Smaller version for About the Talent Show

Dear Reader, I need your help!

Firstly, you can spread the word: a teaser for my first new stuff in nearly 18 months is here!

Secondly: Tell me what you think! Here’s why I’m looking for critiques:

When I read Lucas Bales Beyond the Wall books this year, I found the author had included a section called ‘What’s Gone Before’ at the start of books 2 and 3. A great idea, even if I personally skipped them because I read the books in quick succession. My immediate question was ‘Should I do this myself for the Talent Show books too?’

Seeing as it’s been nearly 18 months since I put Shadow’s Talent out, I’d be a fool to expect people to remember everything from that book, especially given the level of detail involved in its surprises. So I decided to take re-capping a previous book to a slightly different level..

The opening of GOTN is a letter, obviously in Shadow’s written voice – an attempt at making re-capping and a little info-dumping entertaining, because he’s obviously very pissed off!

Let me know how I’ve done. My beta readers are soon going to do the same thing, so a little reader feedback on my opening pages couldn’t hurt either. I’ll soon publish an excerpt from the start of CH1 for you as well.

WARNING: actually nobody swears in this excerpt (yeah, I actually wrote a whole 3000 words without using ye olde f-word!)….but it does contain MINOR SPOILERS.  When I read through it this morning after a two month break, I realised it actually doesn’t spoil as much of Shadow’s Talent as I thought it did. If you’re a reader or critiquing author seeking a fresh experience, it might actually be a good experiment to read this letter first, and read ST looking at how what you read here gets prefigured…

Over to Shadow…

Part One


An Open Letter to the Seekers’ Council – April 2276

To the members of the Seekers’ Council,

My name is Shadow Alex Hatcher. I have always been surprised that the Names Bureau let my parents call me this, but it is the identity I was born with and the one I still have twenty-one years later. If you read no further than this, let one message stand above any other: I have no desire to be anyone else.

Yet it seems that I cannot convince the members of the Council that this is true. One member of your Council recently referred to me in a public forum as ‘A subversive and dangerous individual who campaigns for legal drugs solely because he is addicted to them, and who should not have a platform from which he can shout so called “truths” when the world knows nothing true about him.’ This letter is about the truth as I see it, and I write it despite my certainty that I will convince none of you I am worth hearing.

My life would never have been remarkable had it not been for an attempt on it two years ago. During the many procedures it took to save my life, I became Talented. It is common enough knowledge that no charges were brought against Dr Kit Calloway for doing this because it was proven, albeit behind closed doors, that I was in fact born with Talent, and the real ‘crime’ was that someone switched it off. Yet Hatcher is neither a Seeker name nor a name associated with Talent, and no link has ever been made between my Seeker genes and anyone else’s on record. What the Seekers’ Council refuse to accept is that there are reasons why some records do not exist and why certain doors are shut, despite the Talent Council being granted powers of law to protect people involved in events of the past.

Closed doors never are easy to open, are they? Even for the Seekers’ Council. (Forgive me a sidetrack, but I always did wonder why there’s an apostrophe in your title. It implies that the council belongs to the Seeker class, yet it seems to me that the idea of it is to rule them, and everyone else with them.)

Collective pacts of forgetting are problematic, yet they are what we have. Perhaps it is better then to think of them not as pacts of forgetting, but of progress.

Pacts of progress are the reason that societies have risen from the ashes. I need not give any of you a lecture on the civil wars following Hour Zero, or the abuses and corruption of Stuart Coburn’s government, including the subversion of members of your own Council. Mentioning Galt Devrish in the Great Halls, I imagine, is still akin to injecting liquid nitrogen into the veins of every council member. Yet the council still exists. Progress. The kind that meant Esteban Devrish was never a made a member in his father’s stead. I’ll give you this much: sometimes a family name does make the right kind of difference.

Progress cannot be made without certain problems being either put away or solved with little or no public knowledge. Who broke Galt’s neck for you, I wonder? Who threw Coburn off the top of that skyscraper? Who blew the whistle on Esteban before it was too late to stop him unleashing his anti-Talent on two planets? The underworld has certainly kept your secrets, and it is doing it for me as well. It is the reason why, by law, I am afforded the right to my freedom, and my Talent, and the identity I was born with, even though I know that if certain things had been different, I might have been born someone else entirely.

But things are how they are. I am a citizen of England and Earth, and this is what I wish to be, even though the problems your council continue to create on this planet often make me wonder why any rational person would want this.

I will give Arko Rockford this much ground: I am subversive. I started a campaign for the legalisation of Dream Morphine, and a separate campaign for travel rights to Carnathia for all citizens of Earth, and have shown very little regard for the laws concerning both. I am only one of many, yet I have become a voice people have heard for one obvious reason: I am someone your Council cannot touch when it comes to my secrets, and such people are rare.

Such people often disappear. Even this long after Coburn’s time. I am still here. There is truly no convenient way for you to be rid of me, is there?

I am subversive because I speak certain truths about the world we live in that your council are uncomfortable with hearing. For a while I dared to think the winds of change were blowing through it, that certain members with more moderate and progressive views might hear what I suggest and not simply reject it. Yet I am resigned to one simple fact: nothing seems to change for the better.

I will give Mr Rockford a little more: I am a drug addict, even though I’m clean. Recovery lasts for life. Yet like many, Mr Rockford uses this description ‘drug addict’ as a thinly veiled term of abuse. Part of the problem with drug addiction is that even for those experienced, it can be difficult to spot. An addict can be the same high functioning person as those who are sober-living or teetotal. Mr Rockford, from what I have found out about him, has a fully functioning body with no long term pain problems. For someone with a soldier’s background in the Carnathian armies, I find that surprising. But then again, commanding officers often don’t bear the brunt of that sort of work. Let us pity Mr Rockford, who has probably never had a day’s pain in his life to appreciate. I do wonder how the soldiers who have borne it for him dealt with it. I really would enjoy a drink with some Carnathian infantry, sometime.

Perhaps that’s unfair though. Mr Rockford started in the ranks, by all accounts, and has probably seen plenty of active service, and perhaps a convalescent bed or two. It is a shame then, that he appears to have forgotten any such experience. Another convenient privilege afforded to those promoted to high places.

I write this letter in my free time at The Cloud – a rehabilitation facility, which I entered of my own free will after admitting that I am addicted to opiates. My ability to function on them was never going to last forever. I have no desire to go where the likes of Brian Carson have gone before, either with one substance or another. The critics of my Dream Morphine campaign, members of your council included, have pointed this out vociferously. While it is true that some people have become addicted to Dream Morphine and caused themselves and others considerable harm in the process, it seems all too easy to ignore the idea that these problems stem from the illegality of the substance, a state of law created by the Seekers Council supposedly for the purpose of protecting people. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you still believe it is protection you give.

The name Dream Morphine is in itself misleading – the substance has nothing to do with the suppression of physical pain and very little to do with dreams. After all, if Dream Morphine was a painkiller, I would most likely not have a criminal record to my name for having stolen opiates from several hospitals. Where would the need for that have been? I am, after all, supposedly ‘allied with all the wrong people’ (Mr Rockford again)  who would happily supply me all the DM I wanted.

Why not call it Liquid Talent – the direct translation of the Carnathian name for it? The Seekers Council helped to create misconceptions by perpetuating the Dream Morphine name, and with it the society in which people treat the substance like an illegal drug, right down the manufacture and supply. Your endeavours to stop people in this world using the substance and creating empires out of the demand for it have failed, and with this failure comes the story of how Brian Carson wanted me dead and crippled me for life.

Why has this happened? I’m not that fond of the expression ‘knee-jerk’ reaction, because even metaphorically I think it fails. You didn’t jerk knees of any kind after the BlueSky disaster. Instead you instigated a full on propaganda campaign to make people afraid of Liquid Talent, right down to renaming it Dream Morphine. This was supposed to be a ‘Never Again’ campaign, a sort of homage and honour to those who died in BlueSky’s ‘experiment.’ This idea, rather than being filled with humility and recognising the sanctity of human life, is a lie and an insult to those who died. Not to mention an insult to the intelligence of those of us who live.

Let’s hear from Alissa Tremaine, esteemed member of the Seekers Council, who said of me: ‘He has no respect for tragedy and does not consider the feelings of the families of those who died because of what he seeks to legalise.’If the loss of human life means nothing to me, I do wonder why I testified against Matt Carson, who I witnessed taking two, after a Dream Morphine deal gone wrong. Does ‘respect for tragedy’ mean that we are going to outlaw painkillers every time someone dies from an overdose? Oh yes, that’s fitting: I recently took one. If my long standing (or perhaps long suffering) partner Ebony had not successfully saved my life by calling the ambulance in time, would the Seekers Council have afforded me a respectful comment in my obituary?

Had it not been for the sabotage of one man, namely Esteban Devrish, the world would be a very different place, with the BlueSky trials declared a resounding success, and legal Liquid Talent on retail shelves – an undertaking worth millions, if not billions of credits in the very revenue your council appears to love the benefits of.

But let’s put money aside. What do you say on the ability to not only read memory and the inner workings of the human mind, but to create entirely new levels of engagement with each other? Do we really honour those who died during BlueSky by outlawing the vision they once shared with me? We certainly didn’t outlaw BlueSky itself: fine makers of gaming and space industry technology all over this world and indeed Carnathia as well. We simply banned them from making progress unless a certain council approved of how they made it. We didn’t outlaw Level Four Talented citizens from obtaining a simulation control licence, and practicing the creation of memory based simulation in a regulated and beneficial way. We simply made it a way for people to actively play with the mind and conveniently forget that Liquid Talent was ever an option.

Liquid Talent has the potential to surpass the limits of simulation control, yet the people who regularly see a controller seem afraid of admitting that given a chance to take the next step legally and safely, they would do so. People are afraid of signing up to my campaign because they do not want the same unpopularity I enjoy. To speak out against the Seekers’ Council, who effectively regulate world peace by controlling the oil flow, is an act deemed unthinkable by most media sources. Or more accurately, deemed inappropriate when most of them are controlled by Sekaro-Henderson News Corp and they have a high standing relative with a  seat on your Council, three places left of Sarko Prodi’s ‘high chair’ (and I do love that name for it!)

Before the likes of Alissa Tremaine question my respect for the dead, perhaps they should think about what their Council has actually done to protect anyone. The Seekers Council refuse to imagine a world where legal, regulated and beneficial uses of our ability to record human memory could have prevented stories like that one that led to me writing this letter, and other situations where people have either had their lives ruined or lost them. Law enforcement being allowed to use the substance to record memories in evidence has been a poor compromise, with noted abuses and corruption by trusted people who were allowed access to the substance. If law enforcement agencies are the only ones allowed the substance, why would a hard working drug dealer not seek to tap them for it? Do you still believe this can never happen even though several officers in the police have now stood trial for their ties to Drake Cardale?

Even though I have many followers who would agree with me, I still find the lack of protest at all of this to be verging on paradoxical, along with how Earth is effectively a planet held hostage by Seekers through oil control and a refusal to allow citizens without Seeker status to travel to Carnathia.

There is not even the compromise of bringing the advanced technological benefits from the other side of our universe to Earth; we only believe there is because we have colonies in space and ecological travel methods with which to reach them, and even these are privileges afforded mostly to people with wealth. Even if you imported the medical technology and knowledge from Carnathia that could restore the damage done to me, and thus allow me to pursue the career and activities for which I once put all of my problems with this world aside, I would never have a hope of affording it.

Let us take a moment to talk about Samuel McCaffrey. The society he saw was one where his family’s billions in Seeker wealth were redistributed into the hospitals he built and the care they gave. Sammy McCaffrey was the Seeker who alienated his family to the point where it was even suggested he was responsible for the deaths of both his parents, during the riots that brought Stuart Coburn to power. Sammy McCaffrey saw the kind of future that I am now sitting in the present waiting for: where I would have had both the right and the means to reverse my bad fortune. For all his evil manipulation and the stain he cast on the world that we still see today, Stuart Coburn once saw this future too.

Instead of Sammy’s vision, there is a Seekers’ Council that allowed all the systems of the past to come back in following Sammy’s death, and with them the kind of wealth that many of you have amassed for yourselves and done precious little with, save for enjoying an elite lifestyle and membership of the class that not only holds this planet to ransom, but makes us believe we should be thankful for it.

I am not thankful for this. Nor are many other people, but unlike the majority of them I decided there were certain things I was not going to be silent about any longer. When you walk out of a hospital knowing you should have died in it, that kind of epiphany does sometimes happen, so I’m told.

So here I am, still alive when your Council probably wishes I was not, and another voice in the wind whose letter will probably be torn up by the very people who need to read it most. I am not writing this as an exercise advised by a rehab counsellor, or because I can’t sleep until I have made yet another declaration of how unfair I believe this world is. I am writing it to let you know I have given up trying to reach you.

Surrendering is fine. It’s just like admitting you have a drug problem. I might as well sit in some of these sessions and say ‘My name is Shadow and I have a social conscience’ and then let other people help me take twelve steps to deal with it. You win: ignoring this letter is the ultimate resistance to me. When attempts to assassinate my character do not stop me, pretending I don’t exist at all just might. The denial of my existence won’t be hard for you: you’re already well practiced in pretending reality simply isn’t there.

But I want you to consider this: I would have shared my secrets with you and surrendered everything if I believed that you could make this world a better place, and that you could be trusted with secrets and not use them to stab people in the back for your own advantage. I have many friends to whom I can apply that description, and none of them sit on your Council because they are sensible enough to not allow your way of life to rob them of these virtues.

I am settling for a simple life and making peace with things being the way they are. I will be a better person for this. Protesting at the world only serves to make me angry. The Talented do need to manage anger, as I’ve frequently been reminded by one or two people who learned that lesson the hard way.

But even though I am desisting in all campaigns, rest assured you have changed my mind about nothing, and if I ever find that once in a lifetime way of finally getting through to you, I very much expect that the temptation will be too much for me. Call it my own personal Step Thirteen. I can give up taking opiates for the rest of my life, but I will never give up my conviction that unless you act for change, you are responsible for what is wrong with this planet.

Sincerely, Shadow Hatcher.