Now is the Time to Yield a Sigh (*)

The timing could hardly be worse, but we’re moving home.

Our broad beans are coming to an end, after giving us more green vegetable than our family could eat through most of May. This is good. I’ll soon have somewhere to plant out the leeks.

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Our tomatoes were planted out and staked – in  a new bed, with three inches of homemade compost – a few days ago. The strawberries have a fresh mulch of straw. Onions, shallots and garlic are almost ready to harvest, strawberries and the early raspberries are ripening, while seedlings of hot chili and cucumber develop on window sills, ready to replace the beans.

But, just like Theresa May, we have to move on.

The good news is we’ll have a few months to prepare the new garden while we maintain control over the old one, so the transition might not be too painful. Except for all the digging, again. And the threat of Boris Johnson.

(*) Gone but not forgotten.

The Inevitability of Carl Beech

How do you prove a guilty man innocent? Easy. You erect a smokescreen.

Carl Beech is a victim, sexually abused as a child by his stepfather, by the prolific paedophile Jimmy Savile, and, he claims, by men of great power, such as our yacht-owning bachelor prime minister Edward Heath and other parliamentarians. It is his claims against these men that have brought him to court.

He is charged with perverting the course of justice. Also with fraud, but that seems to depend on the assumption that his claims are false.

He is also, it is claimed, a paedophile. Images of child sex, it is alleged, were found on his personal computer. Does this in any way undermine his accusations? Of course it doesn’t. He certainly wasn’t a paedophile at the time of his abuse. He was a child.

The link between being abused as a child and subsequently developing a desire to abuse children has long been debated. A 1990 study (Freund K, Watson R, and Dickey R) shows that there is a significantly greater risk of pedophilia developing in an abused child than one who has not been abused – although not to the extent that it becomes probable.

If the only evidence against Edward Heath (for example) were Beech’s words, then the case for discrediting Beech would be clearer. You only need to Google ‘Edward Heath Jimmy Savile’ to see a host of articles and interviews that make similar claims. Many of these link to the events of the Haut de la Garenne children’s home from which children disappeared, permanently, in surprisingly large numbers.

So maybe this trial is not so much about attacking Carl Beech, who may or may not be a perfect individual, but more about protecting the establishment.

When next you hear suggestions that someone in high office has raped a child – and it won’t be long before the next one of many is uncovered – I bet you’ll soon hear the words, “Remember Carl Beech?” It’ll be soon after someone suggests it’s a conspiracy theory.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, this game of power.

Inequality is built into our constitution.

Twin Beds

Exciting times at! The second raised bed is in place and thickly mulched.

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The next step is to cover these for a month, a lightproof layer, letting any weeds grow but not take energy to their roots. This is not a technique I’ve used before, so it will be interesting to see how effective it is. (More details on the website.)

Two nine-foot-by-four-foot beds gives 2.67 square yards, which is more than I’ll need for my autumn planting of garlic, peas, cabbages and hardwood cuttings.

I’m sure there are other things I could be planting. This is a huge learning process for me, and I’d welcome any suggestions or comments.

Thank you.




Bindweed and Paedophiles

Those damned roots get everywhere.

Digging out bindweed may seem a thankless task. You know you won’t get it all. The fragments of root that remain will send up shoots, sometimes many shoots, depending on the size and vigour of the offending remnant.

But we’ll pluck out any regrowth – dig it out and chase the root if we have the energy.

Year on year there will be less to remove, until some blessed day, when heaven smiles upon our efforts, there will be no more.

In years to come, we may tell our grandchildren the tale of our great victory. But it will mean nothing to them. All they have ever known is a garden free of the evil, suffocating weed.

With paedophiles, especially paedophiles in power, it’s a little harder, because we don’t try. We never go for the roots.

We wait until they die, afraid to accuse without evidence that would hold up in a court of law. Only then are snippets of their atrocities allowed to seep into the at first incredulous public domain.

Jimmy Savile? Edward Heath? (Try Googling those two names together and see what comes up!) Cyril Smith?

As for Theresa May’s ‘investigation’ into child abuse by high profile politicians and others, which seems to have fizzled out in mysterious circumstances at about the time she was elevated to the top job, I’d like to deal with that another day.

The problem is that no one in power is motivated to tackle this chronic, creeping evil. On the contrary, the web of power is maintained by a shared delusion of honour and trust.

Once the perpetrators have been eulogised and the truth allowed to trickle to a dumbfound world, what else can we do but turn a deaf ear? It’s that, or admit that we have been wrong about the man all those years.

And then, snippet by increasingly more believable snippet, a picture of evil begins to form, and we ask ourselves: Why didn’t I see that?

(Gross generalisation alert!) Paedophiles are not attracted to children.

Paedophilia is about power. It’s about domination.

Its link to satanism, with all the horrors that that entails, is historic.

Parliament doesn’t attract the timid. It attracts the power hungry.

Until we find an end to the industry of paedophilia, which is the industry of wealth and power, we will always be, as we always have been, ruled by paedophiles, torturers and thieves.

Give me bindweed any day.

How is a Garden like a Trilogy?

Well, there are many ways.

Neither is ever really finished. With a work of fiction, there comes a time when the writer decides to publish, but every time he looks at the work he’ll find something he wishes he could change. A garden just keeps growing, weeds and all.

Each, if it is to be successful, requires dedicated effort over many months or years.

The likelihood that either will develop according to its plan is close to zero. Characters, as they develop, insist of taking the plot along new paths. The roots of a neighbour’s tree make our proposed rose bed inhospitable.

But, more than these things, the story we choose to tell, the way we choose to grow our crops, makes a declaration about who we are and who we want to be.

For a garden to be of long term value, it needs to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, improving rather than depleting the soil. We hope you will find our struggles – to convert an overgrown wasteland into a productive, no-dig, organic plot – to be both entertaining and enlightening.

For a work of fiction, if it is to be of benefit to the reader, it needs to reflect a view of humanity that is both realistic and optimistic. We all need light in our lives and the vision of a better future, but most of us have outgrown fairy tales. Please join us on our journey, on the fictional planet of Respite, from tyranny to hope.

A Gluttony of Plutocrats

Having my novel at last in print gives me great pride. It has been a labour of devotion for almost three years.

Initially inspired by the Yewtree Inquiry that followed Jimmy Savile’s death, and the revelations of frequent, casual and at times almost public abuse of children, I set about a little research. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t isolated in his actions. Friendships, difficult to account for as a result of his mediocre talents, with people of great influence.

Does the society of the fictional planet Respite reflect that of Earth? I hope my readers will make up their own minds on that question.

If I make them think about it, I’ve done my job.

Thank you.


Stephen Richards


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Libellula quadrimaculata

(A Science Fiction story, not for the squeamish.)

3504, Sol standard. Day 162.

I had the fortune to be inboard SS Adventurer at a turning point in human history.

Jefferson J Jefferson, luckiest man in the universe, started a new stream in the ship’s video log to record the great event firsthand. Every spacedrifter dreamed of finding a Terroid planet. To do so on a first mission was little short of a miracle. 

He rocked back in his leatherette captain’s lounger, smiling at the bridge’s main screen.

He had been born to fortune. I know for a fact he bought the ship and funded the tour with his grand-daddy’s ill-gotten wealth. There are no secrets between the metaphorical sheets.

The furrowing of Jefferson’s brow told me his mind was hard at work, probably wondering when to rehydrate half a gallon of wine. He turned to the navigator. “Spandau, I’m getting impatient. Twelve days until orbit?”

Spandau Orion, astrophysicist and all round smartass, sat next to me by the bank of com. ports. He didn’t take his eyes from the screen in front of him. “Twelve days on current settings. We could do in seven, but why waste fuel? The probes are there already.”

Jefferson grunted. “I’ll start a sub-ether link then. Damn the cost.”

They picked me from a color chart, Spandau told me once. First thing they were shown, in the back room of a bar at Moonstation Delta, was a color chart, so at least I knew I was their preferred shade of brown. Made me so proud. twelve thousand inters, Jeff paid, and I made damn sure they got his money’s worth.

Petros Kwek, life sciences and several other sciences as well, had hardly slept since they discovered New Earth. I can’t believe they sat down and debated the matter for three hours and came up with New Earth, but who cared what I thought? I was just a dumb comfort girl.

3504, day 174

New Earth orbit. Just another day to me. When I wasn’t giving service or working on the flexigym, I played backgammon against the ship. I’ve heard what they said: “She wins a lot. Must be on novice level.” Huh.

They sat around the galley table, in the centri-ring’s pseudo-g. I played. They had a bottle of wine which had been allowed to mature, after hydrating, for a full twenty minutes.

With half a mind on my game, I kept an ear on their conversation. Something big going on.

Petros soon got to the heart of the matter. “It’s looking better each day. The air is almost a perfect match for Earth’s. No sign of harmful pathogens. Life near as dammit Earthlike, at least at the highest level – plants, fungi, animals. No fish, but many immature amphibians fill the fishy niches. For Pan’s sake, the soil even has earthworms, or at least soil creatures which can’t be distinguished from worms until we get to analyze their DNA. It scores as well as Earth on the Asimov scale.”

I’d heard of Asimov. Wasn’t he the one who discovered Mars?

Jeff emptied his glass and reached for the bottle. “Encouraging. What’s the catch?”

“Almost too good to be true, Jeff. No mammals. No grasses, but I can see no reason why we couldn’t plant our own and raise sheep in time. The insects are two-winged and not as common or varied as on Earth.”


“Huge ones. Mostly amphibians, with some reptiles. But the island Spandau suggests for our first camp has nothing larger than a wolf.”

Jefferson settled back. “So, it looks like we are going to be three very wealthy men. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe we can’t eat the meat or anything from here. We neutralize the island and grow our own. Some settlers prefer it that way. Either way we’re onto big money, and it’s time we formalized our agreement.”

Smart-ass Spandau raised his glass. “To fifteen percent of immense wealth.”

Jefferson and Petros echoed the toast, except JJJ said seventy percent. And that was it, their agreement formalized and recorded.

Jefferson set his glass on the table. “Do you know what the hardest decision was, planning this expedition? Second only to crew selection was how much alcohol to bring along. It’s also one of the first things either of you asked. And our five gallons of wine concentrate are already down to three.”

Petros laughed. “I’ve got it in hand. Grape DNA being synthesized as we drink.”

Spandau poured himself another and pushed the bottle toward Jefferson.

I’d had enough. With my thermoflex gown flowing, l walked the few steps to their table. I took a glass from the overhead rack, filled it, drank half and topped it up, then, when I was sure I had their attention, I sat.

Wearing thermoflex is an art. Some girls never get it, but that’s what full length mirrors are for. It swirls like gossamer, but when it settles it sort of clings to the body, attracted by the heat. By the time I had arranged myself on the remaining seat, those three men had gotten an emphatic reminder of my assets, as if they needed it.

I picked up the bottle and waggled it towards Jefferson. “This’ll need refilling soon.” One thing in their favor, not one of them objected to my taking a drink, at least not out loud.

Petros stared at me, just like the first time he saw me naked. Spandau shook his head but managed a smile.

JJJ let his jaw drop for a moment, then forced a shrug. “You could have asked.”

“You could have refused. Now, time to talk about my share.” I had absolutely no right to any share, but what the hell? They were talking zillions. They wouldn’t miss it. “All I ask is one half a percent, negotiable, but only upward.”

Jefferson glared. “You get an end-of-tour bonus when we upgrade, as your contract clearly states, and a–”

I grabbed the bottle, beating Spandau by an inch. “You’re right, Jefferson. And have you any idea what would have happened to me if I hadn’t signed? I wouldn’t still be pretty.”

Jefferson’s face dropped a couple of shades on the color chart. So he hadn’t known the threats that compelled me to give myself into slavery. I shuddered. He had bought me without sparing a thought for my humanity, without considering I had once been free.

He settled back in his seat then frowned at me. “Where are you from, Zelda?”

I looked down to a fold on the thermoflex clinging to my thighs. “It doesn’t matter anymore.” Snatched from my pony the day after my twelfth birthday, lifted skyward, hoisted into a copter. Four dreadful years before they sold me on, then pleasing the drunks of Moonstation Delta. Thinking about it brought back the pain. When I looked up, Jefferson was still staring at me.

He turned to the log. “I, Jefferson J Jefferson, formally confirm the following shares of all profits for the settlement planet we are orbiting. To Spandau Orion, fifteen percent. To Petros Kwek, fifteen percent. To Zelda – What is your name?”

I told him.

“To Zelda Hamadrass – fifteen percent.”

I didn’t hear a word for a minute after that. A little buzzing in my head, not just from the alcohol, made me sway on the seat.

3504, day 178

Base camp. On Spandau’s recommendation, they’d chosen a large island in an area the probes suggested had a temperate climate. They’d neutralized a couple of acres to a depth of twelve feet, set up bio-barriers and activated the hut-builder. We crammed into the landing craft and tumbled down.

The ship’s quarters had all the luxury that could have been provided, but they lacked space. I felt my body sigh as I ran on a sterile, sandy beach, with body-cling shorts. I wore a chest band for support, glad I had resisted enhancement. My lungs strained, my heart pounded.

The men found a football in store. That soon got kicked through the barrier, so they ran too.

When we had showered together and dressed, we sat around a table robotically fashioned from sterilized local wood, with a meal that included some amphibian flesh and the fruit of two varieties of New Earth trees, all collected by a small rover.

Analyses, Petros assured us, had been thorough. He took a little meat onto his fork and turned it around.

Jefferson laughed. “If we can’t trust the computer–” He bit into the amphibian and chewed. I had expected some display of histrionics, a feigned poisoning, but he just cut off a little more and carried on eating.

We watched the sun set, saw a flock of birds approach and turn when their leaders were zapped by our bio-barriers.

I had worried that my outburst four days before would isolate me, somehow isolate me, but instead I found myself drawn into conversations where I would before have felt excluded.

Spandau looked up at the stars. “I wonder what happened to the Krakov mission. They were lost in this sector, way back. Do you think they ever saw this planet?”

Krakov? I repeated the name to myself, fixing it in my mind.

The three men spent an hour deciding what would go into their first sub-ether message – climate, flora and fauna with video of the more Earth-like examples, the single moon, the slight axial tilt and seasonal variation.

Jefferson leaned back against the wall of our eight-roomed hut. “That should be enough to raise some serious interest on Earth. And credit, if we need it. We’ll know in five days.”

Petros shook his head. “We have to mention the DNA anomaly, Jeff. It could be important.”

It was getting a little technical for me. I went inside to a com. port, but didn’t play backgammon. Krakov. I’d not had the need to research anything before.

It surprised me to find how limited my access was, even to simple information systems. The little I did learn gave me no reason for concern.

3504, day 178

By the end of the morning, the hut felt like a home, with the few luxuries we had brought down. Petros and I lent a hand while the others got ready–lightweight suits and helmets to keep out germs, handguns that could stop an elephant, a range of tubes for samples.

Jefferson raised his helmet then paused and lowered it. He waved his arm, pointing to a line of thick vegetation. “We’ll head that way. I don’t expect to be more than two hours, but to be safe we’ll stay visible and avoid the areas of thicker cover.”

I watched the barrier flicker as they passed through.

Petros surprised me by heading toward the hut. He turned to me without breaking his stride. “Come on.”

My years in the lunar bar had taught me to associate disobedience with great pain. I followed, but I felt uneasy. He went around the hut, not into it as I had expected.

When we were out of sight of the others he reached out a hand, rubbing his knuckles against the material of my dress. The contact was slight but enough to make his intentions clear. “What d’you call that thing?”

“This? A body tube.” It was one of my favorites, deep summer blue, silken, it shrugged to the ground quite slowly when I wanted it to.

“Get it off.”

I stared at him. It wasn’t his words–I had already figured something like that was coming–but by his assumption I would obey. Had it been his scheduled day, dress and ground would have been together in seconds, but it wasn’t. “Not today, Petros.” I started to move off.

He grabbed my arm and raised a hand. “Don’t make me slap you, girl.”

Slap? After what I’d lived through, that was not a threat.

I relaxed and smiled. After he released my arm, I shimmied the dress to the ground and stepped out of it. “Ready when you are.”

He took a step back. “Now you’re being sensible.” He looked over my body as if deciding where to put his hands. “Love those legs, hairless to the eyebrows.” Same old line, every time. He reached a hand toward me.

I pushed it away. “You slap all you want. I won’t even bother to resist. But don’t expect me to hide the bruises. And if you take me by force, you can watch your back for as long as you live.” My voice shook. I stared at him.

For a moment he glared back. His hand was still raised, but soon it began to tremble. I had won, at least for the moment. He picked up my dress and threw it at me. “Your trouble is you don’t have a sense of humor.”

The man deserved no reply. When he had scurried off into the hut, I draped the dress over a shoulder and returned to the barrier from where I could watch Jefferson and Spandau. Let them see. Let them wonder. But neither looked my way before I had slipped back into the body tube.

When they returned, I helped them out of their gear. They could have helped each other but I enjoyed being involved. Jefferson held out the sample tubes for me to take. “Don’t worry, they are sealed. The outsides are sterile.”

I held out my hands to receive them. “Anything interesting?” I couldn’t have asked that question and expected a response two days earlier.

Jefferson laughed. “It’s all interesting at this stage. We’ll see what the analyzer says.”

We walked side by side to the hut. Spandau followed, carrying the suits.

Jefferson nodded toward the samples. “One thing that might amuse you. That little tube, top of your pile I think. The bones of what would pass as a frog.”

“Interesting bones?”

“Interesting what flew from them. A four-winged insect. A large one.”

It didn’t amuse me. My access to information had proved limited in some areas, but I had discovered no other planet in this sector of space as Earth-like as the one we occupied. Hearing of Jefferson’s discovery, the plot began to thicken. Several times during the afternoon that followed I thought of that insect without knowing why, and by the time we settled down for our second and final meal of the day it had started to haunt me.

Petros was the first to mention it. “I suppose a four-winged insect could evolve from one with two wings, although the most successful Earth orders, at least in terms of number of species, have gone the other way. I’m thinking of coleoptera and diptera–beetles and flies, if you prefer.”

I waited, but no one asked the obvious question. “Why didn’t the probes record them?”

Petros glanced at me, then turned to Jefferson.

“Fair question,” Jefferson said. “Either rare or localized. The probes just sampled randomly.”

Petros turned his attention to his plate. “If I had seen this lizard on Earth, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Similar niches, similar creatures evolve. That’s what we have found, in the nine planets where life has been discovered. And this isn’t the first where the DNA is different.”

“You mean that BBL thing?” Three pairs of eyes turned toward me. I regretted the words as soon as I had spoken them, although I had done nothing wrong. “A little research last night.”

Petros lowered his fork to his plate. “BBL 2681109 C. You’re correct. And it’s the same anomaly we have here. Instead of the adenine and thymine, we have two other nucleobases. Is it significant? I don’t know but I’m working on it. That other planet was dry, with no permanent seas. And it had only single-celled life.”

No one showed any concern about the day’s discovery. In fact, all tests, according to Petros, confirmed the land to be safe.

“Still too many unknowns,” Jefferson said. “The barriers stay up.”

Petros swallowed. “Of course, but I’m willing to walk outside without a suit. It has to be done some time.”

Next day, Petros and Spandau went out without protective suits. I didn’t understand the makings of a doorway through the barriers, no more than a shimmer as they passed, except that it was possible because they no longer feared the land’s microbes.

Jefferson and I watched the rover leave. We waved to them. Spandau waved back.

Krakov. Why should thought of that ancient mission flicker through my mind.

My days inboard the Adventurer hadn’t always been happy. I feared the men at first. Then I learned to tolerate and even to like them. Since settling on New Earth, I grew restless, not exactly afraid because I had nothing specific to fear, but not easy either.

I asked Jefferson about the Krakov mission.

“Why do you care? That was eight hundred years ago.”

“I know. But they were lost in this sector. Is there any other star more sun-like than this? Is there any other planet more likely to attract their attention?”

Jefferson looked at me with a little half-frown, half-smile that had become his usual reaction to my questions. “Zelda, do you have access to history?” He led me to the com. ports and spoke a few words. “That should make difference. Let me know what you find out.”

Two hours later his shout alerted me. I hurried outside.

The rover bounced along the ground faster than comfort would allow. Its top was open and there was only one occupant. Petros, disheveled and smeared with blood, gesticulated toward the barrier.

Jefferson gave a high thumbs up, did something as Petros approached that set a section of the barrier shimmering, then stepped back. Once the rover was through, he sealed the barrier again.

The rover halted. Petros slumped forward, his head on his arms, shaking, sobbing.

Jefferson put a hand on his back. “What happened? Where’s Spandau?”

Petros sat back, looked first at me then at Jefferson. He shook his head. “I had no choice. They were eating him alive.” Leaning on Jefferson’s shoulder, he stepped out of the rover. His legs were shaking. There was blood on his tunic and trousers – not much, but widely scattered. Many small scratches marked his face and arms. His holster was open and empty.

Jefferson pointed to it. “The gun?”

“Jefferson, I had no choice. He begged me to end it.” He looked down at the holster at his side, then inside the rover where he had dropped the gun.

Together we helped him inside. I got water. Jefferson settled him in a seat. We waited.

“At first I thought, on Earth they would pass for dragonflies. There were just a few, then more came, resting on reeds and branches. I looked closer and I recognized them. They were from Earth, the four-spotted skimmer, Libellula something. I said as much to Spandau. We even laughed about it, then they rose, a great cloud, every one of them darting toward him.

“Why? He was nearer, but why just him? It’s as though they had selected their victim with a single mind. But they were dragonflies. It doesn’t make sense.”

He paused, looking around, his eyes wide. Jefferson made no attempt to hurry him. Petros looked at the scratches on his arms. “I did what I could. I must have killed hundreds, but in the end I knew he couldn’t be saved.”

When he had rested for a few minutes, Jefferson insisted they go back for samples. “Fully suited, of course.”

Petros slept for a couple of hours but had asked to be woken for the results, which arrived that evening. It was Libellula quadrimaculata as Petros thought, males and females. And in every cell the adenine and thymine had been replaced by the local variant.

Petros frowned. “It makes no sense. This is not a swarming insect. Quite the opposite. The male is strongly territorial.”

“Are they common on Earth?” Jefferson asked.

“Very. North America, Europe, Asia. Their choice of prey makes them highly  – adaptable.” Petros whispered the last word.

I needed to know, “Did those dragonflies kill off the Krakov mission?”

Petros shook his head. “If they did it would have been a few years after they landed. They have a two-year life-cycle. I can’t imagine how they could have changed so much in behavior, even in four hundred generations. It must be the DNA variant.”

Jefferson said we would lift back to the Adventurer in three days, “as soon as the lander has generated enough fuel.”

3504, Day 179

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Early morning in the warm sun I went for a run, keeping well within the confines of the bio-barriers. It was good to move, to sweat. I must have become accustomed to the barriers’ hum because I didn’t notice it after my first minute outside.

When I was fully exhausted I went in for a shower, passing Jefferson on the way out for his exercise.

Petros and I ate together, mostly synthetics since we were losing faith in the local fauna. I asked if he had learned anything more.

“Learned, no. But I wonder if this world may once have been like BBL 2681109 C, dry, just temporary pools of water. Why else would amphibians evolve before fish?”

I finished my food. “Where’s Jeff? He’s been outside a long time.” A brief dip of Petros’s eyes made me uneasy. I remembered the silence of the barriers. “You’ve turned them off. While I was outside.” I stood. “Let’s go.”

It had been easy for me to stand up to Petros the day before, when Spandau and Jefferson were alive. He wouldn’t dare face their wrath. But at that moment I feared we were finally alone. I had only myself for strength.

Petros kept his attention on the plate in front of him, eating without hurry. My body shook. When he had finished, he pushed the plate away and looked at me, the muscles of his jaw firmly set. “We’ll need to suit up.”

There was no suit for me, but Spandau’s fitted with a lot of slack and one connection that I didn’t have the right joinery for. At least my skin was fully covered.

We found what was left of Jefferson J Jefferson – bones and gristle, shorts, shoes – on blood-stained sand. Another colleague lost, and I didn’t even know his middle name, although I might have guessed.

It’s difficult to describe what I felt for Petros at that time. Hatred, certainly. Contempt. Bewilderment. It could have been me, eaten alive with no hope of help. It could’ve been me screaming for a merciful death. It wasn’t me. It was a man who had treated me with kindness.

I didn’t speak to him throughout the day. He probably thought I was playing backgammon, but I was trying to access the ship’s system. Mostly I lacked the authority. That evening I hydrated a quarter gallon of concentrate, pleased to find I could at least access food stores. I had no intention of drinking.

Petros was sitting on a bench outside our hut. I sat beside him, not close. I poured for us both. “Just to get this straight, we are each on fifty percent. True?”

“I knew you’d understand.” He raised his glass and drank half.

I refilled it. “You turned the barriers off while I was outside. Did you want me to die as well as Jefferson?”

“Hey, no. I was pleased when you came back. Who else is going to give me pleasure when I demand it?” He shuffled a little closer.

I stood and turned to face him, my back to the sunset. “I want something from you. I want access to navigation, security, sub-ether and all systems.”

Petros laughed. “You’re taking charge?”

“I’m protecting myself. If anything happens to you, I’m stranded and helpless.”

It took a few minutes and another glass of wine to persuade him but soon we were sitting by the hut’s two com. ports. Mostly it was voice controlled just like the games. Anything I didn’t understand, and there was plenty, I asked and it was explained. The explanations assumed more knowledge than I had. I would have been surprised if they hadn’t.

I had one final question. “Can Petros Kwek revoke my authorities?” He could. “Petros, that needs to change.”

He finished his drink and held out his glass for a refill. I took it from him. The bottle was still outside.

When I returned he nodded to the port. “Ask again.”

I sat and repeated my question. “Thank you, Petros. Now we are partners.” I didn’t look at him. My words were no more than a formal recognition of what he had done.

He sighed. “Now, something for me.”

I felt his hand on my thigh, moving slowly. If he had taken a moment to look at my expression he would have known I had no desire for contact. He either didn’t look or didn’t care. He expected. No, he demanded.

I waited, staring ahead. His hand moved in a gentle caress. I put my hand on his, halting its rise. I took hold of his middle finger. When my hand was around it I looked at his face. He was smiling. I brought my other hand over and forced his finger back until I felt and heard it crack. A little twist set bone grinding against bone.

Petros groaned. A little of the color drained from his face.

I still had a firm hold of his shattered finger. He kept it very still. “Next time you and I get cozy will be when I want to. Do you understand me?” I knew then it would never happen, but I needed to give him hope, some reason to let me live.

3507, Sol standard. Day 211

Am I recording? Good.

My name is Zelda Hamadrass, commander and only survivor of SS 61.707 Adventurer. I am no longer a slave except in the academic sense that I own myself by contract. I see no reason not to use my contracted name. Josephine was lost when she left her pony.

Since the tragic death of Petros Kwek, the last of my masters, I have been forced to learn rapidly. I believe I can manage the navigation without understanding it. Sub-ether took a while, but I understand it now, or at least I understand its effects. I can communicate with Earthbase with a five day turnaround.

Recent communications have raised some alarm. Apparently the form of DNA found on New Earth and one other planet might be associated with rapid change. Nice to be forewarned.

For more than three years I have been alone. We worked together, Petros and I, to forge a plan. He died soon after it was finalized.

I have notified the appropriate authorities of the fact of his death but not the details.

Our plan was to make this island Earth-like in its flora and fauna – 400,000 square miles of a greatly simplified Earth, more than 2,000 miles from any other land. One question had to be answered first though. Was this the island on which the Krakov mission set its camp? If it was, we could reasonably assume the sterilization of the island alone would end the threat from those rapidly evolved dragonflies. If it wasn’t, then they existed on some other body of land and we would be faced with the almost impossible task of neutralizing the planet in one go.

Petros set off in the small rover, heading toward a metallic mass that our probes had located. He said he would be back in twelve hours. When I found his body, some days after I had neutralized the island, his helmet wasn’t on it. I feel a little guilty as I had helped fit it myself. He had injured a hand.

I’ve transferred my rights over New Earth for a fraction of their value. Why should I care? I shall live well on Earth, and maybe see if my parents are still alive. Verifying the sale through sub-ether is difficult since I can’t verify the source of any verification, but even the deposit on the ship would let me live in comfort.

My only slight concern arises from a recent blood test. By some means that I can’t explain, an anomaly has occurred, not in every cell, but in a few. The adenine and thymine of the DNA have been replaced by their New Earth equivalents.

I don’t suppose it matters. I can never have children. And I’m sure it will reverse once I get back to Earth.


Thanks for reading.


I also blog about Autism: – All in the Genes

Fancy another story? – The Philosopher’s Experiment


All in the Genes

A little background

Selene and I were halfway home from a visit to a private psychiatrist when the implications of the psychiatrist’s words began filter through to me. Not that it would make any difference, at least in the short term, to Peter, but the impact on the lives of our family could be enormous. And our son’s future somehow seems a little less arid and determined.

Peter is fourteen years old, ASD by diagnosis, with moderate learning difficulties. His difficult behavior over the past few months has resulted in a care plan being put in place, not just for him but for his nine-year-old sister Twinkle.

(See more here:

The risk to himself and others is genuine and needs to be addressed. He has thrown heavy objects – large roof tiles and drinking glasses – over a neighbor’s fence, damaging a car and risking harm to a poorly-sighted neighbor. He has run out of our home along a busy road, with little thought of safety.

We have been put under pressure to give Risperidone. Although no other remedies had been offered (in accordance with the NICE – National Institute for Clinical Excellence – guidelines), we recently started him on a low dose. What else could we do? No other help had been offered.

On the other hand, his ability and desire to express himself has developed beyond our expectations over the same period. Over the last six months he has told us:

  • He wants to learn to drive a car. It isn’t my role to set limits on his possible futures, but I try at least manage his expectations.
  • He’s sad that he can’t speak as well as Twinkle. I find it wonderful that he can now express this, clearly and without anger. We have been as positive as we could, telling him that, although his development was slower than his sister’s, he was making excellent progress.
  • He wants a baby of his own. That horrified me. I hope I didn’t show it.

The evidence for the genetic element in most autisms is strong. (Analyses of data suggest, for example, that the concordance rate between identical twins is 60% to 70%. If one has it, the other is likely to have it too. Between father and child it would be less, but still significant.)

Also there have been a couple of occasions where we believed Peter had pulled a young child – once Twinkle, years ago, and recently his toddler niece Zarah – out of their beds. In a recent conversation, he told us of a time he tried to cuddle Zarah: “I picked her up for a cuddle. I tried to put her down.” What we had thought of as an act of aggression was a misjudged act of affection.

These three revelations have, it seems to me, one thing in common. They reflect a desire to be normal.

So there we were, with a care plan that offered us the opportunity for numerous weekly, fortnightly, monthly and three-monthly meetings but little action, and a son who struggled to express his growing frustration. Time for us to take further action.

Enter the Psychiatrist

Although he was an hour’s drive away, and more expensive than most, we chose Dr. Reinheart for two reasons. He had been strongly recommended by friends. And he had, in addition to his psychiatric and medical qualifications, a degree in law.

If you have read my previous post  (link above), you will know that we are not pleased with the way Peter has been treated by the local authority, and someone who could assess Peter from a clinical and legal point of view seemed ideal. We were not disappointed.

After an hour or more discussing Peter’s likes and dislikes and atypical behaviors, Dr. R scribbled a bell curve onto a page of his note book and added a few colored lines. “See, here. Autism, but borderline for diagnostic purpose.” He moved his pen along the chart. “ADHD, low level. Some dyspraxia, moderate learning difficulty, touch of this, touch of that.” He leant back in his chair. “What we have here is typical of perinatal hypoxia – deprivation of oxygen during birth.”

What This is Not

This is not an attempt to blame the staff present at Peter’s birth for his problems. They may have made mistakes. I’ve made a few. We can’t undo the past.

Until I started writing this post, I believed an umbilical cord wound twice around the neck was usually enough to cause serious brain damage. Fortunately, professionalism kicked in, and I checked the facts before committing my thoughts to e-paper.

According to one site I visited today, about a third of births occur with a nuchal cord – with the cord around the neck. One in a thousand have the cord four or more times around the neck, in most cases without complications.

Had the cord been clamped and cut before Peter took his first breath, that could have caused hypoxia. He would have had no oxygen intake until he took an independent breath. My own recollection of the event fourteen years ago is hazy. It was several quiet minutes after the birth before Peter was handed to Selene, and by that time the cord had been cut.

Looking now at an extract from the hospital’s birth register, l note the words ‘LOW ARTERIAL CORD PH’. I hadn’t seen these before, or thought them significant, but I assume from the fact that they occurred twice in the notes they were important.

Again I claim no great knowledge of the subject, but my friend Google pointed out that such acidosis is a good indicator of fetal distress, with a high probability of permanent brain damage.

So it would seem that, after ninety minutes of questioning us about Peter’s foibles and eccentricities, Dr Reinheart had come across a truth of great importance to our family – a truth that no one in the NHS had felt willing to reveal.

Does it Matter?

Does the cause of Peter’s disability matter, either to us or to Peter?

It doesn’t change the nature or extent of his problems, although it might suggest alternative strategies that we can apply in the future.

But in one important respect, everything changes. If Peter’s problems are related to problems at the time of his birth, then they are not genetically caused. So the risk of further autism in the family is no more for us than for the population at large.

Selene and I are precluded by nature from increasing the world’s population any further, but the same cannot be said of Peter’s siblings.

Penelope, late twenties, still hasn’t settled down, but she has a few good procreative years left if she’s in the mind. (If you read this, Penelope dear, I’m not hinting. Just saying.)

Philip, three years younger, already father of two young girls, need have no more fear than any other parent of bringing a son into the world. (Absolutely no rush though, Philip. Sort your career out first.)

As for little Twinkle, you are far from having to worry about such matters. But at least, when the time comes, if that’s the path you chose, there will be one less potential difficulty standing in your way.

Thanks for reading.

A little background: – I Neglect My Children. It’s Official.

I also write fiction: Philospher’s Experiment – The Philosopher’s Experiment

I Neglect My Children. It’s Official Now.


Living with an autistic adolescent boy is, I suppose, never going to be easy. With one who likes to toss heavy objects over a neighbor’s fence, damaging property and risking serious injury to whoever is there, the problems can be immense. Add to that his liking for running out into the main road outside our house or running along that road to see his friend in the next village, and it might not surprise you to learn we are now on more-or-less friendly terms with the local constabulary.

We erected fences and raised the height of the neighbor’s fence. We paid for repairs to a BMW with money we couldn’t afford, and put locks on all windows and external doors to keep the errant lad penned. An occasional kick or tantrum indoors still, but at least Peter couldn’t put his own or other people’s lives at risk.

Peace, for a few weeks.

Enter the social worker.

No help offered. No psychological interventions or behavioral therapy. But at least she offered a word of advice. “Your refusal to put Peter on Risperidone could be seen as neglect.”

Risperidone had been suggested, by a psychiatrist who hadn’t at the time seen Peter. We, as caring parents, researched for side-effects. Google tutted and shook its head.

There are many known side-effects, some rare, some trivial. One in particular, tardive dyskinesia – involuntary, repetitive body movements, usually of the face but also sometimes in the limbs and elsewhere – worried me for two reasons. First, it can be socially isolating, the last thing an autistic adolescent wants. And secondly, it often continues after the drug is withdrawn, and can be incurable.

So we continued to resist, asking for other remedies to be tried first. And we continued to research.

We found encouragement in the words of the NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) guidelines. Under the guidelines for Learning Disability and also the guidelines for Autism, it is stated unequivocally that Risperidone should not be offered until psycho-social remedies have been tried and given a chance to succeed or fail.

Despite this, before any such remedies had even been proposed, a case conference was called to decide if Peter should be put on a care plan.


The Case Conference

We were led in, Selene and I, to meet the independent chair and the professional minute taker. Introductions completed, we sat as the other professions entered.

First to speak, the police constable. After stating that she had been beat officer in our village for more four years and only knew of our existence six months ago, she then listed Peter’s misdemeanors and absences in great detail. She also mentioned two occasions when we had called the police, from a town four miles away from our home, to report Peter missing during shopping trips. On both occasions, after considerable and much appreciated police effort, Peter was found halfway home.

When she had finished, a clear picture of a child in need of help had been painted. We know he needs help – immediate, appropriate, effective help.

Then the social worker made her case. She confirmed that we had refused to put Peter on medication. She mentioned an incident that took place some years ago, when Peter had pulled his younger sister, Twinkle, out of her bed while she was asleep.

Next to speak was a representative from Peter’s school, a school which Peter has refused to attend for more than two months. The deputy head said categorically that there had been no bullying. “If there was, I would have heard.” He was adamant that no investigation would be undertaken. He then produced a plan to get Peter back into full-time education within six weeks, one which, as we stated, ignored Peter’s fears and couldn’t possibly work without us using force against our son.

The psychiatrist confirmed she had advised starting Risperidone on a low dose, increasing it gradually until it had the desired effect.

We mentioned the NICE Guidelines.

The independent chair observed that a) she was sure the drug had not been offered as a first resort, and b) there was no evidence for any harmful side-effects. Neither of these statements were in the minutes, which we received five weeks later.

I, to my shame, let her get away with it. In those two statements, she had, as I now realize, effectively undermined our case. The conference was called precisely because we wanted other remedies to be tried before we allowed our son to be subjected to a potentially harmful drug. We wanted to protect him from risk of harm.

Soon followed the vote to put our children – not just Peter, for whom the case conference had beeb called, but also Twinkle his eight-year-old sister – on a care plan.

The three possible criteria were explained.

1 Physical Abuse. They couldn’t use that because there had been none.

2 Sexual Abuse. They couldn’t use that, because there had been none.

3 Neglect. As the social worker, first to vote, explained, “We have to use Neglect, because the other two don’t apply.” And, out of ignorance, I let her get away with that.

For Peter the vote was a unanimous Yes. For Twinkle, the only No came from the social worker, whose workload would be doubled.



Does it Matter?

Does it matter that we now have it on record that our two younger children have a care plan because of our neglect? It hurts, but the main issue is this. Will they, particularly Peter, get the help they need? If they do, any bruising to my delicate feelings would be trivial in comparison.

Our two older children are far away, each with a successful career. We brought them up to be strong and independent. That is our aim for the two that remain.

The local authority now has more control over Peter and Twinkle and we must see how they use or abuse that control.

I wonder to what extent the chair’s false comments about Risperidone swayed the meeting. I’ll probably never know.

But I’ll never again go into such a meeting without a very clear understanding of the possible outcomes, and of my own rights.

Did the ‘independent’ chair have a right to call for a vote on a plan for Twinkle during a case conference called for Peter’s protection? I don’t know yet, but I will find out by the time of the next meeting.

As for the use of Neglect because the other reasons, Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse, don’t apply, I have since read the document ‘Working Together’. This UK government document, designed among other things to state how a case conference such as ours should be carried out, defines the terms under which a care plan can be made under the category ‘neglect’. It isn’t, as we were told at the meeting, simply a default for when the other two categories can’t be used. Clear criteria are set out, and had they been read out at the meeting, where the chair reduced it to the four words ‘risk of significant harm’, the vote might have been different.

And will the chair’s comments that there is no evidence for the side-effects of Risperidone, and that she is sure the drug wasn’t offered as a first result, be added to the minutes, as I have requested? I’ll know soon enough.


Two More Things

On the bright side, I have learnt two new pairs of synonyms, which to a person such as me, who clearly cares more about words that about my children’s welfare, must be adequate compensation.

I now know that ‘neglect’ is another word for ‘protection’.

And I have learnt that ‘independent’ can at times be used to mean ‘malicious’.