Airlock

So here we are with a late start for Blaugust 2012. Just a little piece that follows on from some of my earlier stuff, thrown together in a couple of hours when I realised I had no time left. Enjoy! Or don’t, I suppose, but if you don’t then I will be expecting feedback. >:O

Sarah shivered. She couldn’t remember being this cold since she’d left home. The airlock was cramped, cold, and dark, and the suit that Ruby was holding out to her didn’t look like it was about to fix any of those problems in a hurry.

She’d seen Alex and Rachel returning in suits from working outside of the ship before, and this one didn’t look anything like the shiny, segmented ones they’d been wearing; it was black, with a rough texture and a rubbery resilience. Sarah grabbed it hesitantly before looking at Ruby.

“Is it airtight?”

The older woman laughed. “It isn’t even watertight, but I’m sure you’ll survive, kid. We’re only five metres under right now, and we’re going to gear up with air and comms before heading off anyway.”

Sarah gave the suit a dubious look. “It’s not even heated, is it? You’re treating this low-technology undertaking very seriously.”

“Wetsuits were good enough for this kind of water five hundred years ago, they should be damn well good enough for you now, girl.” Rachel’s voice, normally harsh and clipped, came across even rougher over the radio. Not that the aquatic was even wearing a suit; she had simply stripped, grabbed a radio, and stepped into the airlock. Naturally, this fact hadn’t stopped her from picking up on a chance to belittle the newcomer.

It had been strange, seeing that casual assurance. Rachel was clearly perfectly at ease in this place, as if millions of years of drowning instinct had been engineered away by whatever had toughened her skin and sharpened her teeth. Sarah had thought her afraid to go outside earlier, but the water, at least, had clearly held no fears for Rachel.

Sarah nodded to her partner and strapped on the breathing mask as the water pooled around her feet. The chill was worse than she was expecting, and her feet felt numb by the time the water had reached her knees. She felt a shock as it reached her waist and crept in through the zipper at the small of her back, and then felt buoyancy slowly defeating gravity as it boiled past her elbows and then over her shoulders.

“Ready?”

Sarah nodded as Ruby palmed the door release. At least, she thought, she would get to see the sun. Brightness broke in from the edges as the hatch ground open. She took a deep breath and swam out into the light.

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WWN silliness

Was it all over?

Standing to one side in the chapel, watching the battered and bloody woman Sine collapse back onto a pew with a disgusted look on her face, Herros felt as if his usefulness in the day’s battle had been exhausted. The captain’s mad plan had worked – to Thurak’s displeasure, yes, but that would be on the captain’s head and no other’s – and their king had the strength he needed to face the Sixth and once again subdue it. It was a simple creature; Herros’s tricks would not be of much use against it, and he certainly did not possess strength enough to face it directly. Thurak would prevail, or he would falter, and either way his retainers would not be of any use in the struggle.

He turned his gaze to the captain. The man stood motionless, not looking at Herros, or Sine, or the goddess he had just helped to reincarnate; his gaze was fixed downward, either at the floor in front of him or on a time and place far removed. Herros could not tell whether his leader was lost in prayer or recrimination. Stepping forward, he cleared his throat before speaking.

“I’m going to look in on Laas and Chirt, sir. Try and get them somewhere safer.” His superior nodded distractedly and offered nothing more by way of reply. The strange, callous woman made a strange noise under her breath that could have been a laugh. Herros ignored her and moved for the exit.

His steps faltered as a mighty crash shook the castle, pitching him into the doorjamb as sounds of stone and steel rang through the passages. Righting himself, he strode out into the corridor and headed for the control room, feeling more than a little relief that the sounds of battle were now at his back.

He had made up his mind: this whole farce would be over soon, for himself and for as many of his friends as he could rally. Enough was enough.

(10 months, 21 days and counting since the start of this whole thing…)

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Expanse

I sit down for a while to catch my breath. It’s been a long time since I ran as hard as I just did, and my throat stings as cold air rushes in. It would hurt less if I slowed down, breathed through my nose, but I need the air too badly so I put up with the pain. My skin and my clothes look so much more vivid than they were before. In this place, colour is something that I bring with me.

I find it easier to think out here. There are lots of distractions, it’s true, but in a way they help me to take my mind off the details of life that get in the way so often when I’m below. They’re always the problems that never end, the ones that subdivide and extrapolate and grow bigger and bigger just when you think you’ve got your head around them. Out here, the distractions are so huge that you can’t even process them properly.

I look straight ahead and I see the surface extending forever, featureless and glowing white. The horizon is perfectly flat, even though I know it can’t be more than six hundred metres away. That’s just how things work here. Above the surface, the sky is nearly a perfect black. I can look up, if I want to, and see it slowly speckled with white. Metis once told me that I’d see blue if I looked at the zenith of the sky, but I look now and all I see is white growing denser and denser against the black. I don’t know why.

It does help me, though. Out here I feel like my mind has room to stretch out until it meets the end of the universe and buts up against itself coming from the other side. My thoughts have time to finish that way. Half the time I can’t remember half of the things I dream up once I go back inside, but it still clears my mind in a way I’ve never been able to replicate elsewhere.

I like coming here. Themis has always told me that I ought not to, that it’s unsafe, but I never liked her reasons. I told her that I didn’t mind being unsafe and that safety wasn’t worth the clarity I’d lose if I couldn’t be here. She smiled at me when I said that, but I knew she wasn’t going to let me go. She’s never really tried to stop me, though; I think she assumes that I agree with her whenever I look at the floor and say yes. Sometimes I think Themis isn’t very smart.

There are different kinds of smart, though. Themis may not be able to see through my lies, but she probably understands the horizon better than I do. I don’t need to understand it, though; the freedom it gives me is all that matters. Freedom, now there’s a funny thing. Nobody really has it, of course – I only get what I can steal, and the others have even less. I never understood that part. I always get what I want taken away because Themis says it’s unsafe or irresponsible, and people do as Themis says – even me, most of the time. But even though she’s in charge, she doesn’t seem to have much freedom herself. If people did what I said, I’d spend a lot more time relaxing than Themis does, for sure.

All of a sudden I hear my name, and I know I’m out of time. The other one is standing behind me, far sooner than I had expected. I’d hoped it would be Metis sent to retrieve me – that I’d at least get an interesting story as I walked back inside – but this time Themis must have decided that I ought to be punished. I turn around and see silver and my heart falls as I see that my guess was right. This one doesn’t ask why I come out here. She doesn’t care.

Anger bursts up inside me, but this time I try to ignore it. I know now that it won’t do me any good – none of the weapons I’ve used against Themis and Metis work on this one. My pleading was ignored, my curiosity was rebuffed, and my attempt at defiance was crushed. I know, with more certainty than I’ve ever had about anything before in my life, that I am going to be returning inside.

I turn around to get a last look before I go under; she may not allow defiance, but she’s at least willing to indulge me in ways that don’t delay my return. I stare at the horizon, stark white set against absolute black, and try to impress it into my mind before I’m once again confined by walls and work and people. I wouldn’t mind going back in if I could just take the space with me.

I actually sort of stole the title from this, and spent the most productive part of the writing listening to Kimmo Pohjonen’s Womadelaide 2012 concert (it’s the third video, especially from 30:00 in). Kimmo Pohjonen is pretty rad! I’d had the idea for this one kicking around since the concert, so I’m glad to have gotten it done. Not sure whether I’ll be doing more accordion-fuelled abstract SF or if the next one will be back to fantasy politicians sassing each other. I’m sure I’ll be excited when I find out, anyway!

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In the wings (2)

Well here we go. This one took way longer than I expected it to, and to be honest I’m still not happy with it, but I’ve got other ideas I want to play with so near enough is good enough.

Rell’s reply caught in her throat as she saw Fionn scowl at the press of people. He continued without looking at her.

“This whole enterprise is a foolish risk.”

She smiled. “You think there are assassins hiding in the crowd?” Her tone was playful, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him.

“You must admit it’s possible,” he replied. “Sooner or later, the old men in Ara will tire of sending threats and bribes – if nothing else, Alexei’s made it quite clear that they don’t work. How much longer do you think it will be before they resort to more traditional methods?”

Rell sighed. “Isn’t this precisely why his highness has guards?” It was true, after all; the prince was flanked by two humourless men with swords, and there were at least a dozen more scattered through the room.

Fionn’s dark expression changed to something closer to resignation. “They do their best, I have no doubt, but I’ve yet to see a man move faster than a crossbow bolt.” His frown returned, fierce and uncompromising. “No, I’d be much happier if he listened to the people at greater remove. He has no shortage of pretty faces to do so on his behalf.”

“And to die in his stead, I suppose.” Rell looked sidelong at her companion. “Is that what you hope for, my lord? You make no secret of your dislike for me, but I must say I’m curious as to why. Do you think I carry a dagger for your master’s back?”

Fionn’s face was stony. “I think you carry a torch for him.”

“And that makes me your enemy?”

He shook his head. “It makes you unpredictable. Love only ever leads to trouble.”

“A conclusion drawn from your many years of experience, no doubt.” Rell stepped back and examined him. Short, slight, unremarkably dressed, and still holding a completely neutral expression. “You don’t need to act with me, you know.”

He remained impassive. “I don’t act.”

She laughed. “And I fly off to the moon every night to sleep! Come now, Fionn, be realistic. You’re a very good liar, I don’t doubt it, but I’m not stupid.” She waved at the rest of the prince’s entourage. “You may have convinced that lot, but I make a habit of thinking through life, and I don’t think you add up. But it’s such a wonderful story, isn’t it! The prince’s shadow, coming and going at all hours, sneaking around unseen, living without any friends or family. Quiet little Fionn, a pretty young thing with a heart made of stone, willing to lie, steal and murder so the prince need not get his hands dirty. Such devotion!”

“Do I amuse you?” Fionn narrowed his eyes. “You say I dislike you, but right now it seems that you’re the one trying to antagonise me.” He stepped forward and fixed her with a stare. “What are you hoping to provoke?”

Rell lowered her eyes and smiled. “My words were not intended to provoke you, my lord; I simply wished to gain your attention. And,” she said, looking him in the eye, “to let you know that I’m willing to hear you out if you ever want a real conversation. I’m sure you tire of playing your role every now and then.” She waited for a reaction, but the boy’s face had closed up again. When he spoke, it was with flawless control.

“Thank you for your concern. If you’ve any other advice-”

“I won’t hesitate to share it with you,” Rell interrupted, giving him a smile. “From one pretty face to another.”

She turned and walked quietly from the room. Fionn said nothing.

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In the wings (1)

WELP here we go, two days behind but not completely absent. This one is incomplete but I figured that it ends on at least a vaguely conclusive note, so that will have to do. The prose version of Thursday’s will be happening, just not quite yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Summer had returned quickly. The Dawn Hall had kept the night’s chill, but the wind that blew in from the high windows was hot. The prince, seated near the front where the light fell, must have felt the morning sun acutely. Rell, waiting at the edge of the chamber, did not envy him. At least the crowd pressing into the building had the sun in front of them – their leader would have the heat beating down on his back for the whole morning.

These meetings had been his idea; an opportunity for him to consult with his new citizens and gauge their mood with his own eyes and ears. By a trick of construction, the hall’s windows allowed the morning sun to fall directly upon the front chamber in the summer months. Never one to shy from a grand gesture, the prince had declared that the business of government would begin each day in the light, and spent the morning of every fifth day amongst his people.

“Enjoying the view?”

Rell started, then silently cursed herself for letting her surprise show. She looked deliberately to her right and saw Fionn staring a challenge at her. The boy glanced at the papers she held and shook his head. “He’s not likely to have time to discuss the accounts until he’s done with the day’s theatrics.” All business, as usual. She waved at the circle of light cast on the chamber floor.

“I wished to see the morning light, my lord. A very clever trick of construction, I must admit. Do you think the builders worshipped the sun?”

Fionn snorted. “You would see religion here, I suppose,” he said, turning to face the throng. “You’ve precious little besides your gods below the Barrier, after all. I, on the other hand, suspect the builders had something more practical in mind.”

“Really now.” Rell chose to ignore the slight – it was too early in the morning to bother railing against Imperial parochialism. “And what might that have been?”

“Theatre.” He remained still, but she could see his head tracking a circle around the room. “The light falls into the centre of the hall and blinds audiences to everyone lurking here at the edges. The walls themselves push the sound away, so that we can whisper here without being heard.” He returned his gaze to the prince.

“They must have had their reasons for hiding away,” Rell ventured. Fionn shrugged.

“Similar to our own, I would guess. You can get away with a lot more in the shadows.”

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March Blog Madness

March! Blogs!

Welp, March is here, and I have learned three things!

  1. Other people are doing blogs! Other people who are possibly Thom, Ale, and James!
  2. It’s difficult to make raw dialogue easily readable without context!
  3. I need better formatting options in this blog! What the hell kind of text editor doesn’t allow you to have indents on new lines?

Anyway this is a thing I have been working on. Tomorrow will be a prose version of the same scene, because I damn well need the practice. So hang in there, it might actually make sense by then!

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Nirri. She’s hell-bent on scrambling off East.”

“I don’t see why you’re complaining to me. I always said that girl would be trouble.”

“Don’t try to be coy. From all accounts, you’re the one who sent the damn priest our way.”

“And you really think he wouldn’t have found out from someone else anyway?”

“It might have given us one more day.”

“Would one day really have helped?”

“Every day we’re not North of the Barrier is a blessing.”

“Come now, the man’s not asking you to travel on the roads-”

“He’s asking us to go to Red Landing!”

“So you stay on the river until you hit the coast. It’s only a day’s walk from the mouth.”

“That’s a day too many.”

“You’re… Look, Cedar. I never wanted to say this to you, but you’re just being paranoid. You were taken, yes, but you were being foolish! You were alone, you were far too trusting, and you stuck out like a sore thumb. You were a perfect target, so it’s no wonder you got snatched. If you go in a group-”

“With my wife! With my daughter! With these marks on my arms!”

“Yes! Stick together, travel during daylight, and stay on the roads! Do you think the the whole country will be searching for you?”

“It wouldn’t need to be. It would only take one gang-”

“And I’ve told you a hundred times already: play the odds and you won’t meet any!”

“No, it will just make us less likely to fall foul of them. That’s not the same thing, Nirri.”

“You’re impossible. Why can’t you be satisfied with odds that are as good as certain?”

“Because I know what will happen if they prove false.”

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Here we are again

Well, Blagofest was not a success. I didn’t even participate in the follow-up Blogtember, either (and the less said about the rest of Spring, the better). But that ends now: Decemblog begins today!

In the interests of getting stuff done more often, I’m not going to just do fiction this month – I’m also going to venture into the realm of amateur criticism! I recently picked up a copy of Year’s Best SF 16, and if nothing else have really enjoyed the fact that I am once again reading fiction – it’s strange how quickly you can fall out of the habit.

Let's put that title to the test.

The Year’s Best SF series has been full of ups and downs for me in the past, but this year’s edition was pretty good. Not as many surprises as I’ve had from previous ones, but a lot of good fiction nevertheless.

So, short reviews of short fiction. I’ll be doing the stories in the order they’re printed in the anthology, and to add a little variety to the process I’ll be focusing on three elements picked randomly for me by a program I wrote (it’s surprisingly difficult to write an efficient RNG that keeps track of options you’ve rolled in the past). Since I’d rather provide a self-contained review than a partial one, I won’t make any effort to avoid spoilers – those who would really care ought to know better than to read the review before the story. Today’s review is of Joe Haldeman’s Sleeping Dogs.

RNG results: Concept, Clever Tricks, Nitpicks

I’d never read anything written by Haldeman before this story, although I’d heard his name thrown around here and there on a few SF boards. New territory, it seems!

The setting is fairly straightforward – an FTL-enabled future with evil corporate overlords bent on exploiting the colonies (not that that makes any sense in a setting with the kind of technology you’d need to travel between the stars, but that’s how the subgenre works, I suppose). The central plot device of ‘aqualethe’, a memory-erasing drug that the protagonist is trying to shrug off, is unremarkable, but his profession is a rather neat idea: he works as a ‘thanatopic counsellor’, talking to post-mortals who are tired of life and helping them to plan their deaths and their legacies. Not much was done with the idea, but it worked well as a hook anyway.

Perhaps the most curious part of the story is the fact that we learn almost nothing about the protagonist beyond his profession, gender, and age – he is never named, and there’s no real feel of personality from him in his narration or dialogue. It’s possible that this was a deliberate choice by the author, made to reinforce the issue of memory loss the story deals with, but it strikes me more as lazy characterisation.

My only other gripe with the story is the one I started off with: the setting is really quite silly. For all of the technological difference from the present day and age, society seems to have changed very little; apparently having the scientific and technological know-how to facilitate affordable interstellar travel doesn’t allow for the possibility of a post-scarcity economy or, I dunno, anything that deviates from the Peter F. Hamilton norm of “private industry owns everything, hope you like working your way up the corporate ladder”. So disappointing.

I realise that this has been a pretty negative assessment of the story, which now that I think about it isn’t quite fair; it’s told fluidly and with a great sense of place and time – lots of attention is paid to incidental details that flesh out the feeling of the protagonist being on a journey and living day-to-day. If nothing else, it was an enjoyable read, but it didn’t really leave me with anything to think about. It’s kind of like a reverse Philip K. Dick situation – the execution is solid and workmanlike, but the ideas are dull and uninspired.

Three and a half stars.

  • reviews to date: 1
  • average score: 3.5

That’s it for now – tomorrow I’ll be looking at Kay Kenyon’s Castoff World, hopefully in a little more detail.

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Blagofest #2: better catch up fast

Well, this is pretty terrible! It’s been two weeks to the day since my first blagofest post – just over half of August has gone by and I’m basically without content. Oh well, I guess I’d better get my act together.

So, here we go: words! The character here isn’t named because I don’t actually have a name yet (and he’s not the type to think of himself in terms of the labels other use) – I guess if I get one then I might add it back in here. The piece is a bit scrappy, but at least it’s something, right? :P

I’m afraid that Thom will have to wait on dames for a little longer – this piece isn’t in Tretton City and probably will never connect to it short of some truly horrendous short-circuit in my brain.

Probably.

Paris confused him. The disorientation itself was nothing new – his life forced him to constantly adapt to the unexpected – but it was coming from the complete opposite direction from the one he was used to. Normally, he had to deal with a sense of loss when places he’d been a mere decade ago had changed beyond recognition – but this city felt like it had gone through a mere thirty years during his absence. He knew better, of course – it had been closer to three centuries since his last visit – and he had to constantly remind himself that those long years had indeed passed on Earth and that he hadn’t somehow cheated Einstein.

The city was not even part of the heritage zone, despite being inland – and whenever he went indoors or looked up to see the sky unobstructed by cables, he got a fresh reminder that the place hadn’t been sealed away from time. Nevertheless, he could count on one hand the buildings he didn’t recognise. If the stubborn attitude he’d seen throughout the city ran as strongly as he suspected, it was likely that many of those were the fault of his ageing memory rather than urban redevelopment.

The architecture wasn’t the only thing left intact from his previous visit – Earth seemed to have hung on to memories that had never taken root among the diaspora. Some of them were common sense – the planet remained politically divided, after all – but others made him feel that the world was going out of its way to haunt him.

There were war memorials everywhere he turned. It was funny how thoroughly he had forgotten while he had travelled; even the wars of other worlds hadn’t triggered his guilt the way these monuments to the dead of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries did. He had visited the battlefields of the world wars and paid his respects to the dead, but when the others had gone to inspect the newer memorials he had been unable to follow. He was afraid he would find his name there.

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Blagofest #1: 24-part story the fourth

So, the month of August has rolled around, and I’ve been challenged to start writing proper-like again! So, this month I will be updating five days a week, doing fiction like I did in May. Here’s hoping I can make it!

Rather than just make it about me, this August has become a big blogging challenge for others, too! I’ll link ’em for your viewing convenience:

Thom Diment, who wouldn’t know a good 500 bid if it hit him in the face, is putting out miscellanea five days a week!

Ale is doing art three days a week!

Jimmy the first is, like me, updating a writing blog five days a week! It’s probably better than mine!

Jimmy the second is coding, although nobody knows how much or if it will be posted for us to see.

Should be pretty neat, I think. My first instalment is the next part of my 24 hour part story – the dialogue is a mess but I think it manages to get the job done anyway.

The Royale was an interesting place. It had sprung up in the first year of the colony – a genuine privately-owned bar set up by someone who had probably been sick of the bland company dives. That alone would have given it more personality than anything else in town, but the owner had gone one step further, as if compelled to somehow balance out the blandness all around with a beacon of individuality. The place had been done up as a kitschy tribute to the early twentieth century; it was filled with neon lighting, big band jazz recordings, and an appalling mix of Art Deco and Bauhaus designs that still made Lloyd’s head spin whenever he moved from room to room. On a more normal world, the place would have been written off as tacky and largely forgotten, but Tretton City was so devoid of human touches that the Royale – or at least its owner’s scattershot approach to nostalgia – had become an icon. For Lloyd, it was simply another workplace; Wills never met freelancers in his office, so the bar had become the lawyer’s de facto rendezvous whenever he wanted something done off the books.

Wills was sitting in his usual place, a hidden corner of the front bar that most people assumed led to a service entrance or the toilets. He was alone, Lloyd noted – it figured that Mr Big couldn’t be bothered showing up in person. Wills motioned for him to sit and snatched a phone up from the clutter on the table.

“Lloyd. Good to see you here. Give me a second and I’ll make sure you’re filled in.” He motioned for Lloyd to wait while he set up a call; subvocal interface, Lloyd couldn’t help noticing.

Someone doesn’t want me listening in.

Lloyd sat back and made a show of inspecting Wills’s face. The lawyer lived on adrenaline, Lloyd knew – every single job he’d done for the man had been treated as a life-and-death situation – but today Wills looked even more highly strung than usual. The man’s perpetual frown deepened as he disengaged from his conversation and covered the phone’s mouthpiece with his hand. He leaned over to Lloyd and fixed him with an icy stare.

“Watch your words, Lloyd. I brought you in because I considered you the best man for the job, but you’ll still need to tread lightly.” Lloyd didn’t need any reminders – Gabriel Rojo wasn’t a man you took lightly. Still, he nodded as Wills offered him the handset. He licked his lips.

“This is Rick Lloyd.”

“I know”. The voice was deep – deeper than Lloyd had expected. With no hooks offered, Lloyd stumbled forward.

“How can I help you, sir?”

He was met with quiet laughter. “Quite straightforwardly, I believe. You are a private investigator?”

“I am that, sir. Missing persons more than anything else.” Plenty of them thanks to you, at that.

“I see. I have a case for you, then. My son has been missing for sixteen hours without an explanation – and I assure you, Mr Lloyd, that there is no good reason for him to be missing. My people are thorough.”

Lloyd nodded despite the sound-only transmission. “I understand, sir. I’m used to colder trails, but I doubt the change will be a problem.”

“Indeed. Mr Wills has the details of your assignment, but I wish to convey the essentials directly to you.” Rojo paused briefly before resuming with icy clarity. “You will find my son. You will find those who have taken him. You will return him to me. And finally, you will tell me who was responsible. You will be thoroughly remunerated. Do you have any questions?”

“No, sir.”

There was a brief exhalation. “Good. Wills will handle further communication. I expect to hear of your progress shortly.”

The call was terminated without ceremony. Lloyd put the phone down on the table and raised his eyes to Wills.

“Didn’t even know the man had a kid.”

Wills shrugged. “You do now.” He shifted several datablocs into the centre of the table and motioned for Lloyd to take them.

“Those have everything else you need to know – recent movements, last known location, even some likely culprits. Your contract is in the leftmost – I assure you it’s worth your while.”

Lloyd had no doubt of that – the Rojos were the only game in town, and while the big man’s voice had promised blood, their M.O. was still “buy first, shoot second”. He swept up the gear and cracked his knuckles.

“All right, Clay. How often does Mr Rojo want his reports?”

The lawyer didn’t blink. “Half-hourly.” Ridiculous, as both men knew – but you didn’t argue with money like that.

“Got it. I’ll key you in at twenty-five and fifty-five of every hour. Don’t call me with anything unless it’s a lead on this or new orders from the big guy.”

A nod was the only reply. Wills knew better than to get in the Lloyd’s way when he was working. Lloyd headed for the exit and called up his car.

There was no time to waste.

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Need a little time to wake up

Righto, here’s something to break the drought. It’s part of the WWN Grand Battle 3; I won’t bother further explaining the context, as I doubt it’d be of much interest to anyone who isn’t up to speed with the whole thing.

Alex couldn’t quite bring himself to hate the ground. There was no doubt that it had betrayed him; the soft earth had given under his feet the instant the robot’s fist descended upon him, leaving Alex quite literally six feet under.

But – and it was always but, in his experience – it really was quite comfortable. He was deep enough to gain some respite from the greenhouse’s heat, and between the cool and what any sane man would have identified as a concussion he felt quite at ease. Part of him nagged away, insisting that he was supposed to be putting on a show, but for once Alex didn’t feel the urgency of the call; perhaps he needed a little time to rest his mind.

Guess I might as well. He watched idly as hyperactive plants clawed their way up the walls of the pit. Busy little things. I wonder how they learn to do that?

Suddenly, the sky was occluded; when light returned to him, the tallest of the plants was missing its flower. Puzzling, really – plants weren’t known to lose bits of themselves out of nowhere.

Something was off here. Alex still didn’t really feel like fighting (a sensation that had yet to lose its novelty), but he acknowledged that he still needed to give the world its due. Perhaps some amateur detective work might be in order – a little time to rest his mind before getting back to the fight.

The earth immediately below him had been packed hard enough to take his weight; he sprung up into the light and landed on the edge of the crater made by the robot’s fist. Made of metal, just as he’d suspected. The robot itself had turned around and was walking away from him, which was a little disappointing. He’d have left it at that if he hadn’t sighted a flash of colour in one of the robot’s massive hands.

Zooming in, his suspicions were confirmed: the flower had taken off with the robot. Terribly convenient, really; he could track the thing down and get its side of events and then launch straight back into the fight. He braced himself to sprint after the pair, but caught himself in time to add a disclaimer for the audience.

“Don’t try this at home.”

He burst into action, running at a pace the enormous robot’s gait could not hope to match. Closing the distance in a matter of seconds, he took a running jump and caught hold of a protruding piece of metal near the thing’s knee joint. The contraption had convenient handholds all over it, so swarming up the back and down the arm was a trivial matter. The robot had even quite considerately extended its arm so he could stand while questioning the absconded bloom.

Deciding that a stern approach would serve him best, he glared at the flower, arms akimbo. “Right!” he shouted. “What’s the story, morning glory?”

 

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