Posts Tagged ‘SF’

rosspaltrow460Tragedy struck today when it was announced that mildly controversial comedian and chat show host Jonathan Ross would be hosting and presenting the Hugo Award at Loncon3. In Social Justice circles this news completely eclipsed the impending invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military and was the topic of heated debate amongst feminists and their allies, since Ross has occasionally made jokes about women. The debate has – thus far – culminated in the resignation of Farah Mendlesohn from the convention board and calls for a boycott.

Asked for comment, SF&F blogger Petulianta Clarke offered the following:

“This would have been a great opportunity for us to take a step in overcoming sexist stigma. So many people have this idea that all feminists are po-faced, humourless harridans who will raise hell over complete non-issues at the drop of a steampunk fascinator. Jonathan Ross’ selection as presenter of the award shouldn’t have been that controversial and by letting it slide or limiting ourselves to a few angry blogs we could have made real progress in not seeming like censorious tossers.”

Alas it was not to be with a twitterstorm flaring up and the impending participation of international social justice laughing stocks such as PZ Myers, Freethought Blogs and Skepchick (responsible for similar stereotype reinforcing actions in the atheist blogosphere) the opportunity has slipped through the SF&F community’s fingers and preventing the ‘progressive’ bloc looking like fuckwits now seems impossible.

Comment, of course, has been relatively small but silent eye rolling, blocking on social media and opening a new Google Search tab are all on the rise. Off the back of recent non-controversies relating to the SFWA and controversy exploiting and profiteering videos by Anita Sarkeesian it seems unlikely that self-styled social justice advocates will be able to be taken seriously for the foreseeable future, even when they have valid points.

Virtually unknown author of satirical SF, Elton Whitemale offered this comment on the affair:

“It’s shocking to me that an industry that prides itself on its creativity and which has long been associated with controversy and pushing boundaries has become so timid and so ravaged by self censorship.”

He went on:

“We can imagine dragons and faster than light starships, sweeping alien vistas, but we can’t seem to accept someone might tell jokes that are counter to our personal taste, or admit that we don’t like them without involving politics. Why can’t we be more like the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund? They’ve backed people in trouble over hentai featuring monsters, animals and underage girls. That’s commitment to free expression for chrissakes.”

“What the fuck do I know though? Being melanin deficient and having an XY chromosome disqualifies me from having an opinion, apparently. There’s fucking irony for you.”

He added, downing a glass of whisky.

Jonathan Ross is controversial for stating that he wouldn’t mind having sex with Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008 and for being led astray by notorious junkie and David Icke aficionado Russell Brand.

The whole affair looks set to rumble on pointlessly, making all manner of people look bad and stop talking to each other at least until the next controversy du jour pops up, probably by Monday.

Rumours that Harlan Ellison has had himself buried alive for the sole purpose of spinning in his grave over these events have yet to be confirmed.

Update: Ross has withdrawn from presenting the Hugo due to the outrage. An event summed up very well by Sarah Pinborough as:

“It’s pretty Daily Mail actually. “People worried about being abused, abuse man who hasn’t abused them yet”

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xlargeI’m sure you’ve seen that picture, above, doing the rounds. Many people seem to think it makes some clever point about gender, SF & Fantasy art and so on. I don’t particularly think that it does. The aim is, apparently, to show the silliness of the first cover by changing the genders around to create some kind of ‘aha’ moment in the viewer but in that task I can’t see that it succeeds. The humour here is not the ‘aha, look how ridiculously women are treated in art’ but rather the ‘haha’ of the pantomime dame or the incompetent transvestite. Its not funny because its a transposition its funny because its a bunch of unfit men in feminine poses. Tellingly, the woman in the supposedly ‘masculine’ pose doesn’t look silly, which rather demonstrates how one-sided this all can be.

The cover on the left is clearly a call-back to James Bond, steeped in reference and film and literary history. An actual reversal has been done in James Bond and wasn’t ridiculous. That was a genuine like for like substitution and, tellingly, it’s a) not funny and b) beloved by many women.

Any point that might be trying to be made is lost because of the stupidity and, yet again, all you end up with is a circle-jerk of the already convinced talking about how clever and meaningful it is. There are discussions to be had on this topic, but cheap and nonsensical stunts like this (and the other cover poses) that fail to take into account gender dimorphism, athleticism, reference etc and fail to do a like-for-like change don’t add anything to it other than being a jumping-off point for discussion.

If I had the skills to do it it might be interesting to do a genuine like-for-like substitution of the same cover, (Tom Daley might make a good swimwear substitute rather than out-of-shape writers) but alas I don’t.


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I completed a set of short stories and my first novel this year. Not all of them are up for sale yet but some are and they might make good stocking-stuffers for people you know with kindles, tablets and all that mularky.

Perfect for reading on the train, at lunch or anywhere else you can grab a few spare minutes to plunge into the imagination.

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51klgn%2BocCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgAce Slamm: Space Bastard

Years after World War 2 was interrupted by a space invasion, rocket pilot Ace Slamm finds himself approached by three strange individuals. They want to buy a ride on his ship to Dyzan, the counter-Earth. The scientist, the feisty beauty and the sportsman are hell bent on getting to that blasted planet, but their steps are being dogged my a mysterious man in a shining metal mask.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wdzMkL18L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgMimsy Burogrove: Psychedelic Detective

In swinging London, consulting for the police on strange cases, Mimsy operates out of her trendy flat. A heady concoction of mysticism, psi and LSD gives her access to the psycheverse, a spirit-dimension There are things in the psycheverse that long to gain access to the real world as well and Mimsy may well find herself a conduit for evil spirits like Mean Mr Mustard.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51GWRKQ7oqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgThe Black Rat

The 1970s are a grim time in Britain. Power outages, the three-day-week and rife with police corruption and right wing violence. The Black Rat, a sort of ‘working class Batman’ takes to the streets to try and bring a little vigilante justice and payback for those the police have wronged.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51crqHB5aZL.Image._.jpgDoc Osmium: Synchronius Maximus

Two-fisted genetic superman, Doc Osmium, finds himself inexorably drawn into a series of inexplicable and seemingly unconnected events. There’s more to it though and he and his new companion must find a way to navigate the strands of fate and probability and to overcome the odds.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51NP%2BajE0NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-59,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgTessa Coyle: The Obsolete Prometheus

After the atom wars there were few places left where there was true civilisation. Science City is one and it depends on its bleeding edge technology to survive. This super-science transcends ethics, physics and even reality and can only be constrained by The Science Police. When experiments start going wrong, electropunk heroine Tessa and her companion Robur are on the case.


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Memoriam posts to authors and other creatives can be a bit odd. Everyone dies so it’s not exactly unexpected that all these people pass away. It seems odd to act as though someone like Harrison passing away is somehow a surprise or a tragedy when people do, indeed, get old and die – all the time.

Harrison’s an odd duck though and a writer who has been a big – if oblique – influence on me. While he’s widely known I’ve often felt that Harrison was seriously underrated as a writer and a figure in SF. When it comes to SF&F comedy, for me, he’s right up there with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, albeit – perhaps – a little more subversive and twisted.

Harrison’s best known hero is The Stainless Steel Rat and while he’s a charming thief and a great prototype for the ‘scoundrel’ hero, and while the books are full of humour they’ve always got a lot more substance to them than first appears.

My absolute favourite Rat book is The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted which is incredibly funny and, at the same time, poignant and has some cutting political and economic commentary within in (I’d vote for Individual Mutualism if I could!). The whole Rat series is underlined with this, a crisp, clean, controlled future where the mere act of petty (or not so petty) crime is a political statement as much as anything else. You can see that reflected down the years right down to Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

A huge thing about Harrison for me, that I think is a little more individual to me, is his position as a great libertine and social mover in science fiction. Harrison’s books may seem a bit giggly and juvenile to some of us now, but he was almost as important as Ellison in shifting SF&F into a more adult and frank discussion of sex. So much so that his short story Ad Astra was chosen as an exemplar of the new, frank and explicit attitude to such in genre fiction in David Kyle’s classic Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.

Harrison also wrote his own book on the topic, Great Balls of Fire (a history of sex in science fiction illustration). He seemed to share my belief that we should be a lot less hung up about this sort of thing and that it should be recognised as healthy fun and great art. Druillet, Moebius, Burns he knew his way around it all from pulp bondage to Metal Hurlant and treated it all with a wry sense of fun and ‘isn’t this naughty?’

He collaborated with one of my most favourite SF artists – Jim Burns – on many occasions and I wish I still had my copy of Planet Story that they did together. A couple of Rat stories were also brilliantly illustrated by Ezequerra in the pages of 2000AD and on top of all that he even wrote a choose your own adventure book. So Harrison has been intertwined with a great many of the things I love, going right back.

I won’t say I’ll miss him, I never really knew the guy, just his work.

And we still have that.

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Water was a hard thing to come by out in the desert, unless you were rich or lucky. Angel’s Spring, as the name suggested, had more water than a lot of places but it was still a resource you had to watch. Not for the team going to the final though. That warranted a special reward.

The room was filled with steam, great hot clouds of it turning the Rink showers into an interior rainforest. It was so hot, so wet, it was hard to breathe. Wide eyed, coach Flint stood at one end of the big room full of showers, licking his lips at the sight of so much bare, wet flesh moving around.

“So you beat the Project, big damn whoop!” Flint growled in his cactus-gargling voice, somehow cutting over the hiss of the sluicing water. “Don’t get cocky, you can’t afford to slip when you go up against the Vegas Showgirls…” he trailed off, losing track of his thoughts as Swish plucked her panties off the bench in her toes and kicked them into the air, catching them with a twirl.

“Don’t worry Flint, we’ve got the goods to beat ’em, see?” Farmstarter yanked open her towel and gave the grizzled old dude a faceful of jiggling titties.

Becca laughed and slipped in front of her, twitching the angel-devil tattoos on her ass as she slipped her arms around Farmer’s neck, giving her a big, deep, kiss on the lips. “Leave the poor ol’ guy alone lover!”

The poor man almost whimpered as their curvaceous lines pressed together, then he screwed his eyes shut and stepped past them, throwing back his head as he continued his harrangue.

“You got sloppy and you got lucky!” ‘Sloppy’ got another bout of giggling from Becca and Farmer. He ignored them. “They play or practice every damn day. They’ve got tricks you’ve never heard of and they’re all lookers. Not that you’re not, but it’s going to mean the crowd is behind them. You won’t have the home-field advantage.”

Hellen stepped out from under the shower head, water droplets slaloming down her dangerous rink-hardened curves. She wrapped a towel around her hair with practised ease and perched up on tiptoe, twisting around to look behind her, rubbing her hand on a patch of red rink-burn on her ass. “We know Flint. We’ll play it tight.”

He handed her another towel and she wrapped it around her body, hiding the flaming hearts tattooed on her breasts. “No show-boating Hel, you hear me? Be more careful, you could have smashed your hand with that stunt.”

Hellen raised her fist and looked at the cuts from Nicola’s teeth. She thought she’d busted a knuckle, but she’d put up with it. She’d survive.

“Won the game coach.”

“Yeah, but next time?” He frowned. “Right, I’m gonna go, uh, think and prep some game plans. Enjoy the shower girls. You earned it. Two days and we’re on the road!”

The squat little man sidled out of the showers, hunched over like he was carrying a load, grizzling to himself as Becca and Farmer blew kisses to him from lipstick-smeared faces.

Hellen looked over the team and bent down to pick up her shorts with a smile. They could win, they could really, truly, win.


Two days and a lot of hard celebration later. It was going to be at least a couple of days to get to Vegas and they had to make Fort Holly by tonight. That made for an early start when many of the girls were still sporting hangovers and bruises – not all of them from the match.

The sun wasn’t even up when they gathered, huddled and shuddering with the horizon lighting up with a slow, persistent glow. Touring was always a scary time, even when you were travelling by air, let alone on the roads. Rollerbrawl teams got a certain amount of leeway, but bandits could often let their greed overcome their respect and the different factions in the American wasteland would take anything they thought could give them an advantage over others.

Hellen had been laying off the celebrations, she’d been practising and tending to her painful hand. She shook it out now and the joints crackled, snapping into place. It was just about better. Good enough to take down the Showgirls, that was for certain.

Flint waved the bus on and the monstrous-looking Leyland Tiger rumbled forward, the side door flying open with a kick from the driver. It was a strange looking thing, raised up high on off-road tyres that had seen better days. Armour plating bolted and welded on along with a roll cage and extra fenders, festooned with spike. Stuck into the top was a drum like turret with a .50 browning stuck out at a crazy angle. The bus came to a rumbling halt by the team and the guy on the turret, teeth browned by tobacco, threw them a wink and a wave.

“Alright ladies, saddle up!” Flint shouted, spitting his toothpick to the dirt. He moved to the back and hustled everyone on board with shoves and smacks to the tush.

Hellen clambered up first, skates hanging around her neck, bag over her shoulder. The driver seemed nervous, a fixed grin on his face. He didn’t even glance at her chest. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a bus full of wheeled Valkyries though? She didn’t think too much of it and pushed on past. Ah, that was it, she could feel his eyes on her from behind, he was just shy, how precious.

One by one they filed on, bags and boots, skates and pads, Bettie Page bangs and dead man’s curves, piling into their seats, lighting up smokes and chattering excitedly. Flint was on last, running a hand back through his hair he grasped hold of the pole at the front of the bus and gripped it tight, white knuckled. “Get yourselves settled girls and try to get as much rest as you can. It’s a long and bumpy road ahead and you need to be in top shape when we get there. You get me?”

A ragged cheer went up from the girls and a choking rumble started up from the engine of the bus. It lurched and pulled out onto the dusty road, picking up speed as it went. Flint nearly fell, swinging from the poll, bombarded with empty cigarette packets and flung stones. Always having to play dad to a gang of sapphic warriors, sometimes Hellen pitied him, but the old fool seemed to enjoy it.

The sun rose over the horizon, inch by agonising inch, red, then yellow, then white. The bus was an oven as the sun climbed in the sky higher and higher. Everyone was sweating but the spirits of the girls were still high. Flint was enduring the constant taunting and tossed detritus with stoic calm, even when Wheely bounced a too-tough piece of jerky off his head with such spectacular aplomb that the whole bus burst into spontaneous applause.

Becca and Farmer were spending the whole trip necking it seemed. Hellen smiled and shook her head, if they kept up the heavy petting they’d have no damn energy left for the competition. That was a concern, but so was the potential distraction to the driver who kept checking his mirror, distracted from peering through the armoured slit in the windshield.

“What the hell?” Donna slammed her hands against the window and half stood out of her seat. “The goddamn gunner just jumped off?”

“What?” Came from at least three directions at once and in that same moment there was a loud ‘clunk’ and the driver’s door opened. They watched in disbelief as he hurled himself from the bus, flying off into the dusty drifts at the side of the road.

The bus lurched left and right without a driver, swinging wildly over the road. Flint dove forward and grasped tight hold of the wheel but it was too late. The speeding bus ploughed into the dune drifts and bit into the ground, sliding and twisting onto its side, throwing everyone into a pile on the right hand side of the bus. Sparks flew up as it slid along the road and ground to a noisy halt, smoking and steaming.

Hellen was dizzy, the interior lights were off and lancing sunlight came through the gaps in the armour, haphazard in beams like heat-rays with dancing motes of dust drifting in their glow in the sudden silence.

“Ladies! Grab your gear and get out, now!” Hellen shouted, clambering out of her seat and smashing her motorcycle boots against the rear door, hammering hard until she felt it start to give. “Becca, go check on Flint!”

Hellen kept smashing at the door, with her feet and Angelicar clambered up next to her, giving it some extra beef to shift it. Finally, it started to give way. Damn thing should have been able to open, this must have been a trap.

Becca wailed from the other end of the bus as the girls scrambled for the exits. “He’s dead Hel! He’s dead! He’s caught under the wheel, I can’t get him out!”

Hellen ducked down again for a quick look, Becca’s cheeks were streaked with tear-tracked war paint and she was tugging uselessly at Flint’s crumpled body. The Coach had fought for them to the last. They probably owed him their lives already.

Leave him Bec, get back here and get out!”

Angelicar roared and shoved, thrusting the door open and scrambling out onto the side of the bus. Hellen hauled herself up with her arms, as though she were vaulting, swinging her legs through like a gymnast and dropping down to the asphalt in a crouch.

There was a squeal of tyres ahead and her head darted up. A pair of cars, armoured and brutal, swinging to a halt ahead of them.


No. More than trouble. The soft-top on the Caddy wrenched back and a man in a fedora stood tall, hoisting a bazooka up onto his shoulder.


The world rolled with a deafening slap and blossomed into fire.

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Man’s World

we fite cuz there aint no wimmin in the ghet.

all broz.

broz dunt get nuffink.

wimmin get everyfink.

own schools away from broz.

teach em everyfing.

dunt even try to teach broz.

every vid brake all bout periods an empowerment and shit.

all the broz is vilent, stupid, bad.

sex is bad.

fites r bad.

all the shows is bout wimmin.

what can broz do?

got no ends.

got no wordz.

gangs fitin over the few wimmin an the few ends.

cant even drink.

only fing to do for ends is join the pigs or the grunts.

both gets shots to make em safe.

makes em flabby.

gives em bitch tits.

makes their cock stop workin.

fuck that.

so broz stay poor.

broz fite.

broz die.

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Twelve digits, the best genetics science can buy, a PHD from the University of Life and a roaring muscle car. Almost everything a Science Hero could need to put the world to rights and to explore its mysteries but, perhaps, something remains that he could put to good use. A partner and – perhaps – a little humility.

Doc Osmium is the short, neo-pulp tale of a two-fisted scientist unravelling a chain of uncanny coincidence that leads him back to… well, you’ll just have to read to find out.

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You can now get Ace Slamm: Space Bastard at…



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Tessa swam back to consciousness. She ached, her face felt two sizes two big for her head and she still couldn’t see very well. Wherever she was, her glasses weren’t and that wasn’t a good sign. She tried to move and found that she was bound in place. Struggling against the cables that tied her made her feel the aches and pains in her body afresh and she let out a groan, squinting as she tried to see, one eye swollen shut, the other fuzzy.

“Ah… you’re awake.” Werner’s voice. This did not bode well.

“Barely,” Tessa mumbled past her swollen lips. “Why did you leave me alive?”

“I don’t mean to kill if I don’t have to.” She could barely see him, moving around, an indistinct blob of pink and blue, overalls she thought. Squinting harder, forcing him into focus from sheer force of will. He still wasn’t clear but she could make out his mad eyes staring out of his pockmarked face. They were surrounded by old lights, incandescent bulbs on low power, casting shadows around it was they were, one or two flickering on and off with an electric buzz. Behind the madman was an offset plus symbol, bolted to the wall and there was something more in front of that.

“So what are you going to do? Dribble on me?”

He snarled and slapped her, fortunately not on her swollen cheek. “Watch your filthy mouth, sinne!.” She jerked in the seat and twisted her face back. With him that close she could make him out now and what she saw worried her. He was clearly, unutterably insane. What the hell had happened to him?

“What happened to you Werner? What happened out there?” She jerked her head, she had no idea which way was out, where they were in relation to the dome, but everyone knew that gesture.

“REVELATION!” He thundered and she rocked back on her seat, the shout was like being caught in the teeth of a gale.

“You’re a scientist, you know that’s no basis for anything.” She flinched as his hand raised again, but it did not fall against her face this time.

“Things have changed. God found me in the wasteland and took me to his bosom,” Werner paced restlessly as he spoke, working himself into a deeper frenzy. “Everyone else died in that church but I survived. The townsfolk didn’t take to us, didn’t like being studied. They made us undertake their rituals and my team died writhing in agony but I was spared! The serpent struck me again and again and I DID NOT DIE!” He was grinning now, ear to ear with ecstatic glee. “More, now I could hear the choir of angels, singing in my head!”

“Oh dear… neurotoxin. How did we miss that when you came back in?”

He didn’t hear her, he was well into his rant.

“Pastor Scull helped me understand, helped me recover, explained the voices of the angels to me and what they wanted. To send me forth to bring the judgement that has fallen upon the rest of the world upon this place, this last testament to man’s arrogant belief that he can defy God or his own sinful nature!”

Tessa startled slightly, something cold was creeping up the back of her leg, some sort of icy, spidery thing creeping against her skin. Werner was quoting from some ancient myth now, shouting numbers, thees and thous as though it meant anything to her, so she risked a glance down. Seeing the elbow joint of a familiar looking robotic arm vanishing up her trouser leg.

Tessa squinted hard again as Werner went on and on about seals and demons, the resurrected dead, plagues, floods, famines and fire. Across the way she saw her pistol laid out on a table, the shape familiar enough for her to make out despite her short-sightedness. The other thing that she saw was Robur’s head, a grisly trophy, leaking oil and voltaic fluid, the eyes staring as blank as ever at her, but one still flickered, fitfully and each time it glowed the arm creeped higher up her leg.

She twisted her hands behind her, trying to reach her TeleBand without Werner noticing, fingers stretching, twisting in the cables, wishing she didn’t bite her nails as she fumbled blindly at the controls. At the same time she set her one good eye on Werner, pretending to pay attention. If she could just humour him long enough she might have a chance.

“So!” He shouted returning to her. “I offer you a chance Miss Coyle, join my holy cause or be sent to your eternal judgement.”

“How would I join, exactly?” She grunted, fumbling again for the TeleBand. He noticed, frowning, leaning around her and then laughing.

“We’re deep down here Tessa, your band won’t reach the surface, so fiddle all you want. Nobody will hear you whether you scream or whether you transmit. I can see you would say anything to me, you’re just humouring me.” He gripped her chin and tilted her head up, making her hiss with pain through her swollen lips. “Well then, we shall leave the decision to The Almighty.” He turned away, marching to his makeshift altar while Tessa scrambled with her fingers for the band, hoping she’d got it right as she tuned it through the frequencies.

Werner was moving differently now, slowly, reverently even. In his hands he held a great jar with a massive lid, holes bored through it. Tessa could see something coiled, green, lurking in the bottom of the jar and as he slowly paced even closer it resolved itself. A thick rope of scaled muscle, lurid green, a quivering rattle upon its tail sounding like a maraca as the snake grew agitated and worked its fangs against the side of the glass.

“What… is it?” Tessa swallowed nervously, but as her finger slipped against the dial on the TeleBand she suddenly felt the cold metal of the arm straighten and move with greater strength and purpose.

“They call them ‘radlers’. They’re native to the gorges around the Pastor’s home town. A unique creature born of radiation and the desert and granted a gift from God, redeeming the serpent by becoming a crucible in which a man’s faith can be tested and confirmed.” Werner set the jar down next to Robur’s head and unscrewed the lid, thrusting his hand down inside, the radler striking and striking, sinking its fangs into his arm repeatedly, but he barely flinched, grasping it firm behind its head and drawing it forth.

“A remarkable creature Officer Coyle, a survivor. A nocturnal hunter that imitates a cicada or a cricket, that uses its glowing body to draw and hypnotise its prey. A creature so visible that it needs a venom stronger than any other to keep away even greater predators. If you survive… it awakens you to the heavens, the spirit… IF you survive.” He stepped closer still, holding the writhing serpent before him, swaying and waving it, imitating its motions.

Tessa could feel the hand yanking, pulling, scraping at the cables that bound her, she just needed another moment and she could be free. “ROBUR! NOW!” She shouted, giving it all the force and emotion she could. Werner turned, eyebrows shooting up his forehead in surprise. Robur’s eyes lit up and from his damaged vox he began to emit a series of beeps, starting slow and getting faster and faster.

The cable came loose, her wrists were free, she grasped hold of Robur’s disembodied arm just as Robur’s bluff was detected and Werner turned back around.

Adrenalin was a good substitute for caffeine pills, she surged up out of the seat with Robur’s arm raised high and brought it crashing across Werner’s head as his eyes met hers. He fell like a stone, the radler spilled from his grasp, striking him three times and slithering away with a derogatory swish of its tail, vanishing into the ducts.

Tessa grabbed her belt from the table and cuffed Werner, fumbling to press her glasses back onto her swollen face, leaving him laying there, bleeding from the scalp while she picked up Robur’s battered head.

“Maam,” he fizzed and crackled, sparks falling from his jagged neck stump. “I think you may have bent my arm striking the miscreant.”

Tessa laughed and then gasped, clutching her face with her free hand. “That’s the least of your problems I think Officer Robur. To think they say you Metalmen don’t have a sense of humour.”

“I was merely making an observation maam.”

“Let’s find our way out of this hole and contact the precinct.”

“I concur maam. At least it’s over.”

Tessa staggered unsteadily up the stairs, cradling Robur’s head against her chest. “I’m not sure that it is.”


“That town, they know all about us, they hate us, there’s no telling what Werner told them. I’m betting we haven’t heard the last of this ‘Pastor Scull’ and his merry band.”

“Ah. Well. All the more reason to get me repaired then maam. Turn left up here.”

“Have a little faith Robur, have a little faith…”

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The Identification Room was dominated by the huge visiscreen that covered one wall. Tessa sat at the small operator’s desk and bent the microphone to her lips while Robur slotted the appropriate information reference cards into the slot. Tessa threw the switch and fidgeted with her hands, food and drink wasn’t allowed in the Identification Room, even in pill form. Without the constant supply of caffeine and glucose she was rapidly tiring, adrenalin or no.

“MONOVAC, online.”


“Process information cards and arrange by category, psychology, sociology, anthropology.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen glowed, illuminating Robur and Tessa in its greenish cathode rays. Three lists appeared, equidistant, divided by scan lines, lists of names of those who might have been involved in the sabotage at the Aubade facility and, perhaps, the BioVat.

“Combine psychology and anthropology lists under heading ‘suspects’. Search records of entries under ‘sociology’ and combine those with biological knowledge with list ‘suspects’, remove the rest.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen went blank and then reappeared, a single, long list of names. Men and women, the cream of Science City Zero’s minds in the human sciences.

“Still quite a list maam,” Robur interjected, electronic eyes fixed upon the electronic screen.

“I think we can narrow it further. MONOVAC, search list and eliminate all of those without biology qualifications.”

“P-R-O-C-E-S-S-I-N-G.” The screen reset again, but it was barely shorter.

“MONOVAC, do any of those listed have a history of psychological problems or trauma?”


“MONOVAC, create a new list and add those entries to it. Title the list ‘prime suspects’ and display it to the right of the current list.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen flickered briefly and divided again into two lists, one short, three names only.”

“MONOVAC, zoom in on list ‘prime suspects’ and expand to fill display.”

“PROCESSING.” There were three names now, prominently displayed. Doctor Taeger, Doctor Monroe and Professor Werner.

“MONOVAC, what is the current location of those displayed.”


“Eliminate Taeger from the list.”

“PROCESSING.” That was it, down to two suspects.

“Any ideas Robur?” Tessa turned to him and scowled, the beginnings of a caffeine headache making her furrow her brow and squint in the glow of the visiscreen.

“Maam, our suspect does not act like a member of the city. They do not care what damage they bring. I do not believe either suspect would fulfil those criteria. My probability matrix still points to an outside influence, despite the evidence we have found to the contrary. I am afraid we will have to wait for another attack to be sure.”

Tessa’s scowl deepened and then she leapt up to her feet, face lighting up, the headache forgotten. “Robur! You beautiful piece of precision engineering, that’s it!” She turned swiftly back to the microphone and all but shouted into it. “MONOVAC, check records, have either remaining entries in the ‘prime suspects’ list ever been outside the dome?”


“Display Werner’s record in full.” The screen blackened and then filled again, Werner’s image filling one side along with his finger and voice prints, blood type and other sundry data. In two other columns his biography slowly scrolled while Tessa and Robur feverishly devoured every piece of information.

“There, he was with an anthropological expedition earlier this year, investigating the wasteland townships and their people.” Tessa strode up to the screen and stabbed her finger against it, following the information line as it scrolled slowly up the screen.

Robur plugged himself directly into the terminal and he and MONOVAC ground circuits for a while as he downloaded the information on the professor to his internal memory tapes. “He was one of only two survivors from that expedition, the rest were dead from snake venom and wounds suffered at the hands of the townspeople. That township has been designated code black 3 for future expeditions. According to the trauma counsellors at Psyche he has suppressed his experiences and refuses to talk about them.”

“Bingo.” Tessa smiled in the way a cat might smile at having caught a mouse. “MONOVAC, put out an APB on Professor Werner, scan the city grid for his tell-tales and inform us immediately of any sightings.”


“And now?” Robur unplugged himself and wound the cable back into his chest cavity.

“Now I snatch a nap on the couch in the office and we wait until someone spots him.”


Tessa woke with a start to Robur’s cold metal hand shaking her shoulder gently. “Whassafrazzit?” She blinked and straightened her glasses, running a hand back through unruly hair to get it back under some sort of control.

“Maam, we have a hit. Turing square. He was spotted by a civil spy-ray some moments ago but was lost almost immediately. He must be using countermeasures of some kind.”

“A privacy screen perhaps? Not many use those, we might be able to find him from the energy signature if we look for it, even if we can’t spy-ray him. What buildings are on Turing?”

Robur clicked and whirred briefly and then rattled them off. “Museum of Mistakes, Transmetal Logistics, Curie Tower and the Elysium Compubrain Research facility.”

“Both other targets were involved in research, what do they do at Elysium?” Tessa hopped up, checking her weapons and beckoning Robur after her as she began to stride down the battleship grey corridors towards the floater bay.

“Some sort of mind-machine interface maam, based on telepathic principles gleaned from wasteland mutants.”

“That sounds like our suspect’s sort of thing. Let’s go bring this recidivist down shall we Robur?”

“I concur wholeheartedly maam.”


The floater hung over Turing Square now, spy-rays and energy detectors at full power as they drifted side to side, trying to get the maximum coverage. They didn’t want to tip off Werner that they were there, that they knew, so the people below continued about their business, unmolested, unaware.

“Anything yet Robur?” Tessa hunkered down behind the windscreen, even in the dome it was cooler at this altitude and she huddled her arms around herself.

“Not yet… ah, I stand corrected. There’s an energy signature consistent with a privacy screen at the back of the Elysium building.”

Tessa took the control sticks and drifted the floater into position, descending slowly at the rear of the Elysium building. A sleek, angular building in the new-futurist style. A Mondrian brought to life in white, black and primary colours. As they descended there was a bang from the delivery entrance and Tessa took the floater into a much steeper dive. “It’s him, whatever he’s doing it’s started.”

The floater flattened out, throwing them down hard into their seats and they leapt over the sides, moving up either side of the door, ionic pistols at the ready, clasped tight in their hands.

“I’ll go first.” Tessa hissed, dialling up the power on the pistol.

“Maam, regulations state that Metalmen go in first. We’re tougher, more repairable, more expendable…”

“And about as stealthy as an elephant on roller skates. We need to get close.”

“As you say maam.”

“Follow me in in thirty seconds.” Tessa huddled low and ripped off her lab coat, the white would just give her away. She left it, discarded on the ground and crept inside, pistol ahead of her, scanning left and right as she moved through the shadows and the patches of coloured light that shone through the great square windows.

Werner was ahead of her, marching purposefully down the steps into the building’s basement. There was nobody to stop him, little or no security to speak of. Clearly the money had been spent elsewhere. Tessa slipped her shoes off and in her stockinged feet crept after him, silent as a ghost.

Down he went, until he got to a great armoured door that sealed off whatever Elysium kept in this pit they’d dug underground. Daybulbs were here, but few. Tessa got the impression that not many people came down here, the research must take place upstairs, whatever it was. Telepathic machines? She wasn’t sure what that entailed but the risks of messing with the mind were huge and whatever Werner was up to here, it couldn’t be any good.

Werner had set a small charge while she was thinking and before she could stop him he’d blown the door, vanishing into the smoke. Quickly she darted after him, holding her breath so she wouldn’t cough from the smoke, emerging into a massive circular chamber, a labyrinth of shoulder-high, anodised blue cases, all of them whirring and clicking, filled with memory tapes and switches going hell for leather in their calculations. It was sweltering in here, the sheer density of computational power producing a sauna-like heat. Sweat stuck her blouse to her back and trickled down her chest, fogging her glasses as she yanked them off, half blinded better than completely blinded.

Werner was winding his way through the labyrinth, up to the console for this dense mass of computational power. Tessa had never seen anything like it, the cross-linked power of at least a dozen MONOVACs, multiplied as they cross-processed, it was an unimaginable amount of power. She squinted, running her fingers along the tape stuck to one of the anodised casements. “Prof. H. Carbide, 1880-1945.” She mouthed, silently, brow furrowing as she tried to make sense of it. A grave? No. Elysium, the Greek afterlife. The Science Citizens of Zero had little time for mythology, but there was a respect for the Greeks due to their philosophy and mathematics. It clicked into place. The research here was a way to record minds for posterity. To transfer a conciousness from a biological machine to one of transistors, valves, tape and switches. Genius need never die! So what was Werner doing here?

She rounded the corner and lined up her ionic pistol on him as he bent over the console, twisting dials, throwing switches and turning a key, opening the box to the Master Erase button.

Tessa was outraged, that was mass murder, whichever way you looked at it. With a roar of anger she twisted around the corner and fired the ionic pistol, full power, a crackling beam of lightning that transfixed Werner, surrounding him with blue threads of light that leapt from surface to surface and grounded into the floor.

“SINNER!” he boomed, turning towards her, his face contorted in madness, she started back but kept her finger on the trigger, pumping an endless bolt of voltaic power into him, but it seemed to do not a thing to him.

“The bastard’s wearing a faraday!” She hissed as he swept towards her, raising one meaty fist and as time slowed she saw his face was covered in scars a dozen puncture marks in pairs. Then he struck her, knocking her flying into one of the blueish cases, stunning her.

Tessa struggled to her feet, seeing stars, trying to remember her training, her pistol dropped, struggling to block his punches but he’d studied scientific boxing too and was bigger, stronger, it was all she could do to hold him off and she was worn down, punch by punch, beaten to the ground, bloodied and bruised.

As she sprawled he turned and raised his hand over the master erase, ignoring her, intent on his mission.

“In the name of the Lord I purge this false heaven of its trapped souls!” He cried out, raising his hands to the sky.

“That’s quite enough.” Robur’s voice cut, mechanical and even, loud even over the clattering of the computational matrix.

“He’s wearing a faraday…” Tessa mumbled through swollen lips, trying to warn him.

Robur heard her and dropped his pistol, springing to the attack, metal arms stretched out towards Werner intent upon grappling him to the floor. The delay was enough though, enough for Werner. He twisted, a massive, impossibly crude firearm, tarnished and pitted, filled his hand and boomed, deafeningly. There was an almighty CLANG as the bullet struck him full in his chest and lodged there, denting the metal.

“How absurdly primitive…” There was a blinding flash and a green explosion of fire and radiation that burned Tessa’s skin. Robur vanished in a ball of green fire and rained down in pieces all around the chamber, glowing fragments of shrapnel embedded into everything, his head landing with a sound like a tolling bell next to Tessa and rolling against her leg.

Werner hit the switch and the cacophony of clattering electronics stopped, abruptly.

“I was chosen for this mission. I will bring this city back to God! They shall take up serpents! It shall not hurt them!” Werner lunged down over Tessa, swimming into focus for a moment, froth at his lips, his eyes wildly staring. “Jezebel! Harlot of man’s arrogance. I cast thee out!”

The last thing she saw was the sole of his boot, crashing down.

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