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just me

Please note I now have a separate journal for my fic, over HERE.

The two lads marched down the street, swinging their shoulders, cans of beer in their hands and long tartan scarves flowing out behind them, sloshing beer in their exuberance and shouting at the top of their lungs.

“B-A-Y, B-A-Y, B-A-Y C-I-T-Y, With an R-O-double-L, E-R-S, Bay City Rollers are the best!”

“SHUT UP!” Came a hoarse holler from further down the street, the shape of a naked, beer-bellied man silhouetted by a dim, flickering yellow light. “Some of us are trying to sleep!”

“Fuck of you wanker!” The lads shouted back in unison and then ducked into a side alley together, one of them stopping at the mouth to watch the street while the other vanished back into the dark and yanked a can of spray paint out of his pocket, spraying the wall, writing out the name of his idols one giant letter at a time.

He'd just finished the 'Y' when he stumbled against something in the dark, fumbling out his lighter and flicking it on, casting a shaky light over the alley. Half – or more – of the street lights were out, it was the only way to see, but you could get away with a lot in the dark. Swings and roundabouts.

The dancing flame revealed a pile of newspaper and cardboard, but there was something underneath it, something heavy that wouldn't shift. He crouched down, curious, and threw back the card and paper back out of the way, falling back with a little girly shriek as the light revealed the battered black face of a corpse.

“There's a dead wog back here Derek!”

The other lad came scrambling back and took out his pocket torch, flicking it on and playing it over the corpse. “Fuck me... check his wallet Alan.”

With the torchlight playing over the body Alan crouched down and started to rummage through the corpses clothes, plucking out his wallet. “Christ alive, there's a Henry and at least a couple of ponies in here.”

and i am quite certain his family would like both back, if, indeed, they are his.” The voice was strange, quiet, muffled, but it had a way of cutting clean across your perception, right through the sound of traffic and the huffed breaths of the two youths.

They turned, as one, towards the end of the alley and Derek's torch played over a strange figure. He wasn't tall, perhaps five seven, five eight at the most. He was dressed entirely in black from top to bottom, a ragged figure in black leather jeans and a ragged old trench coat with a high collar. Even his hands were covered with black gloves. The only colour they could see were gleaming red circles in the dark like demonic eyes, but they weren't, they were lenses, lenses on a gasmask.

“Who the fuck is this spaz?” Alan stood tall, now he'd recovered from the surprise. Stepping towards the strange man at the mouth of the alley.

what's wrong with you that you'd steal from a corpse? What's wrong with you that you'd have no respect for this poor, dead man?

“What's wrong with you that you give a fuck you weird-lookin' nonce?” Alan stepped up to him and reached out to shove the short man's shoulder, unsettled by his strange appearance and wanting to feel strong in front of his friend.

The man in black twisted with the shove and balled his left hand into a fist, bringing it hard across Alan's jaw. It hit him like a steam train, the gloved weighted with lead filings. There was a crunch from his jaw and teeth parted company with jaw as he was bodily flung into the wall of the alley, spitting enamel and giving a strange, gurgling, bloody scream as he slumped to the ground, clutching his ruined mouth.

“Keep the fuck back from me!” Derek stumbled away, keeping the torch on the man as he slowly walked towards him, fumbling in his back pocket for his switchblade, clicking it open and holding it out threateningly in his shaking hand.

you really don't want to do that.” The man pushed back his jacket to reveal a dark leather belt around his waist from which hung a half dozen 'holsters' each a different shape.

“Is that a utility belt? Do you think you're Adam West or something?” Derek laughed, nervously, stepping forward, jabbing threateningly with the knife.

The man feinted right with his fist and Derek slashed at him with the blade, scraping across leather only to get his wrist snatched in the man's other hand. He wasn't big, but he was strong and Derek was slammed against the back wall, his arm held in that iron grip as the man unbuckled one 'holster' with a fluid motion, snatching out a hammer and smashing it into Derek's hand, shattering small bones and making him keen like a banshee.

no, it's a tool belt.

The red-eyed man in black handcuffed the two men together – no points in wasting cuffs – and left them clinging to each other, weeping and swearing around their wounds and the blood, taking what comfort they could from each other.

Leaving them to their misery he stepped over to the body and respectfully uncovered it, pushing back his sleeve and playing dim red lights over it, plucking up the discarded wallet for a look at it. There was something off about this, the money, the drugs, the way he'd been killed.

The body was covered in long, straight bruises, clustered around the top of his body. A tentative touch confirmed broken, floating ribs, found swollen and bruised flesh, a softness here and there on the man's skull where the bone had been cracked and shattered. The man had been systematically beaten to death over the course of some time.

The man in black peeled back the gas mask, just up over his nose and his mouth, revealing a broad, bristled chin as he leaned down to sniff at the corpse.

ganj, so he was a dealer after all,” he murmured to himself, pulling the mask back down and turning back to the wallet. Something didn't add up.

Opening it up there wasn't much in there, just some cards and paper, the only notes were crisp and new. The drugs, an eighth of an ounce of marijuana resin, were in a brand spanking new plastic bag, way too large for the small amount of drugs that was there. Something was absolutely, definitely, off.

There wasn't time right now to think it through, there was the roar of an engine and the squeal of tyres. The man in black darted his head around, the red lenses of his mask darkening in the suddenly harsh light of the beams. The doors flew open and heavy shoes slammed down on the pavement. He scrambled back away from the body but the alley stopped in a dead end, the heavy closed door at the back of a chippy.

“'Ello, 'ello, 'ello...” laughed one of the coppers as they strolled up towards him, hand thrust into his pocket, pushing through the sling on his truncheon and dragging it out, slapping it into his palm while his partner hung back a bit.

i don't want to hurt you, but i will if i have to.

“Are you threatening a police officer, squire?” His partner was paying attention now, taking out his own truncheon, the pair of them blocking the whole exit.

“Christ...” said the copper at the back, spotting the rollers and the state they were in. “A body and two beatings? Off to an early start today this evening aren't we Sir?” The two police looked to each other and their demeanour changed, subtly.

body?” The penny dropped. Nobody would have managed to get word out about the body yet. They'd barely even looked down the alley yet. They knew. They knew already. They'd always known. “what I said earlier? I've changed my mind.

He pressed back against the chippy door and braced his boot against it before springing forward towards them. They met halfway down the alley, and he brought up his arms, twisting side to side, blocking one truncheon blow with his arm, the other smacking into his belly with a solid thump that surprised the copper that swung it.

That was his chance, snapping out with his fist an spreading the officer's nose across his face, sending him sprawling with his cap flipping through the air to fall to the dirt. That was all he needed. Now there was space to run, where there were a couple of cops, there'd likely be more, especially if they knew about the corpse.

The man in black hunkered down and ran, heavy boots denting the bonnet of the Rover as he leapt up and over it, ragged leather coat streaming out behind him as he ran, the remaining cop in pursuit, dropping behind him as he wove through the darkened streets at breakneck pace, knowing them like the back of his hand.

When the policeman came to another alleyway and shined his torch down it there was no sign of the man in black. It was empty, nothing but a manhole cover and a piece of card fluttering to floor.

A piece of card with a sketch of a rat and the words “i know,” scrawled upon it.

Writing about writing... recursive much?

just me

I'm going to take a break from the pulp writing today (Black Rat should start tomorrow I think) just to bare my soul about the act of writing itself, how I feel about it and why I have such a hard time believing in my own ability or accepting the praise and compliments of others.

I never wanted to be a writer originally*, I wanted to be an artist. I used to spend all my time drawing and would go through reams and reams of paper. I would copy things out of my comic books, draw the craziness out of my imagination. I got pretty good, I thought, and my friends and family all seemed to appreciate my artwork. I learned a lot, pretty rapidly and there was little I enjoyed more all through primary school. It didn't hurt that my dad had kinda stepped aside from his artistic side to go the mathematic route. I was good at maths and science but that wasn't something I wanted to do. Doing something different was the extra push I needed to commit to being creative. Not that I resent anything about my dad's choices. I am fiercely proud to have had an intelligent educator as a father. That dad had been a teacher was a massive benefit growing up and my mum's no slouch either. Best of all they, and my grandparents, were all massively supportive and encouraging.

That all changed once I got to Secondary School. I finally had an art teacher, something I'd not had before. The problem was that the art teachers at secondary school were extremely traditional, very arts and craftsy and they just did not 'get' me or what I was doing at all. When someone's all still-life and basket weaving, you're in a different world altogether when you're talking about Roger Dean, Tim White, Jim Burns or  Rodney Matthews. I had a struggle even when I was referencing Rene Magritte or Roy Lichtenstein as well.

I didn't do particularly well in art, even though I loved it. Peculiarly though, in 'Design & Communication', in which I was using the same skills and many of the same influences (my final project was inspired by Roger Dean's experiments in architecture) I did amazingly well. Something that surprised the crap out of me.

Despite all the discouragement from secondary school I stuck it out, thanks to the D&C praise and the support of everyone except the teachers and somehow managed to bluff them into letting me take art at A level. That was much better and I was built up all over again. Hippyish, indulgent and non-judgemental tutors who encouraged me again and made me believe in myself. That was just a build up to the knock-down though.

After college it was a Foundation year of art to build up a portfolio, ostensibly to go to university. That was time for a second round of crushing indifference and criticism. These tutors weren't indulgent or interested and didn't give a fuck what you were interested in or what you wanted to do. They wanted you to do what they wanted, precisely, at least when they weren't showing you Maplethorpe pictures of swollen testes in wooden cuffs.

It was grinding and disheartening but I gritted my teeth and I stuck it out, I did what I wanted to do and damn the consequences but that wears you the fuck out when everyone's telling you that you're wrong, your crap, it kills the joy you might have otherwise felt in what you're doing inch by bloody inch.

Then it came time to interview for universities, degrees or HNDs and I travelled all over the country wherever there were illustration or other courses that seemed to fit. Tutor after tutor was an arrogant prick, not the good kind of tutor, not the good kind of tutor. Arrogant, condescending, stuck in their own rut. The couple of places I could bring myself to apply to rejected me and the only course I would have really liked to do was in a terrifying part of Salford. I'll make sacrifices, but that was too much and the tutor there wasn't encouraging, the course and the students were (bless 'em).

That was that, my desire and self-belief to make art died that year and I've barely touched a brush, a pencil or a pen since around 1996.

They ground the love of art, of drawing out of me. Killed it and all because I spent so many years and so much effort trying to better myself at it, to learn, to find places that could help me. They didn't, they stamped any desire to do art out of me entirely.

There's always been something else I've been good at too, spinning yarns. I had better lick with teachers in English though and I always single out Mr Kettle for some special love. He's dead now, but he was the best English teacher, the best teacher full-stop, I ever had. Encouraging, enthusiastic, if you were into something he'd take the time to learn a little about it and would show a genuine interest in what you liked.

I've always told stories, since I was a kid, reading to other kids and naturally that lead into role-playing games which is where most of my writing and energy has gone. The thing about roleplaying is that it's a cooperative story. You can constantly bounce things off each other, the actions and behaviours of the characters all have a genuine, different person behind them. You have instant feedback while you're running a game and when you're writing a game you're creating a context, not actually telling a story. In a lot of ways its a 'cowards' way of telling a story, you don't have to put that much of your own creative energy 'on the line'. Gaming and gaming writing is something I can be confident of for the most part.

Fiction writing, however, isn't something I've done a lot of - at least not professionaly or semi-professionally - until recently.

Why?

Because I'm fucking scared to do so. To put something out that's unalloyed me, that's all my creativity, my words, my mind is terrifying. I've got confidence in my writing abilities but because of my experiences with art and having my love of that annihilated I am incredibly hesitant to put my words out there through sheer terror at the prospect of having my love of words similiarly crushed out of me.

It's crippled my ability to take positive comment and feedback and it's made any negative feedback utterly devastating, far out of proportion with how negative those comments might be. My brain simply refuses to process nice things that are said about my work and is all too ready to latch on to an even slightly negative comment.

It's not like I haven't taken knocks. I've been on a promise for full time RPG work several times and it's never materialised. I've come in for some heavy criticism from some rather horrible fanboys on more than one system, had judgement passed on me and my corpus of work when it comes to licensing and these are all setbacks but with RPGs a lot of it is down to the reader's interpretation and what they put into it. That shields you.

With fiction writing, you don't have that mental shield to hide behind. It's all you and there's nowhere for your ego to hide.

I know I'm annoying people who are trying to say nice things and to be encouraging, but I wanted to go some way to explain why. I've had my love for one creative art form stamped out of me with extreme prejudice and I really don't want the same thing to happen with writing.

*I wanted to be a lumberjack...
spider

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.”

“Maam?”

“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...”
spider
SOOPER

The Identification Toom 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.”

“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?”

“PROCESSING. THREE ENTRIES HAVE TRAUMA NOTATIONS.”

“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.”

“TAEGER IS A GUEST OF PSYCHE SERVICES. THE LOCATION OF MONROE AND WERNER IS CURRENTLY UNKNOWN.”

“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?”

“PROCESSING. PROFESSOR WERNER HAS BEEN BEYOND 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.”

“COMMAND ACCEPTED.”

“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.

The 'Not So Amazing' Koran

Bears
As you know, I get into arguments over faith which, being an atheist and a rationalist I find destructive. Of late there's been a lot more argument with those of the Islamic faith rather than the Christian one, which is something I welcome as variety is the spice of life and my beef is with faith itself rather than any singular version thereof.

Islam has its annoyances though, chief amongst them (once we discount the obvious of it being an unreformed, brutalistic, misogynistic desert religion that inspires violence and division) is the claim by many of its followers that it is somehow unique, special, scientifically rigorous or that - unlike other religions - it has evidence in support of it.

The irony of course is that these are claims made by many religions.

Recently I was sent this pamphlet in support of the claim that Islam was supported by evidence and I called it a 'string of lies from beginning to end'.

Before I get back to writing more fun things this blog post is, then, my case for that since it's too much to throw up onto Twitter.

Page 1/60
The Amazing Koran - The meaning of 'amazing' is defined as causing great surprise or wonder. The Koran is not, then, amazing. Just about any religion you care to mention has a similar book of bad poetry, homilies and instruction. The Torah, Bible, Rig Veda, Book of Mormon, Scientology Tapes, you name it you can find the rambling scrivenings of some madman that only his followers are convinced is in any way special. Contextually, even if the Koran were the most wonderful, poetic and fabulous screed of bullshit ever written, it still wouldn't be amazing. I guess 'The Wearingly Typical Koran' wasnt such a catchy title.

Doctor Gary Miller - Doctor Miller has a doctorate in mathematics which is completely irrelevant to much of what he claims and talks about within this pamphlet. The impressionable may see 'Doctor' and assume a level of authority and relevant learning which simply isn't present. He also fails to mention with any readiness that he's a former Christian missionary and was therefore already barking before he encountered Islam. Even if we're generous and call this misrepresentation, it's still a form of lying.

Page 3/60
Not What You'd Expect - This is anecdotal but I don't think I've met a single non-Muslim who has read the Koran who has been surprised. Generally speaking it's exactly what we expected. A rambling, incoherent and self-contradicting muddle of nonsense. Certainly the only surprise it gave me was that it was even less coherent than the Bible and as much, if not more, of a chore to read. Let's notch this one up as a half-truth.

Page 4/60
Merchant Marine - The story given here is apocryphal with no evidence in support of it. It's merely claimed without support that this man, whoever he was, converted because of the description of a storm. That would have to be one very simple-minded sailor to do so and it's either a shame or a blessing that he didn't read Moby Dick first or he might be bowing down to an idol of a white whale. Is it amazing or remarkable that there should be descriptions of storms or the sea in the Koran, a desert religion book? Not at all given that there's the Arabian Sea, the Caspian, the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden all around there. This is the region the Sinbad stories come from for the love of Pete. Given the origin of the written Koran as the half-remembered and pieced together fragments of Muhammed's surviving followers, compiled by Greeks and Jews under the orders of Islamic rulers decades after his death it's even less surprising there should be such descriptions in there.

Page 5/60
The Smallest Thing - The claim is that the Koran predicted things smaller than an atom. Two problems. One, what the Greeks etc called the atom is not what we call the atom today. We adopted the name but not the concept. Atom then meant 'smallest thing there can be' so a modern equivalent might be a superstring or the Planck length. Two, this is a post-hoc interpretation of poetic language in an extremely vague language, Arabic, in order to cast it in a scientific light. These interpretations have changed over the years as scientific knowledge has advanced, therefore advantage science.

Page 6-7/60
Honey - This is a page of apologetics excuses as to why no explicit scientific knowledge is included in the Koran, which contradicts statements made elsewhere. The excuse given is that it would make the Koran outdated but the obvious foil to this is that an omniscient and omnipotent deity could easily construct a book that contained genuine evidence and that wouldn't become outdated in such a way, being of limitless intellect and power and so the Koran (or any other holy book) should do that easily... oh wait. Also the Koran DOES contradict itself, and frequently. My favourite is the discrepency in the days of creation between Sura 7:54, 10:3, 11:7 and 25:59, and Sura 41:9-12. This is just one of many and similar lists of contradictions also exist for other so-called holy books. It's also claimed on page 7 that nothing could be taken away, added or changed in the Koran. Given that it's been through at least three incarnations, all of them piecemeal, this appears manifestly untrue.

Page 8-9/60
Mohammed and the Koran - Yes, it is claimed Mohammed was likely ill, temporal lobe epilepsy. This is based on descriptions of his 'visions' from various Hadith which are held up in other circumstanes. In other words, this claim is supported by evidence. It's also known that TLE has a higher incidence amongst the very religious, so this is by no means a stretch. It's pretty fruitless going through the Koran looking for evidence one way or another on this as, as previously mentioned, it's been through several incarnations and there are other reasons why it's a rambling and incoherent mess other than it being the work of a madman, though this still seems likely.

Page 10-12/60
SCIENCE! - The Koran doesn't have falsification tests built into it. Or rather, it makes claims that DO falsify it. It is not unique in this aspect. There are testable claims in other religious books which collapse as readily as those in the Koran do under examination. So while it's not necessarily a lie to say that there are falsification tests, it IS a lie to say Islam goes about this scientifically and in the claim that it has already been proven true. I don't have a religion but the claim that other religions lack such tests is a false one. Christians, for example, would say you just have to pray to Jesus and he will reveal himself to you. The bible also makes claims about faith, such as if it's the size of a mustard seed (a common metaphor for 'the smallest thing ever' you can move mountains and trees and do anything - you can't. Religions are scattered with grandiose and testable claims and they come up short. It's also claimed here that in 1400 years nobody has found a mistake or discrepency in the Koran. This is untrue

Page 13
Ask Those Who Have Knowledge - Attempts to associate the Koran with advancement in human knowledge when, in fact, the opposite is true. Why is it that the great flowering of Arabic science and technology was so long ago and now it's so behind? Oh yeah.

Page 14-15
Embryology - This is an old saw though I really don't know why Islam keeps banging this drum. Clots, clay, leeches, this takes us all the way back to my earlier criticism of post-hoc rationalisation of poetic language. Not to mention that the Greeks had an equal or greater amount of knowledge centuries beforehand and given miscarriages and the murder of pregnant women, this knowledge is unremarkable two ways as well as, if taken literally (as literally as you can take Arabic) being inaccurate and wrong.

I think that's sufficient to establish my point and I have better things to do than to go through the remaining 45 pages. I think I've established that at least 15 pages - one quarter - of the pamphle contain lies, half truths, mistruths and misrepresentations and I submit that this is disingenuous and unacceptable given the high and mighty tone and supposed goal of the pamphlet in 'revealing truth'.
spider
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.”

“Sir.”

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.”

“Maam...”

“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.”

“Maam?”

“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.”
spider

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.

“Maam.”

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.

“Lights!”

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.

“Report?”

“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.

“Ready?”

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.

“Sabotage!”
spider

St. John stirred sexily in his sleep, the satin sliding from his sleeping shape. Mimsy was restless, despite their reciprocal rapture. Sweat still slicked her skin, stinging the scrapes she'd suffered in the psycheverse. She kissed and caressed his chest, creeping from the cot so as not to concern him. Naked she nimbly nipped across the nest and knelt, lotus natured. A backward look at her languid lover and she lidded her lamps, leaning into the lunatic land of luminosity. She felt the world whirl away as she went, wilful to seek the wickedness within.
The psycheverse here was hers and her mind was filled with the scattered remnants of recent thoughts. St John's face, massive, carved into the red rock of her imagination, contorted in remembered ecstasy. This island in the void smelt of sweat and sweetness, butter and incense, a low note of old spices, warm and christmassy. Her mind was never the same landscape twice, wide open to the world this island in the void was always hers but always different. Her fears were manifest here too, a tinge of yellow – primrose rather than mustard – laid here and there. Cracks in the firmament beneath her feet, a chill wind of disquiet fluttering her diaphanous salwar kameez around her body as her unease made her manifest clothing.

If the deaths were to stop, if Mr Mustard were to be stopped, she would have to sacrifice herself. Her mind, her essence, her energy, her vril, her prana was stronger than others. Her third eye a blazing beacon in the psycheverse. If he took her mind he would have to take no others. He would be real and it would only cost her, not however many others he killed in his quest. It was a worthwhile sacrifice.

She turned out, towards the teeming sea of minds and opened her third eye wide. It blazed as the prismatic light shone out deep into the psycheverse, a beacon, a line of rainbow light that slowly tightened down to yellow, calling her enemy.
There was a creeping sense of dread, of terror, she swallowed it back knowing the sacrifice that she was going to make – assuming that he took her up on her offer. She felt him approach, the world around her turning yellow, save for a little patch under her feet. A stink like a Friday night stairwell, rot and piss and nicotine smoke and he appeared again, riding on a tide of jaundiced light until he alighted at the edge of her mind, wary, flexing his mental muscles, a yellow steam wafting around him as she shuffled closer, step by step, that hideous face snarled into a contemptuous sneer.

“You called?” The laugh that accompanied the comment was grotesque and utterly humourless, it was the laugh of a boy plucking the legs from a spider one by one and watching its hopeless struggles.

Mimsy nodded gently and inclined her head, looking humble, even though her stomach was convulsing in terror. “I have an offer for you.”

His greasy fingers cupped her chin and lifted her eyes to look into his mustard glare. It stung all three of her eyes to look at him that closely and stroboscopic tears crept down her cheeks from the pain and the fear. “I can eat you up the moment I choose to. What can you possibly offer me?”

She wetted her lips with her tongue and tried to close her eyes, feeling his ragged nails scratch as he tightened his grip, stopping her. “My mind is more powerful than most. If you take me you can become real without having to kill anyone else. You can leave, through me, enter the real world and it'll be over. You'll get what you want.”

The disgusting tulpa raised his other hand to his own chin, mirroring the way he was holding her as he scratched and thought, flakes of dead yellow skin falling like snow and clinging to her, making the bile rise in the back of her mouth. “Maybe I like killing. Maybe that's the way I want to do it.”

“Can you wait that long?”

The creature pondered a moment longer and then simply nodded. “I accept. Open wide.”

Mimsy's two eyes closed and her third eye gaped wide, blazing with light, wider and wider, brighter and brighter. Mr Mustard laughed over and over and over, louder and louder, his paper clothes rattling in the wind as the portal grew wider and wider and he was reduced to a sallow-edged silhouette.

Through the coruscating light her room could be seen beyond, the vague shape of St John, asleep in the bed, not that Mr Mustard cared. This was his promised land, the really-real, a place to be physical, set, to experience everything first hand through his own senses rather than through anyone else's. He began to shuffle forward, into the light, closer and closer to the other side.
A burst of cardamom scent and an inverted flash of darkness behind him and he was caught between two Mimsy's, one blazing light, the other blazing dark, hauled in two directions between them. “What? What's going on, what are you doing?”

The two of her spoke as one. “She is my self image, that is a memory, a recent one, a short term, forgettable memory, a night of passion with a man, one night of many. Forgettable in its detail, part of a continuum, a memory that will not last. Once you're in there and its forgotten, you are forgotten.” The two of her began to slowly pace together, sandwiching him between them.

“You forget Miss Burogrove... am I stronger than you.” His own yellow light began to glow anew and he began to grow, bigger and bigger, reaching out his hands to deflect the light and dark in scattered rays from his tawny, stained fingers.

“Anywhere else in the psycheverse you are stronger than me, but this is my mind and you came here willingly. The more real you become, the more like me you become. The playing field is levelled and here, in my mind, my memories, my dreams. I am more, I am stronger.” The mirror twins grew as fast as Mr Mustard, faster, dwarfing him, rejoining, flowing into a swirling taijitu as her palms closed together around the fading yellow light. “I'm sorry, you deserved a chance to be real, but not like this... I love you.”

And he was gone.

Mimsy stood, shakily, a single shed tear shearing from her chin and sliding down the slope of her breast in the shadows. Timidly she tottered across to the trundle and tipped into it. St John stirred and stared as she slipped against him.

“Everything alright luv?” He murmured.

She nestled her noggin in the nook of his neck and nuzzled at him. “It's over. He's gone now. I dealt with it.”
His hands hold her, hug her, her hips hove back and she hooks her heels behind his shanks. “Make me forget,” she says.
Eyes meet and for a moment he has misgivings, a merest mote of yellow in her gaze, but lips meet, bodies move and immediately all is marvellous, magnificent and mean Mister Mustard, but a memory, melting away.
spider

Art by Tamara Gray on Elfwood


Mimsy trod the chequered ground beneath her feet and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blazing sunflowers in the sky. She couldn't fly here, the world was resisting her, the traumatised woman didn't want her here prying into her secrets and the yellow man didn't want her here either. He hadn't left – yet – but his influence was withdrawing, like water slowly flowing backwards, back to where he was standing, barely visible in the far distance.

The landscape curved and undulated, it was sculpted and lined as if made by brush strokes, colours alongside one another to give the illusion of a third colour, rather than mixed. It was rough going on Mimsy's feet and where it wasn't abrasive lines it was soft, squishing like wet mud between her toes and leaving a trail of multicoloured footprints across the landscape.

Here the ground was cracked open and crumbling, like two halves of a mint cake, snapped in half. Beneath the post-impressionist landscape the ground turned to shreds of torn canvas but here, where the land was torn apart, a river of blood, tainting the air with a coppery scent, flowed down in a roaring torrent. Mimsy turned, brushing an errant strand of glowing hair from her face and looked to where the blood was coming from. A man's head, his face, gigantic in the landscape, twisted in pain, bleeding from a terrible wound in his forehead that gushed down his face and made the river.

Mimsy tried, again, to unfurl her wings but the world, the mind, the imagined reality of this place resisted her. There was a brief flicker and she rose up to her toes, but that was all she could manage. There had to be another way to cross the river of blood, there had to be, time was running out tick by unrelenting tick as the yellow stain withdrew. She cast around, looking, desperately for something, anything that might help her across.

One this side of the river of blood stood a wilting stand of trees, up, closer to the bleeding head, pink and brown with hear-shaped leaves that were fluttering in the wake of a sudden autumn. She could see the leaves wilting and drying before her eyes. She sprinted up along the crumbling banks of the crimson flood and into the trees. They smelled of sweat, of sweetness, of salt and resin. She ran her hand across their smooth bark and felt them tremble, the surface breaking away in crumbs, the wood beneath fading, failing, rotting.

Mimsy wrapped herself around the trunk and laid her cheek against the bark, her body pressed to the quivering, disintegrating tree. It solidified, became stronger, more real again as she held it, bleeding a little of her own reality into it, murmuring affection into its bark, caressing its desiccated, vascular, leaves. A push, a kiss and the tree shuddered again, leaves falling around her as it leaned over, over, over until its crown of branches struck the other side of the divide and, with another kiss, she was able to walk her way to the other side, arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, the bitter-sweet taste of the bark upon her lips.

The ground on the other side rose up, a hill, a mountain, a cliff, abruptly reaching up into that inky sky and the blinding sunflowers so steep and sweeping that to look in any direction was vertiginous. Up and down, left and right, the moment Mimsy looked up at this cliff they lost all their meaning, like laying on your back in the grass and looking up into the sky when the panic seizes you that you might fall off the world.
Here, that could happen.

Mimsy clung, desperately, to the surface of the wall, six hands and two feet digging into the surface with desperate strength, clinging to the ridges of the paint and the hanging strips of canvas. Looking around her now every single direction seemed to drop away into infinity, but she could see the yellow stain, withdrawing in each and every direction so she simply closed her eyes and scrambled, like a spider across the impossible cliff, an ersatz Arachne in an impossible world.

It seemed like hours that she climbed, eyes closed, refusing to see the strangeness around her until, finally, one of her many hands came over the lip of the cliff and opening her brown eyes again she hauled herself over the lip onto the xanthous crown of this place, the redoubt of the yellow man.

She'd seen him before, but now they studied each other. He seemed more powerful, more real, bigger than glimpses she'd had of him before. He was a vile, sulphurous yellow, skin, clothes, hair, all of it the same eye-bending shade, a colour so strong it made her face sting as though she'd eaten a spoonful of mustard, making her eyes stream and her face screw up with near physical pain. He was hairy, naked, his face twisted in a mean smirk, eyes blazing with hatred and contempt for anything, everything, everyone. His face was lopsided, a monstrous carbuncle disfiguring his nose on one side, painful looking and suppurating, another reason looking upon him was a pain.
Mimsy found her voice. “Who are you? Why are you doing this? What have you got against these people?” She tried to keep the outrage out of her voice, tried to stay calm, loving, respectful even though the man was such a frightful shock, simply to look at.

When his voice came it was a chafing, snide, whine, nasal and whistling around that unsightly growth. “Me? I'm nobody, and who are you exactly to be asking, to be pursuing me or trying to stop me?”

“Mimsy, Mimsy Burogrove and this is my job, things of the mind, the imagination, the strange, things that don't make sense.”

“You're real.” He groused, raising himself up on his arthritic toes, the yellow landscape contracted now to mere veins that bled into the painted landscape. “You come here from the real world and interfere with this one.”

“The psycheverse, I'm a guardian.” Mimsy took another step towards him, all six hands palm-up, talking low and calm and quiet.

“You're a doorkeeper, a prison guard. You are real but I am not. I am from here, from the rambling imaginations the people you seek to 'protect' and oh... they imagine such terrible things, such strange things. Things like me.” He reached out to her, his ragged, cracked, parchment nails scratching with a rasp against her cheek. “I want to be real. You come here from there, can you really deny me the right to go there from here?”

His touch disgusted her, she couldn't help but recoil, his nails on her skin made her think of maggots, of turned-over stones, of the gunk in the plughole, anything and everything that made her flesh crawl. It was the touch of insects, the clammy paws of an 'uncle' and it turned her stomach. “You're killing people.”

“And you, my dear Mimsy, are an interloper in my world.” He stretched and flattened, like a giant paper cut-out, enormous and terrifying, a lutescent tower of parchment that reached for her with paper-cut hands that writhed like flatworms, making her gorge rise just to look at them. 
Curving blades of bilious disgust sprang into her hands as she went to battle with the murderous yellow spectre, the knives of her abhorrence for the very essence of him slashing and swiping at his fingers as he reached for her. It was in vain, they struck from the surface of his papery flesh in a shower of sparks and his ribbon-fingers bound her up like a mummy, bringing her up to that leprous maw as she struggled and twisted in that grip, paper-cuts opening on her skin where it was bared between his fingers.

He was too strong.

“I will become real little bug, little spider, my dear Miss Burogrove. You cannot stop me, you're not strong enough here. You think this is your world, you think you're special, but this is my world. Not yours.”

He squeezed, tighter and tighter, crushing the breath from her body, her bones began grind together, she couldn't breathe, her breasts were crushed flat, painfully, to her chest. Not a single arm could move, about all she could do was to clench her toes, some small action to relieve the pain.

The world rocked, abruptly, stars exploded in the sky like fireworks and both of them looked up, a snarl of anger on the yellow man's face. “No!” but it was too late, she felt his grip loosen, his fingers fall away from her body as the pair of , them faded away and the really-real replaced the psycheverse before her rheumy eyes.

A perfect paragon of perplexity and perturbation, St. John stood, sentinel, over her as the slumped in the slanting drizzle of the street. His gun was gripped, held high in his hand, the woman unconscious, unfeeling, unseeing on the ground. “I had to knock her out, something strange was happening, the way you were grasping each other, the yellow light in her eyes. I hope it's alright.”
She smiled, sapped and sickened by the scrap within the sister's sentience and simply nodded. “You did the right thing St. John... but I don't know what we're going to do about Mister Mustard, I can't beat him.” She hung her head, humbled by the hurt.

spider
The scene of the crime was a sad little studio mere steps away in Soho, superimposed above a salacious store front whole seductive stock stimulated the shopper with synthetic sexiness and skin, stripped starkers. Above this gaudy Gomorrah the gutted gudgeon of the latest grotesquerie was laid gaping on the ground in his garret.
St. John helped our heroine into this horrific home and held back, leaving her to hem, haw and hash out her hunches.

“The previous victim was a businessman, is that what you said?” Mimsy leaned her three-lensed Lennon's back upon her locks as she looked.

“Yeah, that's right luv.” St. John poked in a perturbed process at the piecemeal possessions of the person (now deceased), placed on the parquet.

“Well, this one was an artist.” Mimsy certified, confident, conspicuously so, in her certitude.

“How on Earth do you know that?” St. John saw no reason to reach such a robust result in reasoning so readily.

“Poor, but honest. Dressed shabbily, but carefully repaired. Cheap food to eat, cheap accommodation to live in, surviving on sugar, caffeine. I can smell the clinging smoke of marijuana all over the few furnishings that he's got.”

St. John sighed, surprised and stirred by her show of solid speculation, saddened by his own slapdash study.

“If I get shot of the constables here, can you work your particular brand of special magic to find anything out?”

“On a dead man? It's a bit dangerous but if you really want me to do it, I can have a go at it.” Mimsy crouched, catlike, concurrent to the corpse and considered the conspicuous crater in the cadaver's cranium. “Stabbed in the head again, same spot.”
St. John shooed away the shower of sheriffs intent on showing their own skill and stood sentinel for the sorceress of the street.

Mimsy sank with great delicacy into the remnants of the mind of the dead man, following the drifting piano-key steps, ebony and ivory, down into the man's wilting subconscious - or what remained of it. 

The brain's cells starts to die off a few minutes after the flow of oxygen stops, but bits and pieces, dribs and drabs, a few scintilla of mentality remain for some time and it was into this storm of Escher shapes and fragmentary memories that the less wise call 'near death experiences' that Mimsy stepped, flitting from crumbling dreams to hard and glassy regrets in her search for any trace that remained of the man's memories of the brutal attack upon his person.

Everything was flaking away, disintegrating into the darkness of death like the burning edges of a film in a grindhouse projector fire as she tried to stay one step ahead. Lévy curve wings sprouted from her naked back in plastic-fantastic black and white as she leapt the gulf of death to the last bastion of the dead man's naked consciousness; the fragmenting memories of his childhood home, scorching away with a scent like burnt toast and petrichor.

Soft, bare feet touched down upon the grey-scale grass and the rings on her toes glittered in the light of the nostalgia-sun that beat down from the herringbone-clouded sky. She could hear the desperate sobbing of a child within the crudely recalled house and folding her wings behind her like a monochrome ladybird she turned the decomposing door handle and stepped within.

The inside of the house smelt of plasticine and daffodils, mingling with the meaty undertone of something delicious cooking in the kitchen oven. The man, the boy, all that there was that remained of him, sat in front of a half-remembered television, staring at the flickering screen and crying. The tears streamed down his face and ran away in a river, an image from Alice in Wonderland that had, apparently, made a lasting impression when he was a boy and lingered even as the light of his mind went out, inch by inch.

Mimsy trod gently forward down the luridly patterned carpet of the hall but before she could get close to him a monstrous, spidrous thing, all limbs and scissors and chattering, broken, teeth, blindingly yellow came juddering and stuttering towards her. Canary, mustard, jaundiced, sickly, painful to the eyes in this place without colour it was a thing pieced together from childhood nightmares and given life, a creature designed to stop her, shadows and sharp edges and a desire to snip and cut.

“Snicker-snack.” It said, and went for her thumbs with a clamorous snipping that rent the air.

Mimsy fell back before it's assault, surprised and terrified to find such a thing here, lurking in his mind, so powerful when everything else was fading.. Everyone had personal demons, she'd fought many, cured people of their afflictions, addictions, hang-ups and madness. This helter-skelter creature was something new, something worse, something unnatural; empowered by some other force from outside this mind.

“Snicker-snack.” It said. She bled paisley from a dozen cuts as the thing span around the corridor, chasing her back towards the front door like some crazy Meccano gecko, leaving ink-bleeding marks in floor, walls and ceiling in its manic, crab-like gait. Hissing with pain she reached into her belly through her navel and drew forth her roseate uterine pistol, arming it with the mother-load.

“Snicker-snack.” It said, again, the great curving shears of its hands surging forth for the killing blow.

She fired.

The nightmare was engulfed in a warm haze of kisses and hugs, of soft bosoms, of the reassuring warmth and sweet smell of a mother's arms. It shrieked and shrank as it fought, growing smaller and smaller and smaller until it was nothing more than a shrunken, angular foetus, a glimmer and then nothing at all.

Wary now, Mimsy kept the gun held tight in her hands, warily covering herself with the three-pointed weapon as she crept closer to the boy. Already the outer walls of the room were crumbling, the fight had done more damage to the dead man's mind and there was little left.

She drew the sobbing boy to her breast as she looked past him to the television, there in black and white, flecked with snow, were the last things he had seen. His girl, his lover, his truest one, eyes mad with hate and lust for something other than him, striking at him with her scissors, a yellow gleam behind her eyes that was now disturbingly familiar. The Snicker-Snack had been this thing's familiar, it knew she was onto it, it was protecting itself, trying to ward her off.

She held him into his tears stopped and his body crumbled to ash, leaving her hanging, alone in the darkness and then she went back to her body, sadness dogging her every metaphorical step.

Mimsy felt febrile, her flesh factually flensed, as well as in the fantasy of the now completely dead. She held up her hands in horror, hesitant as sanguine humour ran down from her hurts.

St. John's hand found her fingers and fetched them close. “You're hurt. I've never seen that happen before. What happened, are you alright?” His eyes were effusive with empathy.

“Bad trip,” Mimsy whimpered, wiping away the blood with a washcloth “But I think I know a few things more about our murderer now. I just have to be sure and that means we need to find this man's girlfriend, before the killer leaves her.”

“I have, absolutely, no idea what you're talking about.” St. John fumbled a fag into his face and fed upon the fumes, drawing fortitude from the feeling it gave him.

“The murderer isn't from this world, it's something inside them, in their minds. It left a blue meanie to try and stop me. It's powerful and dangerous, a native of the psycheverse. We're going to have to be more careful and can't hurt the girl, or the other 'murderers'. It's not their fault.”

Together the tenacious twosome left the tenebrous tenement, tracking the terrified sweetheart. Mimsy could smell the fear, like a fog, rising from the filly and in fleeting time they found her, frightened and frenzied in a foxhole. Surrounded by rubbish and wracked with regret, bloodied, blubbering and batshit she was not the best beholder to the battle.

Mimsy held St. John back and bit by bit beseeched the barmy bird to becalm herself. Jaundiced eyes gaped at her. The lemon light in that limpid leer made her leery. Fingertips touched and in a solitary second Mimsy was transported for a second time.

Disoriented, blinking, Mimsy found herself in the ruined landscape of the poor woman's mind. Everything was yellow and red, the yellow colour draining out of the landscape towards a distant Dali landscape, rendered the sickly colour of stale piss by the corruption of the presence, squatting in her mind and growing stronger, yes, definitely stronger than it had been before. This was Mimsy's world, her playground but the yellow man in the distance, the power he had, not knowing what he was, made her... scared.

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