Armour – an allegorical short story

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IMG_1545.JPGThe officers shift uncomfortably in the gloomy chamber, the hostile glow of the strip lights drawing harsh shadows on their faces. Battle report holograms flutter across the expansive circular desk in the centre of the room, rising and collapsing like sandcastles made of light. The men and women study them intently, or at least they pretend to, avoiding the prospect of having to make conversation.

The door slams open and General Huss enters, flanked by two low-ranking blank-faced goons. The assembled officers stiffen to attention as the diminutive leader approaches the desk, the garish gold braid on his jacket gleaming, copious amounts of medals clinking conspicuously. The General leans forward on the desk, eying the people surrounding him with hateful distain.

“Status report.” He spits the words out of his mouth like a curse.

The room is silent. The officers glance at each other, passing the buck around the room with their eyes.

Colonel Avar steps forward. Her jagged features give her a haughty look, a kind of insulted beauty. Her lips are tight, grim and full of bad news.

“The eastern quadrant has all but fallen,” she states impassively. “We are holding the line across the valley region, but we have outrun our supply chain.”

“What of the north? Are you failing there as well?”

“Arteria is under fire but we have a barrage trained on the Mercury Pass,” replies Col Avar, ignoring the barbed questions. “Nothing can get through, but only whilst supplies last…”

The General grips the edge of the desk.

“This is unacceptable,” he yells, throwing back his head in a snarl. The officers flinch at the sudden outburst. “What is your excuse? How is the enemy making a mockery of you? Explain. Now.”

“It’s the armour,” stutters Major Weeking, a ghostly thin man. The General peers at him. Weeking shrinks back, clearly regretting his utterance.

“If you’ve got something to say, spit it out,” says General Huss. Maj Weeking moves forward, hands quivering as he operates the controls on the side of the desk. The holographic battlefield focuses in, displaying a dry canyon, desolate except for a couple of gnarled trees and some wiry bushes. A column of troops move cautiously along the canyon, armoured Rapytr support vehicles trundling along beside, turrets rotating, scanning the terrain.

A shadow looms over the soldiers. With a whooshing crunch, giant metal feet slam into the dusty ground. The troops scatter as the G-Armour unit straightens up, a metal humanoid machine, towering above them.

Before the soldiers can regroup, the G-Armour unleashes its firepower. Shoulder-mounted cannons spray out bursts of energy, scything indiscriminately through the fleeing men. The Rapytrs and some of the more battle-hardened troops return fire, but to no effect. The G-Armour brandishes its phase blade, the melee weapon extension bursting out of its right arm, cutting the nearest Rapytr in two.

The image freezes, the scene flickering on the desk in front of the officers and their leader.

“The voy-bot was knocked offline by a stray shot,” explains Maj Weeking in a sheepish voice. The General stares at the image, scrutinising the enemy armour unit.

“We dont have anything that can match this tech,” Weeking continues. “In terms of firepower, defences, manevourability; well, you can see how it cut through an entire scout battalion. Put two or three of those on the battlefield and, well…”

“I know you don’t want to hear this, sir,” says Col Avar, taking the lead, “but these G-Armour units could cause a situation as desperate as the Sun God campaign.”

“Enough,” screeches General Huss, plummeling the desk with his fist. “Do I have to do the thinking for all you clowns? Are you all too simple to comprehend the one clear weakness of this armour?”

The officers avoid looking at the General, shuffling their feet and glancing at each other nervously.

“The pilot. Without the pilot, the armour is useless. Infiltrate their training centres and sabotage them. In fact, launch strikes against any target that is identified as a centre for education, military and civilian. Attack their launch bases; don’t give them a chance to get a man into G-Amour. Link up with the propaganda ministry and develop a campaign decrying the use of this technology. Undermine it with accusations of unethical practice and crimes against humanity.”

General Huss looks around the room, awaiting a response. The men and women nod their heads vigorously. Someone starts to clap halfheartedly, but falters into silence.

“You have your orders,” says the General, turning away from the desk and marching out of the room, his minders following.

The officers begin to discuss plans in mumbling voices, congregating into smaller groups as they determine their strategy. Although slightly bolstered by the General’s instructions, they all know the truth. No matter how many battles they win, or how many attacks they repel, the outcome of the conflict is written.

The enemy has already won.

Ephesians 6:10-17:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I hope you enjoyed the story – please comment below with your thoughts and share via social media!

Resolutions is now available to buy!

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Resolutions cover - Final - 02082014The day has finally arrived – Resolutions is now published! It’s taken a while, but I wanted to get it right. You can purchase the Resolutions ebook from:

Amazon UK (£1.24)
Amazon US ($1.99)
Smashwords ($1.99)

Resolutions is a collection of science fiction short stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary situations. The narratives within explore questions about the future of technology and humanity. Resolutions is all about the way things end. By the final conclusion, you will have smiled, shuddered, and will take away some food for thought.

I would love to hear what you think of the collection. You can comment below, tweet me or post on my Facebook page, and also leave a review on your retailer site of choice. If you’re a reviewer and would like a review copy, please feel free to get in touch.

Enjoy the collection!

The end is nigh: my launch plan for Resolutions

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800px-BookshelfThe time has almost arrived for Resolutions, my science fiction short story collection, to hit digital bookshelves. I don’t want to be too specific at this point, as a spanner could easily enter the works, but I am hoping to have the collection available to purchase and download by the end of next week (Friday 26th Sept). I’ve never electronically published a book before, so there could be some unknown hurdles still in my pathway, but I’ll keep you posted if there is a delay.

I’ve tried to be methodical with the preparations for publishing, and thought you might find it interesting and useful to see my plan for how I have gone about this.

Phase one – create content

Draft text meta-data – anything that the retail site(s) need to create a profile for your texts, generally a short description, an optional long description, and content tags. Follow guidelines precisely (character limits, etc) and take advantage of the opportunity to sell the product.

Draft launch blog post – this will be the foundation of the promotion, as it’s the place where the most data can be shared about the text. Make sure to include (and make prominent) links to the retailer(s) where the text can be purchased, a clear description of the text (can be reworked from meta-data), and a call for readers to feedback on their experience of the text in a variety of ways.

Draft press release – this will be useful to send out to any mailing lists you have for supporters or other contacts (work, church, hobbies, etc), and for any relevant media contacts who might be willing to promote your text. For a guide to creating an effective press release, see the free Smashwords Marketing Guide.

Draft social media content – don’t assume you’ll know exactly what to say on the day. You’ll have various links that you’ll be wanting to drive traffic towards (retail sites, your blog, launch reviews, etc) and you need a plan for how to manage these links. You’ll also have a variety of networks to utilise (Facebook, Twitter, email, message boards, etc) which all demand a specific method of engagement. One size doesn’t fit all so work on the style, timing, and frequency of messages.

Phase two – publish!

Upload your text – even if this isn’t your first time publishing online, block out some time to get your text uploaded. Who knows what kinds of technical gremlins will pop up at this point, so it’s good to have some time to deal with them. If possible, ‘soft launch’ your text prior to full promotion, so that you can test that everything works as it should.

Phase three – promote!

Change your online profiles – add the appropriate links to your text, upload any promotional images you may have. Don’t forget the simple updates like your email signature!

Send promotional/supporter emails.

Put your social media plan into action.

Phase four – PROMOTE!!!

Once you are certain that the process of purchasing your text is working smoothly and buzz from your initial launch has died down (even if it is a small buzz with just a few sales and reviews), work on innovative ways to promote your text. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a blog post detailing all the ways you can obtain and read the text – some supporters may not have the technical understanding how to use the retailer sites you’ve chosen, so guide them on how to do this.
  • Organise ‘interview swaps’ with other authors
  • Arrange a competition to drive sales – source a tasty prize, write an engaging press release, draft the rules of your competition
  • Plan a discount promotion – or give your text away for free for a limited time

I hope these tips are helpful – I’m currently at the end of phase one, not long to go now! If you have any suggestions of your own, questions about my plan, or if you downright disagree with my ideas (you’re allowed to!), please comment below.

Same-sex attraction – engaging with the eternal

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The subject of same-sex attraction and Christianity isn’t a new one, but the news of singer Vicky Beeching coming out has recently brought it back into the forum of public discussion. A disclaimer before I go any further; I will not be sharing in this post my personal stance as to whether acting on same-sex attraction is a sin according to biblical truth. If you want to find out my view, get in touch with me offline.

The big question that has been going around my head since Vicky Beeching opened up regarding her same-sex attraction hasn’t been what should she do, but rather what should I do?

Whether or not you believe same-sex attraction/relationships are compatible with biblical principles of sin and morality, the most important thing is that people accept God’s offer of salvation. A relationship made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, who conquered death and paid for our sins.

The big questions: am I a person who can share this message with someone who has identified themselves as anything other than heterosexual on the spectrum of sexual identity i.e. gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, etc? Would a person feel they could be honest and open with me? Do I realise that as a heterosexual male, this subject currently has no major impact on my life, and therefore is something I should approach with a full measure of grace and gentleness?

Christians, I’ll leave you with a question. It’s a question for me too. Will you engage with a person’s eternal condition before you engage with their sexuality identity? Yes, there may be issues to be dealt with, but let’s support people to get their hearts right first. Whether you believe God wants to free someone from same-sex attraction or free them to embrace same-sex attraction, let Jesus worry about changing their perspective and behaviour.

One final thought. When we talk about same-sex attraction and engaging with people who identify as other than heterosexual, bear in mind that people don’t wear badges to let you know their sexuality. Some people might wear it on their sleeves, but others might not be extrovert with it at all. There may be people in your social circle who are struggling with their identity and it could be completely unknown to you. Therefore, make every effort to be a person who can be trusted, who someone can open up to. This person could be a Christian already, and could be terrified of the response they’ll receive if they open up. We need to cultivate environments where people are praised for honesty and surrounded with love and biblical guidance. You never know who could be struggling and how isolated they might feel.

Reposted: My interview with David J Pedersen

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20140811-144005-52805597.jpgThis interview was first published in February 2012, on my old blog.

Tell us a little bit about yourself e.g. where you live, family, occupation, favourite type of breakfast cereal etc!

I was born in Racine, Wisconsin and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve worked in sales, management and IT – which means I’m not good at anything but I can make a mess in lots of different places. My lovely wife and editor, Angie Pedersen, is a published author of three books about Scrapbooking. I have a 14 year old daughter and an 18 year old son. Right now I’m trying the paleo diet, so all cereal sounds really good!

How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to pick up the pen?

I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, and got the bug to write a novel in High School – but was never patient enough to do it. I’m not sure what finally made me turn the corner, if it was too much time in corporate America, or that I was finally mature enough to wait for the microwave to count all the way down to zero. Either way I’m glad I finally did start because I can’t seem to stop and I’ve got a lot of story to tell.

I see you’ve written a novel called ‘Angst’ – let’s hear the sales pitch for it!

Angst is a story about midlife crisis in medieval times. After turning 40 Angst believes that any chance of his dreams coming true are gone. He is an overweight, paper-pushing, magic-wielder. Magic is mostly illegal and because of this he is stuck in a thankless job. His friends have drifted apart, his marriage is on the rocks, and the only person who seems to care is the teenage princess Victoria. They have become the best of friends, which upsets his wife, and makes things worse with his boss, the Queen. Angst believes that if he had just been allowed to become a knight everything would have turned out better.

The world around Angst is tumbling into chaos. Once extinct magical creatures have begun to appear, they are invulnerable and they are hungry. After pulling the proverbial “sword from the stone,” an ancient sword so large people thought it was a statue, Angst discovers he can use it to kill these monsters. To rid herself of Angst, the Queen offers him what he wants the most, a title, possibly even knighthood. All he has to do is find the source of magical creatures. Angst uses this mission as a means to force his friends to accompany him, in hopes that it will pull them close together again. Unfortunately they don’t know how much danger they will be facing. While his friends may be too old and out of shape to be fighting monsters, Angst is driven to succeed so he can become a knight.

One of the great things about this novel is that it isn’t that traditional fantasy story of ‘a young man or woman filled with potential and seeking the path of greatness’. Angst is a guy who never found that path in his youth and has spent his life wondering why he never got the chance. When the chance is finally thrust on him, he finds that the grass isn’t necessarily greener.

Do you consider your work to be in any way autobiographical – i.e. are you facing the same mid-life crisis that plagues your protagonist?

One of my best friends from High School said reading the book was like spending an evening talking to me. While I’m not Angst, and most of the characters aren’t exact duplicates of friends and family, there are certainly more than a few similarities. I have tried to follow Mark Twain’s great advice to “write what you know.” As for a mid-life crisis, I guess it depends on who you ask. I will say that if going on adventures while being surrounded by attractive young women means I’m going through a mid-life crisis – then I’m in!

Why did you choose to self-publish rather than follow the traditional route of publishing?

There are lots of reasons I never submitted anything to a traditional publisher. The most important one was retaining control of the story and characters. I have no doubt that a publisher could make my story more sellable, but I know what I want my story to say and really don’t want anything or anyone cut out. For instance, there are things that happen in book 2 that may not be referenced again until book 6 or book 100. I want the flexibility to leave those plot points and characters in place.

I also enjoy the immediate gratification I’ve gotten from self-publishing. Writing your first book isn’t about money. Instead, my goals have been to entertain, write characters that people care about, and create situations that readers can relate to. And I love to hear that I have made someone laugh. I’ve been told that I’ve met many of those goals, and I feel great about it.

How important is social media in the marketing/promotion of your work?

To this point it has been everything. Most of my marketing and promotion has been done through Twitter and my blog. I never thought I’d say this, but I love Twitter. It’s a great way to find an audience, and network with other writers. I’ve met some amazing people and have gotten some great feedback. The interaction is both fun, and really makes me want to write more.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a writer?

I want my books to be easy to read, entertaining, and relatable while at the same time being clever enough that you don’t always know what is going to happen. Readers who reviewed Angst enjoyed some of the twists and turns of the story. I’m proud of my first book and am striving to make the sequel, Buried in Angst, as good, or better than the first.

Do have a strict writing regime or is your creative process fairly relaxed?

Not really – my schedule is crazy full so I fit writing time in when I can. I try to schedule writing after work 2-3 days a week and feel pretty good if I get one day in — I usually hide at a bookstore with my netbook and throw up a few pages while listening to various soundtracks. Then I’ll edit and rewrite the mess a couple of days later at home in the evenings before handing it off to my wife for editing.

What genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

It’s unfortunate that my reading time is my writing time (and my family time, and my exercise time, etc). I mostly enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but if I don’t have a lot of time to read I’ll pick up a comic book. I’ve really enjoyed DC Comics’ New 52 soft reboot lately.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write! More than anything you need to write. Write lots, write little, write poorly – it doesn’t matter. Every time you write it is like exercising a muscle; your writing will improve and so will the creative process.

David J Pedersen is the author of “Angst”, available on Kindle and Nook, and other reading devices. He regularly blogs at http://gotangst.blogspot.com/

More editing, getting closer to publishing

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The final edit of Resolutions is underway. I want to give it one final polish before I take a deep breath and click ‘upload’.

A couple of questions:

1) Would anyone be interested in doing a test-read of the collection?

2) I’m planning to publish via Smashwords, but is there any harm in me publishing via Amazon (KDP) at the same time?

An update on StoryMechs

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IMG_0909You may have noticed that things have been quiet on the StoryMechs front since we completed our first adventure under the new brand. I thought it would be good to give you a little update.

For those who haven’t been involved, StoryMechs is a project run by myself and Mr Mook, which provides adventure narratives that can be shaped by multiple users through a ‘play-by-crowd’ format. The project used to be called Tweet RPG, and has been running since 2011.

Why have things gone quiet? The answer is simple: life. One of the big realisations we’ve had about running StoryMechs is that it’s a hobby and we’re happy with that. We’ve tried to take a business-like approach to it, but have ended up setting unobtainable goals which require too much from us.

Don’t get me wrong, we want to have a level of professionalism with the project. It won’t be worth playing if the quality isn’t there. However, neither of us wants to compromise all the other stuff in life – family, friends, church, employment, voluntary work, etc – to make this happen. It isn’t worth it.

Don’t worry, we will be bringing you more awesome adventures to shape with friends online. In fact, we have one almost fully prepped and ready to go. However, we have some format changes to implement, and those things take time. Right now, both of us have other things to focus on.

We plan to take a more relaxed approach to StoryMechs than we have done, working it into the rest of our priorities in a realistic way. I have benefitted massively from turning my attention away from it for a while, as I’ve had time to work on Resolutions, my short story collection.

Keep a look out for news on the next adventure, we hope to get back on this in the Autumn. Thanks for all your support.

Happy adventures!

 

The Fall – an allegorical short story

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This post is primarily aimed at Christian men, but I hope everyone will find it engaging and useful.

The rain dripped off his umbrella as he struggled in through the glass-paned door, gripping his briefcase tightly under his arm. Pulling the door closed, he breathed a sigh of relief, leaning heavily against the wall. Stripping off his sodden coat and hanging it up, he lent his umbrella nearby. A pool of water began to gather on the red and black tiles, glimmering in the soft light.

Walking along the corridor and into the kitchen, he left his rain-speckled briefcase on the slab-like oak table and chose a tumbler from the nearby cabinet. He decanted a measure of whiskey and took a sip, his body relaxing like a deflating balloon as the exquisite alcohol slipped down his throat.

He found her in the bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed, her back to him.

“Still quite wet outside,” he offered as he took off his cufflinks, setting them on the bedside table.

No answer.

“The press have been hounding me all day,” he continued, oblivious. “Did you have any trouble? Have any of them tried to get up to the house?”

No answer.

“Come on, dear,” he said, moving over to her. “We’ve got to stick this out together. What’s done is done and we’ll get though it.”

He reaches out to place a hand on her shoulder but she flinches away from his touch.

“What have I done?” The question hangs in the air.

She turns around, revealing a tear-stained face contorted with malice. Grabbing the tablet computer lying on the bed, she stabs at the screen, initiating the playback of a video.

He is on the screen, half a dozen microphones jabbing towards his face. Voices bray and cry out, demanding answers to invasive questions.

He raises his hands in an effort to quieten the mob. They sense that this may be their chance for a juicy morsel and lower their voices.

“As I have already stated at the hearing, I do not deny that I have been led into behaviours which are unacceptable for someone with my role and responsibilities. I am prepared to pay the price for this indiscretion and hope that my honesty will go some way towards making amends.”

The questioning explodes once more, the words running together into a sea of drivel. As he goes to move away, a man manages to accost him, thrusting his microphone out.

“Is it true that your wife set up the account with Friedrickson? Would this have happened without her prior relationship to his organisation?”

Surrounded and taken by surprise, he blurts out an answer.

“Yes, she did. That is to say, the account was in her name. But – “

“So, she compromised you?”

“Well, no, but…”

“If it hadn’t been for her actions, you wouldn’t be answering these questions?”

“Yes, in way. Now I must…”

The thick black-sleeved arm of a bodyguard blocks the camera as the journalists are ploughed aside, clearing a path.

Pressing the screen again, she pauses the video, leaving the image of his harangued face floating there in stasis.

“Honey, you can’t think…”

“You offered me up,” she whispered, he voice trembling with rage. “You abandoned me to those, those jackals.”

“I took responsibility, I was honest.”

“Took responsibility?” She stands up, hands shaking, inches away from him. “You told them that I was to blame.”

“Well…”

Just one word. He didn’t have to say any more. It flew like a poisoned dart, puncturing her soul.

“You were there,” she cried out, anger and sorrow wrenching her voice. “You listened to all of it, the presentations, the pitches. You may not have taken the first bite but you weren’t too fussed about having a taste once I made the first move.”

“Yes, that’s true,” he replies, his voice rising. “But as you’ve just said, you made the first move.”

“Oh, I see. That’s your version of ‘we’re in this together’, is it?” The venom in her sarcasm sears the air.

“But it was you, you can’t deny it.”

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect me.” Her words crack as tears run down her face. “You’re supposed to be a man. That means standing by me, even if I get it wrong. You stood by and let this happen. What, were you too afraid to stop me? Or him? No, that’s not it.”

She pushes past him, heading out of the room. She stands in the doorway, looking back, sorrow streaked in black lines down her face.

“The truth is, you wanted what he had to offer, but you didn’t have the guts to take it yourself. So, you used me. You used me as a shield. You have no idea how you’ve hurt me.”

With that, she leaves.

He crumples onto the bed, sitting in silence. Looking down at the tablet, he sees his face on the screen. The title banner running under the image summarises the scene:

“The fall of Man.”

Genesis 3:1-13:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

This is a challenge to all Christian men in marriages and relationships, and to those seeking a partner. Don’t be like Adam. Take responsibility. I think one of the reasons people take so much offence to Paul’s instruction, “wives, submit to your husbands,” is that men haven’t lived up to their end of the deal – “love your wives as Christ loved the church.” (Eph 5:22-33) That’s a sacrificial love which doesn’t count the cost. Praise God that He gives us His strength to do this. Look to Jesus to see what it really means to be a man.

Prayer: Father God, give me the determination and perseverance to follow Christ’s example as I seek to fulfil my role and responsibility as a man. I don’t want to be defined by the masculinity of this world. Help me to take responsibility for my household, to ensure that it is a holy place where You are glorified. Let me do all this in Your strength.

Reposted: Beyond Thought – short story

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This short story was previously posted on my old blog. It will be included in my Resolutions collection, and is the starting point for my novel idea.

It was a dull wispy morning, the gantries of Neo London draped with fog. The towering angular structures grew out of the misty depths below and disappeared into the clouds above. Kale scuffed her way along the suspended pathway, fiddling with her burgundy blazer, her short brown hair still wet from her hasty shower. Although the gantries were full of people on their way to work or school, she walked alone, like every morning. Her younger brother and sister would dart off in a different direction once the children had left the apartment building. They didn’t want to be seen with their reject sibling.

Kale stood patiently at the crossing bridge, waiting for the air traffic to divert and the platforms to link. She didn’t want to arrive at school any quicker than she needed to. She noticed a man in a formal grey suit also waiting at the crossing. He stood as far away from the girl as he possibly could, pretending she wasn’t there and yet clearly aware of her presence. As the platforms hovered together and bridged the immeasurable drop with a magnetic click, he strode away as quickly as he could. She could tell he was afraid, repulsed by her emptiness. You didn’t need to be a psychic to work that out.

. . .

“How are you progressing with the task, Kale?”

Miss Warner smiled as she made the enquiry, but that only made her appear more patronising.

“Um… OK, I guess.”

Kale turned her work book around for the youthful dark-haired teacher to see. The young girl was one of the two children seated in the non-psi area at the back of the classroom. The normal children sometimes got spooked by the ‘dead-heads’. The empty psychic space where thoughts and feelings should flow made them nervous, especially the chipped kids, afraid their implants would break if they got too close, sending them back into the mental darkness that was normal life for Kale. She didn’t know why she didn’t just work in a different room. Probably because that would be too much like segregation, and this, well, this was nothing like segregation at all.

“I have identified some mistakes,” said Miss Warner, overly formal. The spoken language that teachers like her had to learn was so rigid, so lifeless and cold. “I have marked them with a circle. Please try to identify and rectify the errors.”

Kale nodded. Miss Warner turned and walked back to the front of the class, soundlessly communicating with the psychic majority. Kale could tell when they were talking psychically. The movement of their eyes, the turn of their heads, lots of little clues they didn’t realise they were giving away.

Sitting a couple of desks away from Kale was Derek Middler, a spotty little boy, the only other non-psi student in the classroom. Despite their shared affliction, she always kept her distance from the scowling youth. He was troubled and volatile, like many non-psi children could be, feeling paranoid and threatened. Not someone you wanted to be associated with.

“They’re talking about us,” Derek muttered.

Heads turned. Kale wished she could sink through the floor with embarrassment.

“You got something to say?” Derek challenged. He jumped up from his seat aggressively. Some of the students shrank back. Others grinned mockingly.

“Don’t laugh at me!”

“Please calm down, Derek,” said Miss Warner evenly.

She’ll be summoning the hall attendants, thought Kale. Derek wasn’t going to calm down.

“Shut up!”

The wiry boy pushed his desk over, books and pens clattering to the ground. Two hall attendants entered the room. They walked straight up to Derek, faces emotionless, and grabbed the boy, who struggled against them, yelling and screaming. They dragged him out of the room, his rage echoing away down the corridor.

Kale looked down at her book, her face flushed with shame, knowing that all the remaining occupants of the room were scrutinising her. If not with their eyes, then with their minds.

When are you going to snap? they questioned.

When are you going lose it?

. . .

The family sat around the table, plates of hearty home-cooked food in front of each member. Kale ate slowly, chewing each mouthful with a deliberately sluggish pace. They might not try to converse with her if they think her mouth is full. She assumed her mother, father and siblings were talking together; her mother hadn’t awkwardly broken the silence for a few minutes.

“Molly was just saying she might apply for kinetics next semester,” said Kale’s mother out of the blue.

“Oh, OK,” replied Kale, thinking about how fun it would be avoid the objects her younger sister would send flying at her with the power of her mind.

Her mother often did this, tried to act as interpretor; a guilty attempt to make her other child feel included. She only saw pity when she looked into her mother’s eyes, a pity that outweighed love.

“Your father is taking the day off on Friday. We are all going to the holo-pool together.”

“That sounds cool,” the young girl replied unconvincingly. Her mother frowned.

“I think they have adequate heating.”

“No, I mean… forget it.” None of them were used to speaking, they’d lost the natural ability. Kale had learnt from old films and songs, conversing with herself, re-enacting scenes, playing all the characters.

Molly laughed. Kale knew this was aimed at her. Whenever her brother or sister poked fun at her, they always laughed out loud so she would know they were laughing at her. Their father gave them a stern look. Kale ignored them. She had risen to their baiting in the past, responding to their hollow chuckles with white hot anger. Over time she had learnt to block it out.

. . .

“Goodnight Kale.” Her mother turned out the light. She didn’t kiss her daughter at bedtime anymore. She didn’t need to with her other children, they could feel her love in their minds. She had forgotten, trying so hard to stop Kale from feeling different. As the young girl rolled over under the covers she longed for her mother’s touch, those soft arms encircling her in a simple hug. She began to cry, sobbing as quietly as she could. The loneliness didn’t always sting this badly, but some days she couldn’t help but feel crushed under the weight of the isolation, feeling like the only person who hadn’t been told a secret. She reached over to her bedside table and picked up her ear pieces, slotting them in comfortably.

Ray Charles, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.

The voices surrounded her, soothing her. She imagined she was part of the ensemble, singing the refrain in perfect harmony.

To be a part of something.

That was all she desired.