Writing Music About

The Poisoned Well

A collection of very short stories dating from between 2005 and 2021.


Conley was crouched down by the front wheel of the Ford, his face almost pressed against the tyre, drawing slow deep breaths through his nose, his mouth closed tight.

We’re close, he said, but still not close enough.

They’d been tracking the creature for days by now. Maybe weeks. Pushing on through mile after mile of featureless prairie.

No one knew where the animal had come from. No one had actually seen it. The first they had known of it was when he’d picked up the scent. Conley. They could smell it too, once he had shown them how.

His tracking skills, though unorthodox, were beyond reproach. They wouldn't have known which direction to set out in to track the animal, but he seemed to just 'know' these things with some innate assuredness. He didn't need to examine the ground or undergrowth for tiny tell-tale signs, nor breathe in the open air to pick up the creature’s scent on the breeze. He would just look into the distance and say 'This way' without a flicker of self-doubt.

And with ample justification: time and time again he was proven right. A mile or two further on into the wilderness they'd stop and sniff the wheel and pick up the scent once more. Proof that they were still close on the trail.

A few nights back they had camped at the last gas station before the desert. The hollow-cheeked attendant had asked them if they were knew what they were heading into, his rib-thin mongrel sniffing around the radiator grille as they loaded the supplies, snaffling melted chocolate from a discarded wrapper. Conley had fixed the man with a wordless look.

Next morning, the scent on the wheel was stronger than ever. Somehow sweeter.

In the car no one spoke. There was nothing to say. Everything that needed to be said had been said already. No one knew where they were headed. Never mind why. Those weren't topics for conversation.

Intelligent Life

The books are alight again. The smoke is rising up in rings, hanging briefly within the perforated walls of the courtyard, before dispersing into in the air beyond.

The people look alternately at the sky and the elders for reassurance.

“Is it true that smoke can be used to communicate?” someone asks.

Perhaps the rings are signals – an attempt by the books to share their secret meanings in their dying gasps.

No one doubts that they are intelligent, but do the book-forms possess the means to issue such signals?

They had been easy enough to capture and enslave, chained in libraries, or even just jammed tightly in rows. And they had put up no resistance when hauled down into the yard.

Someone suggests that if they captured images of the smoke they might be able to analyse them to look for patterns and deduce their meaning.

They like the idea of patterns.

One of the girls is telling how she has heard that they used to capture images using a mysterious chemistry of the light, and play the images back in rapid sequence so that they appeared to be living. Living images that they could control.

The people look alarmed. They look to the elders for reassurance.

The elders are staring intently at their feet.


“And this is my particular tractor,” he says, an outstretched arm sweeping beyond me to the patch of ground in front of the cottage. I strode across it minutes before and hadn’t bumped into any farm machinery or haulage vehicles. And yet I find myself turning instinctively to see what the old man is conjuring. Perhaps it is that word ‘particular’ that promises something concrete, something actually ‘there’.

“I had three of them” he continues. “That’s what I am saying. They were my particular type. I liked their size, their shape.”

At times like this I don’t know what to say. But I can’t stop my eyes from beseeching him.

“I’m not being metaphorical!” he insists. “I don’t have a metaphorical bone in my body!”

At times like this I usually do know what to say. A word like ‘metaphorical’ can’t just be allowed to pass. I want to suggest that the hammer and anvil must surely be contenders for metaphorical bones. And I’d bet he’s got a couple of each in his body.

But the glint in his eyes is silencing.

I look away and now I’m wondering. Maybe the labels of anvil and hammer are more deeply rooted signs than mere metaphors, and those signs refer literally to something that strikes and something to receive the blow. Perhaps he’s right.

I turn back expecting a toothy triumphant rebuke, but instead he’s laid out flat on the grass just behind the spot he’d been gesturing about moments before, his fingers scrabbling to find a hold in the turf.

“I was always just the load,” he breathes, “— just the cargo”.

And with that, he’s gone.

The Smiling Tree

I’d always believed the hollow tree was smiling at me as I passed, and that after I’d gone it would have assumed the same blank expression as the other trees. Nanny had told me as much, and it made perfect sense. Here I was, the blessed son of a blessed family on my way to prep school, then Eton, the Oxford, then a glittering career. This most natural progression for a blessed child of a blessed family was one that the natural world would rightly smile at.

I had no reason to suppose that it carried on smiling even when I wasn’t around, but something I overheard by the photocopier had made me wonder. A couple of secretaries were talking about ‘the smiling tree’ as though it were universally known. I could hardly believe my ears. Why on earth would it be smiling at them?

I got a couple of juniors in the department to suspend their normal duties for a few weeks to look into it. It turned out that they also knew the tree I meant, and said it smiled at them too. After an initial feasibility study, they devised an experiment using hidden cameras to observe it at different times of the day to see whether it really did smile as indiscriminately as it now appeared.

We have some quite brilliant people.

Over the course of several weeks, my ministers observed that its expression never changed. Not ever. No matter what was going around it. They were certain. With a camera hidden inside a fake rock they’d managed to capture hours and hours of footage throughout the day and night.

Even in the dead of night, when no one was around, there hadn’t been the slightest change in its expression. Not a flicker. And the story was the same in the daytime too, no matter who was in the vicinity. Even when that odious little chap Evans from the parliamentary standards committee had scuttled past.

Finally, in desperation they went up to it and said beastly spiteful things — right in front of it, not even behind its back — and it hadn’t stopped smiling. Not once. And it wasn’t a ‘knowing’ smile to demonstrate imperviousness to their taunts but more like the vacant grin of a gormless pleb in front of the idiot box.

I asked them what they thought was going on. They reasoned that perhaps its expression was fixed due to the thickness and stiffness of its bark. They hypothesised that perhaps it had been smiling at something a long time ago when its bark was more supple, and then, as the bark had stiffened with age the smile had been fixed there.

I had my doubts, and still do frankly, impressive though their report undoubtedly was. This bark stiffening process doesn’t sound particularly rapid, so our tree would have to have had particularly slow reactions to get caught out like that. But then, trees aren’t the quickest-witted are they? I don’t recall ever seeing one working in a government department.

I can’t bring myself to walk that way these days. I can’t be sure that it’s not smiling against its will and would really prefer to scowl at me or poke its tongue out. If only Nanny was still around to ask. I’m sure she would know.


His apples look like pears and his pears look like apples. Of course he won’t admit that he may have mixed up the labels when he planted them. Not him. That’s not his way! Instead his poor wife is left to make Pear Charlotte and apples poached in red wine and smile apologetically at bemused dinner guests.

His whole allotment is the same. Cultivated chaos. But he’d rather strain French Strawberry soup through gritted teeth than admit as much.

The irony is that he’s been in labelling his whole life. I wrote the reference for his job at St. Cuthbert’s — that place that was in the news.

They had wanted to know if he was reliable. I said if by reliable they meant someone who couldn’t tell black from white or white from black and wouldn’t admit it, then he was their man. Perhaps they thought it was a comment on racial tolerance rather than the description of a blithering idiot.

Or perhaps they simply didn’t have any other applicants for the entry-level admin position in the maternity wing.

So it turned out he was indeed their man. By the time he took early retirement he was running an entire labelling department — his career trajectory apparently unimpeded by a complete lack of ability to get basic facts in order and a stubborn refusal to accept it.

As it happened, refusing to recognise the dismal truth of a situation made him the ideal candidate for health service management. He’d been brilliant on Radio Four defending the Trust’s dire track record in sending the right babies home with the right parents, and was being tipped to go all the way to the top.

Competency proceedings had been the furthest thing on his mind when he invited the new Head of the Trust — one Dr Sheila Stokes — to one of his soirees. Even now the whole denouement is unfathomable to him. Never mind ‘clinical psychologist’, the woman was a nut job. How could she possibly ‘know her onions’ (she had used that very phrase seven times during the soup course alone!) when it came to the actual business of hospital administration?

The Present

It had been left on the threshold, labelled ‘For Now’. He had no business with it really, there being no one of that name at that address. But here he was, knife in hand. Something in him had decided that the parcel should be his, that he could be Now just for a brief moment.

He unwrapped it, slicing through string and seams of sellotape with the blade. The outer paper came away as one. A folded carapace. He marvelled at it. How its precise folds meant it held its form, the rhythmic pattern of its surface, its weight.

The box inside was rigid cardboard held together with bands of tape that appeared to be made from brown paper but were adhesive. He sliced the bands, noticing strands of a paler substance running against the direction of travel. A weave, concealed when intact but now clearly exposed.

Once opened up, the box revealed its structure too. Its rigid walls were themselves no more than paper really. But layers of the stuff had been compounded, alternatively corrugated and flat, built up to form a composite surprisingly strong. He registered the details, rolling them around in his head for what felt like an eternity.

What a gift the present was. There was no need to go further into its contents. He had everything he needed. For now.

Writing for Charity

Today I am writing for charity. Each word I write will be auctioned off with the proceeds going towards the establishment of a Foundation for the Establishment of Ideas. (This is such a significant venture I feel sure I will write about it more in the future).

A winning bid for a particular word will secure not only the word itself but the right to use that word in whatever contexts the purchaser chooses at any point in the future. In short, the purchaser will be able to use and re-use that word freely in both speech and writing without limit for the rest of their natural lives.

*Bids on more than two consecutive words will not be accepted.
**The purchased rights do not extend to translations into other languages.


It is January. Two weeks from now they will be throwing out the clocks. The system of time-keeping has become corrupt. Maybe it always was. Right from the start it had been used for nefarious control — bells in clock towers ringing out to summon peasants to the fields, and the like — but in recent times it had become something else.

It turns out that men have been buying and selling each other’s time. Not just the odd hour here and there, but whole swathes of the stuff. Years and years. More than some lifetimes have been traded on the markets.

Some folk have been selling their own time for almost nothing just to put food in the mouths of their families. They couldn’t be reasoned with, didn’t seem to understand that once the time had gone, it had gone for good. Or maybe they knew only too well.

Market forces themselves obviously cannot be to blame for this sorry situation. Markets bring nothing but unbridled benefit to society and are therefore beyond reproach. Instead it must be time itself, or rather the measurement of it, that is the culprit here.

So, as February begins, the practice of telling the time has been outlawed.

We will still have days of course. After all, no amount of political correctness can hide the physical reality of our planetary home for those of us who travel to the surface. But we’ll have nothing more precise than ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’ or ‘evening’ or ‘night’.

Midday will no longer be a moment but a period of the day when the sun is judged to be at, or near its zenith. ‘Give or take’, as the government’s advisors are wont to say.

It is June. The fact that most people are safely out of the radiation layer and have to gauge daily cycles on luminosity readings radioed from the surface is imbuing all social activities with a vagueness that is truly humane.

I’ve heard that in Paris they have preserved a whole minute from the last century and keep it under lock and key in a secure vault. Apparently, every now and then they take it out to compare it to modern minutes to ascertain their ‘accuracy’.

And some people still describe the surface continentals as socially progressive!

The Circular Economy

Devlin had made a living online selling courses teaching people how to make a living online through selling online courses. You read that right: he made money teaching people how to make money the way he himself was making money.

At thirty-three Devlin was still a young man. You might imagine, therefore, that in doing this he was cannibalising his own business at a time when he ought to have been adopting a more protectionist stance, recommending that everyone re-trained as shepherds or something. But it didn’t seem to have any tangible impact on his revenue.

The fact was that as real jobs doing real things in the real world were becoming more and more scarce, there was a never-ending supply of émigrés fleeing to the digital economy to sustain themselves. A never-ending stream of clients by Devlin’s reckoning. Or, at least, a stream plenty long enough to see him through his working years.

Some of his recruits had been machinists in the real world, making parts for machines that made parts for machining. Others had been travelling salesmen who travelled around selling machines for travelling around to salespeople who needed to travel around to find new markets, or simply selling the idea of travelling around to people who didn’t need to travel but had been sold on the idea by marketeers. Others had been employed selling advertising space to people wanting to advertise advertising space to people and businesses who wanted to sell advertising space to people and businesses.

The virtual world provided opportunities for all of them. They found themselves in a world both strange and at the same time strangely familiar where people bought and sold money with money and made money in the process or coded platforms for coders to code platforms for people to buy and sell code, or platforms for people to buy and sell money or platforms for marketeers to market ideas for buying and selling to marketeers, and, of course, where people like Devlin sold online courses on how to sell online courses to people who wanted to set up a business selling online courses in how to sell online courses.

Business was booming, employment was the highest it had ever been, and GDP was up. Everything was good in the world. So good in fact that Devlin had moved his operations from his spare room to an office on the high street, above a charity shop. The address gave his business a certain prestige in the real world, he felt. Never mind the broken paving slabs, and taped up litter bins, and the sleeping-bagged urchin he encountered each morning, whose outstretched paper cup needed to be negotiated (dodged) while juggling briefcase, keys and his own latte. His online clientele would never see such things.

After work Devlin and his mates would hit the gym to work off the excess calories they’d piled on in a day of frantic inactivity fuelled by biscuits, take-out coffees and eat-in burger-based lunch. They’d each step on to a treadmill and and hold down the big plus button until the belt was running at exactly the right speed for them to run as fast as they could without actually going anywhere. And having set that speed, that’s how they’d remain for the next thirty minutes or so. Four treadmills in a row if they were lucky, unable to hear themselves over the thud of their feet, and running as fast as they could while going precisely nowhere.


If you fill a room completely with something that can’t be displaced so that there is no room left to occupy, what should you call it? An anti room, as in the antithesis of a room, since a room by definition has room for things inside and this doesn’t, or an ante room, as in something that had been a room before but was no more?

She had wrestled with this conundrum from time to time over the years, usually in the home of a pensioner who had downsized but could not bring themselves to part with the accoutrements of their former life. Or, just as often, when visiting some poor sap who had accumulated vast quantities of limited edition plates or stuffed toys with tags on or some such crap that a clever marketing department had contrived to be of ‘collectible value’.

The question had become more pressing since she had developed her own sorry compulsion. Or it had developed her.

There were more practical questions that perhaps ought to have occupied her mind as the she pumped the final canisters of expanding foam through the letter box. But it was here again completely occupying her mind. How should you refer to these former spaces when you invited someone round?


“It was the winter of our distributed content” some joker had quipped. Something had crawled into one of the looms and was eating the visualisation output. And, since our world is itself a visualisation, chunks of that world started disappearing.

That was what was said. The truth was more complicated.

Even at the best of times it had been patchy. Distribution had been lumpy, clustering and clumping around particular nodes which had become hyper-visualised — and thus hyper-real — at the expense of somewhere else less information-rich. In the most extreme cases, entire regions of the network ceased to ‘be’ in any sense and had to be abandoned. And as regions of higher density exerted their own gravitational effect, they grew exponentially, with an ever increasing number of branches fading to nothingness.

The public was fascinated. Alongside the radiation forecast, the media published constantly updating lists of the densest nodes, ranked by size. Every so often they reported, quite casually, that some place or other had achieved record levels. If this was a gauge of anything, it was understood to be progress. And progress was getting faster and faster.

Even the number of indices that catalogued density distribution was growing. What had been started out as a substrate of reality — meta-commentaries on the system — had themselves long since taken on an existence more real than some entire countries in the physical world.

Everyone knew that this was how sentient networks behaved. Even ancient man had put animals in fields to prepare them for the food chain and, on seeing them gather in one corner, noted that networked beings organised themselves differently from particulate matter.

Modern network theorists, too, had always held that ‘lumpiness’ was simply the nature of networks. Wasn’t a node a lump after all? That was the standard depiction of a network that had been reproduced billions of times in all of the treatises on the topic. The fact that while that orthodoxy bloomed, entire backwaters of knowledge about the nature and behaviour of systems had simply faded into oblivion was an unfortunate property of the world.

In truth, we are barely further forward than the primitive monetarists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who simply referred to the clumping within in their primitive financial system, as ‘wealth’ — as though it were some providential property.


They are poisoning the well, he says.

What?! She replies. Who are?

The men from the company. They’ve been doing it for years.

But we’ve been drinking from the well for years, she says. What sort of poison is that?!

There are things that don’t kill you, Mamaji. They’re not poisoning your body, but your soul. Have you not noticed how sick your soul has become? How sick everyone’s souls have become?

Run along! Can’t you see we’re working?

Working? You are writing senseless words on that senseless machine in some senseless bid to sell senseless things to senseless people. How is that work?

What do you know! Are you suddenly a proto guru? You’re just a silly child whose head is full of dreams. When you are older you might understand how the world works, how we make and sell and market and ship to be able to buy the food to eat and clothes to wear and pay for our phones and TVs and the cars to drive to the shopping malls.

This is what I am saying Mamaji! There is real work to do to protect the well. It’s the only work that needs to be done but everyone is too sick to do it.

Race to the Bottom

Crouching naked on the bare concrete floor, shoulder to shoulder with the others from their unit, they defecate into stubby fingers, push the product into their slack mouths and swallow.

Occasionally a subject might experience a flicker of something. A momentary recoil, as though faintly remembering some pre-historic notion of decency that has been transgressed. But the moment passes and the feeling is forgotten by the time the floorspace charge is automatically debited.

This is what you did on a Friday evening or weekend lunchtime. (Isn’t that where the ‘turd’ in Saturday had come from?)

No one was sure of the history. These things weren’t recorded in the official ledgers. It had pretty much always been this way.

They didn’t know it, but it hadn’t always been that way. Their forebears hadn’t noticed the early signs of the descent. It was all so gradual, and they were just so busy. It was just allowed to happen.

It had seemed novel at first. Fresh. They couldn’t expect a modern streamlined business to support bourgeois overheads like china plates, or damask napkins, or furniture.

A financially responsible enterprise doesn’t fritter away shareholders funds paying hordes of staff to ‘wait’ at tables: customers could just line up to get served one by one.

Once they had started down this path, the invisible hand of the profit motive pointed irrevocably in one direction. Within a decade they were crammed into pre-fabricated units drinking out of disposable plastic cups stirred with a strip of wood.

And, the analytics confirmed time and time again, they were quite content to eat shit. So it was inevitable. It was a race to the bottom. (Pun intended).

Job Centre

Is there such a thing as a professional hair splitter? I ask.
You mean like a nit picker? She says.
Exactly! I gasp, unable to hold back my glee. There clearly is such a thing!

Ever since my earliest careers sessions at school I’ve found it impossible to see where I might fit in the world of work. Every job seems so unimaginably dull. How could anyone do it for an eight hour day, let alone an entire week? Prior to this kind lady, no-one has given me the merest hint that I could use my natural inclination to pedantry in a professional capacity. You can imagine my relief.

I’m already lapsing into fantasy, imagining my days of quibbling over everything from petty grammatical rules through matters of terminology right through to complex ethical issues.

In my fantasy I see myself drawing up outside a pathologically neat suburban villa at precisely five-thirty after a hard-ish day at the office, unable to decide whether it’s still late afternoon or early evening. I’m met by my beloved wife and we spend the next few minutes dancing around the matter of whether we will be partaking in dinner or supper that evening.

I see myself…

No, there isn’t such a thing. The woman in the real world interjects, shattering my daydream.

No such thing?! But you even gave it a job title! I implore. You said ‘like a nit picker’.

She looks me up and down, no doubt in the dawning realisation that she is dealing with someone more than capable of dissecting her every utterance.

Have you got any basic hygiene qualifications? She asks. Have you ever used a flea comb?


The line snakes out through the door, into the corridor, past faded sugar-papered walls that haven’t seen a display for more than a decade. The door is propped open for the occasion by a grimy crate lying on its side. The pupils pay no heed to this incongruous object of distribution in the hallway of a school building.

At the head of the queue sits Mr Renfrewshire on a flimsy plastic chair, taciturnly tapping off the names of the pupils on his smart phone as they shuffle forward to collect the bright blue polypropylene moulding of the new school logo.

Tomorrow morning, a parent of Poppy Duncroft will splutter Honey Nut Hoops and soya milk over their iPad when they see the colour achieved by the injection process. It doesn’t nearly match the Pantone reference specified so earnestly by the agency for which they work. “It is enshrined, quite unambiguously, in the school’s brand guidelines,” they will put in their email to the Head.

The email will receive a polite response, including a smattering of the sample phrases the agency provided in the ‘Our Tone Of Voice’ section of the brand guidelines.

TV Drama

It’s important when creating cultural objects to tap into the mood of the moment, the zeitgeist. It is this socio-cultural responsibility, coupled with a sizeable dose of commercial cynicism, that lies behind my latest idea idea for a mega hit streaming TV drama-come-box set.

The drama centres around a blonde autistic woman. While she’s not ‘pretty’ in the conventional sense, there is nevertheless an honest handsomeness about her. She lives on her own and, due to her condition, struggles to relate to other people. However — and this is the killer idea that will make it a hit — she does her job brilliantly.

Within the dramatic world I’ll create some characters who will think she’s mad, including her bosses, since she won’t conform to what they think of as ‘normal’. Viewers won’t know whether to laugh or cry at her misreadings of social interactions.

But deep down we will all be rooting for her, willing her to succeed because we know, just as her bosses know deep down, that she has a special gift that is manifest precisely because of her condition; a gift to do her job that her coworkers do not possess. And being able to do a job brilliantly is surely the zenith of human achievement.

Her colleagues will turn up for work hours after her and leave long before. Shuffling off to families or social lives. And while at work they will plod around lead-footed while she soars metres above them in attainment, scything through not just her allocated tasks but anything that comes her way, meeting not just personal targets but a bigger set of pan-institutional goals.

Her work consumes her. It drives her. Gives her purpose. It is her life.

Indeed, she is so good, so naturally gifted, so born to do the job, so effective in her role, and content to do the work of others that the authority have been able to make significant cost savings by laying off some of the other toilet attendants.

Holland Park

The little mouth on the dark side opens and spits out the gobbits. Happens each morning at around this time. Mostly whites, some big colourfuls. Today there’s a kind of beige, albeit a darkish biege, in there too.

I am sitting on my bottom on the floor with nanny Someone-Or-Other. I shouldn’t know about beige at my tender age. Only primary colours. But somehow I do.

I can see that it’s bad news. It’s sent the Captain into one of his ‘funnies’.

“There can’t be brown ones in there!” he’s imploring. “There can’t!”

He repeats it like an incantation, as though through repetition he can will another reality into being. Like there’s some other account that can be conjured up; a parallel set of books.

He stares right through me like he’s looking at a ghost. Suddenly he’s hysterical, hopping from one foot to the other in the tiny galley. In full military dress for some reason this morning. Before breakfast!

“They’re coming after me! Full steam ahead!” he commands no-one in particular.

He looks exhausted. He can’t keep this up the way he used to. Perhaps he knows it too, because with that he’s hopped out on to the deck, throwing charges over his shoulder as he goes. Something about ‘pigeon pond’ it sounds like, but that can’t right. Then he’s hopped right over the side. Splosh.

“I’d just slipped away. To the Low Countries to buy tulips.” A voice says behind me.

I turn around and the Captain is no longer the Captain but an old woman in a chair. Twisted like a tree that’s grown perversely and no one corrected while they had the chance. Woody now in age and uncorrectable.

“Your father was a crook you know. Fiddled me out of thousands!”

“I know,” I say, and try to change the subject. But she won’t be changed. Not now.


It was a normal day in September. A perfectly normal day until the sky cracked open and people tumbled through. A passerby out walking in the countryside – an ordinary member of the public without gauges or measures to hand – witnessed the event. He described seeing shapes “just falling”. He only realised what they were when he saw arms and legs “flailing wildly” as they tried to find purchase in thin air.

Experts rushed to the scene, equipped with the very latest technology. They counted the number of victims, calculated the area of the ground covered by the bodies, and the distribution of impacts. From an emergency response cabin hastily erected they were able to graph this distribution with radial graphs.

The population was alarmed. This had never happened before.

The authorities did their best to reassure, told them not to worry, that experts were deriving all the data they could about the event, that everything was under control.

Except it wasn’t. It happened again and again, in different locations around the globe, and each time the experts had to be dispatched (sometimes thousands of miles). It often took hours or sometimes days for the data to be collected, catalogued and distributed to media outlets.

The best engineers worked around the clock to come up with a solution. By the time of the eighth occurrence everything was in place. Artificial intelligence was utilised to analyse live feeds from weather satellites to detect any signs of anomalous material falling from the atmosphere. When something was detected, using photographs taken before and after the impact by the satellites, algorithms could then compare the two images to discern the number of fallers, and their distribution – what had now come to be known as the ‘splatter pattern’.

Within seconds the data could be analysed, graphed, and uploaded to the authorities and news corporations around the world, along with high resolution, broadcast-ready photos of the scene. Within minutes, local response teams could be dispatched to the impact site, and get crucial testaments of people who lived nearby who hadn’t actually seen anything but whose biological similarity to the victims made them ideal commentators.

The alert status could happily be downgraded from ‘terror of the unknown’ to ‘successfully quantified.’

These strange events still occur every few weeks, to apparently random individuals. But the population can rest easy knowing that governments have taken the appropriate steps.


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