Tags: fiction

Urban

Midnight White

Okay... I do have a very psychological type rant about Bank Holidays and the like. But frankly, I'm not ending my fucking month with that. This, my public post to finish the month, should be far cooler.

Midnight White
by Stewart Wilson

The world flashes past in monochrome, outlines carved by the headlights. Country back-roads, fields past the hedges, all cast in moonlight. Just me in the car, dark inside. Nothing on the radio. Nothing in the glove-box. Just me and a cigarette, flashing forwards through time to the beat of my heart and the revving of the engine.

The house is up on a bit of a hill, white lights shining on its walls pick it out among its own grounds. I know the right way to go to see it from the roads, most people never notice it's there. I know she will be there. Skipping through time, there for every party then gone with the strobe lights and the smell of sweat. I pull up out front. The security system arms itself. I've not been to one of these parties since signing up with the Agency, don't know if the scene has changed to glorify car-jackers again.

I was a big player before dropping out, the guy opening the door still recognises me and my stage name drifts through the crowd of people towards the main hall. Occasional couples getting drinks or sucking face. Millimetre-wave radar overlays my right eye. Lots of knives, little real hardware. These places have their own security still. Not that she will know. Chemical analysis from sniffers in my left fingers, smart drugs in the air. Some DMT, a lot of designer dance drugs, the kind of thing kids on the street will be buying for a pound in the clubs of six months hence. I remember to kill the displays before the main hall.

It's still overload. Music blares, strobe-lights and hypnotic lasers programming euphoria straight through the optic nerve, sound waves fucking people through their ears. I danced. Couldn't help it, riding a wave of a programmed high. Nothing, none of my implants or my distributed consciousnesses could avoid it. I didn't want to avoid it. I was the king of the scene once more. Back where I was before the drugs ate my brain and gang-bangers wrecked my body. Lost to the scene. Then I saw her.

Her face flashing white with every pulse of the strobe, her eyes beckoning. Midnight White, the only name anyone knew. Not even the Agency knows who she is, what she is. I sway closer to her, flowing through a crowd who welcomes me like I've never been away. We exchange pheromones and body language rather than talking, drift away to a private alcove with a private bar. Nobody gives us a second glance. An energy-laden smart drink for me, firing every part of my brain up to two hundred percent. Her drink is already there ready for her. The sniffers register a couple of molecules and my systems go crazy. I have to shut down, blank out most of the enhancements while they work out what it is.

We still don't talk, me and Midnight White. She just smiles, gives me come-to-bed eyes. I couldn't refuse if I tried. The alcove walled off and we kissed, clawing at each other with animal passion, the music piloting both our bodies. We rutted right there, right by the side of the party, and I could taste the information encoded onto the molecules of her saliva. I was hooked on it, hooked on her. I wanted to worship her, wanted to run away and be with her and I know she wanted me to do that as well.

We dressed hurriedly, slipping back onto the floor. My distributed minds flowing back into communion. I still wanted to be with her, but I couldn't be. She was too alien, away from the party and the lights and the music she couldn't live. But too many other men and women hadn't realised that, had fallen prey to her after one perfect fuck. I couldn't let that continue, not after looking into their eyes in the mental ward.

I was almost sorry for the needle in my right forearm which had caught on her back, delivered a slow poison that would leave her dead inside a week. We hoped. I drifted back to the floor to dance away my memories and my guilt.
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Cartoon

Strange Eden

Mage, Technocratic future. Say about 2032

Strange Eden
by Stewart Wilson

The factory sat in Alex' hand easily enough. The size and shape of a clip for one of her guns, microscopic creation engines downloaded particles and streamed them into usable ammunition. Back when she had been a field agent for the New World Order they had been a great idea, but they had a vendor lock-in that was just too much.

It was her fault for defecting, of course. The NWO paid for her ammo-stream, but as a private citizen she had bills for rental as well as pop-ups on her mirrorshades' HUD advertising the benefits of paying more. And porn. No HUDset had ever been retrieved that didn't have pervasive porn pop-ups. Someone both well-practised and asexual could get maybe a month's use out of them before the imploded. Alex had been gone for a week and already had trouble.

There were V-Adepts who could crack them, of course. Cyberpunks who had grown out of script kiddies and warez d00dz now removing the copy protection from streamed ammunition and the adware from atmospherically-seeded nanodrugs. They were the only real Rogue Specialists left -- which grated with Alex because she could remember when they had been called Reality Deviants, before the Traditions had the benefits of control demonstrated. But the Rogue Specialists gave the Technocrats an enemy, even just a token, something the New World Order needed for its smart-propaganda.

There were rumours of older V-Adepts and even some Etherites in the Free Information Foundation, the last bastion of real rebellion ignored because it worked within the system. Alex was hoping that was the truth because she had just signed all rights on her three latest patents, launching them into the public domain where nobody could force advertising or monitoring. Alex dropped her gun, the clip and her HUDset in the unmaker and breezed out onto the street.

Security drones followed her, she couldn't help notice. Microcameras swivelling to track her, and she could feel through her processor implants the electronic agents dancing through the records of every building she went through, tracking her via her RFID tags, working out what she was looking at, building a profile first of tastes and then matching that with known psychological profiles. The genius AIs loved to be thorough when dealing with a defector and Alex wasn't about to disappoint.

She spent time shopping before breezing out to the nearest airport. They were going to replace it soon for a gate station but so far people were still hauling their meat through the intervening space between source and destination. The flight was boring but short, and the agents knew exactly where she was flying to. They didn't need the details from the airport computers by that point. The only reason Alex Coltraine could be headed to Boston was to meet with the FIF in person.

Boston was cleaner than Alex remembered from TV. Propaganda, of course. Companies here had more luck working with the FIF's legal department, actually used the free patents to make things without painting their names all over the visual spectrum. There was even a working gate system covering most of the city, cars being reduced to underground tunnels. Drone helicopters above, cameras still everywhere. Better than nothing, but still no Utopia.

Alex couldn't care less about the cameras. Neither they nor anyone else could know why she was going to see the FIF, they couldn't know about the memory chips in her pocket, her own design and storing a silent copy of most of her mind. The basics of sentience remained unencoded, would do until they could be transferred and uplifted. The FIF building already had the antenna under construction on the roof, a garden of microscaffolding extruding the transmitters in realtime.

The building was fully tricked out. The door, apparently frosted glass, refracted to invisibility and simply wasn't there for Alex to push on. The man stood behind suppressed his grin well.

"Sorry. We get a lot of people doing that. It's one of the newest."

"What is it?"

"Frosted glass. But we excite it with a burst of targeted high entropy and the noise cancels out it's tactile properties."

"Impressive. But I'm not here to talk doors."

"I know. We noticed your latest patents, our encryption team have notified the habitat."

"How did you manage to build it?"

"I don't know. It's been there since the dawn of this century, just hanging there. We've not researched it, but wven with the refugees aboard it's doing well.

"Refugees?"

"Back when your old employers called mine Reality Deviants, back before they got their Ascension, just before at least, a lot of mystics looked or a place to plan. We took them to Jupiter, where we had found this thing. A couple of them even made claim to having made it, or knowing who did."

"Right..."

"I know. But as you say, time is wasting. The sooner we can upload, the sooner we can prepare free of control."

"Running away to the wild blue yonder like Ethernauts of yore?"

"Only for a short while. Unlike those Ethernauts, we'll be back."

"You hope."

"I know. I'm keeping copies of all the uploaded in our systems."

"But what if I don't want you to?"

"Part of my patent on receiving uploaded personalities filed five minutes ago to cover the Jupiter end of things."

"Bastard."

"You won't be active here. If anything goes wrong, we send back an update and our AI wakes us up with all updated memories in place through targeted meme-vectors."

"You think too much."

"I have to. Ready?"

Alex said nothing, handing over the memory chips and taking a seat. She closed her eyes, and awoke in a strange Eden.
Happy

One More Time

This is my pennance. I will follow up with direct links to each entry this week, so both me and you can use that as a pointer to the big old Mad Fiction Blowout WeekEight Days. The only one I'm really not happy with is The Man Who Wasn't, mainly because I know I can write Jack better and it's political for the sake of being political. That and the ending blows goats. Hence, this.

Similar multiversal structure to the Jack Carter stuff, but with a few key differences. This is Kid Eternity to Jack's Invisibles, kinda thing.

One More Time
by Stewart Wilson

"History moves in cycles."

Harry's voice was quiet, he'd been hitting the bong for the past few hours and even my eyes were watering.

"But the cycles, these cycles, they close and open without most people noticing. Never realise they reincarnate. It's like a cosmic fucking gameshow, yanno?"

Harry had the unique ability to tap into the universal consciousness by getting ripped to the tits. I like Harry, I listen to what he says. Sometimes I do wonder if he realises what he says, but I don't give a toss.

"So, so, so... everyone lives a life in each cycle, on and on and on and on. Chloroform sends you back, unlocks the memories of your soul's past. You ever done that? Chloroform?"

"No, I've never touched the stuff."

"See, thing is, this thing, that if you do some things some ways during each cycle, you get picked up to power a war engine in the cosmic unconsciousness. Your soul becomes an E-M charge in God's big gun."

"Fuck. Who knew God had such a small dick he needed a gun?"

"Satan's worse, man. He's got a bigger gun and Law's trying to blow both of them away. People who stay out of the system, who fuck things up just right, they're chaos. There's your four big powers, yanno?"

I laughed and looked for the munchies.

I tried inhaling chloroform three days later. Swore I had to remember what I saw and had to get it out of me. The world fell away from my eyes, a pinpoint of light at the end of a tunnel, my mind regressing into the memories of my soul.

Trees around me. Black cloth wrapping my limbs. Chafing like a fucker, I'm already bleeding underneath it. Whoever says these Robin Hood types have it easy are talking bullshit. I look around. Other figured dressed like me. Bows. A walled city off to my left. A pair of pistol-bows under my robes.

Fucking hell, maybe I am Robin Hood. No. No green, all of this is black. Tight, too. The whole thing looks about right for the time-period, though. But I've only two men with me. Bandits, hired idiots who were supposed to look like me and take other ways in. Disposable selves. One went left, one right. I threw a hook up over the wall. No light in the city, fires were all out. Guards heard the hook. One with a bolt, one with a knife across the throat. Fast. Silent. Murder, but then that's what the people in this city had done to me and my people.

No more guards nearby. The mayor's house wasn't far. A rich place, but nowhere I couldn't get into. Silence was the rule. Wrong room, that's his children. They have to learn, killing them would give him the sympathy of the people in their beds. Just the man. Another room, the right room. Cloth in his mouth, rope around his wrists and ankles before he knows what's going on. Out of the window, ease him down. Keep him alive for now.

More guards as my feet hit the ground. A throwing-knife for one, I get close enough to stab the other in the side and cut his neck as he falls. Silence again. I dragged the bastard to a patch of mud, shoot a bolt clean through his head, and make a hole in his guts. The seeds fall in, and I water them with my own blood. There will be a tree there by first light, roots piercing his body. I will be long gone.

I didn't hear the guard behind me. The arrow pierced my heart, a clean kill. Better than if I had been caught. I fell forwards, onto the body. The tree grew up through me.

Light flooded my vision as I came to. The clock blinked, it's red LEDs showing only half an hour after I'd inhaled. Scary stuff. I spent the rest of the day in the pub, listening to the other drunks.

It was two weeks later that I tried again. Harry had been off on a bender, got himself hospitalised after mistaking washing powder for cocaine. He never met a drug he didn't like. I only tried when it was certain he'd recover. That was the first time I thought about what I'd seen, what I had remembered. Me as some kind of assassin in the dark ages, and something about a tree growing from me and my enemy. I had to know more. I blocked myself in the pub toilet and breathed deeply.

Sun high above the horizon. Few clouds in the air. Dressed in denim and leather, a dull ochre duster stained from the sun and the trail dirt. Hat brim low over my eyes. The sign in the distance over the only way to escape. "You are now leaving Providence". But I couldn't go back on this.

I'd tracked the bastard all the way from England. Followed him to America, out of the East and across the Mississippi. And here he was, about to die in a brothel in some arsehole town in the middle of nowhere. The real American dream that.

Spurs jangle as I walk through the doors of the general store. Not the saloon. I don't want to be too cliche about this. Ten bullets. The guns are special, five rounds in each chamber. A pentagram inscribed by a specialist of the Ordo Templi Orientis back in London on the back of the wheel. The revolver as the wheel of fortune. And some fucker is going to get his last game of Russian roulette tonight.

The saloon, when I do walk into it — because if I'm in the Old West I am going to do just one thing right — is a hole. Four people playing a quiet game of cards in the corner. And Lucas, with his whore, halfway between me and the bar. The trail has made me a harder man than I was when he killed my friends and family. Stubble poking through on a square chin, hard eyes set in a sun-worn face. Not the fop he thought he'd killed.

"Lucas, maybe your lady should go."

His face turned white. I'd kept my accent on the trail, he knew anyone coming from England would be after the only man who had summoned a Shoggoth and survived.

"I won't tell you again, Lucas. Are you going to show some honour, or are you the kind of coward I should just shoot now?"

The card-players were looking at me. He'd paid them off, the money they were playing with was too new. Four of them, plus Lucas, plus the barman if I tried anything in here. One of me.

"I'll see you outside, Lucas."

I faces away from the sun. They'd have to squint to look at me as they left the saloon, and there I had the advantage. The poker-players came first. Strutting like I was already dead and they just hadn't got around to killing me yet. Before they could think I'd sent six bullets their way, tearing flesh and bone and leaving four corpses in the noonday sun.

Lucas was next. He had one of those big shit-eating grins, like he was expecting the shots to have come from his lackeys. His face contorted as he saw what had happened. Words sprang to his lips even as I turned him into so much meat, and I could feel my blood boiling in my veins, leaking form my eyes and nose. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. That's how things are out here.

Light again, flooding my vision. The white porcelain of a pub toilet in front of me. I'm back, sat on the shitter with a handkerchief filled with chloroform in my hand and a pair of handguns in my jacket. I have no idea where the firearms have come from, but I know it's my time. I need to get off the cycle, to do something monumental and dumb and bloody to ensure that the world turns. Me and all the other agents of chaos.

I go see Harry again, in the hospital. I'm lucky. They're keeping him fucked up on morphine while he recovers from the massive damage he wrought to his system. Apparently he tried stealing other patients' drugs while the nurses weren't looking. That's the Harry I know.

The morphine is doing wonders for his perceptions. In a two hour speech he tells me about the secrets of magic and the things which make it possible, the keys to reality. I really wish I had a dictaphone. But the future-me next time around the cycle wouldn't know where to look unless he — or she, I guess — tried the chloroform. No point.

Then Harry goes on about the new Scots Parliament building. How the delays and the ridiculous costs are due to them not getting the basement sacrifice room right, how no contractor has been able to lay the black sigil Odegra in silver on the floor, how it's so hard to find people well versed in the secret tongue of the blasphemous priesthood of ancient Mu.

I leave the hospital and walk down to the Royal Mile. I'd wondered since the first time why I'd moved to Edinburgh, and now I had an idea. Harry would have to live without me. I returned to my flat, ripping up the floorboards to find the stash of explosives I'd made several years before when I was toying with the idea of violent rebellion. I put them all in a bag and head for the Parliament.

I was going to die again, but I was going to die doing the right thing. In the past as in the future, just the same as now. I walked to the new building, sure to find the bastards in charge there, they were on a site visit. Time to live out my destiny, one more time.
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The Man Who Wasn't

And so ends the challenge. Except... it doesn't. I'm really not happy with this one. It's the first stiry that feels entirely like filler to me. There's no essential hook that grabs my mind. That and the title suggests more.

So as pennance, I'm continuing the challenge into tomorow.

The Man Who Wasn't
by Stewart Wilson

The Millennium Dome, London. April 23 2013, 03:42pm

The stained cover still stands, a hollow shell reflecting the hollow promises of the country's supposed leaders. It's cracked and worn, the demolition was long ago written off as too expensive. In the shadows, a man tries in vain to hide his approach. Suit trousers poking out from under a dark coat, expensive shoes. Civil service. There was another person in the darkness only visible to Jack's low-light goggles. Millimetre wave flared up concealed weapons on both parts, and a sheaf of papers under the coat.

This wasn't in his normal line of work. When he needed to kill — and Jack had killed before — he was in the middle of a situation in which other people also wanted to kill him. He had no moral qualms about that, just him and his pistols and the way of the world. Sitting on the other end of a video feed from a sniper platform was stretching his definitions of acceptable. He cranked the inbuilt microphone, listening for the first signs of speech.

“It's here. I don't know why you want the bloody things in paper, but it's all here.”

The other voice was disguised. Radar picked up some kind of vocal modification, which would explain a lot.

“Good. The students at Oxford will riot in three days time. Then you get what you want.”

“But what if it doesn't work? What if we kill people?”

“That's something you really should have thought about before now. You shouldn't be having second thoughts now of all times.”

“You're right. It's for the good of the country.”

“God save the King.”

Jack waited until the figure in darkness was gone and fired two silenced rounds through the civil servant's heart. The platform was already burning, thermite boiling away all usable evidence unless they got government psychics on his trail and by the time they tried that Jack would be well prepared. His normally bright demeanour had vanished, there was no smart quip as he left the pub and began the long walk home.

Home in this case was a rented flat above an Egyptian takeaway. No wallpaper on the walls, bare light bulbs illuminating the two rooms plus shower. All for an extortionate rent, but it's not like the landlord asked any questions, not even Jack's name. That suited everything. He collapsed onto a well-worn mattress and tried to get to sleep. The face of the stooge earlier was burned onto his eyeballs. He'd never been so separated and he didn't like it. Just another reason not to do more of it. Eventually he fell into a fitful sleep.

Jack's dreams were a muddle of symbolism. Wheels turning within wheels, spheres turning within strange geometry. In the middle of it, Jack and his pistols seen from without, a bloody-handed messiah leaping from one wheel to another just at the point where they became spheres or stopped turning altogether. One one final jump, he tripped, and was ground under as the wheel turned into a cog and sharp teeth punctured his body.

He awoke with a start. Sun streaming through the window, there's no way he'd slept more than two hours. That dream was important, he knew. It was the only one he had remembered upon waking for at least five years. Water on his face, still it was there. He caught himself in the mirror and blinked, wondering how the self in his dream had looked so different from his self here. Caffeine tablets and Red Bull, anything to stop him slipping back to that half-tired state. He had things to organise in Oxford.

The drive was pleasant enough, and Jack's car was a comfortable means of travelling. Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane on the radio. turned up loud to stop him sleeping at the wheel. There's nowhere for him to stay in the university town but if the shadowy figure was right things would already be in motion. He wouldn't be sleeping. He checked the clips on his pistols and headed for the major demonstration.

No elegant preparation this time. No sniper platforms or hidden cameras. Some part of Jack was sure that this way was the only honest way. On cue, a brick flew into a shop window, the police arrived, Jack was part of the mob, one of the crowd. Everyman. The man who wasn't. The mob trampled the pigs without much trouble and some part of Jack could hear the authorisation to test new crowd control technologies. On a balcony above the fight a student sat, laptop at the ready. This revolution would be televised.

The arrival of a police van shook Jack, and the equipment they pulled from the back was worse. He'd read the white paper, knew a focused pulse weapon when he saw one. He also knew that in twenty percent of cases the strength of the blast fucked with the human body so badly that people dropped into comas rather than just unconsciousness. And they were going to turn it loose on students that the government had convinced the people were “rioting beyond control”. The weapon discharged and fully a third of the assembled crowd fell. The rest threw bricks and rocks, but the fight was dying in them.

Make or break, Jack knew. Let the country be crushed or give it a chance at chaotic freedom. The world slowed as four bullets ruined the pulse weapon and one of the policemen operating it. He was quick to get out of the crowd — he was fighting to protect them and now they were a liability. More bullets, more dead cops. SO-16 got involved, police with an excuse to carry and occasionally shoot guns. More of them died, their weapons unfired. The students, joined by ordinary people who had seen the stories the government were using and saw them for the lies they were, surged forwards. Police marksmen arrived and died in short order, Jack an avatar of death protecting a chaotic mass.

A lucky bullet slammed into the side of his face. The crowd behind him surged and exploded forwards. As he lay dying, Jack knew he had played his part.
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Where the Streets Have No Name

This was originally going to be another thinly disguised political rant in the same vein as Take Back Sideways, but they were starting to get too similar. Instead, a cautionary tale of why my take on the Eternal Hero ain't always the good guy.

Where the Streets Have No Name
by Stewart Wilson

Jack tells me it's easier in the old cities. London, Paris, Moscow, even New York and Boston. Anywhere people have generated the idea of the city-as-entity for long enough. I know he came to London to do it one last time. I came to find him.

I do a line of something I was promised was the ground up corpse of Tony Blair after the flour/anthrax incident. It's got quite a kick to it, the old bastard's magical protections burning in my throat. That should keep me awake for a couple of days, which should be all I need. If I'm not back before I sleep, I'm not coming back.

I make my way into the Tube, hop down into one of the tunnels. I never realised how cold it is down here without the trains. There's a walkway which stops me becoming so much red ooze, and a short way down the line is an alcove that turns out to be another tunnel. I go a fair way in, and lean against the wall. Fag-ash in a circle around me, prick my finger so I can get the heptagram in blood on the walls of the tunnel. I'm protected now. At least, protected from things here. I take the wrap out of my jacket, tip the powder into the liquid and watch for the mere seconds that the resultant mixture crystallizes before breaking down again. I snort the crystals through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill an American friend gave to me. I think it's worth about a pound at present rates. That's all I can think of as my head starts swimming and the strange crystals alter the harmonic frequency of my brain.

I open my eyes to madness. Buildings stretch up around me, impossibly tall. Gothic archways around doorways barred shut with black steel and chains. The windows barred but smashed. Just looking up at the nearest makes me dizzy. it must be at least a mile to the top before it hits a sky with no stars. The mid-levels shine lonely lights out into the darkness. These and the neon orbs hanging irregularly from wires high above the streets provide the only lighting.

As I walk down the road past more strange architecture, the cobbles moan underfoot. Each has the likeness of a face embossed on the top. I run the rest of the way. Shadows dart around me but I can't tell if they are people or just the swinging orbs. When I pause for breath, I'm sure it's people. A noise behind me of steel on stone and I turn, just as the smell of machine oil and unwashed human hits me. Jack mentioned the creatures, but he was never able to describe them. Now I see why. Reaction takes over and I double over before I vomit on my clothes. The creature is hideous. A twisted thing, only able to move because of the impossible clockwork machines bolted through it's legs, the skin drawn back away from muscle and bone. One arm hanging limply, ending in an infected stump. The other ends in a mess of screws and blades.

The fear loses it's grip on me and I run far and fast. Around me, the street warps and flows, my terror propelling me further from the thing. Thoughts building up unbidden in my head. The creatures can get to me in this world. This is their place now. They are the ones who stayed behind when we left. I should have set up some psychic defenses before snorting. Stupid girl. Clouds of thoughts swarm my mind as I see light pouring from the door of an open building. Sanctuary. Lost heritage. I need time to process everything I'm taking in.

I'm within three steps of the doors when they swing shut with a cruel laugh. A roar from above, then inhuman shrieking that threatens to pierce my eardrums. Bat-like things, all wings and jaws and claws are flocking from a smashed window. Run girl run. Got to get away. Got to find Jack. A corpse dangling from one of the overhead wires looks like the Hanged Man. Jack's card. Got to find Jack. Not welcome home.

“ANNA! “ Jack's voice rang out and I ran for it. Ran until it felt like my heart would burst. Need to find Jack. Need to get him out. Unfortunately, I found him.

There wasn't a building here. Just a sheer square hole in the ground, projecting down. Pipes dripped oil and ichor where their connection to the edifice should have been. Jack was balanced there at the edge of the chasm, supported on a frame of bone and tied down with his own guts.

“Anna.... why am I not dead?” His voice was badly slurred and only then did I see that his tongue had been cut out and nailed to his left thigh.

Whatever fight was left in me vanished and I collapsed to the floor. More voices in my head. What you get for coming back. Shouldn't have left. Jack's not dead. Shouldn't be here. No death without permission. My eyes crept up, not wanting to see Jack again. My view was blocked by a towering mass of skinless muscle. My eyes adjusted, registering it as a human form. Six arms. Smoked glass bolted deep into the flesh at some points. It was inserting iron hooks beneath Jack's eyelids, so I could only assume it was leaving me for later. No death here. Only pain.

“Jack... “ I had to say it. Had to distract the thing long enough for Jack to concentrate. Had to get him out of here. “Jack.”

The creature turned. There was no face, just smoked grey glass. Each hand had wicked black talons. It reached out for me and my flesh split in the language of terrible angels. My voice-box threatened to burst but the pain forced the last of the magic in that Blair-dust through me and into him. The world needs a savior more than it needs a junkie magician.

“Wake up, Jack.”

He fell back into infinite blackness. That was the last thing I saw before the creature's claws put my eyes out and took my face for a mask. I know it went to hunt Jack in our world, I could feel it's thoughts. It left me alone with my pain, never to die. The thing with the screw-arm found me two days later.
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Urban

Rossum's Universal Arts-and-Crafts

Rossum's Universal Arts-and-Crafts
by Stewart Wilson

In my years as a man-about-town I have come to meet a number of daring coves that ply their trade as artists and writers and whatnot. Deucedly clever fellows, make no mistake. I've never been one for giving the old bean too much excercise, but I do enjoy keeping company with people who arenb't afraid to create with gay abandon.

It was one of those balmy days in May, when the grass is green and the trees and flowers are in bloom and gurgling of the streams sounds like a girl's laugh — or is it the other way around? I never can remember. What I do remember is that I had it in my head to go a-wooing a pretty young thing by the name of Edith Havershaw. A simply stunning girl, don't you know, with only one problem: her eye never alighted upon me. She had the Artistic Temprement or some sort of thing, and was looking for a man who could put nature to the canvas.

So it was that I was in the front smoking room of my club, enjoying a cigarette and watching the cars go up the road one way and down the road the other. It's where I often sit when contemplating matters of the heart and this particular spring it had been occupied constantly by me, a cigarette and a stiff b.-and-s. as I lost myself in thought. This particular day I was found there by good old Reggie Bartram. He'd seen how I had tried and failed to catch Edith's eye and ever since he himself had got married he had been trying to find someone for me.

"Halloa there, George!"

"Halloa yourself, what?"

"Oh, certainly. Jenkins said I'd find you here." Jenkins was the man who saw to it that the club ran correctly. If ever a member were to forget his name it would be Jenkins who would remember — and would also remember how much he had wagered before his lapse in memory.

"Say much else, did he?"

"Only that a certain Miss Havershaw has drawn you to this corner."

"I wonder how he finds these things out?"

"I must admit that I'm beginning to think he knows everything. he certainly knows that the lady you want to woo has an eye only for gentlemen of an artistic bent."

"I say, don't overestimate him, Reggie! I could have told you that."

"But you," and here Reggie's face cracked with a smile like a man who's just won twenty pounds on a simple game of cards, "didn't think to ask where an aspiring young artist might purchase some materials to get a start in his craft."

"What what?"

"Rossum's Universal Arts-and-Crafts Emporium, just across from the Astoria. They have everything you could need."

"By jove, I'll give it a shot. Find out what it's like to be one of these artist chappies."

"Excellent plan, old bean!"

And so with much hearty talk of my new artistic life and a drink for the both of us I took my leave of the club for the Astoria. I hadn't been there for almost a week as several dashing coves had gone and declared the current show rather sub-par. Even so I couldn't remember seeing a Rossum's Arts and Whatd'youcallit Emporium across the street. I was sure Reggie must have been having me for a lark. Some of the fellows put him up to see if the show had changed without going in to the Astoria and he'd used me as a mug.

When I got there I could see that I was quite correct. There was a side-street, and down there I espied a sign. Sure enough, that was Rossum's, clear as day. Had I made a wager I would have opened my wallet there and then. As it was I made my way to the shop without becoming poorer.

The shop itself was dashed big, the size of a concert-hall at least. What I could only think were materials for all sorts of artistic pursuits were scattered around with no rhyme or reason, easels and canvases leaning against frames and mysterious things which I gather were something to do with needlepoint or one of those arts which the fairer sex are so enamoured. Rossum himself was nowhere to be found and there was no boy to mind the shop for customers, so I thought it only proper to have a look around. If I could give him the impression that I knew what I wanted it'd probably go down favourably with the fellow.

I must admit that there were a number of arts I'd never heard of. One section advertised itself as "Bonsai", a term I can only assume comes from the Orient. In addition to miniature trees there were a number of tiny rocks shaped like mountains. On display under a faded sign was "Dr. Mathers Patented Fijord Creator for the Discerning Planetary Architect." Piled in a corner was a stack of "Galaxy Polish -- Guaranteed to make your stars shine brighter!" A stack of boxes were labeled "Universe Design Kit 1917" with a flash on the front proclaiming that the kit would grow a universe to the owner's specifications, even down to black holes.

I must admit to being rather taken aback by all this. Most of these things were the kinds of object surely only an artist would know about, that much was deucedly certain. It was at this point a jovial fellow walked through from what I assume was some kind of back room. He had the fulles beard I've seen on a man outside of a painting himself, and he introduced himself as Mr. Rossum, the owner of this universal arts and crafts emporium. He had a strange way of saying universal, almost like universe-al.

"Halloa! Halloa! I appear to be in a bit of a pickle, my good fellow."

"How can I help you, sir?"

"Well, you see I was introduced to your business by a good friend of mine. I'm looking to become an artist, you see, and he suggested that you might be able to help."

"Ahh, yes. There is something you can try, sir. We have just in some self-painting canvas. Now, before you object and say that you need to learn real art to impress your peers and perhaps a ladyfriend, this canvas fills in only the lightest of hues. Then all you need to do is paint over the top. Nobody will know that it was anyone but you."

"My word. I'll take it, and the paints and brushes as well."

"Of course, sir."

And so it was that I hailed a taxi and rode back to see Edith and paint her portrait. The canvas worked like a charm, but when I went back to see Rossum to thank him and perhaps purchase some more the street that the emporium had so secretively deposited itself no longer bore such a place. All that street held, informed a resident, was lodgings for the lads and ladies who starred in the Astoria's shows. A deucedly odd trifle and no mistake.
Anarchy

Take Back Sideways

Hard one to write. Distinctly non-happy. But I promised a story a day and I'm saving some of figg's titles for when I have nothing more. This is political ranting barely disguised as fiction.

Take Back Sideways
by Stewart Wilson

Nobody ever believed that the new revolution would be over a dimension. Oh, futurists liked to rave into their moblogs about how the new science they were working on (or the device they had wanked over last night, or both) was the best thing since sliced bread, that it would be the cause of the new revolution. They were wrong, short-sighted. They, being futuristsm had an inherently poor idea of the real world. No futurists predicted the revolution that was the Poll Tax riots — and make no mistake, that was a revolution.

There was vast civil unrest when the government enforced the 2-D Law. It had to at the time. England was ovecrowded all to buggery, Scotland and Wales had built walls to stop the English flooding in and taking what little space there was left. The Government had an idea, but it was a long-term one. Someone in power had watched too much Flatland.

Ian hadn't read it. He wasn't much of a reader, but he could think just fine. Last of the English ex-pats, or so he told it down the pub. A good laugh for a Bloody Englishman, amiable enough and smiling enough that he didn't care that every Scotsman there was laughing at him as much as with him. But he didn't care. He liked the place, liked the feel of everything. And when his papers had been processed and put in order, he went to tell his family down in the historic city of Milton Keynes, capital of 2-D England.

The English were wary of allowing phone calls from Scotland and Wales. The rest of the world was easy to colour with media spin, Internet communications were being controlled and filtered better than the Cashologists of old. England didn't want people looking around and wondering.

The Tube was a sight. A nationwide mass-transit system, vast in size. Tourists were filed into a corridor that matched their destination, loaded in one side of the massive trains and out of the other. The only way to move a population so big was to treat them like Cattle. Ian didn't like it, but there wasn't anything he could do. Grey walls either side of him wherever he walked. Endless elegantly-curving partitions from everyone else. Some had glass ceilings, formless grey with old halogen strip-lights. The Tube handled everything that the automated conveyors in the people-tubes couldn't manage. A sign Ian read on the Tube warned of the harsh penalties for pushing people out of the way.

The flat in Milton Keynes was smaller than Ian remembered. Then again, when he had lived there it had been a real flat, spread out. Now it was a collection of sliding partition walls, everything in a straight line from everything else. Geometric. Grey. Boring. Jim, Ian's dad, appreciated the whisky his son brought, and his mum liked the flowers, but there was something strained. The flat was made for two now, and a spare room wasn't something his parents could afford. Ian shrugged, and got a smaller Tube to a nearby cube hotel.

He remembered the flat, what it was like growing up in it. What it was like having space. But those weren't the only things he remembered. Without thinking he logged on and sent an e-mail to his flatmate up in Edinburgh before climbing into a bed made for a person a foot smaller than he.

The sound of someone banging on his door woke Ian with a start.

"Who's there?"

"Police, sir. You have fifteen seconds to open the door before we do so and you are charged for damages."

Ian lept into a pair of boxers and pulled the door open.

"Can I help you?"

"You attempted to send an e-mail out of the internal network sir. I'm afriad you didn't purchase the credits to do so, and the manager saw the contents of the e-mail and was forced to contact us."

"I'm with you so far."

"I'm afraid you'll have to accompany us to the station."

The police took the same tubes as everyone else. Their central systems shunted the corridors such that we were able to ascend five stories at the nearest point, and from there we used the executive lanes. It's burned into the national psyche, Ian thought. It has to be. There's no other excuse for what people are getting away with here.

The policeman who interviewed Ian wasn't a charming stereotype. He was an old man with a scarred face and blooms on his face, probably from alcohol. He had a look about him like he enjoyed giving some of the younger detainees a right good seeing to. Ian's arse clenched at the thought.

"Now, I've read this stuff you've been writing back to your friends up there. And if this gets anywhere, you could be in a lot of trouble."

"Why? What exactly have I done? Are you going to charge me?"

"That all depends. You see, this country relies on some basic rules. If we didn't have those rules, we'd be a mass of people, overbalancing and crushing each other..."

"Is this where I get the lecture thinly disguised as an interview about this crackhead's dream of a system being the only one that will work? Because I've heard it before and it gets a bit boring. If you're going to charge me, then charge me. I'm a citizen, I know my rights."

"I'm afraid not."

"What are you talking about?" This is it, there goes my backside...

"Two years ago the government required all citizens be implanted with an ID chip. Anyone without one can be held without charge indefinitely as a potential enemy of the state. If we have reason to believe that about you, which is what this e-mail looks like."

"..." Ian was lost for words. He'd never dreamed that mum and dad on the other side of the 150-foot concrete and steel wall had to put up with this.

"You get a night in the cells this time, and you get put on our database. You can leave the country, but not come back. Subversive activities will be monitored, and your details will go on file," the policeman's face split with a hideous leer, "unless there was some kind of accident which kept things off file?"

That it was actually a question threw Ian for a loop.

"No, thanks. I'd rather not have anything happen to my file." Not yet, anyway.

The policeman sighed, and Ian was processed.

Before the country as reconfigured for corridors, the capital city was called London. This was something Ian knew from childhood stories, mostly. The populace had been relocated to the new, fresh way of living in Milton Keynes and the whole place was a building site even as he was growing up. There had been one thing he remembered, shots from the air of the blackened remains of the Palace — Crystal? Buckingham? He couldn't remember — with the big public square at the front. He was sure of what he had to do.

Ian had never tried rabble-rousing. He was an out of work physicist, ten-a-penny in Edinburgh at the moment, but that gave him enough knowledge to work on. He bought some basic supplies from a basement-level tube-shop that didn't have a human assistant. He noted that now he had to foll out a statement of intent every time he bought something odd. Fortunately, an aluminium souveneir emblem of the English Republic was fine, as was the wire wool he bought for cleaning his pans after cooking the cheap and crap food. The paper for his printer took some work, and he had to sign a declaration of intention for the spray paint and regular grey gloss coat. Helping his parents redecorate, apparently.

The thermite was easy to make. He even remembered the easy way to light it. The trick was getting everything to work right and on time. His parents had enough stuff on hand that he could fashion a fuse that burned hot enough for the thermite. Wait until the dead of night, blot out some security cameras with good old low-tech paint, and the job was set.

The thermite blew a massive hole in the corridors at a major juncture. The circle was easily five hundred feet across once they cleared the unstable beams and the rubble. When fire crews tried to extinguish the worst of the flames, half dried paint dribbled down the walls, revealing a massive slogan on the walls in black. Simultaneously, paper copies of the slogan dropped out of air circulation tubes as small charges blew through vent covers.

That morning, the English people woke up to a message as Ian walked through border control, praising a mass transit system that ran faster than government-sanctioned information.

Everyone saw it in the end as they turned to each other for the first time and read the words on the walls and on their desks.

STOP LOOKING FORWARDS
TAKE BACK SIDEWAYS
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Angry

Little Roger Fights A Bear

I think of this one with me, stood on a stage against a black background. Cig, and a glass of water. Microphone in hand. Comedy club type thing.

Little Roger Fights A Bear
by Stewart Wilson

So there's this kid, Roger. Barely 10. And this big bear has killed his sister. Roger's dad isn't around any more, so he does what any kid in the situation would do. He sets out to rescue her.

Only problem is, this ain't a fairytale. Roger's dead in seconds. Who'da thought?

Now, most people would look at this and say: "What a nasty, evil bear! It killed a kid. Let's kill it and take it's skin for a rug!"

Most people are idiots.

See, this isn't a fairytale. Things are never so black and white. Let's take the townsfolk for starters. The bear killed two children. It did so out of a form of self-defence. The townspeople are thus going to go, outnumber the bear, out-gun it, and kill it. Once it is dead they are not going to leave it's body for nature to do as it intended with, they are going to flay it. It may still be alive while this happens. They will then desecrate it's corpse and put the parts to what they consider good use.

Way to go, guys.

The bear wasn't evil. It can't be. It's a creature, it doesn't have the higher reasoning necessary for people to make choices like "good" and "evil". It took Little Roger's sister because of Little Roger's dad, and it killed Little Roger because it saw him — white legitimately, as the bastard had taken his dad's .44 — as a threat. It killed him because it didn't know any better, it couldn't see that the gun wasn't loaded and the safety was on. It's a fucking bear, what do they know about firearms.

Why was Little Roger looking for his sister, anyway? Because she'd gone missing shortly after the same thing happened to his dad. He was never a bright kid, he just wanted Sis back to make the world all right. And to stop the kids down the road punching him. He was a kid who was held behind a few times in school, so all he knew of bears was that they showed up in fairy tales like Goldilocks, and people always outsmarted them. He took his dad's gun because that's what he had seen his dad do.

Little Roger's sister wouldn't have been taken by the bear if she hadn't snuck into the woods for a quick shag up against a tree with Darren, her latest bloke. She didn't normally drop her knickers the second time she met someone, but he had a Corsa and a mate who could score her some E. That was golden. Unfortunately, he didn't fancy herself, not against a bear. He legged it, leaving her at her most vulnerable for the bear to kill.

Where was Little Roger's dad during all of this? Dying, upside down on the floor of a pub toilet four towns over of acute liver failure. An alcoholic, he'd been promised good booze money if he could kill the bear. Of course, his aim was well off and he only managed to kill one of the bear's young. He took it's corpse, cut off the ears with a Bowie knife and tried to pretend that he had got the real thing. His patron, who was a shady figure well respected in China, retrieved the young bear's corpse to sell as medical supplies. Little Roger's dad was paid handsomely and went to a bar he hadn't been thrown out of to spend his haul. Three hours later he collapsed while having a piss.

So, there you go. I don't think I really had a point or a moral to this, except maybe this: Fairy-tales are a bit shit, really. They're just someone else's idea of what should be put into a child's head, and it isn't worth it.
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God Lay Dying

God Lay Dying
by Stewart Wilson

Before I tell you this, you have to know. I'm not a religious person. I was brought up Christian, but just about everyone I know was. Doesn't mean I believe any of it. It's just one of those things. I don't think I believe in Christianity or angels or any of that even now.I have to say this so you don't think I've had one of those Baptist conversions, "finding God". Not me, didn't happen. At least, not like that.

I found God. He was sat in the parking lot of a 7-11, looking for the world he'd lost. He looked like one of those movie stars, you know the ones. Tough-guys who've gone grey. Tommy Lee Jones, or Clint. Yeah, he looked a lot like Clint, now I think about it. I looked at him, and there was this sudden thought, right htere in my head. "Holy shit, that's God." Not scary, no thunder and lightning or choirs of angels. Just a guy who looks a lot like Clint, in jeans and a button-down shirt. I couldn't thikn of what else to do, so I sat next to him.

We talked. I can't remember what about. I do remember that he was kinda sad. He kept saying that he couldn't find something, so I asked him what. His spark, he said. The little bit of his self that he put into the world, the shard of divinity that he left here. But, he said, he couldn't find it any more. He didn't want to talk about it, so I asked him about the Red Sox, and he told me it was their own fault. They shouldn't have let the Babe go.

I didn't see God for a while, though I did go back to that 7-11 regularly. Pack of Marlboros each time, same as I got that day. it became a little ritual for me. I'd sit outside and smoke one, thinking about baseball and the state of the world.

The next time I saw God was three months later. He was older, his hair had almost all gone and his body was thinner. I had to ask him what'd happened. He told me how he couldn't find it. The spark had gone, people had taken the world he had made and put himself into, and they had made it theirs. None of it was his any more, just a world humans had made for themselves. The churches, temples, every religious institution in the world was just a vehicle for humans. The only thing that was keeping him going was the faith of the few people who cared for the whole world, but it couldn't keep him going for long.

He coughed as he spoke, like a sixty-a-day man with a tumour the size of a softball in each lung. I couldn't help feeling sorry for him, but he waved me away. Not my fault, he said. Not anybody's fault. Faith was and is a choice, after all. I said I was sorry, that I would try to find that spark of his, and I got up to leave. Tell the truth, I felt ashamed. Of myself, and of my race. We get this glorious planet, and we ruin it. We exploit a giant living organism for our own benefit. I had trouble sleeping for a week after that.

I stopped going back to that 7-11. Not all at once, but within a month I didn't see the place. I was scared of what I'd see. Then I found myself driving over to a friend's place, and I had to stop off for a pack of cigarettes. Feeling like an idiot, I pulled my car into the parking lot, went inside, bought the cigarettes and a cheap lighter, and left.

I was halfway to my car when I saw him. Sprawled on his back on the asphalt. God lay dying in the parking lot of the same 7-11 I'd first met him. I had to go see him, ask him what was wrong.

The planet was ours, he told me. He'd been living off the faith of people but that wasn't enough. He did tell me that he didn't blame us for it, and I knew that to be true in my heart, with the force of the Eleventh Commandment. He realy didn't blame us. We had done what he had wanted us to do. But, he said, that wasn't any reason for people with faith to give it up. They were doing good not just for him, but for everyone and everything on the planet.

I had a hard time taking that in. In the end, I stood and turned away, tears welling up in my eyes. I couldn't stand to see God die. When I turned back, he was gone. No note, no parting words I could share with the world to become a prophet, no last reason for me to forego my sinful ways and have faith. Just a cigarette lighter, a silver Zippo, with a cross embossed on it.

I can't say I have faith now, no more than I did before meeting him. But I go to that 7-11 every single chance I get, and I try not to be so much of an asshole. I like to think it means something. Maybe not to anyone up in Heaven, but maybe they don't matter so much as the guy down the hall, yanno?
Quizzical

I Met Myself Today at Tescos

I met myself today at tescos. The bastard is a vegetarian.
by Stewart Wilson

I was in Tescos, earlier today. Shopping, the way you do. I don't normally go there, I'm more an Asda man, but sometimes a change is as good as a rest so there I was in Tescos. Pushing my trolley, trying to work out where everything's been put so I can get what I want.

I was just putting the third bottle of vodka in the trolley when I saw myself. Not in a mirror or anything, but there was me. In the flesh, picking up a bottle of white wine with a girl I've never seen before. She was a bit of a looker, but I had to know why I was shopping in Tescos without saying 'hi' to myself. Or how it was even possible for me to do that.

He went around the shop as if he knew it, picking out all what he was after. It wasn't until I got closer that I wanted to punch myself. The bastard had gone for Quorn. Fucking Quorn. He was stood there with his back to special offer bacon drooling over substitute meat and broccoli and sprout fart-bake. The complete and total fucker.

Now I'm not one to blow things out of all proportion, but that's totally wrong. I am not a bloody vegetarian, and how I could be is totally beyond me. I had to follow him, find out what was going on. And how he could be a bloody veggie and have a fit bird when I'm carnivorous and single.

I did manage to get a listen in. He was going on about some things he remembered that I didn't, but some things I did. His lass was hanging on it, asking him more and more, and that was bloody lucky for me. I figured we started being different people shortly after I dropped some bad acid a couple of years back. I've had some weird flashbacks, but these were real people.

I was just about to talk to the guy when a security bloke dropped his hand on my shoulder and carted me off to see the manager.

"I'm sorry, sir," he says, "but I can't let you follow yourself around like that. It's freaking out the other customers."

"Err... right," I say back. "So ho do I manage to do it in the first place? I don't know where the fuck I am half the time."

"That's the problem, sir. I'm afraid it's our fault really. You see, Tesco isn't just a supermarket. We're a multidimensional chain, extending into every compatable reality. it's there in the name, Temporal Expanding Supermarket — Chronoligical Oddity."

"If'n I might be so polite as to ask," I say, "what the fuck are you talking about?"

"The you out there comes from a different reality. There was a mistake when you stepped through the doors and you both were routed to the same supermarket."

"So... this supermarket is a big multidimensional tax dodge and I exist in an infinite recursion of differing realities, and by a fluke of those two things I've managed to get within six feet of myself and my very fit girlfriend?"

"Exactly, sir."

"I'm sorry, I don't believe it."

"Why's that, sir?"

"I'm not a bloody vegetarian."

"I believe it's something to do with keeping his girlfriend. It's a documented divergence. Now, if you'll just walk this way, we'll get you to your home universe in no time."

So I stood up, and I followed the bloke out towards the back, where giant strange machines mutilated the laws of space-time. And as we walked past these four-dimensional reality engines, there was one thing I had left to say.

"I knew I should have gone to bloody Asda."
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