Posts Tagged ‘SF’

The precinct hovered above Science City Zero and moved where it was needed, when it was needed. A massive silver saucer with a hooped spine projecting downwards, glowing with light as it hovered on its beam of force, suspended by the power of a dozen disintegration generators. Two were enough to keep it suspended, one in a pinch but the denizens of Science City Zero were a pragmatic sort and the Science Police knew the value of multiple redundancy.

Tessa’s office was on the lower part of the saucer, sloping windows offering a panoramic view of the city below. It was morning now and the light filtered through the dome above, diffusing as it slowly replaced the light of the dayglobes in the streets and houses. Tessa sat on the transmetal window, seemingly floating over the city below, gulping back more caffeine pills with a glass of glucose water, so highly strung she seemed to vibrate as she wound through the evidence tapes on her TeleBand, glaring at the greenish projections as though the crime would resolve itself if she scared it enough.

“Robur… summarise… what do we know?”

Robur was standing in his recharge unit, humming slightly as his secondary systems charged and his main generator wound back up to full power. His hands moved a buffer over his new ‘scars’ as he did so and those blank and empty glowing eyes turned back towards Tessa as his switches clattered, processing her request.

“Person or persons unknown gained access to the BioVat facility late last night. The surviving scientists report a technician of medium height, medium build and brown hair. Not especially useful. We know that this person or persons replaced the punch cards with those from a cloning depot allowing the synth-men to develop a mentality and musculature that they would not normally achieve. This was done inexpertly, though it suggests at least a passing understanding of the technologies involved so we are looking for an educated perpetrator…”

“…In a city of millions of scientists, engineers and technicians.”

“If I may continue maam?”

Tessa waved away his concerns with a grumble.

“Well, sabotage is passing rare maam, everyone in the city knows we depend on the city and its infrastructure. Attacks usually come from outside, or are attempted from outside but as you well know such incursions are rarely successful, suggesting that the attack has to come from inside. Perhaps a stolen identity, a turncoat is preposterous. Who would give up all this for the radioactive wasteland beyond? Certainly nobody rational.”

“Not everyone has a set of valves, switches and circuits for a brain Robur. Even scientists can get wedded to their pet theories and follow them in the teeth of the evidence. It’s a struggle for us all.”

“A terrible flaw in the human mind maam.”

“But essential to understand possible motives for our perpetrator.”

“As you say maam.”

“So, basically we don’t know anything except that our saboteur could be almost anyone and doesn’t care about the welfare of the city.”

“As you say maam.”

Tessa slammed her hand down on the transmetal, something that always gave her a frisson of fear, even though she knew the transmetal was nigh unbreakable. “Damn and blast. We’ve no option but to wait for the maniac to strike again and that irritates me. Without another incident we can’t even begin building a profile.”

“It does, indeed, seem prudent to wait and it is not as though we have a choice maam. Perhaps you should get some rest.”

Tessa threw one of her pills at Robur and it clanged off his chest plate with a loud ‘ting’.


Tessa was dozing at her desk, the electromassage lulling her – finally – to sleep, overcoming the surging chemistry of the pills the boiled through her veins. Robur was still plugged in, repeatedly churning over the evidence that they’d gathered, hooked into the precinct’s MONOVAC for additional power, putting in various variables and calculating probabilities, but nothing was seeming to fit.

Tessa tumbled from her desk with a start as the TeleScreen leapt into life.

“Coyle!” Her master’s voice, Captain Newton swimming into view on the screen and peering out at them through the electric eye.

“Sir!” Tessa clambered back up into view, rubbing the rheum from her eyes and straightening her glasses, trying to scramble back to reality from dreams of synth-men and violence.

“We’ve another incident. A containment breach at Aubade Power, another research institute. Very high tech, very well protected, very advanced. The director’s called me in person and asked for my best agents. That’s you. Get down there.”


It was not long before they were there, taking a full scale floater this time, rather than a disk, in case they needed the extra power or swiftness it could bring. The Aubade facility was blindingly bright, surrounded by the proctors and their screens, flaring blindingly bright every colour of the rainbow as the blinding light within reduced the building to a mere shadow, slowly getting soft at the edges as the terrible forces within began to melt even the strongest of buildings.

The floater set down at the proctor line and they had to holler to be heard over the screaming of generators and the roaring air.

“Maam!” Shouted the proctor over the deafening sound. “The inner screens have gone down and we can barely hold it in with the screens.”

They moved into the shelter of one of the newly arrived screens, others being shipped in from around the city to reinforce the perimeter, so that they could be heard.

“There’s no way I can let you in maam, we can’t get close and the director told us they were harnessing the power of the sun. The Energy Commission is trying to find a solution but we may have to evacuate the city.”

Tessa growled and snapped at the proctor. “I can’t deal with it without a closer look. Bring me a proctor suit, a fresh screen and some high capacitance cabling. Immediately.”


“That’s an order.”

The proctor scurried off to get what she wanted, after a brief glance at her badge and she turned to Robur next, so fast the otherwise implacable Metalman actually recoiled. “Open your chest plate Robur.”


“We’ll need the extra power.”

Tessa suited up, strapping the heavy armour-plating of the robotic proctor suit into place and strapping on heavy welding goggles beneath the helmet. The suit was too big and pinched at the joints, but there was little that was better protection in all of Zero. Behind her as she finished suiting up, the Aubade building was now all but impossible to make out, the light within so strong that even the most solid of walls was near transparent.

The screen was powered up and focussed to the minimum, all of its power focussed in a tiny space. Robur’s chest was open and the cables ran from it to the screen, sending even more power into the field projector, threatening to overload it.

The proctors withdrew and Tessa flexed the hydraulic muscles of the suit, pushing against the screen and marching step by step into the bedazzling aura of the glow that was too bright for any to see how she was doing. The ground was wet beneath her armoured boots and pushing the screen forward was like wading through treacle. It wasn’t treacle though, the ground was melted like magma. Metal, brick and ceramic flowed thinner and hotter as she got closer to the centre, having to throw her arm in front as the light grew too bright even for the goggles, the helm and the screen all together.

A warning bell rang inside the suit as she reached the epicentre of the light and the heat. A miniature, artificial sun, suspended in the air between massive presser rays, protected by their own screens that were flickering and faltering even now.

The warning bell rang louder and louder, increasing in frequency and volume as the suit began to buckle under the strain. There was only one chance and it was a long shot but the fate of the city was at stake this time. Forcing the suit to maximum power she pushed the small screen closer to the presser projector console. The suit was beginning to melt, a trickle of metal silvery as it ran down the faceplate and dripped from the chin.

There was one chance, one slim chance to end this. Tessa tore the panel from the presser controls, hissing as the heat began to bore through the suit, burning her fingers as she exposed the power connectors. A quick twist back and she snatched the power leads from the screen projector, thrusting them into the presser controls. The moment the screen went down she was seared, the suit seizing up as the joints melted but in the power of the supercharged pressers the miniature sun shrank in on itself and turned dark.

In an instant everything changed, the outward pressure of the sun energy abruptly reversing direction as the miniature black hole that had formed began to crush what was left of the building inwards. The suit wouldn’t move and began to drag along the floor as Tessa struggled with the controls, whining hydraulics straining against the fusion-welded seams but it wouldn’t move, grinding across the cooling floor as the rock began to set up solid again.

In desperation Tessa hammered on the inside the suit, straining with her wiry muscles against the chest plate until, finally, it gave way. She spilled out, snatching and grasping at the cables, floating backwards, spiralling inward towards that singular black point as it devoured the suit, stretching its atoms into infinity. She was white knuckled, clinging on for dear life as the cable drew taut and then slowly, implacably drew backwards, hauling her inch by inch away from the swirling void.

There was a scream of metal on metal and the great presser rays trembled in their brackets, suddenly tearing loose, sucked into their own creation and annihilated. Without the power of the ray the singularity could not maintain and with a thunderous clap of equalising energy and a rush of air it disappeared, blasting what remained of Aubade into smithereens.

Tessa blinked as the rubble was pulled from her, smiling up at Robur as he tossed aside the distorted remnants of a steel beam and helped her up to her feet.

“Are you alright maam?”

“Never better Robur… never better… though I think our chances of getting any evidence out of this place are pretty much zero.” She dusted herself down and stumbled out of the debris, leaning on her metal companion.

“You’d be wrong there maam. I believe we do have a lead. I was conversing by TeleBand with Aubade director while you were engaged in your heroics.”

“And?” She leaned against the floater, wearily popping a fistful of caffeine pills and dragging out the first aid kit.

“The only change of note was that they began a study into the psychological and social implications of true artificial sun control on the general population and its potential uses for impressing or intimidating wastelanders.”

“I see… so?”

“We have suspects. A list of suspects from the psychology, sociology and anthropology departments involved in those experiments. The only new people who would have had the opportunity.”

“Forget the sociologists, they’re less likely to have biological knowledge.” Tessa dragged herself into the floater. “Let’s get back to the precinct and crunch the cards. Maybe we can find this bastard and then I can get a decent night’s sleep.”

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Boop-dee-dee-beep-deep-woop, boop-dee-dee-beep-deep-woop.

Tessa groaned and wound the sheets around her head, hoping the noise would go away, but it wouldn’t, the clamorous ring of her TeleBand just keep going and going, the greenish light of its screen flashing as it strove to get her attention. She fumbled her arm out of the mummified cocoon of her sheets and groped for her glasses on the bedside fresher, fumbling them onto her face and falling with a thump onto the floor as she writhed like some bizarre linen caterpillar across the floor to the Teleband.

Cold metal and worn leather were felt against her fingertips and she sat up, the sheet falling around her slender, shirt-covered body as she hit the answer button and squinted through the thumbprint on her glasses at the tri-d, metal face that appeared, hovering, over her wristband.


It was Robur, her partner, a 41st interation 124C model Metalman, not very lifelike, but an effective partner and a good ‘man’ to have on your side in a fight.

“Robur… you do understand that humans have to sleep right? I have to get eight hours natural a week rather than hypersleep or I’m no good to anyone.” Tessa pulled up the hem of her nightshirt and wiped the lens of her glasses so she could see more clearly. He was just a Metalman, he wouldn’t care about a little flashed skin.

“I am sorry maam but Captain Newton was most insistant that I contact you. We have a Code Prometheus incident at the BioVat facility on the corner of Gernsback and Capek. The proctors are containing it at the moment but they want Science Police on site as soon as possible.”

Robur’s voice became more and more annoying the longer he spoke for, that grating buzz of an artificial voicebox was especially irritating before coffee and breakfast.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can Robur. Have the proctors set up a perimeter one block around BioVat and deploy Mag Screens for containment. I’m on my way.”

Tessa slapped the TeleBand and cut him off, stepping up out of the cocoon of sheets and peeling off her nightshirt.


The daybulbs glowed dimly and slowly built up to full brightness as she crossed the room to get her uniform. She paused a moment and wrinkled her nose at the sight of herself in the mirror. Short curly hair, Buddy-Holly glasses, a figure so slim and boyish that if it wasn’t for the way her hips moved everyone would think she was a man. She was strong though, despite being slight, flexible and fast and – most importantly – brilliant. They’d wanted her to go into research, her parents, but the Science Police was where it was at, safeguarding the advances of others and protecting the city from the terrors that lay beyond the dome.

Tessa pulled on her foil cap and stepped into the ion shower. There was a hum and a tingle as the electric stream and a gust of air blew away the top layer of dead skin cells and she hopped back out, pulling on her uniform. Royal blue trousers a size too big for her, a black blouse and white tie, her gunbelt with its ionic pistol and her long white lab coat. Lastly she strapped her Science Police band to her other wrist and checked herself in the mirror. It would do.

Tessa threw open the window and stepped out onto the balcony, pressing the button on her TeleBand to summon a police disk. Below her the whole of Science City Zero was laid out, a glittering panorama of lights and sounds, the shining beacons of cars, planes, disks and balloons. The spires of the banded towers, the web of their skywalks and transit tubes. Above it all the great arch of the dome, the night sky barely seen beyond it, only The Moon bright enough to compete with the scintillating, kaleidoscopic glow of the city.

The disk arrived, swooping up to her balcony on dim pencil beams of force. Tessa leapt aboard and swept down over the city, heading as fast as she dared towards the incident.


Tessa swept down out of the sky and jumped from the disk, leaving it to flit its way to another appointment with a sudden surge in velocity. Fishing in her pockets she popped a caffeine and a breakfast pill from her dispenser and strode purposefully up to the line of proctors, waving to Robur as she did so.

“Ah, greetings Maam.” The Metalman waved to her, his chassis gleaming beneath the daybulb streetlights, all burnished blue-steel and armoured rivets. He was surrounded by proctors in their heavy armour, lightning guns in their hands as the finished establishing their perimeter.


“The cordon has been thrown around as you requested, the incident appears to be contained but there is ongoing violence within the BioVat building. Spy-Ray examination reveals several unidentified hominid-like forms and several scientists inside, perhaps hostages. There’s interference from the fires and electrical shorts, so that information is only seventy-percent accurate, for which I apologise.”

Tessa turned to the proctor captain, looking up, her neck aching as she looked into his faceless helmet.

“We’ve surrounded the building with ten megawatt energy screens and have deployed three units in a cordon around the building, there to back you up should things go pear-shaped maam. Captain Newton has ordered us to cooperate fully, but we’re only to enter at your behest.”

Tessa popped another caffeine pill, she had a feeling she’d need it. As she swallowed she unbuckled her holster and hoisted out her ionic pistol, checking the charge and the settings, nodding to Robur to do the same.

“What do we know about BioVat Robur?”

“Independent biological research and development company maam. They research into synthetic life but their bread and butter is creating synth-men for biological experimentation.”

“Brainless clones for medical research… who’d attack a medical facility?” Tessa scowled and marched up to the line, gesturing the proctor on duty to take this screen down when they went through. Robur pulled his own pistol and stood beside her.

“Three, two, one…”

The crackling screen faded out with a low buzz and the two ran forward, the light slap of her All-Stars contrasting with the heavy clank-clank of Robur’s feet. He wasn’t exactly stealthy. The screen came back up behind them, sealing the area behind an impenetrable screen of force and they slammed up against the wall, either side of the door.


Robur’s steely head nodded, once, the glow behind his eyes intensifying and then he stepped around, kicking the revolving door out of its housing and sending it sliding violently across the foyer to smash the reception desk to smithereens.

Inside it was chaos, full of smoke, fires burning here and there, showers of sparks as cabling burned and shorted. The ground was slippery with a pinkish goo and the cause was readily apparent. Deformed, cancerous, muscles ballooned to ridiculous proportions, the synth-men had broken free of their containers. Twisted, like hairless gorillas, veins pulsing, rage in their eyes, the handful in the entrance turned their incoherent anger on the interlopers and leapt to the attack.

“Does not compute!” Robur cried with what sounded like genuine anguish. “Synth-men have no brains… no conciousness!”

“Worry about that later!” Tessa darted inside, sliding on a slick of the pinkish goo and ducking under the tree-trunk arm of one of the synth-men. Her ionic pistol hummed in her hand as she twisted, sliding on her bottom across the chequered floor and firing, a blue beam of coherent electricity striking the synth-man and hurling him to the far wall with the stink of ozone and bacon.

The remaining synth-men bounded and leapt, roaring like jungle apes as they moved. Tessa scrambled out of the way as one landed on the spot where she had just been. Thanking blind chance that she was as small and slight as she was. Where it landed the floor cratered, muscle so dense it must have weighed twice as much as it should and been in unspeakable agony, crushed by its own muscles. Robur shot the other out of the air deftly with his pistol, playing his beam across the creature’s chest until he was sure it was still.

By then the third had gotten its meaty paw upon Tessa and had her by the ankle, hauling her upside down before it’s face, ape-like fangs bared as it roared, spattering her glasses with spittle. There was a crash nearby as Robur slammed into the remaining synth-man before he could recover, bearing him down to the ground and pounding his neanderthal brow with fists like hammers while Tessa twisted and struggled.

Blinded by the spit she felt its other hand grasp her around her head, the span of its fingers sufficient to pluck her cranium from her spine as though it were plucking a grape. She tried to calm herself, to remember her scientific boxing lessons and then she lashed out with all the strength she could muster, slamming two of her knuckles one side of the synth-man’s head and the butt of her pistol the other, just between the ear and the jaw.

The creature roared and dropped her, she landed awkwardly on her shoulders and back, upside down, lifting the ionic pistol and blindly firing between the creature’s legs. The roar became a howl, high pitched almost beyond hearing and this time the ozone stink was mixed with burning hair as the thing dropped like a felled tree.

The bone-crunching noises of Robur’s fight also came to a halt and he strode over to help her up.

“Are you alright maam?”

“No thanks to you. Why didn’t you attack the one that had me?”

“I knew you could handle it maam, within a ninety-three percent probability anyway. Taking the remaining problem out of the equation seemed the best course of action.”

“There’ll be others, we need to get to the lab where the spy-ray saw the scientists.”

They nodded to each other and ascended the stairs two and three at a time, heading back through the offices, blasting left and right as more of the synth-men emerged from the side rooms, blinded by pain and rage there was nothing they could do but put them down.

“This is monstrous, whoever did this is a sociopath.” Tessa growled as they stood back to back, blasting away at the tide of muscle that dogged their every step, climbing over the bodies of dead office workers and the remnants of destroyed desks as they finally got back to the factory doors.

They burst through and slammed the metal doors shut behind them, standing on the gantry that lead to the control chamber, beneath them a sea of tubes, many of them broken, filled with the pink plasm that supported the synth-men growth, but there was only one inside. A brute bigger than any other they had seen, towering over the cowering scientists in the control room.

“Hold the fort Robur, I’m going to get the scientists.”

The Metalman nodded and slid his arms through the handles, bracing back against the door as it rang like a bell, massive fists hammering from the other side, roars and snarls of frustrated as the iron and steel of robot and door refused to give, though it began to dent.

The hulking synth-man turned, one eye massive and yellow, larger than the other, one whole side of its body larger than the other. Clumsily it turned and loped towards her as she marched towards it, ionic pistol raised.

“Science Police, surrender to impartial justice!” She gave the warning, even though she knew it couldn’t understand. The body of a monster and the mind of a newborn.

Predictably, it ignored her and began to run, a lopsided lope towards her.

Behind her Robur channelled his own power into his chassis, electrifying himself and the door, shocking the synth-men hammering on the other side to death, his whole body arched and glowing, heating up from the power coursing through him.

For her part Tessa kept marching on the giant synth-man, depressing the firing stud on her pistol, the blue coruscating light struck the creature full in the chest, burning its flesh, charring its skin, but still it kept on coming, teeth bared, marching into the ravening beam as though walking into the wind.

Tessa stared, disbelieving as the massive creature came closer, closer, closer and reached into the beam, burning off one of its own fingers to snatch the pistol from her hand. It grinned in triumph as it crushing it like a drinks can in its maimed fist but Tessa didn’t miss a beat, swinging her leg back, then forward and planting the very toe of her boot into the mass of dangling flesh between the things legs. It grunted and she grasped, and pivoted, using its own off-centre weight to hurl it from the gantry to plummet to its broken-necked doom amongst the shattered tubes below.

The fight was over, the scientists in shock and useless as witnesses. They called in the proctors to guide them out and put out the fires, that left them free to look over the control room without interference. It was a wreck, a mess, evidence was hard to come by in such a disruption of blood and wreckage, but they divided it up into sections and went through it methodically, despite Tessa’s aches and pains. This was where a Metalman came into his own, they couldn’t experience boredom and his mechanical precision was an inspiration.

It was Tessa that found it though, breaking open the feeder mechanism to the MONOVAC she ran her fingers down the mass of punch-cards and felt the hard edges of newer cards inserted into the sequence.

“What do you make of these Robur?” She plucked the newer cards out of the feeder, tucking torn pieces from her notebook into the gaps to mark the spaces.

The Metalman took the cards and fed them into his universal slot, shuffling them like a stage magician as they flew into his slot and his tubes and switches cogitated with a noisy flickering, digesting the information.

“They’re plasm codes maam. I am no expert but according to my interior library these sequences relate to muscle, bone and nerve tissue growth, including brain tissue. I conjecture that…”

“…someone introduced a little Mr Hyde into our mindless Doctor Jeckylls.”

“Indeed maam.”

“So then, there’s no question.”

“None at all maam.”

Tessa tossed the remaining punch cards angrily onto the floor, spilling them everywhere, kicking the pile so it fell between the slats in the gantry and turning back to Robur, stabbig her finger into his impassive face.


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After all their efforts they finally swung around the searing ball of atomic fire at the centre of our solar system and the great purple bruise that was Dyzan came into sight. A giant world, the lost triplet to Jupiter and Saturn, swarming with moons and asteroids, each a world in its own right and crowning them all, the imperial worldlet of Rex, now ravaged by civil war since the fall of the Emperor.

Ace’s nostrils flared as the planet came into view. This was the last place he really wanted to be, since the war had come to these moons and him along with them. It was a horrible, grim time for planet Earth, under attack from this distant world and then fighting back, only to find the place in chaos. The whole thing was a mystery that nobody had yet unravelled – why had they been attacked in the first place? Was it just the nature of Dyzan’s people to conquer? Whatever the case, it wasn’t save here now. The Dyzan princes of the scattered moons were at war, squabbling over the corpse of the once-mighty empire while the rest of the solar system fell into ruin, directionless and ungoverned.

It wasn’t safe here.

He flicked the switch to his radio, calling back to the hold where the trio were hiding since the run-in with Rosie. “We’re almost there.” his voice crackled over the tannoy. “Where – exactly – are we going?”

There was no reply, but not much later the Professor joined him in the cramped cockpit. “There.” His rough fingertip pressed against the glass of the screen.” We’re going to Rex.”

Ace rolled his eyes, hard, just his luck to be taking them to the worst spot of them all in this whole benighted zone. He grasped the controls and took them in, swooping towards the moon of Rex over the lurid and turbulent atmosphere of Dyzan itself. Soon Rex swam large in the screen, a battle-scarred world of gold and ash, the imperial city – or what remained of it – visible even at this distance, a massive structure on a scale previously unimaginable to the human mind.

Ace’s radar pinged, warningly and he turned to the little green screen, three blips, incoming. Maybe they’d leave them alone, maybe they wouldn’t. He set his jaw and flipped on the broadcast radio. “This is Man’s Ruin to incoming vessels. We are on a mission of… exploration and mean no harm. Please divert your course.”

This hiss from Dyzan’s magnetosphere almost drowned out any reply but he managed to tune it to hear their crackling missive: “Repeat… Avians – scree! – claim this sector. You are intruding. This is Matloch of the Vulcan’s Claw, turn around or be destroyed!”

Ace turned questioning to the Professor whose thick brow was now set in determination. “We’re paying you well, punch on through man.”

Ace nodded and his own brow furrowed. “Strap yourself down.” He muttered and turned Man’s Ruin towards the oncoming vessels.

This close to Rex’s atmosphere the atomic turbines couldn’t blast full speed, they’d burn up like meteors in the wisps of atmosphere but, at this terrific speed, the flaps and rudder on the ship could get a little bite and that gave Ace the edge. He swooped in lower, biting deeper into Rex’s atmosphere, the ship glowing at the nose as it picked up heat. Distantly he could see the silvery cigar shapes of the Avian vessels with their distinctive back-swept wings barely visible. He flipped up the catch on his control stick and the battle-joy came over him. This was what he was good at.

He thumbed the stud as he roared up out of the atmosphere in a corona of burning plasma, the atmosphere clinging to the ship like a shroud. The vickers opened up with ravening beams of atomic fire, lancing out across the void towards the ‘V’ formation of the Avian rocket ships. Classic formation, the bird-brains never learned. Great scars opened up along the side of one of the vessels and its wing melted away like butter in a hot pan. Venting atmosphere and the distant, doll-like bodies of Avian soldiers it began its death-spin down towards the planet.

The remaining vessels peeled away, one going high, one going low. The higher vessel swept up, then down, barrelling towards Ace’s ship in a hawk’s dive, blazing away with its own cannons, hot ions slapping into the plasma shroud and impacting the crackling lightning shield, but they weren’t going to get through, not in time.

Ace pushed the thruster control forward and headed for the ship dead on. At this speed there were no earthly reflexes that could avoid a collision and both vessels blazed away with their energy beams, gun against gun, field against field in a battle of competing technology that would result in the death of one, or the other.

The Avian’s vessels had been kept weak by the Emperor, not wanting to risk an uprising that could not be crushed by the Imperial fleet and Ace was hoping they hadn’t been retrofitted. His luck held. There was an explosion as the Avian lightning field collapsed and as it did the coruscating beams from the Vickers blew it into a cloud of vapour. Ace’s own field was dangerously low though now and as he dove back towards the planet his lightning field began to register hits from the one remaining ship.

“Hold tight!” Ace shouted, holding on for dear life as he pushed Man’s Ruin to its absolute limit, every bolt and plate rattling as he dove towards the planet’s surface, down towards the rocky outcroppings of the Plain of Misery and it’s ashen wastes. The Avian ship dived after him, following in his wake, but it’s beams couldn’t penetrate the corona of hot gas that plumed behind Man’s Ruin, her hull vapourising from the heat and the ship baking like an oven.

At the last possible moment Ace pulled up, the planet spinning sickeningly beneath him and the controls cutting the air as we drove Man’s Ruin into a desperate set of jinking manoeuvres through the rocky outcroppings of the surface. The Avian was hot on his tail, explosions of melting rock going off like firecrackers beneath them as the Avian ship stuck to them like glue, intent upon their tail and that, that was what Ace was counting on.

Man’s Ruin turned, desperately, and swept towards a rocky arch, sliding through by the barest of margins at dangerous speed. So intent on the hunt were the Avians that they followed, but the great, swept back wings of their ship would not fit where the sleek, penial design of the Spite could more easily go. There was a terrific crash behind them and the Avian ship’s wreckage blasted out of the collapsing arch like the pellets of a shotgun blast. They were safe, for now.

The Professor clapped Ace on the shoulder. “Well done that man, well done! Bang himself couldn’t have done better.” Ace didn’t doubt that and wasn’t about to argue with the man.

“Where to then Professor?” The reward they’d promised him would be half gone just fixing Man’s Ruin, he wanted this job done, now.

The Professor leant of the scope and read out coordinates, it wasn’t far. Man’s Ruin, scarred and battle worn, swept through the smoking skies and landed on her struts, the grey sand sinking beneath her weight as, pinging and crackling, the vessel began to cool.

They descended, Ace first, onto the grim surface of this ruined world. Ace’s hand was on his Eliminator, ready to draw at the first sign of trouble. The trio seemed, oddly, almost at home here. Gail was even smiling as she looked out across the wastes. Bang looked pantherish and confident, in stark contrast to his bullish overcompensation at other times. Even the Professor stood straight backed and confident, all too at home in this alien landscape.

They walked, perhaps ten score yards over the rough terrain until they found a great scar in the surface of the planet, melted rock and sand turned to glass, fragments of wreckage. A rocket ship had smashed down here and as they followed the scar to its end Ace began to feel more and more uneasy.

At the very end were the skeletal remnants of a rocket ship, oddly primitive in design, unlike any other vessel Ace had ever seen but to the trio, it seemed familiar.

“You SEE!” Roared the Quartus triumphantly. “It’s still here! Proof! Evidence that we were here first! That we discovered them! That our story, OUR story is true!” He scrambled a camera from his backpack and began to take shots as Bang clambered over the wreckage and hauled out a metal plate, inscribed, in English.

Ace’s mind reeled and he literally swayed at this news, dizzy with all its implications. He didn’t have enough time to organise his thoughts however, a rock tumbled behind him and he swung around hard, Eliminator at the ready.

“HOLD!” Roared the sneering voice of the man in the silver mask, a plasma pistol grasped in his gauntlet. “I mean you no harm Captain Slamm. I wish to talk a moment and, if you still wish to kill me, we can have it out after that.”

“Kill him!” Roared Bang, tensed to jump, but there was no way he could reach Siltar without being cut down. Ace kept his hand tight on the Eliminator and nodded to Siltar, accepting his proposal with a taciturn gesture.

“Predictable bloody Earthlings.” Muttered Siltar, stepping with distaste down the slope of the scar, as though the ground were not worthy to sully his feet. “This trio came here in the thirties, by your primitive measure. Barely had they been here a day when they began to foment revolt against the Emperor. This brainless lump even turned the eye of the Emperor’s daughter.” He gestured to Bang and, judging by the way Gail reacted, that was a sore point.

“Go on.” Ace growled roughly, without taking his eyes off Siltar, though he could sense the unease of the trio at what was being said.

“It’s because of them that the Emperor launched his war against your Earth, thinking them the vanguard of some invasion, some rebellion. Your armies beat us, but not because of your might, but rather because of what these bumbling fools accomplished against all odds here. The Empire is ruined, but at least we were beaten – so people think – in honest contest of arms. If this… crank…” Siltar pointed with the barrel of his gun at Quartus “…has his way that legend, for both our peoples, will be shattered.”

“Is this true?” Ace and Siltar shared a nod of understanding and he allowed his attention to drift to Quartus.

“Yes!” Proclaimed the man of science. “I invented space travel for our people! I discovered this place! Bang freed her people and Gail infiltrated the palace! We liberated the solar system from Dyzan’s rule!”

Ace lowered his gun and holstered it. “Millions of people died and all because you couldn’t stay out of it. All because you had to interfere. They didn’t care about Earth until you made them care.” He turned and began to trudge back towards Man’s Ruin.

Gail darted after him, recoiling as Siltar blasted a rock to atoms beside her, calling out to him. “Ace! Please! No! People have to hear the truth!”

“No, they don’t need to hear it’s our fault.” He kept on trudging.

“We had a deal! What about your reward? What about me? I’ve seen you looking at me, you’re twice the man Bang ever was!”

“Hey!” the sportsman bristled at the slight, clenching his fists.

“You can stick the reward where the sun don’t shine love.” Ace growled, without turning around. Grinding the ashen soil of Rex beneath his boots as plasma flared, three times, behind him.

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Hanging by his wrists from magnetic cuffs, deep in the bowels of Rosie’s scrapship Ace had plenty of time to think about everything that had lead up to this point. He glowered across the rusty cell at the three misfortunes that had stepped into his life and tried to work out where he’d gone wrong. Had it been taking off at such a haring rate? Had it been being willing to take these jokers to Dyzan at all? Perhaps his mistake had been shattering the arrogant German’s teeth, after all, that had attracted their attention. Going further back perhaps his mistake had been marrying Rosie in the first place, the witch knew how to bear a grudge that was certain, just his bad luck to run into her here.

They had been dragged in by the magna-beam, spiralling in to the iron moon despite all their best attempts to break free. The ship had rattled and sang as though hit by hammers, disintegrating its stores of lead in the futile struggle to escape but it was no use. The scrapship had more mass, more power and Rosie’s smarts behind its rays and beams. They had been dragged into its rusting bulk and the power had gone out. Rosie must have rigged up that power suppressor she had always been banging on about. Girl was a genius, for all that she was a bitch.

Once they were down the robots had come trundling on their wheels, raising their laser-torches threateningly and – not wanting to see harm done to Man’s Ruin and with his Eliminator refusing to work – Ace had no choice but to go along with them, stripped of his weapons and dignity and forced to elbow Bang in the gut to stop him doing something stupid. Now here they were, all hanging alongside each other and making the old adage about hanging together or separately all too accurate. Now if Gail would just shut up they could wait until Rosie calmed down and came to talk to them. She always talked in the end, despite how little good it ever did, they just had to wait a while down here until her temper abated, perhaps a year at the most.

“Just what, the hell, did you do to this woman?” Spat Gail, dangling – rather fetchingly Ace thought, in her manacles. It was hard to stay too annoyed at a broad who seemed to be doing her level best to burst out of her jacket, though his appreciative stares only seemed to drive her to further fits of apoplexy. “Let me guess, you couldn’t stay away from other women, right?”

“More like she couldn’t stay away from machines.” Ace grudgingly answered her, for a fleeting moment Gail almost looked sympathetic, that wouldn’t do. “Also she got fat.” That did the trick.

“For God’s sake, the pair of you, we need to find a way out of this. Stop bickering with this thug darling!” Bang strained manfully against his bonds, muscles bunching, sweat breaking out on his body. Ace couldn’t help but notice a wistful and far off attraction in Gail’s eyes when she looked at Bang in such a state, as if that was the man he fell in love with.

“Aha!” Professor Quartus hadn’t been paying the blindest bit of attention to the rest of them and spoke, as if nobody was there. “I could easily reverse the polarity on these cuffs and undo them… if only I had a piece of wire.”

Ace took that in and his gaze returned to Gail’s fetching bosoms. A switch clicked in his head and he pulled hard on his own chains, dragging them through the bulkhead bit by bit, making Bang’s efforts look pathetic. He strained and pulled and yanked inch by inch, staggering forward, one foot in front of the other until with one last, massive effort he grabbed Gail’s blouse and pulled.

Fabric rent and tore, Gail screamed deafeningly and there was a triple pistol-crack of snapping elastic and the magna-cuffs yanked Ace back across the cell, slamming him into the wall with Gail’s brassiere in his mitts as she twisted and turned, trying to cover herself.

“You bastard!” Screamed Bang, his face as red as a Martian’s buttocks. He went on to swear more and more, but Ace wasn’t paying attention. He bit and tore and twisted at the bra, looking for all the world like some kind of pervert but, just as Bang was running out of breath Ace, triumphantly, raised the extracted underwiring aloft.

“This do you Prof?”

The Professor clapped his bound hands together with childish glee. “That should be more than adequate!”

Ace held the wire between his boots and suspended himself from his cuffs, grunting in pain, passing the wire across to the Professor. A little fiddling and one by one they were all free, rubbing their wrists. Gail turned into the corner and tied her torn blouse under her bosoms, a sidelong look at Bang, wondering why he wasn’t protecting her honour perhaps but the truth was, the success of the escape had taken the wind out of his sales.

Ace shouldered to the door, rusting junk like the rest the ship, it gave way pretty quickly before his efforts. “Prof, can you do the wire-trick to the magna-beam as well?”

“I don’t see why not, provided we can get back to the bay. Yes, that should be simple enough, provided the matrix is of a reasonably standard configuration. High school physics really.” He grinned his superior grin and rubbed his rounded temples. “If you can get us past the robots of course.”

Ace tore piping from the walls and tossed one section to Bang, who caught it out of the air. “Can you smash a robot Bang?” The sportsman nodded and the pair of them took to the corridor, charging bullishly ahead of the Professor and Gail.

The door to the hangar cranked open, bit by bit, smoke billowed through, followed by Ace and Bang, covered with oil, bent cogs and scrap rolling ahead of them. They slouched into the hangar with battered pipes in hand, bloodied, torn, piles of scrapped ‘bots behind them, fizzing and hissing, crackling and flashing with shorting power.

Ace groaned and rolled his eyes. There was one obstacle left, Rosie.

She was still an impressive woman. Amazonian in her physique, albeit a bit broader in the beam than she had been when they’d married – he’d told the truth about that. Her red hair was tied back with a polka-dotted handkerchief and she wore heavy gloves, a black-stained pair of dungarees and heavy steel-toed boots. Ace’s Eliminator was in her fist, aimed squarely at them and her eyes – set in a face where freckles and oil competed to dominate. “Hello Ace, I think that’s far enough.”

A screen flickered into life behind her, a great looming presence appearing in it, black hooded and cloaked, his face hidden behind a silver mask. Only one person ever wore a mask like that, ever, the second in command of the dead Dyzan Emperor, Commander Siltar, a man whose immobile face was etched into the nightmares of so many soldiers. “Well done Miss Stone. I trust they’ll give you no more trouble now.”

Rosie swept the eliminator back and forth across the group, covering them. “It will take a while for the robots to come up from B deck, but I’ll have them back in a cell soon enough. You’d better keep your side of the bargain though.”

“I will tell you where the imperial fleet graveyard is once the problem is dealt with.” The man with the silver face steepled his fingers before him. “By ‘dealt with’ I mean kill them. Now.”

Rosie faltered, the Eliminator swayed a fraction. “Kill them? Ace too?”

“Yes.” Siltar sighed, he was used to being obeyed instantly by lackeys. Things had gone to pot since the fall of the Empire.

“You don’t want to kill me.” Ace said, palms raised, his eyes like a hawk, trained upon the wavering barrel of the Eliminator. “You still have feelings for me… don’t you Rosie. We can make it work again, I know we can.” Step by step he paced closer, edging to striking distance.

“What?” Rosie looked at him like he’d just turned into a green hippo, eyes wide, lip curled in a sneer, her hands going to her hips like the always did when she got in a strop with him. “If I kill you, how the hell am I supposed to gloat and torture you for everything you did to me?”

Ace sprang, as much to shut her up as to escape. His ham-hock fist smashed her full in the face, crunching her nose under his knuckles and sending her sprawling to the deck with a face full of blood. The Eliminator span into the air as it fell from her grasp and Ace snatched it in his fist, blasting Siltar’s screen into a thousand shards of burning glass.


“Already way ahead of you.” Smirked the professor, worrying away at the innards of a bulkhead with the bent piece of bra-wire. There was a subtle change in the hum around them as something switched over.

“Bu doke by dobe!” Rosie gargled, spitting blood and bits of teeth.

The gantry slid down from Man’s ruin and they began to board quickly, running up the steps with a clatter of feet on metal. Ace turned at the top, levelling the Eliminator at Rosie as she struggled to sit up.

“I should vape you where you sit.” He muttered, grimacing as he stared at her bloodied face. “But I’m not that much of a bastard.”

The hatch swung shut and as Rosie crawled away on her hands and knees to get away, Man’s Ruin blasted away on a column of atomic fire, sweeping away from the iron moon and out once more into the big black.

Back at the controls Ace brooded, brow furrowed, grinding his teeth in agitation. The others had the sense to stay out of his way, but not Gail. She’d found his old engineer’s coveralls and changed into them, since he’d torn her blouse. She leaned against the cabin door and fixed Ace’s reflection in the glass with a curious look. “Just what the hell did you do to that woman besides marry her?”

Ace twisted in his seat and sucked his teeth, his fists clenched the arms of his seat as he looked up into her eyes and for once, told a woman the truth. “I got her pregnant.”

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With three ashen corpses and a melted alleyway behind them, even Ace had to admit that getting the hell off the planet was a good idea, especially with those three having been footsoldiers of the deposed Dyzan Emperor. The mysterious man in the black cloak was out there too and whether he went for more soldiers or for the police, Ace didn’t want to be around for that.

“That wasn’t very sporting.” Bang sneered as Ace rejoined them

If he hadn’t been a paying fare Ace probably would have punched him in his perfect white teeth, but that would have to wait until after they paid him – call it a surcharge. He could feel Gail’s disgusted eyes on him, clearly she didn’t think much of his tactics either, he winked at her and give her a kissy face, hearing her all but gag in response.

“War ain’t sporting.” Ace sneered, chivvying them along towards his ship. “You kill the bastard, or you get killed yourself.”

“Well that isn’t my experience.” Grumbled Bang as Ace cranked the armoured door to his spaceship berth.

The platform was little more than a rusted hulk, but Ace’s ship, Man’s Ruin, was in near perfect condition, despite his frequent abuse and rough landings. She sat perched on her landing rockets as though tensed to spring into the air, there was something hawkish, classic about her lines. Painted racing-green with a toothy grin upon her snout, an obscene and classless pin-up painted with exquisite care upon her side.

“At least you’ve got a nice ship.” Bang grunted, folding his enormous biceps across his chest. Gail buried her head into Bang’s side, blushing as the naked imagery so brazenly showing on the fuselage.

The Professor only had eyes for the ship itself. “My word, a Supermarine Spite Mk24. I haven’t seen one of those since the war! Twin Merlin Atom Thrusters, Aldermaston Projects Type Three power core, quad Vickers 500 kilowatt energy cannon, high capacity Zenith lightning field. Top of the line at the end of the war. How did you get it?”

“That’s my business.” Ace set his jaw, disliking company at the best of times, especially when they asked difficult questions.”

“Disarmed. Of course.” Smiled the Professor, folding his arms behind his back.

“Of course.” Ace took the radio control from his utility belt and thumbed the red button. The signal woke the rocket up and the gantry unfolded, clanking into place beside them. He sprang up the gantry three steps at a time while the others fell in behind, climbing into the cockpit and warming the engines.

In back they settled into the scant accommodation, military craft weren’t built with comfort in mind, it was going to be a crowded trip, even if it was going to be a short one. With Dyzan in the same orbit as Earth you really just had to blast towards it and let it come to you.

Switches clicked, the ocilloscope glowed to life, the radar hummed and filled its own little screen. Ace pulled the radio mic onto his chest and dialled into Space Traffic Control.

“Tower, this is Man’s Ruin, I’m taking off.”

“Not without clearance you’re not. There’s a…” Came the terse reply.

“That was information, not a request.” Ace cut them off before they could finish, switching off the radio and grasped the stick, pushing the power lever up. The ship sprang to life, deep in its guts the Atomic Core awoke, disintegrating the store of lead and converting its mass directly into energy. Power flowed through the ship and the lights came up, bright and powerful, the ship shuddered and in a blast of atomic fire leapt for the sky.

There was a shriek from back in the passenger cabin, someone hadn’t strapped themselves down and there was rattling as everything that wasn’t bolted down fell to the back of the ship. On a plume of glowing exhaust Man’s Ruin shot into the sky and Ace leaned back hard into the creaking leather of the seat. They were away.

Ace’s mouth dropped open and then set into a grim line, jaw muscles knotting as the side of his windscreen darkened with a massive shape. A great rocket-liner appeared, making its ponderous way on landing jets, down towards the Manhattan spaceport, and it was right in his way.

Ace grasped the handle tighter and arced the ever-accelerating ship away from the liner. He wasn’t going to make it. The nose of Man’s Ruin glowed under the relentless acceleration, wisps of cloud streamed by, almost too fast to notice. He throttled back as best he could and the anodised hull of the liner came into all too clear focus.

Man’s Ruin lurched as he wrenched her around, every bolt, every plate, screeching in protest as he swung his ship around the liner’s massive frame. Pushing it to the limit of its acceleration as a gap opened in the larger ship’s superstructure.

There was a massive clang as Man’s Ruin clipped the other vessel, a section of plating tore free of the ship and spiralled down through the atmosphere, cleaving a hapless ground-car into two halves and embedding itself in the street like some defiant metal flag. Ace hung on for dear life as Man’s Ruin spiralled dangerously, tumbling end over end, every tendon, every muscle standing out as the bile rose in his throat and he strained to bring the tumbling ship back under control. Through the thick crystal of his screen sea and sky strobed in a sickening blur until he shut his eyes and yanked back with every ounce of strength in his body, aiming her back into the sky and roaring up out of the atmosphere like a torpedo. Finally they were free of Mother Earth’s embrace and space was theirs.

“Guess I won’t be going back to New York.” he growled to himself as he unstrapped, setting the Turing Machine on course for Dyzan at a constant acceleration of one gravity and swinging back on the hand straps to check on his passengers.

“You crazy son of a bitch!” Gail thundered at him, smacking him across the face. It’d been a long time since a woman had hit him and it took Ace completely by surprise. Face stinging and eyes black with anger he caught her wrist on her second attempt and twisted it behind her back, holding her tight. She hissed and writhed in his grip as he looked at the other two thirds of this trio he’d been lumbered with.

Bang had hit his head, so it seemed, and he’d though the shriek had been Gail’s. The Professor was tending to it with the first aid kit and that gash on his head didn’t seem too bad. Keeping his grip on Gail’s writhing body despite Bang’s murderous look he glowered, and spoke.

“We had to get out of there. Whoever it is that’s after you isn’t messing around. They mean business. I got us away and I’ll get you to Dyzan within twenty-four hours. If you don’t like my methods, you’re welcome to leave.” He pointed his free hand at the airlock and then shoved Gail towards Bang with an open handed slap to her meaty rump that echoed in the tight confines of the ship with a metallic clang. “Hit me again and you’ll get more than a spanking. Hear me?”

Gail took in a breath as she recovered her equilibrium, her lip quavering on the edge of tears or a screaming fit, but Ace was spared her shrill complaints by a sudden lurch of the ship that threw them all off balance. “Jesus! Yelped Bang, smacking the other side of his head against a metal locker.”

“Perhaps the ship is more damaged than you thought?” Offered the professor, a frown deepening his heavy brow and crinkling his forehead.

“No… this is something else.”

All three of them crowded into the cockpit and looked out of the thick glass upon the black void of space, still tinged blue with the light of Earth behind them. Man’s Ruin was drifting, off course, faster and faster being turned, pulled, towards something.

“There!” Professor Quartus stabbed his finger at the glass, pointing a distant, silvery dot.

It took a moment but then Ace’s steely gaze saw it too, a spherical something, glowing in the reflected light of the Earth and growing bigger. He grasped the stick and tried to turn Man’s Ruin away, but the attraction was too strong, he couldn’t pull the course away.

“A magna-beam!” Quartus stroked his beard. “A powerful one. We’re being pulled towards that moon.”

The silvery sphere grew larger, they began to make out details. A jumble of parts, metal, wrecked ships, ore-rich asteroids, shattered space stations, clumped together in one gigantic ball of scrap. Ace’s stomach sank and while he was a man beyond fear, this was as close as it got.

“It can’t be a moon!” Gail’s anger had given way to consternation. “We’re still near Earth, Earth only has one moon.”

“That’s no moon.” Ace’s fist gripped the stick even tighter, white knuckled. “That’s my wife.”

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Ace slumped over the chipped formica of the counter and gripped another full glass of scotch in his scarred and meaty fist. He was a great bull of a man, swaying slightly in his drunken haze and running his hand through the thick beard and tangled locks of a man who’d spent a long time in space. His battered flight jacket had a faded RAF roundel on the back and his denim was worn thin from wear and stained with oil. Low on his hip hung an Eliminator pistol in a worn-smooth holster, but nobody in The Proxima Bar seemed to pay it any heed.

A gloved hand smacked down on Ace’s shoulder, starting him, making him spill a little of his scotch over the filthy bar.

“Mein Herr, you are Englisher, yes? I recognise zer badge on your jacket. Royal Marines, ya?”

Ace grunted and started licking the spilled whisky from his fingertips, giving the German a sidelong glance. The German, and his two friends behind him, grinning and muttering to each other. That was all the response he gave them, not a single word otherwise.

“Kriegsmarine.” The German said, pointing to himself and his friends. “Picked up your mess on Gelida, ja? When you broke and ran?”

Ace tossed back the scotch and span the squeaking stool around, setting his jaw, grinding his teeth until his jaw muscles bunched, staring deep into the German’s eyes with an unwavering stare. The big blonde man wilted slightly under Ace’s drunken glare, but couldn’t back down in front of his friends.

“Run and hide. Like little girls. While we fight and die, like men.”

Ace sized him up, ignoring his words and his fruity accent as the German regained some of his courage, puffing out his chest like a strutting cockatoo. Huffing and puffing as his friends laughed behind him her jabbered away like it meant anything. Ace ground his teeth harder and then with the power and speed of a tiger, he pounced, lashing out with the glass in his hand and ramming the base of it into the German’s big mouth.

Teeth crunched, glass shattered. The barman studiously ignored it all, turning away and intently polishing his glass. The man choked on blood, and shards and fell back, clutching his ruined mouth with both of his hands. His friends were stunned, standing there with their mouths open as the stream of invective has cut off in an instant.

Ace wasn’t above kicking a man while he was down and slipping from the stool, reared back his steel-toed boot and drove it with uncaring force deep into the bleeding man’s crotch. His eyes bulged near out of their sockets – at least he was distracted from the ruin of his mouth. He toppled with glacial slowness, sideways onto the ground as Ace jabbed a finger at the other two Kriegsmarine.

“Want some you crumbs?” Ace finally spoke, his voice like someone gargling gravel.

One of the Germans turned and ran, his tail between his legs, the other one grabbed a bottle and smashed it against the side of the table. Ace sighed and clenched his fist but before the two could join battle a burly, blond haired man smashed a stool over the top of the German’s head and he went down like a puppet with its strings cut.

“Could of handled him.” Muttered Ace, turning back to his drink.

The blond muscled up to Ace and offered his hand. “Damn Mister, but you can fight. Put ‘er there. I’m Bang Donnybrook. These are my friends, Gail and Professor Quartus.”

Ace didn’t take his hand, but he turned his head and gave all three of them the once over with his steely eyes.

The blond was a big, broad man but too clean shaven and picture-perfect to be a veteran, though he had a couple of scars here and there and clearly thought of himself as a capable man. He was grinning his perfect white teeth, hand still thrust out, trying not to look insulted that Ace hadn’t shook it, but he was.

The Professor was a mischievous imp of a man with strong Semitic features and a wicked, mirthful intelligence behind his eyes. A slide rule was tucked into the pocket of his patch-elbowed jacket and he managed to exude, all at once, the confident intellect of a genius and the louche arrogance of a hop-head. “Given your skills…” He said, smiling at Ace’s snubbing of his blond friend “…we have a proposition for you. If you might be interested.”

Ace considered, licking the taste of the scotch from his teeth as he turned his eyes on the last member of the trio. She was a raven-haired beauty with a great rack, hidden away though it was in a severe professional woman’s dress. Maybe a reporter or something? Nice gams too, skirt hugging them like a glove. She shifted a little uncomfortably under his eyes and it was clear by the wrinkle of her nose that his raggedy looks and brutal nature disgusted her.

“Say your piece.” Ace rumbled, setting his haunches back on the worn barstool and signalling the barkeep for another glass.

“We’ll need you sober.” The woman, Gail, sniffed, tugging her purse tighter to her body.

“If he says yes.” The professor remarked with a snort of laughter.

“Let’s hear it, once I say yes I’ll be sober on your time.” Ace grabbed the glass and held it, waiting to hear what they had to say.

“We need a pilot.” Said Bang, the blond giant.

“So hop a passenger ship. You don’t need me.”

“We’re going to Dyzan.” The professor said, leaning forward in an arch, conspiratorial whisper.

“In the post-war chaos and with the civil war going on there?” Ace stared at the trio like they were retarded. “Why the hell would you want to go there?”

“That’s our business.” Said Bang, trying to reassert his leadership and dominance over the Professor, who was clearly his intellectual superior. “We’ll pay you well.”

Gail opened her purse and stepped forward, showing its contents to Ace. Gold glittered inside, and more, the unmistakable lustre of Gelidan sapphires and the golden gleam of a Dyzan slave harness. Perhaps not a King’s random, but at least a Prince’s ransom, more than enough to risk the war-torn planet Dyzan, Earth’s hidden twin behind the sun, the exotic and deadly world that had invaded the Earth and brought an end to the war, until they were overthrown. The last thing Ace wanted to do was go back there, he’d killed enough of the Dyzanian people to last him a lifetime. Then again… money and even though Bang and Gail wore matching rings she wouldn’t be the first married woman he’d seduced away from her husband – if he managed it.

Ace stroked his stubbled chin and downed his glass. “I’ll do it. My ship’s in the dock. We can leave whenever you want.”

They were in a hurry and grabbed their bags, all but hustling Ace out of the bar and then letting him take the lead, barrelling down the crowded street in a drunken swagger and shoving people out of his way, swearing like a sailor as a jetpack swooshed little too close overhead.

Even drunk Ace could tell they were on edge and that put him on edge. He could tell they were being followed as they made their way to the off-shore private spaceport. It was a rusting hole, but Ace couldn’t land at Manhatten Spaceport any more. Not after that ‘incident’ with the customs patrol.

Paranoid as years of war and betrayal had made him, it didn’t take Ace long to spot the men who were following them. Trenchcoats and hats, they couldn’t look any more suspicious if they were trying to. Ace took a roundabout route and turning a corner, wheeled around. “Hide.” He grunted to the trio and turned back, peering his head around the corner.

The three men were walking abreast with grim intent. Ace wasn’t the type to take any chances and drew his eliminator, thumbing the safety. The sleek and deadly blaster hummed in his hand and he stepped out into the alley, levelling it at the man in the centre.

There was a whip-crack of annihilated air particles as he depressed the firing stud. The ravening beam lanced out and struck the man full in the chest, burning a glowing hole the size of a football through his chest and melting the bricks behind him.

To their credit the others didn’t scream, didn’t run, they drew their own weapons and sprang to the sides of the alley, their hats falling from their heads, revealing the polished domes and horseshoe moustaches typical of imperial warriors from Dyzan, some remnant of the Emperor’s guard intent on revenge perhaps. Their golden fist-guns cracked and sparked, invisible bolts of energy striking the wall behind Ace and exploding the brickwork into red-glowing fragments.

Ace calmly stood as the bolts struck around him, dialling the Eliminator’s emitter to maximum apeture and levelling it down the alleyway, thumbing the firing stud for a second time. There was no snap-crack this time, the dispersed energy was nowhere near as powerful. He kept the stud down as the air shimmered under the power of the beam. Scraps of paper burst into flame, paint peeled. The men from Dyzan screamed as their clothing smouldered and caught, lighting them up as human torches. Ace calmly paced towards them, narrowing the apeture as they screamed and rolled on the ground, playing it over them like a hose until they melted like candles thrust into a hearth. Finally the last, bubbling scream came to a halt and he took his finger off the stud.

Almost immediately he sprang to a ready stance again, a whirl of black robes ducking back around the corner out of sight, an enemy he had missed. A skilful one. All the more reason to get away and all too good an indicator that there was much more to this than the trio had told him. Wasn’t that just his luck?

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When I heard her scream I knew my secret was out. With a roll of my eyes to the heavens I pulled myself out of my seat and down the hall to where she stood. Shivering and clutching her coat as though it were the only thing she could rely on in the universe.

She turned to me, wide eyed and shaking and spoke, her voice quavering. “There… there’s a monkey in your cupboard.”

I peered around the door into the cupboard under the stairs. Bobo looked up to me from his laptop and gave me the thumbs up. I turned back to Emily, spread my hands, trying to be placatory and I tried to explain. “Well… he’s more of an infinite number of monkey…”

“Like the Shakespeare thing?” She at least had some control of her wits. I was glad. I closed the cupboard door gently and I lead her away to the living room. Sitting her down on the sofa and going into the kitchen to make her a cup of tea.

“Sort of, you know the principle right?” I called back over my shoulder.

Still clutching her coat she sat, pulling at the fabric nervously, trying to remember how it went. “Isn’t it that, if you had an infinite number of monkeys, typing away on keyboards, eventually by pure chance they’d come up with the complete works of Shakespeare?”

“In essence, yes.” I called to her.

“But… there’s only one monkey.”

I poured hot water over the teabag and squished it gently with the spoon, bringing it out with me and sitting down next to her again. “That’s why I said an infinite number of monkey. And well, technically he’s a chimp, not a monkey. Monkey’s don’t have enough brain mass for it to work.”

“I don’t understand.” She said, letting go of the coat and gratefully clutching the tea.

“It’s really quite simple,” I explained. “he is just one chimp out of an infinite number of potential chimps from subtly different universes that stretch in all lines of potentiality in all directions. So, while he is one chimp he is also, in effect, every possible chimp at one and the same time.”

“But,” she trailed off, clutching the mug though the hot water must have been hurting by now. “what is he doing in your cupboard?”

“You’re always asking me where I get my ideas. I don’t. I have the chimps come up with them for me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’d believe me if I told you an infinite number of quantum chimps was the source rather than deep thought, consideration, influences and yadda-yadda-yadda? I don’t think so.”

Later, I asked Bobo the best way to get rid of a body.

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The frame descended from its cradle and set down upon the ground in an easy, loose-limbed stance.

Unnaturally still it was a foreboding presence, even without a controller. Sleek and deadly, its blank eyes stared out into space and its matte surface seemed to blur its edges into the shade of the dimly lit room.

“This,” said the Tech-Sergeant “is a model M-33 teletrooper. State of the art, Marine issue with sealed armour and amphibious capability. The chassis will withstand sustained assault rifle fire and can deflect a .50 calibre shell. It has a responsive neural-network interface so that it can learn how you operate and vice versa. The camera array has a threat recognition and alert system with a three-sixty field of vision, thermographics, low-light and penetrating radar overlay. It’s about as strong as three men and the on-board fuel cells can keep it operating in the field for twenty-four hours without resupply. With a backpack fuel pod or standby mode this activity profile can be considerably elevated. Each unit is armed with built in bladed weapons and an arm-mounted sidearm fed from a hopper containing a hundred rounds of nine-millimetre shells. It can be armed with a variety of weapons but the standard issue is the MR-2 modular assault system. One of these babies sets back the Alliance military fund around a million ameros. Any questions?”

The slouching wiseacre at the back of the pack stood up straight and raised his hand. “If these things are so fucking badass, why aren’t we winning sarge?”

There were gasps from the other inductees but to their surprise the tech-sergeant didn’t bawl the guy out, he just reached across himself and itched at the stump of his left arm idly with his fingers and then fixed the mouth with a thousand-yard stare.

“Because, son, raising a kid to fighting age only costs a thousand.”

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Intestines steamed like fat sausages on a griddle as the cold rain hit them in big, spattering drops like marbles. The rain diluted the blood, shit and bile into a bilious cocktail. It washed into the gutters, clogging them with severed fingers and offal that floated like macabre little boats of organ meat, bobbing merrily in the sanguine rivulet. A jumble sale of limbs, bone and muscle was tangled in a disorganised heap in the street, stray dogs already fighting over the ‘bargains’ amongst the dross.

“So…” Said Jartan, flicking blood and viscera from his blade. “What the hell kind of sword is that anyway?” He’d never seen its like, half again as long as a power claymore, double-bladed and apparently with no connection between the haft and the blades themselves. It looked… wrong.

T’nk looked down at him disapprovingly, shaking out her fleshy dreadlocks and showing her sharp teeth in a display of dominance. “A trophy, taken from a worthy foe on a faraway world. I call it the M’nth K’Knn, ‘Far Soul’ in Killan.”

Jartan looked down at his own sword, feeling a little inadequate somehow, even though he’d done his own fair share of the killing. “A trophy? So it’s not SLA technology then? I’m surprised they let you keep it.”

T’nk grunted again, nudging half a body into the gutter with the toe of her boot. “The killing is done, why do you want to talk?”

Jartan tried to look nonchalant as the rain beat a boss-nova rhythm against his helmet. “Just making conversation… new to the team, you know. It’s not every day you get caught in a DarkNight ambush with your squad leader.”

T’nk rolled her eyes, perhaps if the humans lacked vowels they wouldn’t be so keen on filling the air with mindless chatter either. “The duel I fought was caught on camera. The blade is associated with my brand and is the mark of a defeated enemy. So… my sponsors insisted and Head Office acceded. To them it means money, to me, honour. Since you ask… what of your blade, it looks non-standard to me.”

“This?” Jartan raised his own sword once more and tried to make it sound as good as possible. “This is a custom Dynamic Precision Blades vibrosabre from Mother’s Milk Studio. Offworld ceramic, custom inlay, shock battery, twice the vibe of your standard model with a sword-breaker back edge and a lifetime guarantee on the cutting edge. Cost me a pretty penny and seems to have paid off.” He tried a smile on her and began to pick his way across the strewn body parts, almost slipping on the fleshy slurry that the rain was only beginning to clean away.

“Nice.” T’nk offered, which was as close as she ever seemed to get to a positive word. “Though small.”

They sheathed their blades and stepped out from between the buildings, the rain came down harder and washed them clean.

“Should we…” Jartan hooked his thumb back towards the alley and the tangle of growling dogs.

“Leave it for the Shivers.” She said and started down the street. “It’s what they’re for.”

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“David. I’m afraid we’ve decided to let you go.” I said, straightening my tie as the limo slunk through the streets like a panther, spiralling down and down, sheets of water rising like oily wings from every wheel.

He didn’t answer me, it’s hard to say much of anything with a plastic bag over your head. Hard to do much but try to breathe through that tiny gap where it’s attached to your neck. It was pretty funny really, high-flying Dave, red faced and panting, bug-eyed, hair all wet with sweat and fear. He did love his hair… must have spent half his income on implants and dye jobs, styling and product. Fat lot of good it does you with a bag over your head and your wrists and ankles bound together.

“We feel that the station needs some new blood calling the shots, new programming. We need to take things to new extremes to keep the audience interested and happy. We feel that your way of doing things isn’t conducive to this agenda and… what with you trying to sleep with all the talent and giving them diseases, it’s probably about time you retired.”

He wasn’t paying attention so I kicked him, once, hard, in the chest, scuffing my New Parisian loafers. It was worth it.

“Are you paying attention David? You’ve blocked all of us younger executives from rising in the ranks for far too long because you’ve been afraid of us. You were right to be afraid of us as it turned out, but only because you’re such a cock-blocker.”

I kicked him again, I’d wanted to do that for a long time.

“I took my performance evaluation at head office last week and you know what they said? No, because you never read a fucking thing that I send you do you? That’s why none of my ideas or those of the other guys ever get implemented. Right? Well David, they said I was ‘failing to show initiative’ and ‘lacked that killer instinct’ that’s needed in marketing. Do you agree David?”

I gave him my smile, the one I give to my secretary, but he was still too busy trying to breathe. Shame, I’d had this little speech worked out for a while. “The big credits are at your level and above so, you see, you’re in my way, you’re in our way and as I said. It’s time for you to retire.”

I took the stapler out of my pocket. He noticed that at least.

“Here’s your retirement package David old son.” I grinned as I began to staple 20 uni notes to his chest, piercing him over and over, ka-thunk, ka-thunk with the staple gun until his expensive Orientan silk was stained with blood and a month’s salary was coating his chest like the feathered breast of some exotic bird.

The limo came to a halt and I opened the door. I could already hear the hooting calls of the Parasites, sensing prey, coming out of their hovels and their gang-hideouts, hoping to gut a corporate or steal a hubcap. I dragged Dave by the tie, out of the limo and threw him to the ground.

“Enjoy your retirement old man.” I snorted.

The gold watch hit him in his wheezing, covered face when I threw it.

“I’d piss on you, but then they might mistake you for one of their own.” I gave him my middle finger and clambered back into the limo.

“Home James and don’t spare the horses.”

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