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Mining superintendent James Hadstock has recently been assigned to train staff in mining Alyssium, a substance previously regarded as waste. His curiosity around this sudden change leads him to discover it's needed by the aliens. His apparently innocent on-line searches result in his world being turned upside down after he is arrested by the counter-terrorist unit who are under pressure to increase prosecutions to justify their restrictive polices. In order to present his side of the story, he is interviewed by a merciless click-hungry newspaper reporter willing to exploit any relationship in her pursuit of her first front-page story and results in him being painted as an alien-sympathiser and terrorist leader in the subsequent article, resulting in mobs protesting outside his house. How will James protect his family from the impact? What is the truth about the aliens' invasion and the uses of Alyssium ? Will he be found guilty in the court hearing? This is the story of an ordinary family reluctantly catapulted into the limelight as a result of an apparently innocent on-line query and follows the consequences on an ordinary family of the government powers during extraordinary times.

Scifi / Thriller
Age Rating:

Chapter 1



Victor put his hand on James’ shoulder and squeezed. He then said, “The defence calls James Hadstock as its only witness.” He turned to where James was sitting and indicated that it was his time to give evidence. James stood up and walked slowly to the witness box. This was the moment he had been partly dreading and partly looking forward to as it was his chance to present his side of the story and, finally, to clear his name.

After swearing an oath he turned to face Victor and his lawyer began the questioning.

“Please confirm your full name and occupation.”

“James Hadstock. Superintendent. Northern Mining Company.”

“How long have you worked for Northern Mining?”

“Since I left school. 20 years.”

“How long have you been in your current position?”

“I was promoted to mining superintendent two years ago.”

“When did you first hear about Alyssium?”

“Alyssium is well known in the mining industry as a waste product. Ever since I joined Northern Mining, Alyssium has been just thrown away. Nobody wanted it.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, mining coal produces many waste products, which we have to separate from the coal in order to ship the pure coal to the refinery. Alyssium isn’t always found near every coal seam, but Northern Mining own several sites where Alyssium is much more common. We sometimes use it as a fertiliser for our own flowers, but it’s not very good as it breaks down very quickly at normal temperatures. When it is very cold, this breakdown is delayed and it is a very effective fertiliser, so we can use it in the winter to grow flowers – to make the mine a bit less dreary.”

“Please tell the court about the change in your job a few months ago.”

“Yes, sure. Well, Geoff – Mr Smith – my boss approached me a few months ago to discuss the next year’s corporate plans. During these discussions he mentioned that the board had decided to change its focus and start collecting and shipping Alyssium.”

“Were you surprised?”

“Yes, of course! I had been working for Northern Mining for 20 years and we had always been told to throw it away as it was completely worthless. Now, suddenly, we had to collect it and ship it. Of course I was extremely shocked and surprised by the change in focus for the company.”

“How did Mr Smith react?”

“He had no explanation for the change in priorities. He just repeated that this was an order from our board of directors and that was the end of the discussion.”

“What happened next?”

“He asked me to put together a training course on how to mine, collect and ship Alyssium. We had never tried to prevent it from breaking down before, so it was going to need specialist handling and storage to prevent it from breaking down before reaching its customers – whoever they were.” He looked at Drusilla as he said this, but her expression gave away nothing.

“How did you put together the training course?”

“I spent several days on-line and in the company’s library researching Alyssium and created a PowerPoint presentation based on my research to train miners in handling techniques.”

“Please turn to Exhibit D, on the table in front of you and explain to the court what it is.”

James looked at the papers in front of him, searched among them for the correct one and opened it to read it. “This is a list of the names of the people I have trained over the last few months in handling Alyssium.”

“Did they ask questions about why you were mining Alyssium?”

“Yes, of course! Many of them were highly experienced miners and had worked for Northern Mining longer than me. Some of them were third or fourth generation miners and Alyssium had always been simply thrown away, so for some of them this was a massive change in approach.”

“How did you answer their questions as to why you were now mining Alyssium?”

“I simply gave the same answer to them as Mr Smith gave to me, but I wasn’t satisfied by the answer and tried to see if there was any further information on-line.”

“What happened when you searched on-line?”

“Typing ‘Uses for Alyssium’ into the search engine produced almost no results, but a message indicating that other sites were blocked. I thought that was strange, so I turned on the VPN and tried again. Then I was able to access some useful information to complete my PowerPoint presentation.”

“Did you realise it was illegal?”

“Of course not! Why would Alyssium be illegal if we were mining and selling it openly. It didn’t make sense.”

“Had you experienced banned sites before?”

“Well, I’ve searched before and had the entries blocked by the Firewall. I remember once a couple of years ago mis-typing a website name and finding it blocked and realised I had typed a rude word by accident. Probably that was the incident that the Magic Internet guy mentioned in his testimony.”

“Any other experiences?”

“Yes, sometimes news articles are blocked, particularly if they are critical of the government policies.”

“Do you use the VPN then to access them?”

“No, of course not! I only used the VPN to access news and information on Alyssium in order to prepare my training course notes.”

“What about the emails to the terrorists, did you know they were terrorists?”

“No, of course not! On some of the websites they have a ‘contact us’ form and I completed some of these forms to ask more questions. The websites don’t say that they are terrorist organisations!” James laughed at the idea, but nobody else in court did. Everyone was silent waiting for him to continue.

“Who were you communicating with? Did you have any ideas?”

“None at all. On the Internet you never know who you are communicating with. I was just relieved to finally get some answers, although being told that the aliens needed it was not the answer I was expecting.”

“Do you believe it?”

“At the time, no, it was ridiculous! Why would a legitimate busines like Northern Mining be selling Alyssium to the aliens? We have a government licence to mine, so the government must be aware and approve the change in focus and the sale of Alyssium, so it couldn’t be sold to our enemy – that would make no sense! There had to be another customer or reason.”

“And now?”

“Well, seeing the reaction of the Police, the Government, the media and everyone to my asking the question makes me suspicious, of course. If there was no connection to the aliens and there was a genuine answer to this question, then why has nobody told us? Why have the trial? Why prosecute me for asking the question if there is a simple commercial non-alien answer to this question? Now, I am not so sure.”

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