that bed. Even working twelve hour shifts you need a minimum of four nurses to look after a bed for a week. And that isn’t counting the cover for annual leave and sickness.”

“And our staff weren’t immune to CLBD-7 themselves.”

I remember when one of our senior nurses was found by his wife unconscious in bed, he was brought in to us and when he was wheeled through the doors it was all we could do not to stop and stare at him. We knew then that the chances of him ever waking up were nearly impossible. We also knew that there were no beds in the hospital, no beds in any hospital.”

“It still shames me that he would be the first person we put on the general wards.”

“Until then, every unconscious patient went to ITU for one on one nursing care, now were were having to use general medical and surgical wards. While the nurses there did their best, they weren’t very well trained in the care of comatose patients. They also didn’t have the staff numbers, one nurse for eight or more patients? How could one person with some untrained helpers look after that many high dependency patients?”

“It started with the sudden deaths of the comatose, we were later to find out that many of these had died from an occluded airway, ‘swallowed their tongue’ if you would. This was because the ward nurses didn’t have the experience of keeping a patient’s airway open, not eight of them at once.”

“Then came the pressure sores, if you cannot move your body then where it touches the mattress, or even another part of the body, the circulation of the blood is restricted and the tissue starts to die. The position of patients should be changed every two hours at a minimum – and it just wasn’t happening, the nurses were too busy. Once a pressure sore happens the skin breaks down and falls away, and then it gets infected and starts to eat away at the patient.”

“I remember one woman who had a tiny spot of a sore on her sacrum, her backside. But the decay went much further, far up along her spine. She had a tunnel, a cavern, running along her back that you couldn’t see. Each day the nursing staff would dress that little spot wound, knowing that there was nothing that they could do for the metre long wound hidden just beneath the skin.”

“The thing I remember most? The terrible smell of infected wounds, Staphylococcus aureus was a big killer in those days and we barely had enough IV antibiotics to give them. After all you can’t give pills to a comatose patient. You would walk onto the ward and the smell would be like a physical wall – I can see why our predecessors thought that disease was carried by smells.”

“So we did our best, until the beds filled up, and then we made more bed, camp beds. Wards that were designed to hold twenty patients would hold twice that number. But the number of staff could not increase, where would they come from? Every country was having the same thing happen. The nurses that we employed from overseas were heading back to their home countries to look after relatives, and that meant our staff numbers dropped even more.”

“And CLBD-7 wasn’t the only disease, we still had people attending hospital with heart attacks, strokes, gall bladder problems – and they all wanted, and needed to be seen.”

“I think the American hospitals had it somewhat easier than us – their insurance companies stopped paying out for CLBD-7 treatment and so the hospitals would discharge them for patients that could pay. I don’t know what they did to those stricken who had no relatives to look after them. I mean, I have heard the stories, the terrible stories of ambulances taking them to places out of the way, under bridges and the like and just leaving them there, but I find it hard to believe that such things really happened.”

“It took us longer. No one in parliament wanted to propose what we knew would have to be done, and sure enough they got voted out the next year – but it saved many lives. The ‘Home Care Plan’ was passed and now anyone stricken who had a family would have to be cared for at home. There were some attempts at training the relatives as to how to look after the sick – but the funding soon ran out and so the information was put on the internet.”

“No one knows how the health service survived. I think that for a little while we just stopped worrying about death, just accepted it and did what we could to prevent it. We aren’t back to pre-outbreak levels, I don’t think that we ever will, but we are slowly recovering.”

I looked over to where Judith and the footballers had been, the field was empty and I couldn’t see Judith at all.

A few minutes later she sends me a text message to tell me to make my own way back to the hotel as she was following a lead.


A Written Statement

I really need to get hold of a proper written statement so that I can make sure the format and language is more realistic, rather than sounding like one of my statements to a coroners court. What this hopefully shows is that the story is not going to be all first person/interviews.

—–

Personal report of Cpt. P. Almert, Bureau des Impôts 12th March 2011.

On the date in question I was commanding an armed fire-team at Jersey Airport. Our duties for that day were to provide a rapid response to any situation that required a less than lethal/lethal response.

I was initially informed of the incident by officer Tregourny, he had called for general assistance over the radio to the arrivals terminal. As we were nearby I instructed my team that we would provide this assistance.

On arrival to the scene I saw that a number of passengers were bleeding, in the confusion and panic of the public it took me approximately four minutes to reach officer Tregourny. He then indicated two people who seemed to be the cause of the disturbance.

The adult male had gained possession of an asp and was using this to attack member of the public, I later learned that this asp was issued to officer Hawes (deceased).

The adult female was attempting to scratch anyone who approached her, as I watched she removed a shoe and brandished it as a weapon.

At this time I did not see the female child.

As the scene was unsecured with large numbers of the public still present it was my decision to utilise less than lethal options.

Officers Ferruge and Halls advanced upon the two adults and with assistance from the rest of the fire-team subdued the two assailants with incapacitant spray and non-lethal blows and control techniques.

It was then I received a call from our control desk that another attack was happening in the female toilets of the arrival terminal.

As the rest of my team were still dealing with the two adults I made the decision to attend the scene on my own in order to secure the safety of the public. I knew that as soon as the rest of my team were free to assist they would make their way to my location.

I approached the female toilets with my issued incapacitant spray in my hand. From within I could hear the sound of a female screaming.

I entered the toilet and made my way to the end stall. It was there I found the female child biting into an adult female’s stomach. My instant assessment was that the wound that the child had caused was immediately life-threatening.

I shouted a warning at the child and she turned to look at me. Her mouth was covered with blood and in her hands she held viscera of the adult female.

As I prepared to use the incapacitant spray the female child leapt at me and knocked me aside, my spray was also dislodged from my hand.

I was knocked to the ground and the female child turned to attack me again. I was aware that this child had the chance of inflicting serious or life-threatening injuries to me. I was also aware that the attacked female needed immediate medical attention.

I then discharged my pistol into the female child three times, all three rounds striking the child in the chest.

I believe that the female child died immediately from these wounds.

I then radioed my team for assistance and called for immediate, urgent medical assistance for the attacked female.

I later learned that the attacked female died from complications of surgery.

Jersey

Once more I find that I'll be checking some research when I come round to editing this. Right now I'm struggling with SAD. Where I was on schedule two days ago I'm now dropping behind because I'm self-medicating on World of Warcraft which is the only thing that'll get me out of bed at the moment. Maybe I'll get a chunk done later today.

—–

I got to Gatwick airport for our flight to Jersey with plenty of time, despite my luggage (one carry on and one booked suitcase, plus several pockets full of gadgets) weighing a ton. Judith was waiting for me through security sipping an over priced coffee.

Our flight was due to leave on time so we had time for a breakfast, something light for me while Judith tucked into a plate piled with bacon, sausage and eggs. With more coffee.

The was a joke once upon a time that the safest flight would have an autopilot, a dog and a pilot on the flight deck. The autopilot would fly the plane, the pilot would feed the dog and the dog would bite anyone who tried to turn the autopilot off. It was no longer a joke. Too many planes had crashed when one of the pilots had started showing symptoms of CLBD-7, either the hallucinations or the paranoia. So the new policy for all airlines was three pilots and one autopilot. The autopilot would fly the plane and it would require codes from at least two of the three humans in order to be turned off.

Crashes were now at an all time low.

The few times I’d flown were in the big commercial jetliners, so the little propellor plane that would fly us out to Jersey made me a little nervous, there is something strange about sitting in your seat at the back of the plane, yet being able to see all the way down to the door of the flight deck.

I think that Judith noticed my nervousness and she just grinned and me and told me that we’d no doubt be flying in smaller, and far more rickety planes than this. All I could think of was the comedy films where the hero was flown over mountainous terrain in a plane held together with bailing wire and flown by a crazed lunatic. It didn’t make me feel any better.

The flight was through beautiful weather, looking down and the ground, the cars, the towns, the fields, it all seemed so peaceful – as if there were nothing wrong with the world.

We soon landed at Jersey after Judith took advantage of the duty free to buy a huge bottle of vodka.

The sun was shining and the skies were blue as we cleared customs, it was a scene spoilt by the remnants of the machine gun outposts pointing at the doors of the airport. It was the reason for those that I was here to talk to Ben Slade, who was a Jersey Senator during the early years of the outbreak.

We caught a taxi to his townhouse at St. Heliers.

“We were worried”, he told me after pleasantries were made and tea was served, “We had heard reports of an unusual disease, the same stories we all heard, of people suddenly going crazy, of being overcome with mental problems, of violence and terror. You have got to remember that no-one knew what was happening in those days. We didn’t know that the incubation period was so long. After all we’d just got over the second wave of Swine ‘flu, isolation had worked for us there.”

He was right, in the second wave of Swine ‘flu, Jersey had implemented strict quarantine policies – thermal imaging at airports and docks, reduced internal travel, mandatory health checks for people in certain professions. This had limited the spread of disease in Jersey to minimal levels.

“We thought that we could do the same with this new disease. After all, we’d barely wound down the Swine ‘flu systems so it would be a minimal matter to bring them back into effect. Of course, then we’d had the airport attack.”

“I read the reports after the attack, they said that we were just unlucky, that a family with a predisposition to the disease had all manifested symptoms on the same flight from Russia. I can only imagine what it must have been like, three people running through the terminals, attacking people, biting them. You may ask why our security didn’t shoot them, but can you imagine shooting an eight year old girl just because she is biting people?”

“We weren’t sure that it was the disease at first, but the newspapers got a hold of the story and it was on the front page for several days. That caused panic and the public demanded that we do something. So we got more strict. Tests on people before they could leave the airport. Of course that took time, especially because we didn’t know what we were looking for.”

I interrupted him, “What happened to the people who were bitten?”

“Oh, they were sent to a quarantine camp. Well, the Jersey people were, those bitten who came from other countries were denied entry and sent back to where they had come from. Possibly not a wise idea in retrospect but the officials at the airport were scared, they acted without understanding what had just happened. I think they had seen too many zombie movies”.

“More and more people were being turned away, mostly those with high body temperatures – we didn’t know that this way of screening was useless, and with the frenzy whipped up by the papers about these ‘zombies’, we were forced to do something”.

“And so we closed the ports and the airports to non-commercial traffic.”

“No private citizen would be allowed onto the island, only those with a valid commercial reason, and they would largely be restricted to the ports and terminals. No-one would be allowed to come onto the island to stay. We had been lucky after all, the only cases of CLBD-7 that we had were from those bitten at the airport. There were no cases of infection within Jersey proper”.

“But there were attempts to enter the island, after all, we were famously ‘infection free’, us and Madagascar at least. So people fleeing from France and the UK tried to breach our borders. They would sneak aboard the mail planes, or aboard the container ships brining us supplies. After one or two near misses where someone managed to breach the cordon we put up the machine gun posts.”

“Understand that we didn’t want to do that, we didn’t want to end up shooting people who were just trying to be safe, but you have to remember that we were all scared in those days, we thought that Clubbed was going to end the world, that we’d all be dead, or worse, within ten years. We wanted to to be safe long enough to give the scientists a chance to find a cure.”

“But that day never came. Instead, despite our paranoia, we started to get cases of infection within our borders. We now know that this is because the incubation period was so long, that the infected were already living here before the first symptoms started showing up on the world stage, but that we’d been lucky that in our cases the incubation was very long. I suppose it’s just because we have less people here to be infected.”

“I still remember when the WHO declared Jersey as ‘infected’, all our precautions had been for nothing, the people shot while running for the fences were killed for nothing. The quarantine camps were a waste of time and the endless hours that I and my fellow senators spent trying to protect the people of this island was for nothing”.

I asked him why he stepped down from being a senator.

“You might think that it’s because I was ashamed of what I’d done, the people who we’d killed in an attempt to save ourselves. But it wasn’t, it was much simpler than that – my wife was showing signs of infection and I didn’t want her to go through it on her own, with me away from home for long hours at the States building. So I shucked my duty to the island for the duty of caring for my wife”.

Judith

I'm suspecting that this section will be a bit longer when I edit it. Say hello to Judith. She shares a surname with a friend of mine who does rather splendid webcomic type things.

—–

Back on the train into London and I’m left deep in thought about what Doctor Aldbride told me, about how once the retrovirus mutated we didn’t stand a chance. How maybe if it had mutated another way it would have died off, or been less infectious, or would have had no effect on us at all.

I spend the rest of the trip deep in thought about how the world would be without people getting Clubbed with CLBD-7

There is a delay at one of the stations, ‘person on the tracks’; unlike the underground there are fewer guards on the overland trains and sometimes one of the Clubbed will get onto the tracks. Then it’s a case of just chasing them down, while the rest of us wait on the train, wondering if one day it’ll be us being chased down the track.

That or standing on the platform with the disease beginning to make itself felt waiting for a nice fast train for us to jump in front of.

After spending the night in Cambridge I’m heading into town to meet my fixer, they want to meet me in a café in Whitechapel – I’ve no idea why they don’t want to meet at the office, but I’m happy to oblige as I can walk home from there.

I’m meeting someone called Judith Wynne, she’s described herself as having a brown jacket and medium length blonde hair. She also tells me that she’l be reading a book called ‘On Combat’ and that if I don’t want to annoy her I should bring her an double expresso.

I wonder why the Finsbury Group employ her.

——-

The café was obviously in existence as part of the Olympics that never happened, somewhat tacky decor, somewhat well worn. For some reason the owner decided to go with ‘brown and nicotine yellow’ as a theme.

Judith is easy to spot, she’s tall and pretty and wearing a brown leather airman’s jacket. She’s also chewing one of those wooden coffee stirrers like it’s the last thing she is going to eat for a week.

She looks up from her book as I enter and makes eye contact with me. Dutifully warned I go to the counter at get two coffees before heading over to her table and sitting opposite to her.

“Mr Chambers?”, she asks.

“You can call me Mike, you must be Ms Wynne?”

“Judith.”

She puts her book down, on the cover is an image of an American soldier carrying a gun.

“Let’s get this straight”, she says, taking the stirrer out of her mouth, “TFG want me to help you get around the world, keep you safe from nasty bandit types and basically babysit you while you write about zombies.”

“Pretty much”, I don’t like the use of that language to talk about the Clubbed, those infected with CLBD-7

“And for this I get paid, and a metric shitload of expenses allowance?”

I nod, “That pretty much sums it up”.

“Sounds cool”, she looked at me intensely, “I’ll do it. You don’t seem too daft and you can follow instructions”, she indicated her coffee. “Keep doing that and we’ll get on just fine.”

She pulled out her phone and poked at the screen a bit. I noticed that it was not as nice as the one I’d had before my upgrade, it was battered and worn even though it had it’s own case.

“OK”, she said, “I’ve accepted the contract. And….”, She looked at her phone as it beeped at her, “well, it looks like we are heading out the day after tomorrow. Say your goodbyes and meet me at Gatwick Airport at 7am.”

“That’s it?”, I asked.

“What? Do I need to tell you how to pack? I assume that TFG gave you everything that they thought you’d need, I think I can trust you to pack your own knickers”.

We said our goodbyes and I started my walk home. The next time I did this walk I’d have been around the globe.

Cambridge

Loads of medical stuff that'll need researching and checking here – essentially just assume that the whole section has QQ throughout it. It's also where I explain that the normal isolation procedures wouldn't work with CLBD-7.

—–

After all the packing and the promise of travel I’m somewhat disappointed that my first appointment is at Cambridge.

I’m here to speak to Dr. Robert Aldbridge, I’ve already done an online search for him and it appears that he has the most peer reviewed articles published on CLBD-7 in the world. He’s an epidemiologist who works for the World Health Organisation and he’s married with two kids.

I pull up some of his papers from BMJ.com onto my phone while I’m on the train to Cambridge, it’s all above my head so I skim read the abstracts and ignore the numbers. It’s the science nerds at Finsbury who suggested Aldbridge as the go to guy on CLBD-7 infection and I suspect that I’m just going to have to trust them.

The rocking of the train and my inability to understand half of what this guy has written threaten to lull me to sleep, so I spend my time looking out of the window watching the world go by. The other people in the carriage all seem tied up working on laptops, bent over their keyboards pecking away at whatever is important in their world.

Their working makes me feel guilty so I peck out a few lines of questions for the good doctor, unfortunately I haven’t really got my head around the way I’m going to write this thing, what shape it’s going to take so my questions are generic in the extreme. It’s good news that he is so close to home, perhaps when I’ve finished the globe-trotting part of this job I can head back to him and fill in any gaps.

When the train pulls up at Cambridge station only a few other people disembark with me, mostly men in suits, not that I was expecting many students at this time of the year, but it would have been nice perhaps to see some college scarfs on the platform. Thankfully there are plenty of taxis parked at the rank and I soon find myself on the outskirts of the city standing in front of an anonymous looking industrial building made of metal and green glass.

I notice the barbed wire on the fence.

I find myself once more sitting in reception wondering where to stick my printed out ID card. Bored I read the warning on the back ‘This ID car must be worn visibly at all times. For your own safety this card will track your movements while within the grounds of the building. If an alarm sounds and the card flashes red please remain where you are so that security may assist you’.

Box analyses the RFID in the card and reports that it is encrypted to international standards and that to attempt to break the encryption would break several laws and put me in prison for not more than ten years.

I pin it to my jacket.

Dr Aldbridge meets me in the reception and begins the tour. He looks to be in his fifties and is greying around the temples, somewhat podgy his skin has the remnants of a tan.

“While we are mostly concerned with statistics in this laboratory”, he tells me, “we still do a bit of bio-science work – mostly though it’s outsourced to other, better equipped labs”.

I don’t know why I expected him to wear a lab coat instead of a suit, I guess I’ve been watching too many films.

“Of course, our work here isn’t widely known to the world, most people would think that we are working on a cure for CLBD-7 here. You may have noticed the barbed wire on the fence? We had to put it there after a rumour spread that we held a cure. We were attacked by a mob of people convinced we could save them, or their children. Nonsense of course”.

Leading me into an undecorated office we sat down and I pulled out box to begin recording.

“Still, I don’t need to remind you of how things were in the early days. Us scientists were alternatively the destroyers of humanity, or it’s saviours. Some people thought that we were working just to save ourselves and the politicans. Nonsense of course, but the fear was huge in those days, before we knew what we were facing”.

He sighed.

“Of course, if we knew then what we know now, things may well have been much, much worse.”

I tapped Box and it projected what few notes I’d made onto my eyeglasses.

“Doctor Aldbridge, if we can make a start, what can you tell me about CLBD-7?”

“From the beginning? Simply?”, he took a deep breath, “Please stop me if I’m telling you things that you already know, or find too complicated.”

I nodded and double checked that Box was recording this, I popped out the support legs and started a video record as well, I never knew If Steve wanted this bit to be video as well as text on the site.

Aldbridge straightened his tie and cleared his throat, I love it how people who never grew up with ubiquitous recording devices behave when they realise that they are being watched.

He started speaking as if he were lecturing a class, clean and clear received pronunciation, “CLBD-7 stands for Contagious Lewy Body Dementia, and it was the Seventh strain that we discovered. That’s what the seven is for.”, He swallowed again.

“It was first discovered in 2009, well, the this strain was at least. Epidemiologists from several countries were seeing reports of sudden onset dementia in atypical populations. Initially it was thought that it had some sort of environmental source, it was only eighteen months later that we discovered that the vector was a retrovirus. Of course, from then it was only a short matter of time before we could sequence it properly.”

He paused, “Would you like a cup of tea?”, nodding my agreement he tapped some commands into his phone.

“So, we realised that this was something contagious, and that it was causing a rapid onset of dementia. Sadly our diagnostic criteria in those days were to rule out everything else, like lead poisoning, and if we were left with no apparent cause we’d diagnose it as CLBD-7”.

“Tell me about the ‘Seven’”, I asked.

“Hmmm, well we’d known that there were small groups of people who would get Lewy body dementia outside of the statistical grouping of the disease. Young people, or a small cluster within a community. We assumed that these were outliers, statistical groups. Ne never thought that it could be contagious.”

“You’ve got to understand that around one in five cases of dementia are thought to be because of the ‘normal’ Lewy body disease, but most of the research was going into Alzheimers. Sadly dementia wasn’t a ‘sexy’ disease that needed curing, after all most of the people who got it were near, or beyond retirement age. Money doesn’t get spent on that sort of thing much”.

He knitted his fingers together in front of him and continued, “So, with little research, we thought that the outliers were just that. It was only after we discovered CLBD, the contagious form, that we started to look at the older cases, and we discovered six other variation of CLBD. They weren’t as contagious, or as virulent as the CLBD-7 strain.”

The door opened and a tray of tea was brought in, the Doctor paused while we made tea for ourselves.

Holding the hot drink as if his hands were cold he kept his lecture up, “Where was I?, ah, yes. We had discovered that CLBD had existed for some time, latest thoughts are that it was around in the 1800’s although the evidence for that is sketchy to say the least.”, A small smirk crossed his face, “however it does seem that CLBD has been present for at least two generations although obviously not in the form we have now.”

I sipped the tea, I’d always drunk the tea hot out of the pot – a cast iron belly my family had joked, “If it’s been around for so long, why did we get Clubbed?”

“Clubbed… A reasonable slang I suppose. The problem is that retroviruses can easily mutate, and that was what happened here, CLBD-6 got struck by a bit of cosmic radiation or underwent a transcription error and turned into CLBD-7, a much nastier bug. Once it had that increased contagiousness it spread around the world via boat and airplane. It was helped that it takes such a long time from infection to expression of symptoms – a long time figuratively speaking”.

He blew on his tea and took a sip, “You’ve got to remember the flu pandemics, pigs and birds, yes? In that case the virus responsible infects the subject, and symptoms start to show up within a few days, fever, muscle pain, respiratory symptoms, you know – flu. With CLBD-7 the disease alters some of the cells in your body, it re-writes your genome which takes time. It alters the PARK11 sequence which then starts creating the Lewy bodies that reside in the brain causing the symptoms. This all takes time. I’d say that the time from exposure to initial symptoms is probably no less than a month, maybe two.”

“With that sort of progression there was no way that quarantine would work, to do that you would have to isolate everyone from everyone else – after all you don’t know who is sick until two months after they have been spreading the illness around themselves. It’s not as simple as sitting at an airport reading passenger’s temperatures with a thermal camera and locking up those who read hot”.

“So the disease was all across the world before anyone knew about it?”

“Exactly, it took us time to realise that there even was a disease, by then quarantine and travel restrictions were pointless, there would be infections everywhere across the globe.”

He took another sip, “By then all we could do was sit and wait.”

The Whirl

Not massively happy with this, I suspect that this section will be completely rewritten in editing.

——

The next few days are something like a whirl. I’m prodded and poked for the new biometric passport when it turns out that my old one was just that, too old. Photographs, fingerprints, DNA markers are all now needed on the chip in the passport. All nicely encoded, but of course that hasn’t stopped a few thousand people from having their identity cloned and used in the commision of fraud.

I make certain to buy one of those tinfoil covers for the it. It might make it more difficult to use at the airport, but at least it’ll mean that someone criminal with a £100 RFID scanner on the tube won’t steal my credit rating from under me.

I’m also sent for various medical tests in order to keep the suits who are arranging my travel health insurance happy. I’ve no problem with the blood tests and x-rays, I know that my HIV, Hepatitis and TB status are all negative and so I don’t get worried about that sort of testing.

There then follows half a dozen vaccinations and pills to take, but the end of it both arms are basically one huge bruise. First black, then yellow. I wonder if it will affect any tan I might get.

What does worry me somewhat is the psychological testing for the onset of CLBD-7, lot’s of little memory games, coordination tests, reflexes poked and lines walked. My gait is analysed by smart cameras and my speak by smart microphones.

I worry about this because it’s possible that I’ve been infected, that I’m showing the symptoms already and not noticing it. Confusing my early morning fug with damage to my QQ Hypothalamus QQ, mistaking a headache or eyestrain with holes appearing in my QQ optic region of the brain QQ or stumbling up the stairs not because of last nights drinks but because the balance centre of my brain is turning into Swiss cheese.

So I jump through hoops (which is a metaphor, but not by much) before I find myself sitting in a consulting room at the company that provides healthcare for Finsbury Group workers.

The nice nurse sits opposite me and in silence prints out a hardcopy of her computer screen. She reads the printout rather than the screen and looks over her glasses at me.

I hold my breath.

The sick feeling in my stomach is about to spread to my whole body when she tells me that I’m 97.5% unlikely to have the early symptoms of CLBD-7. I take a moment to let her words sink in. Does she mean that I have it or I don’t? All I heard was a large number.

She passes me the printout and I relax as I read it. Basically my chances of having CLBD-7 are around 2.5%, around a one in fifty chance. That’s pretty good as the test is all to do with your psychology and physical exam. There is no blood test for early CLBD-7 all they can do is say that, as you aren’t wobbling too much on your feet, and as your memory isn’t worse than it should be it’s unlikely that you have the disease.

Only a one in fifty chance? I’m happy with those odds.

With the insurers happy that I’m not going to go zombie on them while in the middle of nowhere the rest of the week is taken up with paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. The first couple of tickets have been bought for me and my mysterious fixer cum bodyguard, who I’ll have you know, I’m yet to meet. Accommodation has been booked for the first two weeks of travel, although I’m warned that if I open the mini-bar the money will be coming from my wages and not the expenses budget. I notice that in some places I’ll be sharing a room with my companion. I hope he doesn’t snore.

They upgrade my phone, I now have one of the latest systems. It’s less a phone and more like a computing hub. Wired and wireless connections are easy to make with it as is the ability for it to be the hub of my PAN, my Personal Area Network. Like the eyeglass video screens it can hook up with my camera (although it has a pretty handy one built in), my videocamera, a microphone or pretty much any other bit of kit that I might have within a metre of me. The techs in the media lab load it up with software, including a complete GPS map of the world, a translation suite and some writing apps. I stick the entirety of the Guttenberg Library and a few other less legally downloaded books and film on it. I have a feeling I’m going to hate air travel very quickly on this assignment.

Like all the other personal computers I’ve owned I name it Box, and in this instance it does indeed look more like a rectangular black box than a phone.

They also give me the standard tech for a one-person media collector, still and video camera, sound gear, a gucci folding keyboard and a bag to keep it all in.  

I'm also given a mini medical/dental kit. I’m kind of hoping that I don’t need it.

Steve’s Office

So, one of the things that I've discovered about a 1,667 words a day production schedule is that when you work twelve hour shifts, spend about an hour each way getting ready and driving to work and then add on eating and sleeping, 1,667 words is a hell of a lot.

Especially when all you want to do is go to bed so that you have some energy for doing it all over again – the next day.

So what I'm finding myself doing is not writing for a few days and then having to 'catch-up' as it were on my days off. Meanwhile also trying to do those things that normal folk do when they have some free time, like answer emails and wash clothes.

This isn't a moan by the way, just explaining why I'm not particularly intent on posting each day.

—–

Here is the second bit – it's a bit of a plot set up and while the wordage and intent is there I can see it being heavily edited and rewritten in the future. As a note, I don't like to stop to research when I'm writing – five minutes on wikipedia soon turns into several hours for me, so I mark things that I need to look up later with a 'QQ' tag. It means that I can search for such tags and fill in the the correct numbers, names or dates when I come to edit it.

That's the plan anyway.

—–

Sitting outside Steve’s office always makes me feel like a naughty schoolboy.

I’m guessing that it’s the old wooden panelling that makes me feel as if I’m sitting outside a headmaster’s office awaiting the cane. Not that I ever did such a thing when I was a child – after all in the school I went to the headmaster’s office had a PVC door.

But there is something about the dark wood, the smell of the varnish and the dim lighting that sparks some childhood memory that I never had. It’s something archetypal.

This feeling isn’t helped by Melanie staring at me over her computer monitor. She’s tapping away at something obviously far more important than me. When I arrived I tried to start up a conversation but she just told me to take a seat and that ‘Mr. Hughes’ will see me shortly.

I’ve never called Steve anything other than Steve. It’s a bit hard to call your boss ‘mister’ anything when you’ve gotten horrendously drunk in a Japanese bar and had to bail him out from police custody after he tried, and succeeded, to climb the outside of a church. The climb was impressive, even more so because he could barely walk at the time. During his ascent all I could think about was wether I should try to catch him if he fell. I didn’t want to break my arms trying to save him if it would do him no good.

Finally the little light on Melanie's desk goes on, I assume that it's a light, I've never seen what it is that shows her that Steve is ready to receive visitors.

For some reason Steve has an 80's nostalgia vibe in his office – glass table, ridiculously large chair, abstract art on the walls and even one of those Newton's cradle executive toys.

Steve's fairly small so only the top of his shaved head poked over the top of the large computer monitor he was working on, he scooted his huge leather chair across to one side so that he could look me in the eye.

“Mike, good to see you. Take a seat”.

I looked at the much smaller seat on my side of his desk, I suspect that he also loved the 80's idea of power relationships and I suspect that this is why he had me waiting outside his office for so long. I threw myself into the chair and waited while he looked down on me.

All this alpha male behaviour was somewhat let down by his round face making him look like a friendly teddy bear.

“So, Mike, how are you? Keeping well? Family all right?”

I sighed inwardly, I guess that he'd pulled up my profile on his computer, the one that was by now terribly out of date. “Fine, not bad at all, no changes”.

“Good, good”, he nodded, eyes flicking over to the screen to one side of him. “Glad to hear it, you've been turning in stuff for us for a few years now haven't you?”

I was certain he was reading from my profile now, while I'd been drinking with him it was only as part of a work's 'do' and as I hadn't been in the office for some time it was no surprise that he was checking the records.

“Yep, regular as clockwork. Erm, is there a problem?”, I asked.

He looked upset, “No, no, far from it. Very far from it in fact.”

He sipped from a cup of tea and stretched back into his chair.

“What I have for you”, he said, “is a special project for you. Probably right up your street given your previous work for us.”

My mind started whirring, going back over the things that i'd written in the last few months, I couldn't think of anything unusual – just interviews and the like. A bit of science commentary, that's all.

Steve must have seen that I was thinking, I know that I tend to break eye contact when I think, looking towards the corner of the room as if the answer to my question was floating there, just out of reach.

“We are looking for someone with a bit of background in science and who can travel. I've been reading your recent stuff and it's good. Human interest work and talking to people, which is what I'm looking for”.

The only word that I was really take note of was 'travel'. I'd spent the last two years stuck in London, mostly in my flat, talking to folk over the internet or haunting the conventions and conference circuit. I think that the furthest I'd traveled of late was to Cambridge for a bioscience announcement. The thought that I might head off to somewhere sunny filled me with joy.

“So, are you interested Mike?”, Steve looked at me with expectation.

“Sure”, I said, “As long as the travel expenses are up front, I can't be waiting months for reimbursement”.

“Oh, that'll be no worry, you're going to be sponsored”.

That piqued my interest, who was willing to sponsor me to write something, was this going to be a PR fluff piece for a company that had more money than sense?

The thing is, readers today are much more acutely aware of journalists taking bribes and getting 'free' samples in return for good copy. I mean, it's something that has been going on since QQ Samuel Pepys first wrote about the delicious buns of Miss Hattersley's cake shop QQ, but in recent years, as bloggers started to get courted by PR companies the good ones needed to be whiter than white in order to stop haemorrhaging readers. Me, I know that I'm barely a journalist. I'm a jumped up blogger and my reputation means something to me (and ultimately the Finsbury Group), so I can't be seen to be getting any sort of grift.

He continued, “It's been two years since CLBD-7 was discovered, since the scientists discovered that it was contagious, your sponsor wants you to write a series on the impact CLBD-7 has had on the world. From a personal perspective, which means going around the world on a free ticket to speak to anyone affected”.

“Hold up”, I said, “Everyone has been affected”.

“Well, yes… But we normally only read about white western people with the disease. It's like AIDS in the 80's – most of the reporting was about the 'gay plague', then about celebrities getting it. It took years before the problems in Africa were written about, years before the deniers were named. Your sponsor thinks that we need to jump a few years from the headlines of 'TV celebrity goes mad with CLBD-7”.

I could see his point, after the initial panic, the media had settled down into the cycle of famous people, how it affected business and the occasional heartbreaking personal story. Despite CLBD-7 turning the world upside down in the last two years, it seemed that any serious reporting of it had slipped into the background.

I spoke to a journalist at his retirement party – he told me that when the motorcar had been invented every accident had been national news, every fatality a tragedy accompanied by front page news. Where was the news now that QQ 2,000 QQ people a year died on the roads? It was seen as the province of the local papers, and even then it seldom warranted a picture of the deceased, unless they were a child. Or pretty.

CLBD-7 was no 'War on Terror', there weren't daily updates from some warfront, no arrests could be made, no legislation could make infection less likely. Instead it was the slow accumulation of personal loss and the presumed work of white coated scientists in labs working on treatments.

And that doesn't make headlines.

Hold up. Steve said 'travel the world'.

“Steve, did you suggest that I travel the world? On a free ticket? How rich is this sponsor?”

“Very rich, but they expect a return, this isn't a chance for you to galavant around on a holiday you know. We've people back here arranging your itinerary as we speak, all I need is your agreement and we can start putting your name on the tickets. You do have a passport don't you?”

I had to think where it was, the last time I'd used it was for a holiday in Spain for me and my sister Judith.

I pushed the memory of that holiday aside.

“Yeah, I've a passport. But, and don't think I don't want to do this, but I don't have a lot of experience in travelling…”

“Don't worry about that”, Steve smiled, “We've someone a bit more experienced than you travelling with you. They'll make sure that you don't piss off the natives. And that you catch the right trains.”

“OK Steve, I'll do it.”

To be completely honest, I'd pretty much wanted to do it once he'd mentioned travel, I'd only have refused if the sponsor had been trying to push racist ideas, or pay me to spy on other companies. I'm normally the first to admit that I'm pretty shallow – but life is too short, especially these days, to worry too much about the deep questions in life. This looked like a chance to travel the globe on someone else's ticket, talk to interesting people, and maybe write something that'd improve my Google Pagerank. I couldn't see the downside.

Day One Of NaNoWriMo (Waking Up)

So here is the first bit of my NaNoWriMo project. Be aware that this is a first draft, there has been no editing and I'm making it up as I go along.

I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting – not every blogpost will be self contained, it'll just be as far as I have got during that day. In other words, I'm not writing to any sort of cliffhanger, or short form structure – it's just a wall of text.

If I do finish this draft it'll be interesting to see how it differs once I start editing it.

—–

For some reason I find myself awake at this ungodly hour. I can’t see what time it is as, although my brain is awake, my eyes are yet to get the message and so I can’t see the digits on my alarm clock.

I’ve had less than five hours sleep and while I can’t remember dreaming I’m guessing that the reason I’ve woken myself up is because I’ve been having one of my dreams again.

Eyes still stuck closed with sleep I reach down one hand and try and find an unopened can of energy drink on my bedroom floor, I manage to find three empty ones before my hand closes on a full can. I pop the lid, drag myself somewhat upright and take a swig.

The bones in my back crack and pop as I feel the sugary drink hit my stomach.

As ever I’m reminded that the caffeine in the drink doesn’t so much wake me up as it does just reactivate the starving receptor sites on my nerve cells. Like a junkie I need a certain amount of this chemical stimulant to remain normal.

A couple of minutes of rubbing my eyes and they can finally focus on the alarm clock.

5:26 in the morning.

I suppose I should be thankful that my flat wasn’t hit by one of the rolling brown-outs, it’s always a pain in the arse when the power goes out in the middle of the night and you wake up late for work with the clock flashing 00:00 at you.

Sometimes I wish I knew what it was about my dreams that woke me up, mostly I’m glad that I don’t.

——-

I grab my phone and pull up my newsfeed – checking the news sites, the blogs, Twitter and Wave, my phone pulls all the information down for me and then a clever little programme called an agent on my phone sorts them by relevance. There is too much data for me to follow personally, but my phone can sift through it for interesting stuff.

Nothing unusual today, some young celebrity diagnosed with CLDB-7 who’d gone crazy and stripped naked on stage, some small countries still fighting a war and the usual government spin about the second generation ID cards.

My local feed, made up of blogs, waves and tweets geographically near where I live are full of the same old stuff – once the personal stuff is filtered out by my agent most folks just want to know what we are going to do with the Olympic park.

I walk over to the window of my flat and look down at the Olympic stadium and swimming pool. I wonder how different my world would be if we’d actually had the games in 2012.

My phone tells me that I’ve an appointment with Steve this morning down in the Kings Cross offices, he’s not told me what he wants but as I work from home most of the time it’s got to be something special.

I shave, shower and shit – the water is hot so I silently thank whoever got up this morning to make sure the national grid is still working and then I get dressed.

I keep most of my daily kit in a grab bag by the front door, so I sling it over my shoulder and leave the flat for the tube station.

Despite the virus, Stratford remains the same, graffiti, dog shit, stolen cars dumped down back alleys. The main door to my block of flats is broken, I don’t think I’ve ever known the door to be lockable. Some folks would blame the virus, but I’ve been here from 2008, before the virus, and I’ve never seen it locked.

It’s a short walk down to the tube station, thankfully last night’s rain has stopped and so I reach there without getting wet. I queue in the ticket hall with the other people being held until the train arrives. I’m surrounded by people, aware that any of these people could be contagious. It’s not an uncommon thought, which is why half of the people are wearing masks over their faces. It doesn’t matter that the virus can get through it, or that the masks keep getting reused despite the outside being contaminated – what matters is it makes people think that they are doing something, anything, to protect themselves and their families.

For all the good it’d do they may as well tie a dead frog around their neck.

So I stand in the ticket hall, waiting for the guards to let us down onto the platform. A train arrives and the guards throw up the barrier, allowing us onto the platform. It’s an orderly crush, although you always have a worry that someone is going to pickpocket you, that or something worse. I flash my RFID at the reader and, without checking to see if it’s read it right, I get onto the train.

The train is packed with people and it amazes me that with the amount of people who have died, and the drop in the population of London, let alone the world, that the trains are still overcrowded. Of course people’ll remind you that train drivers also died, and so there are less trains, but it still seems that the universe hates commuters.

Some people are reading their feeds, they have the new glasses that link up with the display of your phone – the train is crowded so there is no way you could read a newspaper here. Instead the carriage has a handful of people, early adopters, focusing on the blue or green text scrolling up in front of their eyes.

All I can see is a bright blur, their focusing makes it impossible to read over a person’s shoulder.

Sometimes their lips move as they read.

——-

I reach Kings Cross and leave the station, as always my eyes are drawn to the memorial plaque for the fire here in 1983 – I was five years old when it happened and it’s one of my earliest memories. I sat under my mum’s ironing board, the smell of hot, damp clothing surrounding me while I stared at the pictures of blackened firemen stumbling up the stairs into the air. I wondered what it was underground that had made them so dirty. I asked my mother if their mums would tell them off for getting so dirty.

“I doubt it”, she said softly and continued ironing.

The Finsbury Group offices were a refurbished old build, grey and imposing on the outside, only somewhat less so on the inside. Thankfully it’s only a short walk away from the station so I only have to ignore three prostitutes and two beggars. Somewhere down one of the side streets I can hear a familiar wailing cry. It’s there every time I visit the office.

The Finsbury Group was formed five years ago and is a collection of three of the larger ‘old’ media companies and a handful of media startups. Not forgetting the two PR companies and one marketing firm that it swallowed up in those early years. It’s purpose, besides making the shareholders plenty of money, is ‘media’ in all it’s myriad forms.

The section that I work for was once called ‘journalism’. It’s now called ‘Comment’.

Back in the bad old days, when media companies were collapsing under the trifecta of the internet, lack of sales and lack of advertising the precursors of the Finsbury Group realised that being first, having that scoop, was no longer the point. Instead it had to create the news while having the resources to investigate it more thoroughly than a citizen journalist with a Freedom of Information request.

It also recognised that this in depth analysis needed to have a ‘voice’. It was no use writing some passive report when people could Google the blogs and twitter feeds of the people for who the story was actually happening.

That’s how I got my job. I have a writing ‘voice’ that resonates well with a key focused demographic.

I told you about the PR and marketing components, right?

I walk in through the big wooden doors into the main reception, another new face sits behind the desk – for some reason the receptionists here tend not to stay too long. She’s pretty and I try giving her a smile as she takes a look at my battered work pass but I don’t think that she notices me. Pushing a clipboard towards me I sign into the building and make a note of who I’m here to see – Steve Hughes, sub-ed of ‘Comment’.

She tells me, or rather reminds me, that Steve’s office is on the fifth floor and that I should go right up.

I debate between the stairs and the lift. I’m aware that I’ve been putting on a bit of weight lately, too much typing into a computer while eating unhealthy take-away meals. I’ve almost forgotten myself, I’m thinking of the future, a future, that I’m not guaranteed to have. With CLBD-7 around, do I really have to worry about looking after my health? In six months from now I could be dead, a drooling vegetable, or worse – the old worries of coronary heart disease seem a lifetime away.

I punch the button for the lift.