[UNFINISHED] Notes from a fallen island – PT3

Notes on notes.

Notes from a fallen island is an unfinished project. That is important to remember as you venture forwards. It has been lightly edited, and is largely ‘first draft’ stuff. I am posting it to demonstrate how an idea can just run out of steam, and at 35k words, it’s a large idea to lose!

Some things work, and some don’t. I may go back to a few of the themes in the future, but the story itself will never be finished. There will be a few paragraphs at the end to explain the direction I was heading in, and the ideas that I had. I could never quite get the timeline right. I wanted to start at Brexit being a catalyst, but that wouldn’t work well with the other themes in the tale.

It was originally going to be released month-by-month on my website, so parts do work ‘standalone’ at times, and I enjoyed reading it back as I prepared to post this.

So enjoy what Brexitopia brings, and don’t fell too bad about Dave the dog, he was going to come back!

Chapter 2: A Trip Through The Outlands.

Reg had cleaned and disassembled the tent in the time it had taken me to destroy the machine. I sensed no urgency from him; maybe this was just the speed at which he worked. Dave sat and watched us as we set about our tasks.

“Come on then,” Reg said as he stuffed the tent into my pack that lay on the ground. “What about that?” I asked and pointed at the body of the Leecher. The distaste in my voice was barely disguised for the creature that had invaded my mind. Could it feed on my emotions, or was that just what it had told itself? I suppose it would have to be some telepath; was that really what inhabited the Outlands? Where had they come from? “Animals gotta eat,” Reg answered cheerfully and handed me the pack. I’ll admit that, in any other circumstances, I’d have argued for a burial, or at least something humane, but I didn’t have it in me for this Leecher. The nightmare it left me with was still too fresh and raw to think about forgiveness. Fuck it, “Animals gotta eat,” I repeated.

“Oh, before I forget,” Reg said as he handed me a black box. It was small and had only one switch on its side. “It’ll tell you with a loud screech if any of that shit gets pumped into your tent again. Think of it as a smoke alarm for that toxic shit. The battery should last a week, but it is always best to scavenge and find more. You don’t want to reencounter a Leech.” He was right, I didn’t. I never wanted to come across anything like that ever again. I thanked him for the machine and pushed it into my top pocket. Reg leant forward, pulled it from there and handed it back. ”Keep it in your trousers. It will save your life,” he said. “Treat it as you would have a mobile phone. You don’t want to lose it.” I did as he instructed and pushed it deep into my trouser pocket. I only hoped that, if needed, the little black box worked.

I’d come to feel close to Dave, but having Reg around made me feel instantly safer. Here was a guy who seemed to get the Outlands; I thought he thrived in it, and his chirpy manner was infectious. “You like it out here, don’t you?” I asked as we made our way through some woodlands. “Me? I fuckin love it,” he replied and fired an arrow from his bow through a bunch of trees and into the distance. The bow looked homemade and quite brittle, but the arrow flew at speed, and, after all, I had seen its effectiveness first-hand. The arrow whistled through the air and hit a tree. The noise as it travelled was amplified, and I guess it had been made that way. Reg chased after it, and Dave followed with his tail wagging in the air. I puffed and panted a little as I jogged, trying to keep pace. We were making good ground now that I had a guide. “What’s with the arrow?” I asked as I caught up. I’d thought the arrow was for theatrics, a performance for an audience of one, or two, if you included Dave. “It lets them know we are here and that I know they are there,” Reg replied as he pulled the arrow from the tree.

“They?” I asked, “Leechers?” Reg stopped and looked around. He spotted, and jogged towards, a large hulk of a broken tree trunk. He sat down on the log, “Where are you from?” he asked me. I made my way to a tree and leant against it more casually than I felt; the trunk Reg had used looked low, and I was worried about tweaking my back. It was usually fine, but it had an annoying habit of causing me much pain at the worst times. “South, Sector 13,” I replied.

“Ah, Happy Homes? Smiloxitin? Right?” Reg asked.

“Sure,” I replied, unable to see the reasoning for the question.

“You’ve been lied to your whole life,” Reg said. I can’t say I was shocked. Maybe it’s just me, but like with the nightmare, given time, I’d always felt something was wrong with the world. I suspect many of us know or just have a feeling when something isn’t right. We may not like to admit it to ourselves, or maybe we have no proof, but the feeling lingers like that smell had. “You have Smiloxitin and Happy Homes; another place has Snepitrilin and Comfortable Complexes,” Reg explained. “Leechers, Manakies, and all the other shit out here are failures of the drugs. They were driven insane, sometimes changed by the side effects,” he continued. I stood and listened as Reg told me what he knew; Dave wandered around us. I like to think he was keeping watch, but I figured Reg was better at that. “Human testing was the start. Different drugs in different districts,” Reg said. “The run-offs and cast-offs were thrown into the Outlands and left to die, or sometimes multiply. They usually die.”

“What about you? What was it like in your district?” I asked, picking up the word that Reg had used over the more familiar Sectors. Rightly or wrongly, I trusted Reg. I don’t think it was because he had saved me; he felt trustworthy and honest. He was one of those people that I instantly liked, and there haven’t been many. “I’m a creature of the Outlands,” he said. I won’t lie and tell you I took this in my stride and was calm. My mind was racing with a gazillion different thoughts and ideas. We had just been talking about people being dumped out here because of the drugs, and now I discovered he was one of them! An inhabitant of the Outlands. “Aye, I can see it in your eyes,” Reg said, “but you’ve nothing to fear from me.” Was his honesty the best idea? Is it not sometimes better not to know? I can’t tell you for sure; I will say that I prefer honesty over lies, even white ones. The questions that I had were mounting up as we travelled. I now had a mountain of ponderings that only seemed to be getting bigger. “My parents, such as they were, had been exiled here. I never knew them. Welshy found me and brought me up.”

“You’ve known him all your life?” I asked.

“On and off, yeah,” Reg replied. “I move around often, so occasionally, I’d be housed elsewhere. Once I was old enough and strong enough, I lived out here. It feels like home, you know?” I couldn’t know. I was learning new things by the minute, but I like to think I can empathise well. “You felt the pull of the lands?” I asked.

“In a way,” Reg replied. “I’d grown up mostly outside, so when I was inside, I felt confined. I suspect Welshy understood.”

“Who is he?” I asked. I knew of the Welshman; I had spoken to him if you count the computer, but I didn’t know who he was. “That’s not for me to say,” Reg answered. “If he decides to let you know, he will do.” I won’t say that I wasn’t disappointed, but I understood. Reg had told me about his life, but that was his choice. Who was he to talk about another’s? Changing the subject and veering me away from Welshy, Reg asked, “Caught your breath?” I wanted to know more, but I got the feeling that Reg was done talking for now, so I just nodded. “Good. We have a few days’ travel, and then we’ll reach Sector 43.”

“Why there?” I asked.

“You’re going to meet a guy called ‘The Jobbit’. I’m told he’s a good guy, and if Welshy trusts him, you should too. He’s going to give you something that needs to be delivered.”

“You don’t know him?”

“Never had the need to, but as I say, if Welshy trusts him, then he’s cosher.”

We walked and talked. Dave followed behind and sometimes led the way. The world, as Reg explained, differed from the one I thought I knew.

The splintering of towns and communities had been seen as an opportunity. We were sold the idea of the Outlands as a rewilding project. A plan to save the earth and give it the chance to repair. Expertly packaged and presented by the politicians as a way to save the planet. A new green environment. Sure, there would be short-term pain as places were rebuilt, but the trees and land would recover from human recklessness in the long term. And, like saps, we bought into it. We happily believed the lie they were selling. The Outlands were where failed experiments went to their death; it didn’t work out like that. By a strange quirk of fate, it worked out even better for OTIN.

“Mostly when someone is disappeared, what’s happened is that they’ve had an adverse side effect,” Reg explained.

“It should be heaving out here!” I said, stating what was, to me, the obvious.

“Most of them die,” Reg replied mournfully. “Snepitrilin. Smiloxitin. Tentrapin. It doesn’t matter. Some of that shit fucks with your DNA. It screws with the very thing that makes you who you are!” Unable to help it, I looked down at myself. I’ve no idea what I expected to see, maybe a third arm growing out of my kneecap, but everything looked normal. “You’re fine,” Reg laughed. “Smiloxitin is one of the more traditional drugs. It takes a while, but you can flush it from your system.” Relieved would undersell the thoughts I was having. Since just before meeting Reg, my emotions had been on a rollercoaster of ups and downs, lefts and rights, and now I could throw ‘eased’ into the mix. “43, where we are heading, now that’s some fucked-up shit. Hipoxin was what they called it. Makes everyone happy, always happy. It’s nauseating.” Reg seemed a chirpy and friendly fellow, so hearing him describe it as nauseating was a little amusing. “It doesn’t sound so bad,” I said.

“Just you wait and see,” was his curt reply.

It had started up north to quell the rebellion of the Scottish people. Drugs were added to the publicly run Scottish water system to keep the population docile. It was deemed an easy and acceptable solution after the independence riots. “Started at the very peak of the kingdom where the population was less dense,” Reg explained. “That’s what gave them the idea for the Outlands. That’s the problem with getting away with something once; it makes you want more. We’ll make a start on saving the planet. Create ourselves a more spartan existence.

“We understand. It’ll be tough sometimes, but we are all in this together. We have to do something or risk catastrophic damage to the world; they told us on TV,” Reg said. I couldn’t remember the exact details, but what he told me rang bells. Something about it felt familiar, like the déjà vu of a long-forgotten dream. We broke for the night near a stream, and, as we set up camp, Reg continued to talk. “How do you know all of this?” I asked. “You’re younger than me; much of this is just memories.”

“Welshy told me,” Reg replied. “He drilled it into me from a young age. Once the population was divided into separate Sectors, it became easy to isolate them.”

“Set up your camp near a stream in the future,” Reg warned, taking a solid left turn from the subject at hand. “Most of the things out here don’t like the sound of running water.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Buggered if I know, and if Welshy does, he hasn’t told me,” Reg replied with a chuckle. He continued to pitch the tent and prep a fire as I washed myself lightly in the stream. Dave watched and danced in and out of the water as I did this. “He likes to play,” Reg said as I finished.

“I can’t say I am really in the mood,” I replied. It was true. Everything I’d thought I understood was now being called into question. We had all been tested upon and had our thoughts and emotions manipulated. “Why?” I asked Reg. I’d just begun expanding on the question when he answered. “Power. Control. Money. I’d like to tell you there was some massive truth and explanation behind it all, but it’s all as old as time and nothing new,” Reg said. I perched myself on a log and said nothing. There had to be more. I didn’t trust OTIN, but surely underneath it all they cared about most of the population; they had to! “You don’t have to believe me,” Reg said. “When we get to 43, you’ll see it yourself. Sickening.”

“What about those who leave?” I asked. “Many leave the Sectors and move on. They escape; leave, and…” I was about to say, “Are never heard from again.”

“And you never see them again,” Reg finished the sentence for me. I smiled limply as the answer had presented itself as I had asked the question. “Do any escape?” I asked, thinking of my ex-wife and children. Reg, I think, could tell I was asking in hope rather than expectation. That hope may have formed his answer. Taking pity on me like a decent bloke, “Maybe,” he said. “I suppose some must do. Look at you; you’ve survived.” I felt like pointing out I was only there because he had rescued me, but I wanted to keep that spark of hope alive. I needed to believe that my children had escaped. My nightmare had been a manifestation of my fears. That was all it was; it had to be. It was just my subconscious toying with me. I’d always suspected I’d be portrayed as a monster, but that was all they were: conjecture and fears revealing themselves through nightmares to an audience of one.

“I’m going to get us some tea. Will you be okay here?” Reg asked. I was sure he could tell there was something on my mind, but he didn’t ask, and for that, I was grateful. “Sure, I’ll be fine,” I replied. Dave settled at my feet as Reg left to ‘get us some tea.’ With only my thoughts and Dave, I sat and waited for Reg to return. Depression can grab you when you least expect it. Much like a trap closing or a python’s spiral death grip. I’d expected to feel that icy embrace of sadness and misery, but I felt normal. The mind controlled what it needed me to feel, or perhaps I’d just resigned myself to a future I knew would be lonesome. Destined never to see my children again. I picked a stick from the floor and threw it for Dave. Chucking the stick and having Dave return it made me smile. I laughed and genuinely can’t remember the last time I’d done that. It wasn’t a ripping great belly laugh but a chuckling giggle as I played with the dog. I was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t hear Reg return. “Told you he likes to play,” Reg said as he threw our tea to the ground.

Wild boar. Well, a humbug, I think, as it was too small to be full-sized. “Is it safe?” I asked as Reg started to skin and prepare it. Was I about to embark on eating a mutated hog, even one as small as this? “Ha! Unless the changed have been pig fucking, then it’s safe, and if they had, I don’t think it would look like that!” Reg said with a laugh and a smile as he ripped skin from the ‘bug. “It’s fine,” he continued. “The drugs fuck with humans. The animals are animals. I’d have liked something bigger, but that’s life. It’ll last us until we get to 43.” Reg cut the hog from tail to tip and removed its organs. He made it look easy as he stripped everything away so that it was ready to eat. “Pass me my pack,” he said, pointing to his bag. I picked the bag up and took it over to him. It was lighter than I expected, just the essentials, I suppose, and he opened it. He placed a few sheets of paper on the ground and then pulled a knife from the bag. Smoothly, he chipped the prepared meat into chunks and then set it on the paper. His hand vanished into the bag and came out with a large bag of salt. “This’ll help preserve it,” he said, covering the meat. I’d been watching because I’d have to do this myself at some point. How I would catch the beast — mini-beast in this case — was a question I’d ask myself later. I was realising just how naïve I had been in starting this trip. I had no idea of anything! Reg flipped the meat and poured salt on the other side before wrapping it in the paper. He handed me most of the wrapped meat but kept a little for himself. “Use your nose. If in doubt, bury it,” he cautioned.

“Bury it?” I asked. Come and see the idiots idiot, capable of asking the most obvious questions at any time and anywhere. “You don’t want anything else catching a whiff, human or otherwise. In fact, check it regularly in your pack. If you open it and something smells off… Well, you know what to do.” I nodded in agreement. I was to bury anything that smelt hokey immediately and escape the area. After my previous experience, I would take on any advice and follow it to the letter! I helped Reg collect firewood, and after starting a fire, he cooked the meat. I felt like a newly joined Boy Scout as he showed me a lot of little tricks and hints, but I didn’t mind; they’d all come in handy, maybe. And if they didn’t, what’s life without learning new skills and knowledge? I started with the cooked meat and nibbled at the edges but was soon eating heartily. Humbug tasted better than I would ever have imagined. “Remember when they passed a law to block some sites on the internet in the 2010s?” Reg asked. I didn’t remember. I was a younger man then, and therefore, neither could Reg. This must have been something that he was told. “Well,” Reg continued, “it starts simple enough and with nothing anybody can complain about. They blocked kiddie porn and nasty shit like that.” Reg chowed down on his meat and chewed away as he spoke. “Gradually, over time, they added things. First, it was piracy, and then it was terrorist websites,” Reg winked at me as he said the word ‘terrorist’. It was a knowing wink as if to say, “If you know what I mean.” I knew what he meant. It’s long been the problem with laws, the pitfall of unintended — though often intended — consequences. The public order bill was amended and used to crack down on anti-government feelings and protests. Laws are continually strengthened, tweaked, or often misinterpreted by those in charge so they can do what they wish. I’d seen it before and, if lucky, would see it again.

“That is not the fascinating thing,” Reg continued as he ate; “once they had that control, it expanded exponentially.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I knew about ‘The Great British Firewall’ and how it restricted access to many parts of the World Wide Web, but Reg suggested something more. “North Korea had created the ‘Kwangmyong,’ or ‘Bright Light,’ intranet. Everything is walled instead of a simple firewall, and you could only see internally.” I listened intently as Reg talked and explained what he knew of the intranet. “But,” I asked, “I’ve read and seen the sites worldwide.”

“That’s where AI came in,” Reg replied. In the early 2020s, AI had finally broken through. It was still dumb and not sentient; that would be AGI, but it was smart enough to do a lot of work and do it quickly. “Everything is routed through that internal network, and AI removed what they don’t want you to see,” Reg said. I was taking all of this in and having to depend on good faith when believing it. I had no reason to distrust Reg, and, apart from him saving my life, granted a big reason, I had no reason to believe what he was saying. “Trust me,” Reg said, feeling my thoughts in the air, “and, if you don’t, look up your Sector when we get to 43.”

We continued talking into the evening, discussing the past, our lives, and what we hoped might happen in the future. He’d speak, at times, like he hated the country, but at others, it was with great affection for where he was born. I think he hated what the country had become, detesting those in charge and what they’d done to everyone, but not the country itself, nor the inhabitants themselves. He never said so explicitly, but that was the feeling I had. Reg put the fire out as it got darker and suggested we slept. I felt ready to sleep for a week! “I’ll chill nearby,” he told me, leaving me to sort myself out. It didn’t take long for me to fall alseep.

I slept like the dead, or the near dead, and was woken by the sound of Reg playing with Dave. I lay and listened to Dave’s barks and Reg’s laughs. Lying there too long wasn’t an option, but I wanted to hear the noises of happiness for a while longer. Finally, I relented, my damned bladder forced me to concede and admit defeat, and I arose from my slumbering morning mess and out of the tent. “Morning,” Reg said as I walked to a tree to relieve myself. “Morning,” I replied as I took a leak. Once finished, we talked and packed up. Leaving for the day, I glanced back at the past and looked forward to my future.

A few hours later, Reg quickly pulled his arm up and across my chest. Coming across my torso like a bullwhip or a spring pushed to its limit and snapping back. I stopped instantly. He gestured with his finger across his lips that I should be quiet. The arm was hint enough. Dave didn’t need any instruction, and he gathered by our feet and – I suspect – was keeping guard. If not, he was intently interested in what his humans were doing. Reg pointed to the tree line before us and motioned for me to look. I saw nothing at first. Only the greenery and trees, but then, as I squinted and no doubt looked a fool, movement caught my eye. Once I had seen one, the others came into view. I watched as creatures the size of a human moved on all fours, like squirrel monkeys, darting between the trees and tall grass. They looked human, but their faces had an elongated snout, much like a dog or wolf. Completely naked and hairless, the group of four or five moved one by one. When one tree was free, they moved along like caterpillars or elephants in a herd chained to one another by an invisible cord. “What are they?” I whispered, breaking our silence momentarily.

“Strakers,” Reg replied, with his hand covering the top of his mouth. Fascinated, I watched as they continued to make their way through the trees. I was just about to ask another question when Reg indicated I should be quiet. Or, more specifically, he gave me a look that screamed, “Shut the fuck up!” The surrounding leaves rustled as he did this, and one of the Strakers looked in our direction. I held my breath and felt my heart beating as fear mixed with excitement. Reg snapped back, pulling me with him before I knew it. He grasped his hand over my mouth and held me close. We were behind an enormous tree trunk, but anything looking would have been able to see bits of us sticking out. My pack dug into my back, and it must have been rammed into Reg’s front, but he said nothing. He pulled me to the ground, and our heads rested next to one another. Lying next to each other, I dared not move or say a word. He needn’t have warned me again; I could guess what was coming.

“Stay put. Don’t move, and be quiet,” Reg whispered. His voice was the quietest footsteps of a mute mouse wearing air-padded trainers. Tiny tip-taps that could only be heard on the best sound recording equipment. He risked telling me, but I was not about to speak up and say anything myself. My face looked down at the ground, and I dared not move, even with a nose full of mud. It was, thankfully, a good position to be in because I could see nothing. I heard the grass we had been about to walk through being pulled and pushed back, and then I felt my hair moving. The straker was right above me and sniffing at my hair. I could feel the bum-te-bum in my neck as my heart raced, hearing it through the inside of my ear as it paced along my nape and into my brain. I held my breath for what felt like an age as the creature sniffed its way up and down my body. I could feel the warm breath as it sniffed, and its dog-like nose, on the human face, inspected what it had found. It pushed at the pack I was wearing and grunted whilst doing so. Reg moved beside me. One gentle creep at a time, as if he was hunting something. Slowly, he moved and edged, and then, with a quick jolt, he shifted, and the creature darted. I exhaled. I couldn’t hold it any longer, and my chest concaved, and I sank lower. It was a blessed relief for my aching lungs, and I resisted the urge to take large breaths. I pulled in the air slowly but steadily through my nose, trying to be as quiet as possible. Scared and concerned, I lay there next to where Reg had been, inhaling and exhaling as quietly as possible, unsure of what to do. Was I meant to stay like this forever? Then, quick as a flash, I heard Reg move again, and I stood up.

 “Oh, hey. You’ve found our dog,” Reg called out. Startled, I stood my ground and did nothing. Finally, I got to my feet. Reg smiled uneasily at me, then whispered, “Just follow my lead.” I looked over and saw the Straker playing with Dave. They ran together in and out of trees and the grass like a pair of puppies in a park. Cute, I suppose, if it hadn’t been for the fact that moments earlier, I had been cowering. It stopped and came towards us. Reg placed his hand against my side for just a moment, telling me, I hoped, to stand my ground. Dave followed the Straker, his tail wagging in the air and his tongue dangling from his mouth. Happy as a pig in shit, as the saying goes. The Straker’s eyes were as clear and white as any ghost, and I now understood why it had been sniffing around. It was blind. I was right about the hair, too. Now that it was closer, I could see it was completely hairless! There wasn’t a follicle in sight; the creature was utterly smooth and without blemishes. As smooth as a baby’s arse. “Remarkable,” I muttered, and the Straker looked at me. It sniffed around my groin like a horny, oversexed dog and then turned away. I looked over to where its pack had been; the group remained still, watching us. They were standing on their legs, more human-like, but crouching like OAPs with bad backs. They were viewing us, only I knew they couldn’t see!

 It seemed satisfied with me and then moved on to Reg. “You found a friend, Dave,” Reg said, talking only to the dog. Reg ignored the Straker as it sniffed around him; he continued talking to Dave as if the creature was of no interest. “You having fun there? Have a good run around?” he asked the dog. “Aye, we’ll have to get you home soon. It’s been a busy day,” he said. I couldn’t understand why Reg ignored the Straker as it moved from eyeing Reg and returned to me. As it did, Reg lifted his arm towards his shoulder and closer to his bow. I shook my head slightly, and Reg withdrew his arm silently. With all the best will in the world, I still don’t know why I did that. The feeling of threat, the fear of the unknown, had deserted me, and I didn’t feel afraid of this creature. If anything, I pitied it a little. It sniffed around me again and then sniffed at my pack. It didn’t take a genius to know what it was after. I wondered if it was just hungry. I slowly removed the pack from my back, trying not to make any rash or sudden movements. The creature backed away and snarled a little as I was reaching. Yellowing spiked teeth revealed themselves as its lips pulled up and down around its mouth. I put my hand out and tried to soothe the creature, as I would have a dog. I knew it couldn’t see me, but its eyes seemed to follow my hand as I did this. It withdrew a little, and its lips returned to normal; the snarl disappeared simultaneously. If it were a dog, I’d say that the hairs on its neck were standing on end, but as it was hairless, I can’t. What I will say is that I got the impression that it was very much aware of everything and would pounce without warning if it felt threatened. My fingers tiptoed to the bag, and I lifted it from my back. I opened the bag and grabbed the packed meat, holding it out and forward in my hands like you would if you were making a religious offering. The wrapped stacks of meat were in my hands, and the creature came over and took them gently from me. There was no aggression or fear; it took them as gently as any pet or trained animal might. It dropped them to the floor and then climbed onto its hind legs the same way its pack was doing, and let out an almighty scream. The scream was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I wanted to hold my hands up to my ears and push them as tightly as I could against my head. Reg placed his hand on my arm and shook his head. I stood as the screech stretched the woodland and closed my eyes; for a moment I thought I couldn’t take it any longer, and then it stopped. I opened my eyes, and the Straker had returned to its four legs. It lurched at me and slobbered a tongue down my cheek. The staleness of its breath almost made me retch, but I held it back. Once it had left its mark, so to speak, it returned to the meat. It grabbed the package in its mouth and then ran back to its pack. Reg and I stood and watched silently as the group continued its march; Dave looked at us as if we were the strangest creatures in the world and then had a shit.

“I think you made a friend,” Reg said as the Strakers vanished from view. I took a moment to think and then asked, “What the fuck was that all about?” My hands were shaking from the experience. “They like animals and nature,” Reg said. “It was always a risk, but if we could show that we were no threat and that we also like animals…” He pointed to Dave, who had finished his business and wanted to move on. “Then they may accept us as travellers walking a path, just as they are.”

“But what the hell were they?” I asked. “Don’t tell me they’re human.”

“Among the first. From right up north,” Reg said and pointed to the sky. “Very early experimentation. They could even have descended from the original batch.”

“Original batch?” I asked.

“Aye,” Reg replied. “OTIN and the drugs didn’t just appear overnight. These things creep, ya know. The country is full of fuckers that say you’re overreacting.” His voice peaked slightly as if I were talking about a touchy subject. I knew this with the drugs and people saying it was an overreaction. I had seen it in my youth, and it was, once again, a stupid question. “Yeah, alright,” I said, “it was a stupid question,” repeating my thoughts aloud. Reg nodded and slapped his hand on my shoulder. “It’s cool,” he said. “I just get a bit worked up. Some of them were my relatives.” I wanted to ask if he meant the Strakers, the first batch, or maybe both, but I didn’t think it was the right time. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get you to 43.”

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