Gertrude awoke, and screamed.
A stranger, a doctor, she guessed by his old-fashioned white coat, slapped her twice across the face.
“Keep your damned mouth shut,” he told her.
Heavy leather restraints around her wrists and ankles prevented her retaliating, but her neck was free and she could make out the fact that she was almost entirely naked. Thankfully her slightly singed underwear had been left on, though precious little was left to the imagination. Blazing fire had twisted and corrupted much of her flawless skin into a ruin of burns. Strangely, the tortured skin on the left side of her body did not hurt at all. In fact, she couldn’t feel a damned thing, unlike the right, which a draught had caused to come out in goosebumps. There was, however, a persistent stabbing pain inside her chest, and she felt short of breath.
“What’s my prognosis?” she asked the doctor, trying to keep calm.
“You’re screwed.” Continue reading
Waddling. That’s one of the things no one told me. I bet they were lying about everything else, too – that it wouldn’t hurt and an epidural is a piece of cake.
I followed Ken down the mall, and tried my damnedest not to look like a duck. And the whole time I was scanning for a café, or somewhere I could go to the loo. Because that’s the other thing no one tells you about being 30-odd weeks pregnant – you pee all the time. Honestly, one glass of water and I was in and out for an hour. So that’s what I was thinking – that it was going to hurt getting the baby out, no matter what anyone said, that I made ducks look sexy and that I really, really needed to find a loo soon. Those were my last normal thoughts. I wish they’d been bigger ones. More important. About love and Ken and looking ahead. About all the things I’m going to miss.
The explosion came from somewhere to the left of me – a bin, they reckoned, packed with plastic explosive and sharp, sharp nails. Designed to kill, and to maim. To cause chaos. They were never sure how much explosive; the figure on the media was a best guess based on how far the damage went, and how far through the air people were sent. Enough, I could tell them.
It hit me without a sound, a blast that took me off my feet and put me down against the plate window of a café I’d have earmarked for a loo if I’d seen it earlier. There was no pain, not then. Just a vacuum of shock and I-don’t-know-what-happened stunned, slow thoughts. Continue reading
Con saw through the buffalo’s eyes as she charged towards the door. Women cried out and moved out of her way – the door, already almost open, fell before her and she trampled over it. Guards and carers pressed themselves back against the wall of the stairway as she passed – those behind with their wits intact followed her.
She ran on, a half-amble-half-run down the corridors, until, lowering her head to barge open the door, she emerged outside. Somebody screamed but she ran on towards the dome.
Christ, I better be right about this!
The wall shimmered – an odd thing to see with a buffalo’s eyes – and she threw herself at it, half-expecting it to knock her back. Instead, she passed through the dome and carried on. She picked up the speed, cantering into the forest.
Could she take the buffalo all the way to Francis? She needed another animal. A bird. And fast. Continue reading
The experimental spacecraft’s dashboard fuzzed. Tyrell blinked. The blurriness remained. He flicked his spacesuit’s vitals onto his visor. All green and normal. Relieved, he breathed out. The vitals remained crisp. The fuzz was definitely vacuum-side.
He wiped the outside of his visor. A thin ice layer crazed then shattered into flakes floating away into space. He glanced beyond his cockpit into the Skylon’s hangar deck. The earthlight had grown strong enough to see the sheen of a new veneer covering every surface in sight. The wide even spread meant only one thing. They had had a gas leak, a bad one.
He gritted his teeth, suppressing a groan. Even if they corrected whatever the problem was, Bob and Shirley would block his test flight back to Earth on health and safety grounds. Damn their jealousy. But they were ensconced in their control cabin at the hangar’s other end, not out here taking the risks. Something snapped inside Tyrell. He would make that flight.
Making sure of his grip on the slippery handholds, he hauled himself out of the cockpit and around the spacecraft, searching for gas plumes and unusual ice build-ups. He paid particular attention to each of the two thousand thread nozzles tucked in their cup-like dimples on the spacecraft’s skin. Nothing, not even a telltale of lithium gas. Continue reading
Paula woke to something wet and warm on her hand and she opened her eyes to see Buffalo licking her skin. The floor beneath her was cold and hard and the room had an overwhelmingly clinical smell.
People were talking. Excitable low chatter filled her ears. She grabbed the thick fur on Buffalo’s face and he pulled her to her feet. Her head spun so she clung to him, frowning at her surroundings.
Where am I?
The last thing she remembered was the guard telling her to sleep and shooting her with what she presumed was a dart. And they’d taken her here? It was like something out of a sci-fi film. A cold room full of pods – some of which still had people trapped inside. They looked dead though it must have been suspended animation. She hoped they weren’t dead…
“Hey.” She reached out for the nearest person – a middle-aged woman with dark skin and greying hair. “What’s happening?”
“We don’t really know,” the woman said. “Some people said they saw a mouse just as they woke, I think maybe it’s one of us – a girl with an ability.” Continue reading
“Are you by nature a religious man, Technician Brandt?”
I looked up from my diagnostics pad at the anthropomorphic bust of Leon Hurst, former CEO of Temple Pharmaceuticals. “Religious, sir? Not really; not beyond a general belief in a higher power.”
It smiled. “Quite the Masonic answer. Furthermore I cannot help but notice the ring which adorns your finger.”
“It was my father’s, Mister Hurst. I wear it in his memory.” I felt uncomfortable discussing my family history with a mere pseudo-human interface and moved the conversation back to more technical matters. “I’ve completed my routine diagnostics and everything seems to be in order, as always.” I unplugged my pad from the plinth, closed the access panel, and stood up.
The lifelike features of Hurst smiled at me, benignly. “I’m sure you’re right, Technician Brandt. You are the most diligent of those who maintain us.”
I inclined my head in acknowledgement of the compliment, even though it was a social interaction protocol, and prepared to leave.
The ‘Opinionated’ gallery took some getting used to and several other technicians had flatly refused to attend, especially after hours. It housed twelve non-sentient personality constructs based on dead corporate executives, designed to provide continued boardroom insight and guidance. Continue reading
All Con had to do was find Paula and then somehow get the news to Francis and get him to get them as far away from that place as possible. Easy.
The keys she’d managed to get hold of were of little use. The door to the ominous sounding ‘basement’ was opened by typing a code into a keypad – not by any sort of traditional lock or bolt – and this information she had gathered from Mia, who’d heard it from Carlos, the chef, who couldn’t possibly say where he’d heard it from and who, in Con’s opinion, was being obstinate because he was frightened of some sinister faction probably running the facility.
There had to be another way. She’d seen guards around the stairwell to the basement and seen the ‘staff only’ signs on the wall, so there was definitely something going on. She’d been steered away by a smiling carer when she’d ventured too close and she’d had to apologise and blame her newbie status for her lack of direction.
Just as she was about to admit defeat and take the keys back to Dora before anybody realised they were missing, she stopped outside a classroom – two glass tanks at the back of the room caught her eye. She looked over her shoulder, tried the door, and then went through the keys until one fit the lock.
Pain erupted as the ibulex burned through my veins. Accelerating when it reached my heart, the drug fired into my arteries like a sling shot; an inferno deep inside my chest. When the agony subsided I saw from the deep impressions left by the restraints that my body had fought on even when my mind was helpless.
Now I sagged, drained. The fire still burned, banked coals throughout my body which could be blown to life at the slightest touch. Even in the warm release-chamber sweat cooled on my skin, leaving a trail of goosebumps behind. Breathing gradually became easier, each breath reassuring me that the worst was over, at least for now.
Voices in the background, a drone which slowly resolved itself into the magistrate reading out the conditions of my release. My exhausted mind wondered if it had been worth it.
I was given civilian clothing, the sort a tramp from the ‘forties might have owned. It had been worn before and came with its own ecosystem of lice and fleas, its own atmosphere of stale body odour. I told myself it was better than being naked and my flight suit had been damaged beyond repair during my capture.
The walk from the detention block to the main gate was an exercise in endurance; cat calls from every shielded window as the entire prison population poured their hatred out at me. I was being released while they still served life sentences, but it wasn’t jealousy that drove them: I had been the most hated prisoner in the facility, in solitary confinement for the last seven years just to keep me alive. Even then there had been attempts on my life. I smiled.
Dora had hoped to surprise Chris after her lessons but instead of bursting into the staff toilets, she lingered outside listening to his voice as he laughed and joked with another of the janitors. She leaned close to the door, knowing she shouldn’t really eavesdrop but she had heard her name. Twice now.
“…blonde bird. Nice one, mate.”
“Yeah, bit thick but nice tits.”
Both men laughed and Dora sucked in a breath. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. There was the scrape of a metal bucket across the floor and Chris’s voice came closer to the door.
“You seen that mate of hers with the fat arse? I’d love a go on that.”
Dora turned and marched down the corridor, quietly fuming. People winced and turned away as she passed, blinded by the light coming from her body. She didn’t care to control it. Screw them – she just wanted to get back to her room and scream into her pillow.
She’d almost made it when somebody snatched her arm and pulled her into a room. Mia’s bedroom, she quickly realised, and Mia and Con shielding their eyes before her. Dora made no attempt to relax. Continue reading
The sweaty lowland summer set in as The Day approached; Menuil could hardly waddle. Her tongue had become even more acerbic, too, something I wouldn’t have believed possible. I had worked out something to keep me occupied out of range of her venom: flying in snow.
The midwives informed me, almost maliciously, about how miserable a delivery could be in the heat, so I’d been transporting ice. I’d developed a delivery system with the innkeeper; a small boy –originally one of his sons, but more recently any child from the poorer families in the region – would dress in warm clothes and I would fly him and a shovel up to the mountain peaks, where he would prepare loads of snow, piling it onto tarpaulins and roping the corners together. Without landing, I would swoop down and snatch one of these up, fly level and high until I almost reached the inn, then dive and, still without stopping, dump my load into the yard.
There, the innkeeper and his family packed it in straw and stored it in a cellar.
When the child started shivering I’d fly him down and the innkeeper would give him a meal, while I collected the next aspirant from the ever-waiting crowd wanting to escape the summer swelter.
The innkeeper did his part in exchange for half of the ice – and I could collect a lot more than double this way, maybe five times – which at first I found a bit strange, as his wife’s figure had not changed since we arrived, so she was probably not expecting. Strange that is, until I overheard: “Five coppers for a beer? Whatja brew it from, goldnuts?”