Spectacular Tales: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection

FREE indie, self-published ebooks, short stories, novellas, and novels. A thrilling anthology of short stories by some of the rising stars in independent publishing.

In this collection we bring you a ship’s locker full of great Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are tales about beautiful princesses and cunning thieves, intergalactic wars, cosmic energy beings, warriors and rocketship pilots ‘Spectacular Tales’ is yet another thrilling anthology of short stories from the Indie Collaboration. In this latest collection, written by the rising stars in independent publishing, we bring you a ship’s locker full of great Science Fiction and Fantasy.

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A thrilling anthology of short stories by some of the rising stars in independent publishing.

In this collection we bring you a ship’s locker full of great Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are tales about beautiful princesses and cunning thieves, intergalactic wars, cosmic energy beings, warriors and rocketship pilots ‘Spectacular Tales’ is yet another thrilling anthology of short stories from the Indie Collaboration. In this latest collection, written by the rising stars in independent publishing, we bring you a ship’s locker full of great Science Fiction and Fantasy.

In this collection you will find stories about warriors, thieves and rocketship pilots. There are stories about cell phone apps that can give you your heart’s desire; primitive stone-age societies, only barely aware of the intergalactic wars that once raged around them; the memoirs of intergalactic energy beings and fables about a greedy kings, beautiful princesses and cunning thieves.

So strap on your jet pack and grab your broadsword and come join us in exploring these Spectacular Tales.


Author The Indie Collaboration
Edition  Smashwords
ISBN 9781311312860
Pages  53
Publication Date  Aug. 26, 2014
Publisher  The Indie Collaboration
Series  The Indie Collaboration Presents
BCRS Rating  CA-18
ca-18  BCRS ratings?Learn more
The Indie Collaboration

The Indie Collaboration

The Indie Collaboration grew out of a group of like minded independent authors. Together, we decided to show the world how great works of fiction can be created without the involvement of any large publishing companies; creating a direct channel between ourselves and our readers is of the utmost importance to us. Each author has freely donated their time and work and are committed to the Indie Collaboration's cause of:

Offering the best of indie authors
in bite size pieces for free.

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    The Indie Collaboration Presents

    Spectacular Tales

    Edited by Chris P. Raven

    Copyright retained by the Authors

    Cover Art by Book Birdy Designs

    The Indie Collaboration grew out of a group of independent authors who decided to show the world how great works of fiction can be, without the involvement of any large publishing companies, by creating a direct channel between themselves and their readers. Each author in this anthology has freely donated their time and work and are committed to the Indie Collaboration’s cause:

    “We offer the best of indie writing in bite size pieces and wherever possible, for free.”

    We hope you enjoy our books.

     

    Rocketships of BRASS (Part One)

    Ten Minutes to Total Destruction

    By Chris Raven

    By Hercules Himself

    The Rocketship Gordost’ Shotlandii, Scotland, 1935

    “This is going to be aces,” Henry Dunston grinned as he gripped the control stick with both hands.
    The cockpit shook and rattled around them as Andy Yurika looked at him from the co-pilot seat and raised a disapproving eyebrow. Andy returned to her pre-flight checks and listened to Emerson

    Kavanagh’s tinny voice through the radio set’s small round speaker as he continued the countdown.

    Joseph Kerr, the mission’s engineer, whimpered and groaned in his seat below them.

    “How are you doing down there Jo?” Andy called out over her shoulder, her voice clear, precise and distinctly Russian.

    The three crew members lay on their backs, strapped to their seats while the rocketship stood poised on the Vertical Launch Slab. Once in space, the seating would make more sense, pilot and copilot in the front, looking out through the reinforced glass window, with the two secondary seats behind for the rest of the crew. A hatch in the wall between the two rear seats gave access to the rest of the ship. On this, the Rocketship Gordost’ Shotlandii’s maiden flight, only Joseph sat in the back row and he was clearly less then excited about the prospect of being hurled into space.

    “Twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty,” Emerson continued over the radio set.

    “Jo! How are you doing back there?” Andy repeated more urgently.

    “Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen.”

    “OK I guess,” Jo finally replied, his voice tense. The walls of the cockpit around them vibrated and buffeted loudly as the rocketship’s massive engines continued to ignite.

    “Sixteen, fifteen, fourteen.”

    You must try to stay calm Jo,” Andy shouted over the noise, her eyes fixed on the control board in front of her, “Remember to breathe slowly.”

    “Thirteen, twelve, eleven.”

    “Everything is going to be, how do you say? A-OK,” Andy continued while she pressed buttons, pulled levers and tapped dials with her fingertips, “Isn’t it Henry.”

    “Ten, nine, eight.”

    “What?” The rocketship pilot replied, momentarily snapping out of his adrenalin fuelled euphoria,

    “Oh sure, yes. You hang on in there Jo. You’ll be just fine, you wait and see.”

    “Seven, six, five.”

    “Because we are all about to become blinking famous, heroes even, how’d you like that Jo?” “Four, three, two.”

    “Chocks away chaps, here we blooming well go!”

    “One, blast off.”

    *****

    With a huge roar the rocketship lifted itself off the Vertical Launch Slab. Slowly at first, as the mighty engines strained against Earth’s gravity, but finally the long slender cylinder rose and quickly gathered momentum as it thrust itself up into the heavens like a silver javelin cast into the sky by Hercules himself.

    You Must Be the Pilot

    Scotland, 18 months earlier

    Senior Lieutenant Andrievicha Yurika of the Russian Air Force was led to the polished woodpaneled door of the Briefing Room. Her escort, a British Military Police Sergeant, she hadn’t thought to ask his name, leant past her and gave the door a sharp and practiced knock. His other hand was occupied by the two kit bags Andrievicha had been permitted to bring with her.

    “You just get them to give me a shout Miss, when they’ve finished with you and I’ll show you up to your quarters,” the Sergeant told her as he straightened up.

    Andrievicha gave him a raised eyebrow and a weary look; she had given up correcting him. He was obviously not trying to be disrespectful, just the opposite really. He was just not used to women being in the military, especially women who outranked him. Besides, she had only just arrived at the military base and she wasn’t sure of their protocols or even why she was there. She decided it best to settle in and see how things were done. She was no stranger to controversy. Being a female fighter pilot, even in 1935, had been far from easy and she had met more than her fair share of misogamist officers and disgruntled enlisted men. Many had tried to block her progression from cadet to frontline military officer, despite her government’s initiative of total equality in the armed forces. Regardless of the hurdles, she remained certain and very proud of the fact that if she was going to make it into the cockpit of a fighter plane as a woman, then there was only one nation that would allow her to do so, her mother Soviet Russia.

    *****

    “Comrade Senior Lieutenant, Ma’am or Sir,” Andrievicha had originally told the Sergeant earlier that morning. He had met her at the compound’s main gates, when she was dropped off by military jeep and had offered to take her bags.

    “Miss?”

    The Sergeant looked blankly at her, as if she had reverted to her native Russian. For a few seconds she thought that maybe she had.

    “My rank Sergeant,” The emphasis was on Sergeant “Is Starshiy Leytenant or Senior Lieutenant if you find that simpler to say.” The Sergeant quickly stood to attention.

    “Begging your pardon Miss! Madam! Lieutenant, Sir!” He spluttered. Andrievicha guessed that the man must have been nearing his fifties, not a local, London accent, seen service according to his demeanour, probably a veteran of the Great War. Even as he stood uncertainly to attention, she noted his eyes resting on the kit bags in each of her hands. She knew it bothered him; he was obviously struggling with his own sense of chivalry, so she insisted on carrying them herself, to demonstrate her independence and authority. As she crossed a small courtyard towards another identical jeep she realized that this was a mistake, she had only succeeded in undermining herself. As an officer, there should have been no issue at all about the bags; the Sergeant would have been expected to carry them regardless of her sex.

    “Chyort Voz’mi!” She cursed herself under her breath.

    “Pardon me Miss?” The Sergeant had asked as she lifted up the first of her bags and tipped it over into the back of the jeep. He picked up the second bag and casually tossed it in after.

    “Never mind,” she answered, irritated. That was when she had given up correcting him. She had also let him carry her bags from then on as well.

    *****

    “Very well Sergeant,” She told him while they waited outside the briefing room, “Take my bags to my quarters and be back here in about an hour.”

    “Right you are Miss,” he said, smartly coming to attention, dropping the bags by his feet and giving her a salute. An about turn, quick bend of the knees and he had both of her bags in his hands again and without pause he was marching back down the corridor.

    Andrievicha suppressed a smile as she checked her appearance, smoothing down her blue dress uniform, skirt, black tights and shoes, a fitted jacket and a forage cap. This promised to be an interesting mission, whatever it turned out to be. All she knew was that it was a joint British/Russian project that involved a prototype long range aircraft of some new design and that she was to act as navigator.

    The Briefing room door suddenly swung open, revealing a handsome young man’s grinning face.

    “The Old Boy said you can come in now,” he told her as he stepped aside to let her in. He was smartly dressed, in his twenties and a little too confident for his own good. A flight Captain she noted from his uniform, which could not disguise his relaxed and casual demeanour. A strong chin, full blond hair, a little long for a military cut, which suggested he was used to a certain leeway within the hierarchy. He probably gets along on his charm she thought. She fully expected to be completely irritated by him, once she got to know him better.

    “I am very pleased to meet you Sir,” She said, “You must be the pilot.”

    Adrift in Space

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    The scene outside the Forward Viewing Window suddenly turned from a bright blue light to pitch black with a sprinkle of stars. As expected, the rocketship’s engines stalled as the rocketship slipped smoothly out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into the vacuum of space.

    “It’s up to you now Jo, so shake a leg,” Henry called out behind him as he fired the compressed gas manoeuvring jets. “I’ve just put the old crate into orbit but I’d feel a whole lot better once you’ve got those engines back on line old chap”.

    “Near Earth orbit… stable,” Andy confirmed, “Scanner systems engaged.”

    Henry unclipped his seat harness and gently pushed his body out of the seat, using his head rest to turn himself round. He gave Andy a wink as he spun. She pretended not to notice but she couldn’t hide a suppressed smile. He was finally getting somewhere.

    “Be careful Jo,” Henry warned as he continued his slow spin, “This weightlessness is going to take some getting used…”

    Jo had somehow come loose from his harness during the take off and was floating askew and unconscious above his chair, a small gash on his forehead formed a light trickle of blood that became small red spheres that floated above Jo’s head like his very own solar system.

    “Problem?” Andy asked, concerned.

    “It’s Jo,” Henry advised, as he reached for the first aid kit attached to the bulkhead just above his seat, “He’s come loose and it looks like he’s hit his head.”

    “Bad?”

    “Bad enough, he’s out.”

    “Robho!”

    “I should cocoa,” Henry agreed, as he manoeuvred himself to the back of the cockpit using the bulkhead for support, “Robho indeed.”

    Weightless, it was not too difficult to get Jo strapped back into his seat, where Henry went to work bandaging his head.

    “How is he?” Andy asked after a while.

    “He’s out cold but the cut doesn’t look too bad.”

    “That is not good,” Andy said, “We have a good supply of air, but if he does not come round in time…”

    “I know,” Henry agreed, “Jo showed me how to turn the engines over once but I wouldn’t know how to read the gizmos and dials and what not.”

    “Let us hope Jo wakes up then,” Andy concluded, “I mean no disrespect Henry but neither of us are mechanics. Unless Jo wakes up, we are likely to remain adrift in space.

    You Can All Go Ahead and Call Me Andy

    Scotland, 18 months earlier

    “I’m Captain Henry Dunston,” Henry said as he pumped the beautiful Russian woman’s hand,

    “And you must be the navigator.”

    “Senior Lieutenant Andrievicha Yurika reporting for duty sir.” The Russian formally replied.

    “Please,” Henry begged, raising a conciliatory hand, “call me Henry; we are all pretty informal round here, at least when there’s no enlisted chaps about.” Andrievicha nodded but she looked unconvinced.

    “Let me introduce you to the others,” Henry continued as he put an arm around Andrievicha’s waist, which he used to steer her towards a large conference table in the middle of the room where two other men sat.

    Both men rose as Andrievicha approached, the older of the two, a middle-aged academic in country tweeds, introduced himself as Captain Emerson Kavanagh.

    “Excuse me my attire my dear,” He apologised, “I’m a retired navel man and only recently returned to active service. I am here as much a scientist as I am a Commanding Officer.”

    Henry watched the Russian woman shake hands with her new commanding officer and noted that she was clearly not comfortable with their group’s informality. ‘Ah, she’ll get used to us,’ He thought.  “May I call you Andrie…? Andrievitcha my dear? As Henry said, we are all very informal here.” “Of course Sir,” Andrievicha replied.

    “Well Andri… evitcha,” He continued, “Please call me Emerson and allow me to introduce you to a countryman of yours.

    Emerson indicated the third man; a young well groomed gentleman in expensive civilian clothing.

    “Not quite Emerson, not any more I’m afraid,” The third man corrected, also with a Russian accent, “Under other circumstances we might even be considered enemies.” The Russian was outwardly friendly, but Henry could hear the tension in his friend’s usually passive voice.

    “Gregori,” Henry warned.

    “Of course,” The Russian conceded, “That is all by the by for now.” He clipped his heels together and gave Andrievicha a brisk nod while he extended his hand. “I am Gregori Vakovlev and I am at your service.”

    Andrievicha shook the man’s hand and if she had any animosity towards the White Russian refugee, Henry saw no sign of it.

    “I am very pleased to meet you all gentlemen,” Andrievicha announced.

    “And no disrespect intended towards these good gentlemen,” Gregori interrupted, “But if I hear this lovely lady’s name mispronounced one more time, I shall surely go mad and become a Red myself.” Andrievicha politely laughed as Gregori continued, “So please, what name do you think these gentlemen can manage that would be still acceptable to you?”

    Andrievicha regarded each man in turn and then broke into a grin, “You can all go ahead and call me Andy.”

    A Slight Change of Trajectory

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    The first flight into out of space was meant to have been a very quick round trip. Take off, one orbit of the Earth and then home again. ‘Never mind,’ Andy thought, ‘it is not the first time a plan has had to be changed mid-mission.

    “How was Jo when you last checked?”

    “Sleeping like a baby,” Henry replied, “How’s your scanner gizmo thing?”

    “I am not sure,” she said thoughtfully, “I keep getting a faint blip just out of range, only every now and then. We are probably just tracking a small meteorite.” “You don’t sound very sure,” Henry observed.

    “No, something’s not right but, how do you say it? I cannot place my finger upon it.”

    “Fair enough,” Henry announced decisively, taking the control stick, “Let’s see what happens when we make a slight change of trajectory.”

    Run Away to the States my Friend Scotland, 18 months earlier.

    Andrievicha was furious, not only was her military rank not being respected by these decadent Bourgeoisie Westerners, they had just introduced her to an exiled dissident. To add insult to injury, she still had no idea why she was there. Everyone was laughing and congratulating the Russian aristocrat for his ‘Splendid’ idea of changing her name when the older gentleman, supposedly the base’s commanding officer, suddenly remembered she was still there.

    “Oh my goodness, please forgive me… Andy,” Emerson apologised, “I expect you are wondering why you are here.”

    The others took the cue and after inviting Andrievicha to sit, they all joined her around the conference table.

    “It was Gregori’s idea really,” Emerson continued, “To Invite Russia into our little escapade. In point of fact, he practically insisted.”

    “They had to listen,” Gregori interrupted, “I’m personally funding half this mission.” Andrievicha raised an eyebrow.

    “I’m really quite rich you know,” He explained.

    “It makes perfect sense really,” Emerson continued, “The Soviets are currently world leaders in avionics and aeronautics and both our nations have much to fear from an increasingly militarised Germany. If, as we suspect, they are successful in sending a manned flight into space and it they become the only space faring nation, well there’ll be no stopping them.”

    The men waited patiently for Andrievicha to respond but she was stunned into silence.

    “So it only leaves me to welcome you Andy,” Emerson finally continued, “To the British-Russian

    Aeronautical Space Service.”

    “Or BRASS for short,” Henry added.

    Again Andrievicha was stunned but she managed a faint, “I beg your pardon?” Henry took over while Emerson quietly sat back, watching her reaction.

    “That’s the mission you see,” Henry explained, “We are going to try and beat the Germans into space.

    “Can you imagine what would happen if the Nazi’s got there before us?” Emerson interjected,

    “The notion is absolutely inconceivable.” “Space?” Andrievicha managed to stutter.

    “Yes,” Henry continued, “By Rocketship. I’m the pilot and you will be navigating.” “I’m not going,” Gregori chipped in cheerfully.

    “You are the pilot?” Andrievicha asked distantly.

    “Yes,” Henry confirmed.

    “But,” She managed to utter, “Even if that was possible, why me?”

    “You are who your government sent us,” Emerson interrupted gently, “I suspect you’re considered the best ‘man’ for the job.”

    “And what about him,” Andy asked, pointing to Henry, “Is he the best ‘man’ for the job? He’s just a baby?”

    “Hardly,” Henry protested.

    “But you are,” Andrievicha insisted, “How old are you? Twenty-Five? What significant flight experience could you possibly have?”

    Gregori and Henry laughed, sharing a private joke. Andrievicha looked to Emerson, seeking a clue that this was all just one huge elaborate practical joke but he just looked back at her and smiled.

    “I’m sorry Andy, don’t worry,” Henry tried to reassure her, “I’m much older then I look, we both are,” He added, indicating Gregori, who nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

    “I cut my teeth in the Great War,” Henry continued more seriously, “Thirty-four combat missions with the Royal Flying Corps.”

    ”But you’re not old enough,” Andrievicha stated angrily, but this just started Henry and Gregori laughing again.

    “Granted,” Henry eventually conceded, “I suppose I did lie about my age, I volunteered in 1915.” “What? When you were five years old?” Andrievicha said incredulously.

    “Gentleman please,” Emerson finally interrupted, “This is all quite unchivalrous of you. Please put the young lady out of her misery.”

    “Yes of course, sorry Andy,” Henry apologised, “The truth of the matter is that I’m actually thirtyfive years of age, and Gregori is a tad bit older.”

    “We had a run in with an alchemist, Victor Coldwell, in… when was it Henry?” Gregori asked. “

    “1919 I think,” Henry pondered, “1920 maybe? Not long after the war at any rate.”

    “That’s right,” Gregori remembered, “Just before we discovered Kitezh.”

    “Gregori and I met just after the war,” Henry explained, “In London, via a club for gentleman explorers. It was quite the rage at the time.”

    “I believe Coldwell was our first adventure together,” Gregori explained, “He became a bit of a nemesis for us for a few years; I wonder what happened to him.”

    “I think,” Henry said after pondering on the matter for a few seconds, “That he decided to run away to the States my friend.”

    Ten Minutes from Total Destruction

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    Henry floated briskly down the corridor that ran the length of the Rocketship’s mid-section. He had to pull himself along, hand over hand, using the rungs of the ladder that was embedded down the length of the ceiling. Behind him was the hatchway to the cockpit, where he had left Andy at the controls and an unconscious Joseph Kerr. Ahead was an identical hatch that led to his destination, the Engine Room.

    *****

    The blip on Andy’s scanner had immediately moved to match the Rocketship’s trajectory after Henry’s slight change of direction. It was clearly now on an intercept course.

    “Crikey,” Henry said as he watched the blip’s deliberate movement, “That’s not right is it.”

    “No,” Andy agreed thoughtfully, “Check on Jo again, we might need those engines running quite soon.”

    “Wilko!” Henry announced as he skipped over the pilot seat and deftly glided back to where Jo was still seated, slumped forward in his harness. “I’m getting the hang of this space swimming thing now,” he announced proudly.

    “Stop joking around Henry,” Andy scolded, “Whatever that thing is out there, it is not a naturally occurring phenomenon.” “That means…”

    “Exactly,” Andy confirmed, “The Germans have gotten here before us and according to the screen their rocketship’s significantly bigger than ours.”

    “If that’s the case, then they’re probably packing,” Henry agreed.

    Joseph was still out for the count, so Andy took the pilot seat while Henry opened the hatch between the two rear seats.

    “Use the directional jets to turn this thing round the best you can Andy,” Henry advised her as he started to pull open the cockpit hatchway, “And I’ll try and get this tin can running again.” “Only if you get those engines running,” Andy said urgently, “So get going Henry!”

    *****

    Henry had just passed the crew quarter hatchways when the rocketship violently lurched to one side, causing him to lose grip of the ladder and career into the bulkhead. The speaking tube outside the Mess/Common Room started to whistle urgently ahead of him.

    “What is it Andy?” Henry barked down the tube when he finally managed to scramble to it.

    “They have space torpedoes,” Andy announced, stress in her voice, “I easily dodged that first sortie but the closer they get the more accurate they are going to be.

    “I’d better shake a leg then,” Henry said, “I’m only half way down the corridor, how long have we got?”

    “In my estimation,” Andy replied confidently, “We‘re only ten minutes from total destruction.”

    To be continued…

    © Chris Raven 2014

    The House of Treasure

    By A.L Butcher

    Based on the Treasure Thief, an Ancient Egyptian tale.

    In the days before the wars which brought so much calamity to the lands, and the terrible aftermath, the humans were ruled by kings. Some were wise and some were foolish, some were scholars and some were warriors, some were thrifty and some liked gold. This is the tale of one such king.

    King Leto was very rich, his kingdom spanned the lands from the mountains to the plains and his people were many. It was not, however, enough to be lord of a large domain and feared by one’s enemies. This king was obsessed by gold, by jewels, and tribute and the more he accrued the more obsessed he became. His tax collectors were thorough, not a house was spared by their eagle eyes, and so the treasury grew ever bigger. Thieves were all about him, eyeing up the treasure of his kingdom, or so King Leto believed. For where there was power and wealth there was jealousy and fear and some argued that the king was beggaring his land for his own greed.

    Within the kingdom lived a Master Builder, from a long line of stone-masons who had served the royal house for many years. His skill was unmatched and so one day when the king was feeling particularly paranoid about light fingers helping themselves to his hoard the King summoned Master Harwell. “You must build me a mighty treasure house, with a floor of solid rock and walls so thick no man may pick a hole in them; the roof must be a pyramid so that no entrance may be broken through it. A treasure house surely fit for a king or a god.”

    Harwell bowed low, for he too had an obsession, and that was stone-working. Such a temple to wealth and to masonry would surely mean his name would echo through the ages, but he too coveted riches, even more than fame. Fame would not fill his belly nor clothe his children. The king was not a generous man, at least not according to Harwell, but he dare not refuse. “Majesty, life and health to you, I shall build such a treasure house as this world has never seen! Your allies shall marvel at the wonder of it, and your enemies shall wail that your wealth is safe from thieves. On this I’ll wager my life.”

    Day and night Harwell’s stone-masons worked, quarrying and hewing the white stone from the snowy mountains. Many men fell in the obsessive service of their master, for he was a hard man for which to work. Such a building was not built overnight; as the walls slowly rose from the solid bedrock the king grew impatient, for his enemies coveted his gold; both his power and his weakness.

    A great central chamber set with shelves of polished obsidian and chests of finest wood would house the coin, the gems and plate, the priceless art and sculpture, away from prying eyes and nimble fingers, and about it all the shining, sloped walls of a pyramid, bright as the stars and far too slippery to climb. Sliding doors of stone, polished bronze and iron led from outside to the central chamber each locked and sealed with the king’s own seal; that none might copy on pain of death.

    Yet Harwell the Master Builder played his king false. In the thick walls of his Treasure House he made a narrow passage with a pivoted stone at each end that when closed looked and felt like any other part of the wall. Except, of course, to those who knew where to feel for the hidden spring. Thus by this duplicity was Harwell able to add to the reward king Leto had bestowed upon him. A reward the old stonemason thought far too meagre. Perhaps the gods that day were jesting for they had heard his wager; within a few short months Harwell lay upon his deathbed. His two sons crouched close, straining to hear his last whispered words, “The secret passage, use the hidden passage and your mother will want for nothing.”  With his last strength he scribbled the location of the hidden stones, then breath came no more.

    The sons of Harwell were neither fools nor cowards, and with no husband to provide their mother would be hard pressed to feed her lively brood. For her sons were young men and not yet the master masons their father had been. Mistress Harwell herself carried the trade of seamstress but work often was sparse. So it was the daring young men thought to increase the family’s wealth.

    Soon King Leto realized his treasure was mysteriously diminishing, it nearly drove him mad to know someone with light fingers was helping themselves. Someone he thought who was invisible, or perhaps able to pass through walls. Who was this thieving ghost who never broke the royal seals, for they remained as intact as they day they were cast?  Leto knew every object of value he owned and he wailed, and wept, and whined but the treasure continued to go.

    If the thief was cunning the king thought himself even more so and commanded that wicked traps and fine meshes should be set near the most exquisite treasures.  These secret plans were unknown to the Harwell brothers, for duplicity can be the right of kings as well as builders.

    Sure as the sun rises the first brother stepped into the trap, caught like a rabbit in a snare.  Wire wound up his legs and snaked out from the walls, such was the Royal Gaoler’s skill. Escape was futile, for they saw the Gaoler’s seal and knew none had ever fled his clutches. They knew also of his cruelty, a death at his hands was a death long and slow. The young man’s legs were truly caught and he knew soon he would go to join his father.

    “Brother I beg you! Draw your sword and strike off my head, carry it away with you. My time in this life is ended. I am caught in a snare and even your cunning cannot get me out of it. I am certain to be caught, and tortured to reveal my accomplice. Whether I live or die one of the guards is sure to know me. They will then come after you and mother, your deaths will be at my hand.”

    The younger brother shook his head, although his sibling spoke sense he could not bring himself to slay him.

    “You must give me a noble death, taken by one I love to save another. Carry away my head that none may identify us. Would you bring shame to our father and our family? I die knowing you shall be safe from the vengeance of the king.”

    Young Simeon tried to break the trap, but at last realising his brother could not be rescued he drew his sword. Tears stinging his eyes the young man whispered, “Gods take you brother, and keep your soul.”

    For what seemed an age he stared at the fallen head of his beloved brother. He could not believe the soft smile and wiping his eyes he scooped up the head into a sack and thrust both into a handy precious vase. Then young Harwell ran for it, making sure the stones closed behind him and hoping the blood trail did not reveal him as he removed any sign of their tracks.

    As the day dawned King Leto came to his House of Treasure, the monarch saw with wicked relish a figure caught in his trap, but without a head there was no means to identify the treasure thief. Men do not decapitate themselves so where was his accomplice? The Royal Seals still held sure and the King found no sign of the secret entrance. His Master Builder had been the finest in the land, and so the walls were smooth and the floor solid.

    By the time the sun was high the body adorned the outer wall of the city. Guards watched to see if any came to claim it for burial, or to weep and lament at the loss of a son or husband. Soon enough Mistress Harwell learned the whereabouts of her missing son, hanging on the city wall as a common criminal. Crying to her second son the poor woman wailed, “If the body of your brother remains unburied his spirit shall not find peace. Forever will he walk the land as a ghost! You must retrieve the corpse, or I shall go to beg for it from the King, for the respect he bore your father.”

    Young Simeon Harwell tried to convince her the burial of the head would be enough. He had placed it in his father’s tomb and he did not fancy the king’s wrath.  Surely it was better for one son to lie unburied than both sons to be dead and named infamous. She crossed her arms, for her son had confessed his part in their father’s deceit. “If his majesty learns you are the Treasure Thief of so much mischief I cannot help it, for you should have considered that, foolish boy. My husband is gone, and now my first born and my other son a wanted man.” Mother refused to listen and so promises were given to fetch back the remains.

    An old merchant, set out along the road with two donkeys, laden with skins of wine. All along the wall he walked.  A long scarf obscuring his face and thick grey hair about his head not a man or woman recognised the man, and Simeon chuckled beneath his disguise. Stopping to rest close to where the soldiers were encamped he made the donkeys jostle, pushing one against the other. Secretly the merchant pierced the wineskins, so it appeared the harness had done it. The city soldiers were often lazy and liked a drink, and so when the false merchant lamented loudly. He could not decide which skin to save, and so the soldiers quickly obliged by ‘saving’ as much of the wine as they could by containing it in their bellies.

    Having made friends with his gallant ‘rescuers’ the merchant gifted them a second wineskin, drinking but a little himself. Before too long they were well past saying anything, snoring on the ground in the evening sun. Moving off the merchant appeared to go on his way, disappearing around a corner as darkness fell.  Young Harwell quickly sneaked back past the snoring guards and cut down his unfortunate sibling, wrapping the now rather stinking body in empty wineskins and the donkey’s blanket. The poor donkey was not over pleased to be laden with such a burden but being a dutiful beast it plodded homewards. The funeral was completed before the sun rose on a new day.

    His majesty was not best pleased to learn his guards had been drunk and dozing on the job. Leto’s rage at being thwarted was matched only by his obsession for gold. The unfortunate guards were swiftly dealt with, and their companions suddenly became extremely dutiful. The king decreed he would have the Treasure Thief apprehended no matter the cost. Thinking himself as cunning as the interloper he disguised his own daughter as a great lady from a foreign land and bade her camp before the city gates, offering herself as wife to the man who could tell her the cleverest and most wicked deed he had done in all his life.

    The king was not as cunning as he thought, the princess was known about the city and so the Treasure Thief soon guessed who the strange maiden might be and why she was asking these questions.  The young Harwell thought himself such a master of intrigue and deception by this point he determined to outdo even the king.  Chatting up the exotic maiden he visited her just as evening fell, the hand and arm of recently executed man wrapped in a silken sleeve beneath his cloak, pretending it was his own. As the young man and his lady walked he told her he would win her, and she simply repeated she could never marry a dull man. “Tell me the cleverest and most wicked thing you have done,” she told him. “If you are the wickedest and most cunning I shall accept your offer of marriage.”

    Chuckling to himself young Simeon told his tale, but kept the exact location of the chamber to himself. “And so,” he ended, “The wickedest thing I ever dead was cut off my own brother’s head when he was caught in the greedy old king’s secret chamber then steal his body from beneath the noses of the city guard.”

    As the princess becried him, she seized his arm ever tighter and as the guards and servants crowded him, the thief simply slipped away into the darkness, leaving a shocked princess – who saw how well she had been tricked. Yet she found herself taken with this crafty fellow, for anyone with such a cunning mind was exciting. Back at the palace the princess began to persuade her father that such an example of boldness and daring was to be rewarded. For this man had more wisdom than any in the land, save the king, of course.

    At first the royal father would not be dissuaded, but soon she appealed to his sense of pride. For only the thief knew the secret passage and such a cunning fellow could build a great labyrinth and tales would be told of his great deeds. Such a man would soon become a folk hero, and thus if he were pardoned and a royal favourite he could bring much popularity and thus much revenue.

    “Go proclaim the Treasure Thief will gain a pardon and many riches if he henceforth acts as my vizier. For such a cunning brain I would rather have as ally.”

    So it was in the end the young son of the Master Builder became a loyal servant of the king, and took for his wife the young princess. Nor did he ever need to enter the Treasure House by the secret entrance made by Harwell the Master Builder. For now he held the keys….

    The End.

    © A.L Butcher 2014

    <<The App>>

    By Adam Bigden

    Carl Kelly flicked through the list of ‘suggested Apps’ on his phone, dismissing the cooking, TV and Sports ones without thought. Instead he had the feeling he was looking for something that he didn’t know what it was yet. He looked up briefly to survey his surroundings, the cafeteria was deserted. Glancing at the clock on the wall he noted he had a half hour before he needed to be back at work. A flock of birds outside the window caught his attention for a moment, then he focused on the list again, hoping to find something of interest.

    <<Grow your Garden>>

    <<How to whiten your teeth>>

    <<Do anything>>

    <<Daily workout>>

    <<Dice roller>>

    <<Picture editor>>

    His eyes ran down the list, imagining the wondrous things he could do with whiter teeth and a fitter body. His eyes ran back up the list though, settling on <<Do anything>>.

    ‘What piece of crap is this?’ he said to himself, ‘what could this possibly do…..’

    He hit the download button, smirking, and watched the small bar fill from left to right, filling his time by thinking of his wife, Joanna, and took a sip of the strong, sweet coffee in front of him.

    Carl and Joanna had been married for 4 years now, and their relationship was lacklustre at best. It had never been a passionate or whirlwind romance, but something they had both settled into for convenience. They had been happy at first, for a couple of years, but Joanna had wanted more, she had wanted to start a family. Now they were both 28 yet it felt worlds apart. Carl still felt he was in his late teens, never having really seen the need to grow up, and he wanted the freedom and fun that went with that. Joanna however, had withdrawn into herself, sacrificing that kind of youthful pleasure with a yearning to welcome a child into the world with a healthy adult attitude.

    Carl was constantly reminded and reprimanded about his immature and childish ways, his lack of responsibility for his actions and a general all round unreliability. He had been determined, at first, to prove her wrong, and went all out making grand gestures and ‘proving’ to her that he was the man she wanted. He had soon grown tired and bored though, lapsing into his old ways. This was probably the biggest disappointment for Joanna from the long list. She felt she had been lulled into a false sense of security at Carl’s growth, but it had all been a lie. The worst part, thought Carl, was that almost everything she said about him was correct.

    The phone made a small beep as it finished uploading the <<Do anything>> App.

    <<Would you like to start this App now?>>

    Carl’s finger hesitated a moment, somehow getting a flash of intuition that something wasn’t right, then he touched the icon and watched the loading bar fill as it copied the file across.

    <<Data connection successful>>

    A simple looking screen appeared, mostly black with white lettering at the top and a white field for him to type into. The words asked <<What would you like to do?>>

    ‘Heh. I know that I’d rather go home this afternoon.’

    <<Have the afternoon off work>>, he typed with his thumbs. Just putting it into text seemed to lift a little of the stress he had been recently feeling. He touched the ‘Enter’ button and watched the phone process his request. After a moment it came back with a few lines of text:

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Done>>

    Carl snorted to himself in derision and thought, if only it were that simple.

    He put the phone away and headed back upstairs to his desk, making sure he was back 5 minutes early. His boss was a real piece of work, you know, one of those guys who thought his title of ‘Team leader’ gave him some sort of authority over the life of his team members. A real asshole.

    He snuck in without attracting the attention of anyone, the sprawling expanse of cubicles all busy being productive, and he sat down to prepare for the afternoon slog, trying to decide if he should have a cappuccino or a latte. He never finished the thought though as a loud noise echoed through the building.

    The firebell had started to ring. There was almost an audible sigh as frustration rippled through the staff. Carl heard the familiar question of, ‘Is this real or just a practise? I’m really busy’. The Fire Marshalls however, had donned their hi-vis vests though and were starting to herd people towards the Fire Exits. This wasn’t a Drill.

    Having grabbed his jacket on the way, Carl spent the next few minutes winding down the staircase that led to the Car Park, the giggles and chatter surrounding him reminiscent of being at school.

    Carl absent mindedly checked his phone for texts or social media contacts, but nothing had come though. He was just about to put it away again when he noticed a new icon in the corner. It was for the <<Do anything>> app. Opening it up he saw that his last request had been added to some sort of list. It was in green lettering and had tick beside it.

    Frowning, he looked around again at the people he was being herded with, a stray thought crossing his mind, but it was dismissed almost as soon as it arrived.

    A few minutes later he was in the Car Park lining up with his team. He was smoking a cigarette with Jeff, the really nerdy guy who knew the answer to all his computer worries.

    ‘…so you have no idea what’s going on?’ Carl asked Jeff.

    ‘None at all, but….hang on…..what’s that?’ and Jeff went silent and slightly ashen faced, looking at the building they had just come from.

    The flames were licking the inside of the windows, reflecting both orange and black as the soot settled on the cool glass. A few others were beginning to notice, worried voices starting to create an atmosphere of low level panic.

    It was the sirens from the Fire Engines that really set people off, as they arrived at speed and rolled out the hoses, charging into the building.

    All organisation disappeared and the crowd dispersed into the street, as far away as possible from the burning building. One of the Directors was speaking now, sending everyone home for the afternoon, asking them not to worry and to come in the following morning. He was sure that everything would be ok.

    Carl realised with a shiver that he now had his afternoon off….

    Carl and Jeff gave each other the look that non-verbally said ‘Pub?’ Both nodding they headed to the local for a pint. After Jeff got the drinks in and sat at the outside table with Carl, they talked about the fire.

    ‘Proper weird that fire, it didn’t seem to be going until everyone was outside… Oi! I’m talking mate, at least pretend to listen,’ Said Jeff, taking a long draught of his pint and giving Carl an irritated stare.

    Carl seemed to have been somewhere else, just looking off into space for a minute.

    ‘Sorry Jeff, just got some things on my mind. What were you saying?’

    ‘That fire, weird innit. One minute nothing, then all the smoke and flames. At least we got a break eh?’

    Carl looked thoughtful, went to say something then dismissed it with a shake of his head.

    Jeff noticed this and pursued Carl. ‘What is it, what’s on yer mind? You can’t not say it out loud.

    You’ve been quiet, and nothing freaks me out more that you being quiet. Spit it out fell!’

    ‘Well, this is going to sound like I’m out of my mind, but the coincidence is incredible. So it started at lunch…….’

    Carl went on to explain to Jeff about the <<Do anything>> App. By the end, Jeff was on his phone trying to find it to download. Try as he might though, he could not locate it. He looked at it on Carl’s phone, studying it with analytical interest.

    ‘So if what you say is true, then that’s one freaky phone you got there. Lets test it, just as a control experiment, but perhaps something not pyrokinetic to the extreme eh!’ ‘What shall we ask for?’ Mused Carl.

    They both supped their pints, discussing a lot of mundane ideas, but settled on something practical and specific. Carl typed into the white field on the screen again.

    <<We would like a free round of drinks>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Done>>

    They both took a breath, waiting for magic drinks to appear, but after ten minutes of nothing Carl gave up, stood up and declared he knew it was rubbish and was getting another round in.

    Carl lined up at the bar, it was surprisingly busy, the TV screens showing some football match coverage. The support was pretty vocal and the people jostled him as he wound through them to the bar. He had found a space between a massive guy in a rugby shirt, and a very afraid looking skinny guy in a suit. Rugby shirt man was shouting at the TV making skinny man wince in discomfort. Carl turned to the skinny man, his voice oozing sarcasm. ‘Nice quiet pint?’ followed by a disarming smile. The skinny man looked a little relieved to not be on his own in thinking this. ‘There’s plenty of space outside if you need a bit of room’.

    Carl ordered his drinks with the harassed looking barman. He looked around while he waited, and saw the skinny man give him a smile and a mouthed ‘thank you’ as he headed for the beer garden.

    It was a few minutes later that Carl finally got the drinks and was trundling back outside. He spotted the skinny man in a corner reading the paper in peace. Once his eyes fell onto Jeff though his enquiring mind was trying to work out what he saw before him. Jeff was wet, drenched, his hair plastered down onto his scalp. Carls look as he put the drinks on the table must have said it all.

    ‘You are never gonna believe this Carl!’ Jeff began, with a big stupid grin on his face. Before he could say anything though the landlord came outside with a pint in each hand, looked a bit sheepish at Jeff and plopped the pints in front of them, the Landlord addressing a grinning Jeff.

    ‘Like I said, sorry about that, the punters get a little boisterous when the sports are on and I lost my balance when he barged into me on his way to the loo. These are on the house, thanks again for not being a grumpy sod about it.’

    He turned and retreated back inside the Pub, his red face starting to recede. Jeff was beside himself with energy and could barely control his volume.

    ‘Did you SEE that Carl! It works, it bloody works!!! A round, what we asked for, you HAVE to try it again!!’

    Carl was agog with surprise, downing half his pint before he was able to say anything. An eerie calm settled upon him, and he poured the last half of his drink down his gullet.

    ‘This is a big responsibility Jeff, I can’t go round asking for whatever stuff I think of. The next one has to be something that matters, like world peace or something. I have to get home, I’m feeling a bit worse for wear, that’s two pints in the afternoon and I’m just not used to it.’

    Jeff began to protest, but Carl silenced him with a look that said ‘not now’. Carl gathered his things and exited the pub via the side gate so as to avoid the throng inside.

    He wasn’t really paying attention to the world as he plodded to the bus stop. Carls mind was reeling with possibilities and ideas, yet he still didn’t buy into it in the same easy way that Jeff had. Something was bothering him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

    The bus journey home was occupied in thought, he was on autopilot, and before he knew it Carl was approaching the front door of his 2 bedroom house. There was something wrong with this picture though. Standing across the street he had to really think through the beer fog to realise that there was a strange car on his drive. A 2 year old Audi. It looked expensive.

    He paused for a minute, then headed to the door to listen.

    Crouching down he could clearly hear noise from inside. Noises he recognised, noises he hadn’t wanted to hear, but feared he might do. Joanna was having sex with someone. A someone that wasn’t him. Adding insult to injury, it was someone who could afford a car like that.

    He had never felt so alone.

    Glancing at his watch he realised that even with going to the pub, he normally wasn’t home for another hour. He decided to walk off the beer and took a stroll round the park to think and to pass the time. That’s what he told himself anyway, Carl was terrified and upset, devastated yet understanding.

    He thought of how he loved Joanna, and of how he must have pushed her away. How desperate for company she must have been to have an affair. He knew her, he swore he did, but he never saw this coming. He began to feel an angry outrage, brought on by his feeling of worthlessness. A thought struck him, something both devious and morally dubious that he was in the mood to perform. Whipping out his phone he opened up the <<Do anything>> app.

    <<Make Joanna Love me>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Done>>

    The sceptical side of him disbelieved that anything would change, but that was ok, he felt better just having an outlet for his pain. Heavy hearted he headed for home.

    The car was gone and there was no trace that it had ever been there. The front door looked like it normally did, but with a sinister air about it, daring Carl to come inside. Not knowing what was going to happen on the other side of that door began to eat away at Carl. Gathering himself, he opened it and stepped into their home.

    ‘Carl, is that you? I’m in the kitchen’ said a woman’s voice from further down the hallway.

    ‘Hi Hun, yes it’s me….’ His words stuck in his throat as he came into the kitchen to see Joanna at the stove with a full roast on the go. The room had no work surface left visible under the various trays, plates and bowls that contained a broad variety of trimmings for the feeding of the five hundred.

    Joanna was a petite slim woman with pale highlights and an elfin hairstyle, she sauntered over to him, embraced him and held him close. She whispered in his ear.

    ‘I love you.’

    She sounded so sincere, so like the Joanna she had been when they met, that he fell into love with all over again. It was so similar to when they had first got together that all rational faculty had fled him.

    ‘Love you too’ he replied, a little nervously. She gave him a crooked smile and went back to preparing the colossal meal.

    ‘We expecting company?’ he asked.

    ‘No, just you and me, I wanted to make you something special, to show you how much I love you.’ She said, and shot him a look that made his hackles rise as though he was being stalked by a predator. What was it he had seen in her eyes just then? Passion, mania, full on mental? Whatever it was, he felt some of his confidence slip away. It couldn’t get any worse could it?

    Later that night in bed, Carl stared at the dark ceiling, not altogether feeling comfortable. The evening had passed well enough, but Joanna wasn’t quite herself.

    After the gargantuan meal, of which two thirds was packed into the freezer, she hadn’t taken her eyes off him all night. She sat next to him while in front of the TV, just staring at his face. It was like that feeling you get when a dog waits patiently for you to give it some titbit of food, which is cute in its own way, but there is always that thought that crosses your mind that they are eyeing you up as the next meal. Joanna looked hungry and maybe a little feral.

    When they got into bed she had wanted sex, but not the way she normally liked it. She was angry, ecstatic and wild simultaneously. It wasn’t the woman he loved.

    He turned over in bed to try and get some rest. He dismissed what he thought he saw, not wanting to believe it. He could have sworn she had her eyes open, blankly staring at him.

    Joanna was downstairs the next morning, getting the breakfast ready, while Carl dressed. He was cautious as he stalked down the stairs, trying not to grab her attention, but it was too late.

    ‘Morning sleepyhead’ she greeted him and adding a conspiratorial wink.

    ‘Err Hi!’ he managed to sputter out.

    ‘I have a surprise for you, it’s on the table’ she voiced, with a creepy cheekiness.

    On the table Carl saw a red envelope. It was next to the full English breakfast, waffles, pancakes, cereal and fruit she had prepared. He started to feel a little scared.

    ‘Don’t stand on ceremony, open it!’ she urged.

    Carl sat down at the table and tore the seam of the red paper and spilled the contents onto the table. He was very confused at first, but gradually understood what she had been up to. There were tickets for a round the world cruise and a ten grand down payment on a new car, the one he had been eyeing up last week. The paperwork was the receipts printed from the internet bookings she had made that morning.

    ‘I thought you deserved all this, you’re such a good man Carl’. Carl swore he heard a threatening tone in the timbre of her voice. He started mentally totting up the cost of this envelope.

    ‘I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this lot is worth over 25k! Where did you get the money for it?’ Carl stammered.

    ‘What are credit cards for Hun, but to reward yourself when you most deserve it. Don’t you like them?’ The thought he wasn’t happy made her look equally crestfallen and full of ire.

    Knowing better than to tempt fate for an explosive argument, Carl just placated her by saying that he loved them and looked forward to his rewards. Inside though, he felt a deep ache, sickening and gut wrenching in its strength. He had to put this right somehow.

    On the bus on the way to work, he brought up the <<Do anything>> app once more, the green letting and ticks next to his previous requests mocked him and made him feel like he was wasting his time asking for rubbish. He opened the page for requests and typed.

    <<I want £1,000,000>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Done>>

    This would be a real test, let’s see what it comes up with this time, he thought, challenging the world to somehow make this one happen. If it did work, then his credit card bills would at least be sorted.

    A half hour later he received a text from his bank.

    Unusually large deposit received into your account, please check details and contact us if there are any concerns or questions. Thank you.

    Checking his online banking on his phone he went pale at the balance. There was indeed over a million in his account. The rush of emotions crippled him and the best he could muster was a small whimper, which attracted the attention of the elderly woman sitting next to him.

    ‘You all right dear? You look a little peaky.’ She asked kindly.

    Carl could only manage a nod, but his eyes showed the emotional strain he was under.

    ‘Ok dear, well if you change your mind I’m a good listener’ she said, her warm friendly eyes showing genuine concern.

    He stumbled off the bus at the next stop, it wasn’t the one closest to work, but he needed to walk, to think, to process this incredible power he now had.

    Carl found himself sitting on a park bench in front of a duck pond. He watched them with interest as they fed, swam and flew. He was jealous of them, he wished he could just fly off into the sunset leaving all this madness behind him. He suddenly craved a simple life. He just didn’t feel he had the stamina to deal with it. He pulled out his phone and started up the <<Do anything>> app once more. His fingers trembled as he typed his request into the white text field again.

    <<I want to be able to fly away>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Accessing Data…>>

    <<Done>>

    He noted the connection to his network was still active. Perhaps this was a harder demand to fulfil.

    Standing up he looked dishevelled in his suit, his outside reflecting the inside. Gazing towards the ducks above he raised his arms to the sky, willing himself to ascend with all his heart.

    Carl rose, slowly at first, unsure of what it was exactly that he was doing, but after a few minutes he felt he was beginning to have a grasp on how it worked. He had risen to several hundred feet, the landscape laid out before him, the houses and cars retreating into insignificance. There were cries of alarm far below, but Carl was too focused on his new found ability.

    He flew north, towards the city, using Canary Wharf tower as a rough landmark to navigate by. He flew higher and higher, until he was looking down on London. It was both beautiful and peaceful up here. Away from the turmoil he had been through, away from the new and crazy Joanna, away from his dead end job. He felt free.

    Carl was cruising very high, following the path of the Thames, near to the moored battleship HMS Belfast when he felt the power of flight desert him suddenly. He plummeted downwards, heading for the river, the sunshine glinted off the water, momentarily blinding him.

    Carl didn’t have time to scream. He hit the water head on, the impact breaking his body internally, resulting in instantaneous death. His last thought was ‘What went wrong?’

    When they recovered his body later that day, the Police went through his belongings. His mobile phone miraculously unharmed. The evidence photograph showed the last message he had received. It was from his Network.

    <<Data limit reached>>

    The End.

    © Adam Bigden 2014

    Sparks

    By Donny Swords

    The fatal error occurred around the hemi quadrant. Signs of oxygen leakage were apparent enough as the Dirvak race faced its last omen. As pressure escaped the cabin, it began to buckle. A thin vapor scented the air, the control panel sparked…

    With one tiny electric pulse, one minute spark, thousands of years of hiding came to a close. The Dirvak’s war with the Scala ended with the deaths of the last Dirvaks- Fula, Tantas, Zena, and Koat.

    Damish, king of Scapinia had his victory, so with the combustion of Ranca, the Dirvak’s ship, he ordered a new course. They would go home in triumph. The Scalas put their present galaxy behind them, shifting into hyper drive.

    Forgotten were the few stones passing as planets in the insignificant galaxy. Forgotten once again was Ranca’s wreckage, the Dirvak Vuls, and those things that when lost might be found.

    Ranca burned like a firefly in the cobalt sky. Where Ranca’s wreckage reached, ghostly light glistened glamorously over emerald greens and delicate ivories across the mountain prairie, orange and lurid. Ufburk, a mountain man of the Taraks watched the ship fall in fiery rain, as he sat frozen in the field.

    Cultural eons separated the viewer from the viewed. What fell was alien to the Tarak race, and to Ufburk’s dismay, it fell nearby, smoldering in the drop cliffs near Whispering Stream. The explosion’s blinding flash still haunted his primitive mind, one that would have been as shocked to see a wheel as a detonating space transport from 57 galaxies away. Inventions, other than a few weapons of wood and stone, or netting were rarities to the bearded native.

    For 23, Ufburk was fiercer than his peers were, though peak ages in his clan usually numbered a dozen years higher. In his 35th year, a Tarak became a hunter. This period marked the peak years of their physical prowess. With melancholy, he stared after the fawn he had tracked as it fled fleetingly, leaving him little or no hope of returning to camp with supper.

    As pieces of searing shrapnel shot towards and entered the atmosphere, they howled through the wind, shrieking like the banshees at Tib Summit. Ufburk paid rapt attention knowing whatever he saw did not belong. His hackles harassed his hardy disposition, tingling his backbone like thorny feathers.

    The frigid air chaffed his high cheekbones, as the wind whipped his knotted mane sideways and back again. He felt nothing- nothing other than the surmounting curiosity, and odd superstition. Where the sky bled disintegrating teardrops in millions of torrid torches tumbling from the heavens, Ufburk sighted a few pieces actually reaching land, near the stream.

    Whispering Stream was a dangerous place- especially at night. The stream itself lay in a gulley, cut deep and dividing the land for hundreds of miles. The steep climb down, while treacherous, at least afforded a false security for Ufburk. Footholds located themselves under his searching feet, and handholds came easily. He wondered if he could locate the debris under the darkened night the gully granted.

    Progress was steady, though the wind gusted sporadically seeking to throw him from the cliff face. He persevered; his thick muscles remained capable amidst the heavy strain. As he descended the darker places, swathed with shadows, his survival instincts excited him. He almost went back up several times. There was no telling what he would find. Whispering Gully seldom had visitors. As he made his way closer and closer to the floor, the scent on the air was thick- the smell of burning plastic and white hot metal.

    The frozen floor crackled as the crust gave way to Ufburk’s leather moccasins. He cursed his luck. Sound carried well in Whispering Gully. It radiated from the stony surfaces and ice faster than the predators lining the forest floor to his southwest soon would.

    They did; their cries sounded awful, like a person slowly torn in two. Ufburk heard some of their strides and he marked their trajectories accordingly. He pulled out his stone cudgel, prepared to fight now that it came to it. His weapon was weighty, its head formed by ebon granite and iron. Most men would have died it the next few moments. Hearing a crinkle from a few yards off, he whirled with his weapon swinging in a round, vertical arc.

    A strange cat, with striped fur had jumped at him, but now it lay broken at the spine and ribs, dying from internal bleeding. More came but Ufburk smote them. The exchange transpired in a blur of motions, shadows, and misting scarlet. Shattered and strewn about were Ufburk’s assailants, failures trans-mutated to pulp with dust for bones.

    He kept moving, low and silent. Waiting around freshly killed flesh was folly within Whispering Gully. Bad things could happen. They often did. He wondered if he was mad, not knowing he had the same disease every man has. He wanted answers. Knowledge, or the search for it, often precedes violent conflicts… and rivalry- a kind of knowledge linked to jealousy.

    Something drives men in ways unmentionable. Compulsions trigger actions, perhaps set by genetics, maybe by culture. The concept of death does not dissuade the pursuer. The tribesman hunched lower, moving lightly to not disturb stones or soil. Things tracked him in the thick trees, often on higher ground. Here he was extra cautious.

    He found a thin path, lit eerily by ghostly starlight, too far away, affording him an advantage as far as remaining silent, but still a creeping trepidation concerned him over what had made the trail. As he kept to the path, a kind of necrosis settled in making his skin crawl… paranoid thoughts took hold, forming questions.

    What things had made the road he trod?

    What lunacy possessed him to risk himself and explore such dangerous forests?

    Nothing by way of satisfaction came to him; he would keep going. The only way was forward. There would be answers down the line. He cross-referenced his memories of the falling debris to where he presently was, comparing this result again, with where it came down. He felt confident the trail would lead him at least partially there, if it did not deliver him altogether.

    He did his measured best to keep his ears open wide for the tiny dragons who found small game in the gully easier to corner. His father, Tiber, had fought with these beasts. The young barbarian had an advantage because of his father’s bravery, and his tales about the scampa, the dragon-bred tribesmen who offered war to his clan every twenty or so years… well those stories added to his unease.

    Luckily, Tiber claimed that most of the dragon-men and the beasts they intermingled with were dead- killed by his war hammer. Superstition kept most away from the gully, so confirmation one way or the other was not forthcoming.

    The wind picked up, sounding shrill as it whipped through the branches. Looking upwards, Ufburk could not even see the cliff landing he had come from. Doubling back might prove a challenge. Perhaps he would find Tiber’s ropes still hanging by the Falls of Ern.

    Where they lacked technology, the barbarians, the Tarak people, had built a society advanced enough in language for going on forty ages now to have a working alphabet. Nothing happened without a recording of it, and though Ufburk’s main function for his people was as a scout, he often studied the tablets old Valera kept in her basement.

    Presently, he recognized the scene before him. The debris would be past the clearing, at the side of the westward knoll. Nothing heard him and nothing challenged him as he moved his hulking frame with feline suppleness and surety across the jungle floor.

    Soon the jagged cliffs and jutting palms gave way to open skies and Ufburk did find himself in the clearing. No dramatic fires burned about, though a thin thread of smoke did rise on the other side of the five-mile wide western clearing.

    The dragons would hunt here, if they still lived at all. Ufburk did not make a sound; he just crouched, waiting to ascertain if anything diverse had noticed his presence. He felt sure nothing had. Reaching out, he took a strand of tall grass in between his thumb and forefinger, dry enough to rustle considerably, too wet to burn swiftly. Perhaps it was a blessing that the debris, seen smoking in the distance had not burned down the field, though it left him a test as well.

    Crossing was his only course of action to take- unless he went back. He was not fool enough to expend his energy and not achieve his goal… Ufburk was not quitting now. It took time. When he was finally across the field, and a few feet at best from the small object, the smoke had abated and the sun was high overhead. Making his way, the barbarian had used extreme caution, and though it was time consuming, he negotiated the grassy field without frightening so much as a reptile. He was proud of his achievement, though it was not in him to boast.

    With the reason for his quest lying just a yard away, the scene felt surreal. It was. It wasn’t because of the birds singing in the scattered trees a touchdown off, nor was it for the level of brightness in the otherwise dark gully that day, nor was it for the dangers he’d met, or for those he avoided. No, the reason was the content of the scene.

    Presently, a young man, not yet a hunter, stood over an object unlike any on his world. Its shape was atypical of his society and did not fit in there, or on his planet. But Ufburk did not know of such things. He had never seen metal, except in its natural form, pressed as minerals in stone. The thing gleamed- a bright, chrome silver, gaudy and out of place. It was lengthy to one end, sausage shaped and wide, the other came down in an L-shaped section, wider, a grip, and finally underneath was a round guard, large enough for one finger, and inside of this- a lever.

    Man and object locked in that single moment, when Ufburk, presented with something he could not comprehend stared fixedly at the gleaming object.

    What am I seeing?

    What should I do?

    The answer came to him at some length. He had to bring the object back to the village; his father, the Chieftain, could decide the fate of the shiny thing. Well, that was the logical solution, but his instincts fought him. Each time he reached for the silver photon blaster his hand jerked back unwilling to see the reason in touching the thing. This cat and mouse game went on for a time, until he heard a cat cry out in the distance. Not wishing to fight that particular variety of cat, Ufburk put his hand out and touched the handle, curling his fingers around its cold, calculated grip…

    Suddenly he felt more powerful. As peculiar as it was, his brain, already seeking to decipher the identity and uses of that which he clutched in his hand, his forefinger found the lip of the trigger guard and slipped inside… to touch the trigger. Those same instincts caused him to jerk his finger away as from fire, as if fingertips sense more than their owners do.

    Nervously turning towards camp, Ufburk unknowingly applied tactics often taught to the bowmen of the village. He held the weapon out in front of him, almost as if he was a cop, although understanding police on his world would have proven just as difficult as it was to explain the space blaster protruding from his fist. He traveled in a hushed reverence, marveling at, and learning to like the weapon. Its lines were magnificent, its traceable design splendid, it fit his hand well, and it had good weight.

    Ufburk had always been an upright member of his tribe. The Tarak people were a peaceful group, aside from their brushes with the dragon-men and Tiber’s warring with them. They lived in peace as well. Unknowingly, Ufburk’s find could change everything for his people, for his planet.

    Would things really change?

    His father would make the decision, not him… Or had he already made his choice? Ufburk had fallen in love with the shiny space blaster… He began to imagine not going back, and keeping his prize. It was his after all.

    Heat rose from the forest floor, bringing steaming mists as high as his armpits, hampering visibility for footing. He kept the blaster away from the mists, selfishly worried they might tarnish its finish. He carried the weapon, still ignorant as to what it was, what it had done, and who once wielded it.

    Ufburk did not need to remember, the weapon had memories all its own, and under the grip, a hidden compartment held algorithms and settings to kill many things too large or menacing for normal fire. For as much trouble as he had gone to, he still did not have answers. He thought he did, that his new bauble would tell the rest… unfortunately he might have been right…

    Finding the cliff face he had used to reach the floor, Ufburk took a moment to thank the gods for delivering him without incident. Then he began to scale the cliff wall, his rigid fingers finding purchase as the pillars that passed for his legs found footholds, helping to propel him upward. His wide shoulders and heavily muscled back supported his massive arms and legs in their quest to reach the top as sweat beaded at his flattened brow, pulled taut the same as his muscles by determination. A few birds singing from the path above gave him all the extra he needed, and soon he was pulling himself over the ledge and standing alone in his people’s forest… His mind warned him of danger, and he mistook that warning for outlying enemies from the forest, not for what it was, intuition.

    He carried that which should not be… and his pride of possession would not let him go. As night began to give in to day, Ufburk allowed the blaster to enthrall him. Though he held the weapon outward, while still not understanding what it was, or why he did so, the Dirvak weapon actually held Ufburk captive. He resisted its curves, lines, glamor, and gleam not at all.

    As sunrays began to warm the tree tops, the foul living there issued morning songs, decorated with some mystery Ufburk had never understood. He was a mystery now too, not the man he was even a day before. His discovery had changed him.

    Tiber kept the topside (above Whispering Gully) well patrolled. Ufburk began to sweat, not from the rising heat of morning, or from expending energy, but from nervousness. For no reason, his teeth began to chatter, spasms pulled at his tendons, making his limbs difficult to use. His hollows leapt inside him. The sky grew brighter, and the weapon shone brighter. His mind, sensing some sort of pandemonium ahead, began to wrestle with his reality. Some clarity of thought had continued within his narrowed mind after all.

    He was an outcast.

    He knew that now. Ufburk was not sure why he was heading back- not anymore. Rightfully, he could escape, he reasoned. Tiber would not see him as an enemy. This would keep his father from

    sending the war dogs after him, but it would not see him left alone- to his devices…

    The weapon was his! He had found it. He would keep it…

    Yet reason clung on, an imposter to his ever-growing population of possessive thoughts and actions. Unaware, Ufburk began to creep along, his eyes narrowing to slits…

    A beast, four-legged, of a race of stocky, long-haired cattle came crashing through the bushes startling the daydreaming Ufburk, whose transformation into a different person was still underway, as his sense of ownership grew, and the insidious promise of power, seductively disguised behind the outward beauty of the object of his desire, drove him on. He became unwilling to speak, even to Tiber. He would gather his belongings and leave… There was in fact no motive for even letting them see what he had. It was not theirs, but his. He would keep the ray gun and do with it what he wished…

    And still, even while at the verge of casting his lifestyle and culture aside, Ufburk did not wonder what he held. Some say souls recycle themselves and that no matter the level of peace, others constantly threaten sanctity from the outside in. His life had been a bore. He was not his father. He did not want the Chieftain’s rod…

    Lifting his hide tunic, Ufburk tucked the thing away. Out of sight was far from out of mind. Out came his cudgel, in case someone saw the laser gun sparkle and tried to take it. One that day, greed became his new ruler, his father, nor anyone held sway over his wishes… even if he barely knew what he wanted… A life with his new bauble- yes, but what else would he have?

    Would it be a life as emptied as his mind? With a singular desire, to keep the weapon from anyone else, not because of how they might use it, but because it belonged to him… No other would have it. It was not up for bargain, and neither was he. Ufburk’s once open mind had begun to cloud. A new word found its way to his heart and mind- dominion- He would make a new life- away from prying eyes. The weak would follow him, and under him grow strong, for the gods had given him a gift, which he intended to put to use. He was too weak to question himself, his reasoning, or motives, so he kept on.

    Falk saw him to the gate, appearing put off by the larger Ufburk and his eerie behavior. The barbarian had entered his village home for the final time. Something spoke silently to him as he made way to his hut. It was not meant to be. Falk had already sent a message to Tiber, who in turn sent a summons delivered by Rumson, which Ufburk received then. Duty-bound but conflicted, the near rogue Ufburk went to his father, to hear what he would…

    The village, made up of logs, mud, and thatch was set up around a central well. Avenues were constructed to accommodate Tiber’s orders, after the great fires of Genghis Galna, the dragon leader who burned the old village to the dirt….

    As Falk led Ufburk to his father, Tiber sat on his chair, fretting over what he would say to his son- to better his people. Tiber lived long, his years outnumbering the eldest of the tribe by a count of 115- young still for a Chieftain. Tiber’s own father, Edils, was 259 the year he was born. Recordkeeping was an art amongst Tiber’s clan, but as the scribes passed on to the great expanse so too did their wagging tongues.

    Power is fleeting. Put in the leader’s role, few are commanding. Tiber had no such problem. He sat atop his chair, a mountain of muscle with accomplishments that went back to his 20th year… when they had come. Edils had tried to appease the angry gods, the largest of which were the size of several huts- scaled, horned, wild-eyed, and fire breathing… the others, the worker class, were the lizard men of legends, the dragon people. The gods had been unwilling to hear Tiber’s elder leader.

    War- if one called it that- broke out. Edils fell to Barak, the dragon commander, his stone axe turned to dust by Barak’s synthetic hammer, which sparked against the darkness as Tiber watched his father die. The Fair Gods ignored Tiber’s pleas… and he had made Barak pay his debt- with his very life.

    That was long ago. Presently, Tiber sat bolt upright awaiting his beloved son. As a father, he desperately longed for his son, oftentimes stubborn, to hear him and obey. The Dark Gods did what they wished, toying with his race whenever their messy lives spilled over onto the Taraks.

    He might have avoided much misery or averted it altogether by telling Ufburk the truth. Tiber did not know what his son had discovered- and not knowing tugged at his sense of ease. He only hoped it was not too late. But the signs were telling. During Tiber’s 94th year, a change had swept over his limited state. So, feeling something astir within, he went on his pilgrimage, to the channel of Miasma at Earth’s end. There his core powers came to him. Each year his empathic impulses grew stronger, focused.

    What his instincts said then came through the muck of unease, cloudy and worrisome… Tiber awaited his son, uncertain, but hopeful…

    Ufburk appeared in front of his father nervous as before, with greed gnawing at his guts. The pistol no longer in plain view, his motives deftly concealed. Tiber looked every bit the Chieftain, with his arms folded across his chest in a gesture of outright dominance. His hunger ate at him, so overwhelming that Ufburk questioned his presence there- though truly his mind was actively searching for a retreat. He wanted to take leave of his father’s knowing eyes, his penetrating stare. Near his father, the barbarian felt rather small and at 23, he could not make a case for his own wisdom versus Tiber’s in the best scenario.

    Rumson bowed to Tiber and departed when dismissed. Tiber assessed his son, to make certain to address him fairly. As Ufburk’s sire, the ruler knew his son could be hardheaded.

    “Son, where did you go to during the firestorm?”

    “I did not wish to worry you. I followed the fire tails to the gulley.”

    Behind him, Ufburk heard the maiden Iredell gasp, a murmur swept through the chamber.

    “Enough! Bal please encourage our company to take leave.”

    Upon Tiber’s command, the chamber emptied at once, leaving only Bal, Tiber’s two guards, and Ufburk alone within the room.

    “Son, come to your father; take my hand, and let me ease your confusion.”

    Tiber ordered the others out, saying nothing more until their backs had long since blackened the doorway. Ufburk began to regard his father coolly, as his nerves subsided, and his curiosity took root. Father never acted the way he was then, and his son sensed the significance of his circumstance.

    “What I am about to say can leave this chamber only in your mind. You may also choose to keep it in your heart- though to do so might hurt. Pain can be avoided my son, for everyone. When you took my hand, I felt what you carry.”

    Ufburk stiffened, attempting to stand, though he did not recall having sat. Tiber pushed his son back down smoothly- not roughly- before speaking once more…

    “What you carry is evil, as are its creators. They called themselves the Dirvaks or the Scalas… it does not matter whom that thing you carry comes from- it must be quarantined. We cannot expose the Taraks to this danger. You must trust what I say as the truth, for I am your father, and I know what I am saying.”

    Seeing the confusion in his son’s eyes, Tiber chose to explain further.

    “You do not have to decide now. Follow me, where none shall hear us, and I shall explain everything. It’s okay son- you can trust me. I will let you make your own choice, though what you hold is no longer a secret to me- come.”

    As Tiber stood, the significant Ufburk felt dwarfed by his father’s towering status. Turning, Tiber motioned for his son to follow him, as they set down the brick corridor to the Chieftain’s chambers, where beyond that, Ufburk had never known what rooms existed, or what they held.

    Tiber came to a halt near a curtained wall, southward of his sleeping quarters.

    “Beyond lies a piece of our history that only I know. Not even Falk knows everything. The following burdens me to speak of, but you must understand telling what lies beyond is an offense punishable by death. Do you understand?”

    “Yes.”

    Tiber traced the bricks with his meaty forefinger, where he pushed at the upper edge of one. Ufburk quickly cataloged the location of the lever, even as the wall stood open, revealing a deep stairwell cut into stone. Torches shot into life, and the barbarian’s eyes widened at such sorcery, appalled that his father would allow its use after Shay brought the Tarak’s lives to desperation in the frozen age.

    Though the landing held a small stool, Ufburk knew he was alone with his father in the chamber.

    The secret pathway silently sealed behind them. They descended the stairs silently. As he followed, Ufburk counted the steps as he descended. They reached the floor at 448. Darkness curtained all but the small area the torches lit, but the black chewed away at the illumination, leaving no edges where the ebon swath addressed the light.

    A fated chill stole its way down Ufburk’s spine.

    Tiber stopped abruptly.

    “Here son, are all of my secrets. I have shame in admitting this, though I must face my responsibilities. You may disagree with my tactic, but I have kept this world from failing through them. The peace we enjoy I created with my warring. For this, I offer no apologies. I wish I could have told you the truth.” “What truth father?”

    “We are not alone son. The dragon priests and their men-gods no longer walk our lands, but in the stars overhead, their wars wage on. Several years back, I made my quest to the life stream. The Miasma said what it wanted for the bargain. I accepted so I could force the dragons from our world. What you are carrying must remain here, below us, so it will not alter our society by influencing greed and apathy as it tries to foster in you. You must let it go son- it’s the only way.”

    Ufburk stiffened at his father’s words. Backing away with his torch out before him, a rush of jealousy, greed, and confusion swept over the young barbarian. He was about to learn things he would rather forget…

    Tiber hurled his torch behind him, where it brought light to a myriad of suspended faces, stone like and still.

    “Behold, the masters of the forgotten, defilers brought low by the Miasma’s love for the Taraks… Their alien designs conflict with our customs son. We would not know war at all, were it not for them. So here, the Miasma keeps them. I am only its servant. The dragon men still at large seek what you hold, if it does not stay here, they will find it.”

    “Ha! Yet I have found it! Pity you two shall not see the kingdoms I will topple and build. But luck has you losing…”

    Still concealed, the blaster felt warm on Ufburk’s hip, and as Falk addressed him and his father things began to make sense. Falk had always seemed odd…

    Tiber blurted out his confusion, “Falk! What is the meaning of this?”

    “I have come to free them,” Falk’s eyes sparked in the dimly lit cavern, exposing his true nature…

    “Draco…”

    “Yes Tiber, and I have come back- er- forward to offer you my revenge… You should not have harmed them Tiber… Now you must pay!”

    A flash shone across their faces, lit by silver light, and a crimson beam cut through the air, vaporizing Falk in one scorching blast… The smell of charred flesh was all for a long, heavy second.

    “May I keep the weapon guarded, or do you chose to kill me too?” Tiber implored of his son.

    Ufburk did not move, and he did not reply, and while he waited to decide his and his father’s fate, the world hung in limbo…

    The End

    © Donny Swords 2014

    Rocketships of BRASS (Part Two)

    Dead in the Water

    By Chris Raven

    Prologue

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    “Crikey,” Henry said as he watched the blip on Andy’s scanner deliberately move to match the

    Rocketship’s trajectory, “That’s not right is it.”

    “No,” Andy agreed thoughtfully, “Check on Jo, we might need those engines running again quite soon.”

    “Wilko!” Henry announced as he skipped over the pilot seat and deftly glided back to where Jo was still seated; head slumped forward in his harness.

    “Whatever that thing is out there,” Andy continued, “It’s definitely manmade. I think the Germans have got here before us.”

    “If that’s the case, then they’re probably packing,” Henry agreed.

    Jo was still out for the count so Henry made for the hatch at the rear of the cockpit.

    “Use the directional jets and try to turn us round,” he told her as he closed the cockpit hatchway behind him, “And I’ll try and get this old tin can running again.”

    Henry floated down the rocketship’s mid-section, pulling himself along the ladder that was embedded along the length of the ceiling. He had just passed the crew’s quarters when the rocketship violently lurched to one side, causing him to career into the bulkhead. The speaking tube outside the mess area ahead of him started to whistle urgently.

    “What is it Andy?” Henry barked down the tube.

    “They have space torpedoes,” Andy gravely announced, “I easily dodged that sortie but the closer they get the more accurate they are going to be.

    “I’d better shake a leg then,” Henry said, “I’m only half way down the corridor, how long have we got?”

    “In my estimation,” Andy replied, “We’re only ten minutes from total destruction.”

    Some Basic Military Training

    Rocketship construction site, Scotland, 12 months earlier

    “So what do you think?” Henry asked.

    Andy carefully studied the young engineer who stood before them, nervously fussing with the buttons on his greasy overalls. A mop of mousy brown hair fell over his forehead as he looked down; it was slightly stiff with not quite enough Brylcreem.

    “He’s the expert?” Andy asked dubiously.

    “Apparently so,” Henry confirmed, “He comes highly recommended.” The engineer continued to look down, anxiously shuffling his feet.

    “You helped design this crate?” Henry asked, indicating the partially built Rocketship, The Pride of Scotland, sitting in its hanger just behind the engineer’s left shoulder. Henry could see its sleek cylindrical shape though the large double doors as it lay horizontally on its landing gear, the sun reflecting off its silver heat resistant skin. ‘Gordost’ Shotlandii’ was stencilled in black along its side and the newly designed BRASS logo, a golden lion over a red star, was painted on both sides of its dorsal fin.

    “Err, yes sir,” The engineer stammered as he pushed his hair back out of his eyes with a greasy hand, leaving a large dark smudge across his forehead, “Under the guidance of Mr Watkins of course.”

    “Poor Stan,” Henry commiserated, shaking his head sadly. Stan Watkins had been the project’s chief engineer and would have joined Henry and Andy on the Rocketship’s maiden flight, if he hadn’t been crushed by a falling steel beam the previous week.

    “Yes Sir,” The Engineer agreed.

    “You were his second,” Henry continued, “That makes you Chief Engineer now.”

    “Yes Sir.”

    Henry sighed and looked back to Andy and shrugged. Getting the boy to open up and talk was like trying to get Andy to relax. Hard work and near on impossible.

    It is Joseph isn’t it,” Andy asked. The Engineer blushed and looked down at his feet again. ‘He can’t be much more than twenty,’ Henry thought,

    “Civilian too I understand,” Andy continued.

    “Yes Ma’am.”

    “And now you’re the chief flight engineer too,” Andy continued.” “That’s what they tell me,” The Engineer replied.

    Andy looked back at Henry and raised weary eyebrow. She clearly shared his misgivings about the engineer’s space worthiness.

    “Have we missed it? Sorry we’re late.”

    Henry and Andy turned round to find Gregori approaching, grinning as usual, with Emerson, out of breath, following up behind. Henry did not miss the increase in tension as Gregori and Andy avoided eye contact.

    “Is this him then,” Gregori continued, indicating the engineer, “There isn’t much of him is there.”

    “Don’t be fooled,” Emerson cut in as he caught up panting. “After Stan Watkins, there is no other person, now alive, who knows these engines as well as our Mr Kerr here.” “Is that right,” Andy asked.

    “Yes Ma’am.”

    “Do you want to go into space Jo?” Henry cut to the chase, he was bored now.

    “No sir,” The Engineer said decisively.

    “Well, that’s a start,” Henry observed.

    “I’m just a glorified mechanic sir,” The young engineer continued, “I’m not a soldier or a rocketeer.

    I’m nobody.”

    “You’re the only person who can work those engines my lad,” Emerson said sternly, “There’s no way anybody can learn what you know lad, not in time for the launch anyway.

    Henry nodded to himself and placed a hand on the engineer’s shoulder. He gave it a firm squeeze.

    “It’s Jo isn’t it?”  Jo nodded. “Well Jo,” Henry continued, “How do you feel about you and me taking a six week break from all this silly nonsense and see how we get on with some basic military training?”

    Let’s Get the Show on the Road

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    Henry had launched himself from the ladder and was flying down the corridor, just like the rocketship he was travelling in. He flew past the cargo bay and hit the far wall with jarring force. He rolled into a ball just before impact, taking the bulk of the force on his left shoulder. ‘That’s going to ache in the morning’ he thought, wincing as he started to spin the locking wheel on the Engine Room’s access hatch.

    The rocketship suddenly careered starboard, knocking Henry for six again. He desperately gripped the locking wheel as he was violently shaken around, just like a rat in his childhood pet’s jaws, a small but feisty terrier called Wilber.

    Henry managed to get through the Engine Room hatchway during a lull in Andy’s evasive piloting; “She’s good,” Henry had to admit.

    Another speaking tube whistled just inside the Engine Room.

    “That last one felt close,” Henry spoke down the tube.

    “It was,” Andy replied tensely, “How long?”

    “Any second,” Henry announced, as he surveyed the engine control panel with the large charging lever that powered the starter motor, “Let’s blooming well get this show on the road.”

    So Be It

    Scotland, 12 months earlier

    Andy and Gregori sat next to each other in the back of the jeep while Emerson sat up front talking to the driver. Henry would have normally put himself in-between the two feuding Russians but had instead decided to stay behind and talk to the engineer some more.

    The short drive back to the compound took them past the half built Vertical Launch Slab, a huge concrete disc that the Rocketship was expected to launch itself from.

    Andy sat in silence and stared at the back of the driver’s head, aware that Gregori was at her side looking at her.

    “What is it,” She finally asked.

    “Sorry, was I staring?” Gregori replied sarcastically, “I can’t help it. Nothing personal but I cannot forgive what you people have done to my country.

    The unspoken canker that existed between the two of them had finally been given a voice.

    “What would you know about it you Burzhuaziya Predate,” Andy said between clenched teeth. She shocked herself at how angry she really was, Gregori’s constant swipes had finally got to her.

    “That may be as it may,” Gregori replied, his own anger barely hidden by his formal courteous tone, “Yes I am Bourgeoisie, I do not deny it. I am banished from my home because of it, but a traitor? I do not think so.”

    Andy defiantly shrugged her shoulders and went back to studying the driver’s red razor burned neck. Gregori on the other hand was not quite finished.

    “I think we can certainly beg to differ on that matter,” He continued, “Some might say that it is those who sent you here that are the true ‘Predateli’, but for me I don’t hold that view, not at all. I would merely call them ‘Vory’.”

    The last word was spat out, harsh and vengeful.

    “You call us thieves…” Andy began, her voice becoming loud and furious, but before she could continue Emerson had swung round in his seat and was furiously staring at them both.

    “Starshiy Leytenant Yurika” Emerson snapped, voice suddenly formal and commanding “Your tone is not becoming of an officer under my command, Am I clear?” “Yes sir, Sorry Sir,” Andy apologised.

    “You are under orders to cooperate are you not?” Emerson scolded and Andy quietly nodded her head, ashamed at her lapse in discipline.

    Emerson then turned his attention to Gregori, who was sitting back smugly, enjoying the Drama.

    “Now Gregori,” Emerson continued voice still firm, “I seem to recall a conversation in which you agreed that bygones would be bygones, remember?”

    “I know Emerson, but you know…”

    “Please do not interrupt me Gregori,” Emerson snapped annoyance in his voice. “Besides; it was your idea to invite the Soviets to the party in the first place.

    “Yes, your right Emerson,” Gregori conceded, more subdued.

    “On behalf of the British and Russian government’s I formally thank you for the sizable donation you made to this project Gregori.”

    “What? Of course…” Gregory interrupted, confused, “I was happy to… It was never… I really did not mind.”

    “Be quite and listen,” Emerson snapped again, “Because your generous donation is the sum total of your official involvement in this ‘Top Secret’ project. Do you understand Gregori?” Gregori began to look sheepish.

    “Am I clear Gregori,” Emerson asked again.

    “Yes,” was Gregori’s simple reply.

    “The only reason you are on this base at all is due to your friendship with Henry. We need Andy,” He turned and gave Andy a deliberate look, “Or her replacement if she continues to fight with you, but apart from your money, we don’t particularly need you.”

    Emerson hadn’t even finished his last sentence when he started to swing back into his seat to continue his conversation with the driver.

    Andy and Gregori were left looking at each other in stunned silence. The tension was too much for

    Andy and she started to giggle. Gregori, surprised, was unable to suppress his own laugher and the both began to roar. Emerson, unseen by the two hysterical Russians, smiled contentedly to himself and gave the driver a conspiratorial wink.

    “Tak i byt’,” Andy managed to say through her hands as she tried to bring her laughter under control.

    “Tak i byt’,” Gregori agreed, “So be it.”

    Dead in the Water

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    Andy pulled heavily on the control stick which caused The Gordost’ Shotlandii to swing round into a tight high port turn, barely missing the two space torpedoes that had suddenly materialised in front of her.

    ‘Where is it,’ she thought, peering through the Forward Observation Window. According to the scanner the enemy rocketship should be right on top of them by now. And then there it was, a jet black hull appearing just yards ahead.

    “Robho,” Andy cursed as she pulled back on the control stick again, rolling the rocketship away from the hulking black metal wall that was baring down on her.

    ‘Camouflage,’ She thought bitterly, annoyed at not realising earlier. Then an impact and a screech of grinding metal before the velocity of the larger ship bounced the Shotlandii spinning out of the way.

    *****

    When Henry had left the cockpit to restart the engines Andy knew it would be pointless to make a complete turnaround, that would only slow them down and she wasn’t convinced the manoeuvring jets were quite up to getting them moving again. She tried to veer off into space but the pull of Earth’s gravity was too strong and she couldn’t leave her current orbit without proper boosters. The only thing left was to head straight on and hope Henry had some luck with the engines.

    ‘Where are those engines,’ She thought, as she wrestled with the controls, the Rocketship still spinning out of control. Henry was about to turn them over just before that last torpedo attack. Without the engines they were dead in space.

    Every time the huge black enemy rocketship came back into view Andy noticed that it had manoeuvred just a little bit further to face them. She could see it now, large, black and three times the size of the Shotlandii, a Swastika brazened on each side its dorsal tailfin. The radio speaker on the control panel burst into life.

    “Rocketship Gordost’ Shotlandii, this is the Raummarine Raketenträger Sternfahrer. Do you read?”

    The voice was almost accentless, just a faint hint of German. He was male, educated and his voice was friendly and polite, but somehow cold.

    “This is the Gordost’ Shotlandii,” Andy replied, “With whom am l speaking?”

    “Ah, Starshiy Leytenant Andrievicha Yurika,” The German replied, “I must say it is a pleasure to hear your voice at last.”

    “I will say again,” Andy persevered, trying to buy time, “Whom am l speaking to?”

    “Yes of course,” The German said apologetically, “How rude of me. Where are my manners?” Andy resisted the urge to reply. “I am Kapitän Albrecht Fleischer of the German Space Navy, commander of the Rocketship Star Rider.”

    “I see,” Andy replied, “Then please explain why you attacked us? I am not aware that there is war between Germany, Russia and Britain.”

    “I wonder where the illustrious Henry Dunston is,” The German ignored Andy’s question, “I suspect he is helping Joseph Kerr in your Engine Room. It is a pity what happened to Stanley Watkins. I

    would hazard that he would have had no difficulty fixing the starter motor.” “What!” Andy said aloud but without pressing the speaker switch on the Radio set.

    “I’ll go aft Sir,” Jo’s thick groggy voice came from behind her.

    “Jo! You are awake,” Andy said relieved, craning her head round her seat to look at the previously unconscious engineer, “How long?”

    “Long enough to hear you talk to that…”

    “Never mind about that Jo,” Andy interrupted, “Go help Henry in the Engine Room, tell him the starter motor has been sabotaged and that BRASS has a spy in its midst. And Jo, be quick, that Ublyudok is just playing with us. He has already told us too much to risk keeping us alive. He plans to destroy us while we are dead in the water.”

    To be continued…

    © Chris Raven 2014

    Dino’s Papers

    By Alan Hardy

    I will be facing extinction very soon. I can’t say exactly when, though many beings would say I should know. Mind you, those very beings themselves no longer exist, or haven’t come into existence yet. At the moment, I’m devouring them all, everything they were, are, and will be.

    There are five or six of us still left. I’m not sure about the sixth one, I’ve absorbed so much of him, or her, that I don’t know if there’s anything left of him, or her, which resembles independent existence. My brightness, my luminous overwhelming-ness, is increasing at a boundless, unstoppable speed that is beginning to scare me.

    I feel I could burst. And, of course, in the end, I will.

    I will cease to exist.

    His name was Goliath. Or her name. I really should use the impersonal pronoun for all of us. We’re quite sexless, even though, in our time, we have absorbed all sexes and all sex. Dino wrote a paper on it. He’s written papers on most things. Amongst them, the one I’ve just mentioned—on whether the pantheon of superior beings were ever sexual beings in their own right, or merely expressed, ultimately subsuming, the very essence of all sexuality—and another interesting one on the allied subject I’ve also alluded to that considers whether the preponderant use of the impersonal singular pronoun has rendered redundant the sexuality of language.

    He’s just about to publish a paper on the partial existence, or otherwise, of Goliath, puzzling over whether I have gobbled him up whole, or found a morsel of him uneatable and belched it out. I myself just can’t lose the etymological habit of speaking of others in male terms. Well, I’m old, and, although I’m changing, will soon die. A little bit of stubbornness before death is to be excused, I feel. They were once one of the examples of the unchanging, unceasing nature of existence. I’m talking about Dino’s papers. Pay attention, now. That is, until everything started to change. And then Dino’s papers just became a left-over from the past.

    An oddity.

    An incongruity everyone could smile over.

    Strange that what once was a competitive contest over who could absorb the most entities and, in the process, get bigger and bigger, can now be seen as the in-built dynamics leading to the mutuallyassured destruction of the whole cosmos. There were so many of us once, firmaments shining and shimmering in the vastness of space. It was natural, I suppose, that we should band together, and form bigger and bigger blocks, such that there emerged, over aeon upon aeon upon aeon, a reduced and consequently distinct number of points of light.

    We were like astral empires, I suppose.

    Just recently, no more than a few billion years ago, we did make an attempt to prevent the annihilation that we realized we were bringing upon ourselves. Dino wrote a paper on it, and on the futility of the attempt. You see, I couldn’t help myself, and nor could the others. My own luminous magnificence fed on the others. I drew them into my orbit. I gorged on them. I absorbed them into my own vastness. They were the fires that kept my brightness lit. And still do.

    I couldn’t prevent myself hurtling towards Armageddon.

    The purifying couldn’t be stopped. The distillation. The reduction unto the most undiluted form of unalloyed brightness. Light, the source of existence, powered our universe. Still does. Existence in its purest form was the amalgamation into one vast entity of the finest shards of light. The cosmos became an unblinking glare. A shining ball of unimaginable force that grew and grew until it would detonate.

    Well, that’s according to Dino’s paper… and he did acknowledge, on its front page, his debt to me as his greatest helper in formulating his thesis that existence as we knew it was about to end. Let alone the fact that I typed out his first draft when his computer started to play up. He rather sneakily took advantage then to gobble up a couple of other entities, while I wasn’t looking, carrying on with the ridiculous game at the very moment I was typing out his paper which stated I would, on the road to destruction, snuff out his own existence.

    Madness.

    When I absorb another entity, or source of light, or star, whatever you want to call it, there’s a frisson of excitement that pervades my whole being, the sensation of an electrified swallowing. We (Dino and I, that is, as expounded in a shared paper) posited the theory that this is a residue (or rather, rarefied transformation) of the act of sex which was once practised by the vile blobs of pus and faeces that once existed. Quite a few of our fellow-universes balked at that; there was, I remember, a sort of one-second cosmic shut-down, a scary switch-off of light, as solar systems had a spontaneous retch at the very thought. They’re a bunch of prim ass-holes. Dino is the only one I really ever got on with. Always the realist. And yet I know any moment now, within the next aeon or two, he’s going to come up to me and ask me to spare him. Even though he knows it’s hopeless.

    I’ll keep him until last. I’ll devour the others first. Orth. Stav. And Ghue. I’ll suck them up into the blinding folds of my greatness. They’ll become part of me. They’ll express my totality. They’ll be the parts of me that make me whole. They’ll be the burps that propel my ever-expanding galaxy. They’ll be meek and mild in their surrender to me.

    They’ll offer themselves up to me.

    *****

    I was wrong. Now, a few millennia after, I look back with amazement on what they attempted. They tried to pervert the inexorable course of history. Evolution. Time itself. The buggers attacked me. They tried to obliterate me and break me up into segments they could themselves absorb. They caused me pain. I wince now at the memory of that sensation, a tugging at the integrity of my being, the seams of my totality.

    I screamed in agony.

    It was Dino who warned me. I was suddenly aware of his presence shoving into me, his cosmos approaching mine and causing ripples. Convulsions.

    “Stir yourself, you sleepy bastard,” he shouted. “They’re coming for your balls!”

    Dino was always very careful in his language, whether the moment was one of calm or of universe-shattering importance, to perpetuate those strands which recalled or echoed what he called in one of his papers “the sexuality of our ancestors”. Other universes, as mentioned, would throw up their hands in horror at such idiocies and outrages; they thought him quite mad. I must admit, I do sometimes wonder about him myself, and whether he hasn’t got something unpleasantly primeval and primitive about him. I do suspect him, when he thinks no-one’s looking, of rubbing some of his astral planes together and getting some sort of cosmic thrill out of it. I think the term Dino himself would apply is, if I remember correctly, “wanker”.

    I digress. Well, so what? Who’s to stop me?

    Orth was approaching from the right. Cosmic bolts of lightning emanated from him. Or her. Well, let’s not start that again. I couldn’t understand what he was up to. Shafts of his feeble light could never harm my brilliant eminence. An off-white colour could never outdo the very essence of light’s purity.

    To put it bluntly, a grey mouse is never going to shag a grey elephant.

    Shag. Now, there’s a word. Dino wrote a paper on its etymological history and why, through our evolution into non-sexual beings, it represented for him the loss of our roots, the physicality of existence we had abandoned.

    I myself have always rejoiced at the unalloyed oneness of our being. Maybe we have in our genetic prism of light a folk-memory of our origin, but I am overjoyed that the foul, miniscule blobs of infected existence that once populated a corner of a tiny universe are no more. For now. Yes, they will have their day again. Their moment in the light which I will bestow upon them. In the period of my non-existence. They will wriggle their loathsome carcases along the surface of mud and slime they live in, and itch and scratch themselves upon each other in their foul couplings. And I will live only through them. I will be the life-force which holds them together. Their memory of me will be their salvation.

    I digress. Again.

    Ghue came up at me from the left. You see, Orth’s ridiculous attack had been a ruse to hide Ghue’s attempt to swallow me whole. I should have been aware of it. The all-seeing reputation I would later attain hardly allowed for such blindness. I yelled in agony as parts of me seemed to be wrenched away. I concentrated as never before in curling my immensity into a self-protective ball that Ghue couldn’t penetrate. I felt I would explode. When Ghue fell back, exhausted, near to extinction, I sucked him up into my anus without so much as a backward glance.

    I turned to deal with Orth. He started to whimper.

    “Ghue forced me to do it,” he whined. “Please spare me!” “Beg for my forgiveness!” I shouted.

    I could be a cruel bugger. Some of that unswerving callousness, I think, leaked into the image that was created of me in later aeons by the insect-like creatures which would return to crawl and propagate upon the face of their stinking cess-pit. The image of a harsh, unforgiving tyrant.

    As Orth was in the middle of his grovelling sentences of supine, shameless cock-sucking, I vacuumed him up into my belly and, for his pains, gave out a hearty belch. Orth and Ghue were no more. They were part of me. Of course, you mustn’t think I have a belly, let alone an anus. I am the supremest example of pure light ever known in all the galaxies. It’s just that Dino thinks language should retain all the elements that went into the making of us superior beings, even though we have transcended such base elements. It was in an appendix to one of his papers. Dino was always like that. Clever. Cheeky. You know, putting his paragraphs about parts of the body into the appendix. I thought it rather childish, really.

    Dino snapped up Stav while I wasn’t looking. Stav had been hovering on the outskirts of the battle between me and his two mates, Orth and Ghue, waiting to see which way the wind would blow. Dino just sidled up to him and absorbed him in a flash.

    So now there are two of us left. And we are fast approaching extinction. Because, you see, that is the terrible paradox. As we absorb more and more of our fellow-stars, and get bigger and bigger, the intensity of that fusion of light-forms upon light-forms brings about such a concentration of power that that agglomerated mass of light becomes no more than a pin-prick. The more we absorb, and the bigger we get, the smaller parameters we shrink into.

    Basically, our vastness is imploding in on itself.

    We’re being sucked into our own black holes.

    And then, when the whole of totality is absorbed within me, when I have gobbled up Dino, my boundlessness will know no bounds and will implode upon itself into the most miniscule of pin-pricks of light which will contain all the power of all the universes of all time, and then… that immensity and cosmic force suppressed into a tiny dot will… well, I’ll soon experience my own death within that eruption.

    The problem is we evolved too quickly. The miniscule dots we came from, writhing and puking in their anal smells, far too eagerly rejected their corporal essences to engineer purer forms of existences for themselves. They did it in no time at all, maybe just a few trillion billion years. Well, to cut a long story short, they expelled whatever was base and putrid from their life-forces, and, in a flash, became our rather primitive, but still ethereal ancestors—sources of light peopling the heavens.

    We evolved from them. Miniscule dots.

    Dino wrote a paper about that once. The tendency I have for unnecessary tautology. Well, there’s another example. Unnecessary tautology. He sub-titled the paper, Lost Up One’s Own Black Hole.

    He’s a character, old Dino.

    Pity I’ve got to annihilate him.

    *****

    The tosser came to see me a couple of aeons ago, I think “just the other day” is the colloquialism Dino mentioned in his paper, Preserving Our Idiomatic Heritage. Tosser. Picked that up from another of Dino’s papers, a couple of centuries back, Slang: An Animalistic Taste of Our Forbears. Dino found that title very funny.

    I’d known this moment would come. The moment Dino would beg for his continued existence. He pleaded in his favour our eternal, unending friendship. Well, unending until now, or very shortly.

    “If you exterminate me, you will be alone. In your last few epochs of existence, a mere tick-tock in the aeons of time, you will face death on your own. No companionship. Nothing. Spare me, and I will be by your side until the end. You won’t be the mother of all lonely universes.”

    “But, Dino, what must happen, must happen. You wrote a paper on it. You presented it at the Stellar Symposium when there were still a few galaxies around other than you and me to read it. It’s the tragedy of our existences. Stars banding together in mutual defence became bigger stars gobbling up smaller stars for the sheer thrill of it, and then it became unstoppable, a mad road to mutually assured destruction. It became a contest as to who could be the biggest, baddest of them all. And, let’s face it, the winner was always going to be me. We both know what’s coming. I’ll eat you up and, in my vastness, in my gigantic enormity, the intensity of my power and brightness will become insupportable until I implode into a tiny speck of luminosity, and then…”

    “The Big Bang,” Dino intoned lifelessly. “Total annihilation, for you and all the entities and beings who made you what you are, and what you will no longer be.”

    “We can’t change it, Dino. I can already feel you entering more and more into my orbit, violating my atmosphere, rubbing up against me, ready to be subsumed into my vastness. I know it will be the end, but I feel a frisson of excitement at the imminence of my absorption of you. I can’t wait.”

    “It’s the vestiges of our ancestors’ sexuality. They used to come together in a most peculiar way, they—”

    “I’ve read the paper, Dino. Spare me the details.”

    Then Dino offered me eternal life. He said he was writing a paper on this very subject, and would publish it very soon. He wanted to bring it out in a couple of centuries, just before his death. He wanted to be remembered for his findings. A strange fish, Dino. Remembered by whom? There would only be myself, the Supreme Being of all supreme beings.

    And I was going to explode into smithereens.

    “I’m going to offer you the knowledge that you will live again,” he said. “My arguments will be irrefutable.”

    “And what do you want in return, Dino? You know, when I’m ready, I’m going to suck you up into my Black Hole. I can’t give you your life.” “I know,” he answered sadly.

    He lowered his gaze, or would have done if he had a face. I’m only anthropomorphising out of respect to his memory. He liked that sort of thing.

    “You see,” he said, “I want you to perpetuate my memory. If I prove to you that, although you will die, you will live again, and so give you the courage to face death, then, when you return, I want you to speak of me. I want to be remembered.”

    “I promise.”

    “And I will do more. I will give you a name,” he said.

    *****

    Will I live again?

    Dino said I would in his paper, just before I sucked him up into my anus. Now he’s no more than one of my occasional farts.

    Do I believe in reincarnation?

    Dino argued that, once he had gone, and after the Big Bang, the whole world, and each particle it contains, will be me. Therefore, when it’s reassembled, he said, I will live again.

    I fervently hope so. I’m scared. I can feel my greatness, at the apex of its totality, paradoxically and terrifyingly, shrinking into a sheer point of total pointlessness. I will burst, one last megaexplosion of unimaginable enormity, and be no more.

    Once the Big Bang has occurred, Dino said that each particle of shattered, careering existence will in fact be my very own fragmentation, and so there will be in each particle a genetic memory of me. I will live on in each blob’s devotion to me. Sounded convincing, too.

    Now, as my end nears, I’m not so sure. The whole process will begin again, he said, and will conclude in my magnificence. The cycle of shivering, puking, itchy speck of putrid, rancid humanity evolving into the one source of light in the universe. Evolution will tread that same path again and again. I hope so. In fact, I do have a folk-memory of it having already happened. Or is that just wishfulfilment?

    And Dino did give me a name. An identity. He gave me the name of the last three universes I devoured. He made an acronym of them. Ghue. Orth. Dino. Or, in short, GOD. And they will worship me when I’m dead. And I will be brought back to life. That’s my prayer. I’m so afraid. My disintegration is upon me. I feel it coming.

    Before I go, though, I have another mantra to mumble.

    Dino, I promise you, if I am remembered, you will be remembered. If, in each speck’s agglomerated worship of me, I return, then I will remember you, Dino, even if you will forever remain but a fart in my universe.

    The End

    © Alan Hardy 2014

    A Hard Day’s Night

    A Short Story by Ray Foster

    I woke up absolutely ravenous.

    Nor was I in a good mood.

    For starters my boyfriend – no, my ex-boyfriend had dumped me the day before to move in with the tarty blonde who had moved into the flat above mine. I mean he was all over her from the moment she arrived with all her belongings stacked in the back of her hired van.

    There he was up and down stairs doing all the carrying and humping all the heavy stuff while she cooed and waggled her body while telling him what a strong boy he was. The compliments just flowed out of her mouth and he lapped it all up. Of course, I just smiled. I mean Alex and I were meant to spend the rest of our lives together – right?

    Wrong.

    It took less than a week for Blondie to hook him and grab him for her own. Though it may have been the other way round judging from the love bite on her neck.

    I went and did what any normal girl would have done under the circumstances – I went and did some comfort shopping. Clothes took top priority and then I spotted some nice black silk sheets that included a duvet cover and a pair of scarlet pillowcases.

    As soon as I got home I changed the bedding just to get rid of the final traces of Alex. I mean it had been a bit tortuous sleeping in a bed with only his smell next to me.

    Stupid idea that turned out to be.

    I spent the night slipping and sliding all over the bed and grabbing at the duvet before it skidded to the floor. Meanwhile, the pillows developed a life of their own by crashing across the bedside table clearing it. The bedside lamp, the digital clock/radio, a glass of red wine and the book that I was halfway through were scattered across the floor. Of course, as luck would have it, the book had fallen into a pool of red wine causing a pattern to be splattered over the cream lampshade. It looked like a scene out of a slasher movie.

    So, I was not in a good mood when I lurched out of bed to pull back the heavy, red velvet curtains, lean my hands on the window sill and look down on the street below. And, yes, I knew I was being watched. I mean every time, without fail, Binocular Man was standing there with his magnified eyes glued to my naked body. He lived in the flat opposite me and looked like a complete nerd. I had seen him in the street and, at first, I thought the binoculars were a permanent feature. Turned out he wore glasses with these thick lenses that looked like the base of a bottle and magnified his blue eyes. They were his best feature as they dominated his face with two big blue pools.

    Okay, so I encouraged him by doing a few poses but, hey, a girl is entitled to a little attention. I’m not ashamed of my body.

    Maybe, one day I might just get up close and personal with the guy. Though, if the truth be told, if I did he’d probably run a mile.

    Anyway, to cut to the chase.

    Like I said I was that hungry that I could have ate the proverbial horse. So I got dressed.

    All the clothes were new and smelled it. A black vest with a Goth design, close-fitting blue jeans that looked as though a denim design had been painted onto my legs. Long black leather thigh length boots with heels that added an extra couple of inches to my height. I completed the outfit with a nice shiny biker’s leather jacket.

    I looked real cool, even if I say so myself.

    I left the flat and made sure that the lock was secured before I skipped off down the stairs. I was half way down when I tripped and fell. My self-confidence was severely bruised at this point.

    I picked myself up and limped over to sit on the stairs to examine the damage. The heel of my left boot had been completely ripped off. A hundred quid down the drain and I had hardly worn them five minutes. Good job I had kept the receipt. And if the snooty cow who sold them to me refused a refund then she was going to get it in the neck.

    Having changed my footwear I, finally, made it out the door. I stood there for a moment and did a quick twirl for the benefit of Binocular Man. Let’s face it I knew that he followed my every move and I love playing to the crowd.

    Just to annoy him I crossed the road and out of his line of sight then headed into town. It was time to find a replacement for Alex and I knew just the place to go hunting.

    ‘The Basement’ was just that. A jazz club below a nightclub, the only difference being that it was open almost 24/7. Most times they had live music while at others there was always something playing on the ancient Wurlitzer jukebox – a relic from the Sixties when ‘The Basement’ had been a coffee bar for the bikers. Daft, I know but I like a touch of nostalgia now and again.

    For the time of day the place was quite packed and it was just by luck that I found an empty stool at the bar. Well, someone else was about to park their backside on it but I moved fast.

    The poor girl just stood there all shocked and surprised and stammered out an apology that she hadn’t noticed me sitting there. I just gave her an indulgent smile before ordering a glass of red wine.

    I sat there leaning with one elbow on the bar while I toyed with my glass with my free hand. All the time I was watching what was going on around me through the mirror opposite. The place seemed to be filled with total nerds. Nothing grabbed my interest.

    I spent an hour of wasted time when I decided that it was time to go on to someplace else.

    I swivelled on my seat, and then gaped. Oh…my…..God! This was a real dreamboat. All corded muscles that stretched his T-shirt tight across his body. Close cut blond hair and gorgeous chiselled features – and he was grinning at me.

    He was so fit that my nipples were trying to burst out the front of my vest. Oh God, I could smell him – he was so yummy and I had to have him.

    A wave was thrown in my direction. I smiled, invitingly, and waved back. He nodded and winked then swept right by me into the arms of the guy who was sitting behind me.

    What an idiot I had been. In frustration I hammered my head on the bar and, probably, knocked any remaining sense out of it. How could life be so cruel?

    Regaining my composure I began to climb off the stool. It was at this point that the dreamboat decided to turn around and catch me off balance with his elbow. My mouth met the edge of bar and I heard a sharp crack. Blood spurted and I saw a tooth skid across the counter. Ignoring the blood, I scooped up the tooth and kept it in a tight grip. There was no way that I was going to lose that tooth.

    Dreamboat was fussing around me and apologising but I wasn’t interested. I shoved him away and slammed him into his mate who fell off his stool and sent the whole line of drinkers along the bar down like dominos. There are times, I have to admit, when I forget my own strength but right then I was in a shear state of panic. I had to get to A & E fast and find a dental surgeon.

    Sucking at my own blood I ran up the steps and straight into Binocular Man. The collision sent him flying, his bottle lensed glasses landing in his lap. He looked up at me and I realised just how good looking he was without glasses or binoculars. Any other time and I would have been all over him.

    “Are you all right?” he asked, climbing to his feet and dusting himself down. “Oh, you’re bleeding.”

    “Stating the bloody obvious,” I bubbled through the blood. “Just not been my day. I’m hungry and

    I need to get my teeth fixed.”

    “Right,” he said, decisively. “I’ll get you a cab and – and if you want you can come back to my place for a feed.”

    I could have given him a mouthful right there and then. But, then again, someone offering to feed me doesn’t come along every day.

    “Why wait?” I asked, grabbing his arm and dragging him up the alley alongside ‘The Basement’.

    I went straight for the jugular.

    He screamed.

    I screamed – as the exposed nerve of my missing incisor crashed against the skin of his neck sending an electric shock right into the depths of the gum.

    Idiotic as it may sound but who has ever heard of a one fanged vampire?

    For reasons that I did not understand at the time, Ian, for that was the name of Binocular Man, grabbed a cab and got me to A&E where I found a dental surgeon to fix my tooth. You see we have people all over the place for such emergencies. The downside was that I couldn’t use it for a while and then, when it was mended, I would have to be careful. On the plus side the doctor did explain to Ian how to feed me during the interim.

    So here we are months later and Ian and I are still together – for life.

    I miss his binoculars and his bottle lensed glasses but the gift of life has given him perfect eyesight. At least he keeps me satisfied. We discovered that we had a lot in common and when we go out at night we share everything – what more could a girl want?

    The End.

    © Ray Foster 2014

     

    The Secret Kitchen

    By A. L. Butcher

    The strawberries cackled in their glass jar, around them were other, older condiments; sweet pickles, jams and spreads. Snickering they shuffled forward, close up behind a jar of elderly pickle. The pickle jar shuffled forward to make room, butting up against the sugar tin, which refused to move.

    “I get used every day, thus I need to be within easy reach,” said the sugar, rather arrogantly.

    The pickle grunted and edged further forward. “It not be me, it be the jam,” it sighed. “It be shoving.”

    The strawberry jam hopped sideways along the shelf looking for an easier target, it spied an old jar of sauce, dusty and forgotten.  The lid was crusted with elderly tomato, dribbled along the glass and faded to musty brown and a little sheen of furry mould.  Untouched and unloved it cowered next to an empty salt cellar and a dried up mustard pot.

    The shelf was narrow, overcrowded and the strawberry jam looked down with a wicked gleam. It was much narrower than the Big Shelf in the place it had lived before the Hand had plucked it from its comfortable repose. The conserve vaguely remembered the huge Mother Vat, from which it had been born, many others with it until the God Spoon had appeared and chosen the fruits and housed it in the Glass Jar so it could look out upon the world.  The strawberries did not question what had been given to them; life in the field before this was not life, merely an existence. Jam! Jam was true life! Jam was purpose!

    Shuffling and shoving the jar slid in the grease which coated the shelf. With a mighty push it toppled the unfortunate sauce down to the flagstones far below, a gleeful chuckle shaking its lid.  The bottle smashed and the elderly sauce splodged it life upon the floor. As the wicked guffawing echoed in the quiet, midnight kitchen the other jars and tins shuffled closer to one another, hoping for protection.

    The giant door opened and the owner of the Hand entered the world of the Kitchen, seeing the poor sauce all over the floor. She looked around to find the culprit, for this was not the first ‘accident’ in recent weeks. The strawberries in the jar looked innocent and nodded towards the sugar, laying blame where none was due.

    Once the remains of the sauce had been removed the Hand grabbed the sugar and angrily deposited it at the back, leaving a nice space for the Jam to move into. As soon as the owner of the Hand had gone, the jam, who was young and new, speedily pushed aside the other jars and settled triumphantly into the empty space, where it could see the world it was planning to conquer. Such a sweet, sweet world it was too.

    The End

    © A. L. Butcher

    Rocketships of BRASS (Part Three)

    A Spy in Our Midst

    By Chris Raven

    Prologue

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    Andy pulled heavily on the control stick, barely missing the two space torpedoes that had suddenly materialised in front of her. According to the scanner the enemy rocketship should be right on top of them by now. And then there it was, a huge jet black hull appearing just yards ahead.

    “Robho,” Andy cursed as she pulled back on the control stick again, rolling the rocketship away from the fast approaching metal wall. Then impact and a screech of grinding metal before the velocity of the larger ship bounced the Shotlandii spinning out of the way.

    “Rocketship Gordost’ Shotlandii,” A German accented voice cackled from the tinny radio speaker,

    “This is the Raummarine Raketenträger Sternfahrer. Do you read?”

    “This is the Gordost’ Shotlandii,” Andy replied, “With whom am l speaking?”

    “Ah, Starshiy Leytenant Andrievicha Yurika,” The German replied, “I must say it is a pleasure to finally hear your voice.”

    “I will say again,” Andy persevered, trying to buy time,” With whom am l speaking?”

    “Yes of course,” The German said apologetically, “How rude of me, I am Kapitän Albrecht

    Fleischer of the German Space Navy, commander of the Rocketship Star Rider.”

    “I see,” Andy replied, “Then please explain why you have attacked us? I am not aware that there is war between Germany, Russia and Britain.”

    “I wonder where the illustrious Henry Dunston is,” The German ignored Andy’s question, “I suspect he is helping the young Joseph Kerr in your Engine Room. It is a pity what happened to

    Stanley Watkins. I would hazard that he would have had no difficulty fixing the starter motor.” “I’ll go aft Sir,” Jo’s thick groggy voice came from behind her.

    “Jo! You’re awake,” Andy said relieved, craning her head round her seat to look at the previously unconscious engineer, “How long?” “Long enough,” Jo replied.

    “Go help Henry in the Engine Room,” Andy ordered, “Tell him the starter motor has been sabotaged, and that BRASS has a spy. And Jo, be quick, he has already told us too much to risk keeping us alive. He plans to destroy us while we are still dead in the water.”

    I’m Really Not Ready For This

    Scotland, six months earlier

    “Enter,” Jo said with some uncertainly, he was still not comfortable sitting at Stan Watkins’ old desk. The door opened and Charlie Rogers stepped in carrying a clipboard of invoices, requisitions and order forms.

    “Sorry to disturb you Sir,” He said as he entered the reasonably spacious office, “Just a few things for you to sign.”

    Jo beckoned Charlie over and flicked through the loose ream of paperwork clipped to the top of the board, pausing from time to time to question an item or to sign his authorization for a purchase or a work order.

    “How’s it going on the floor Charlie?” Jo asked, since his promotion he had pretty much been deskbound.

    “So-So Sir,” Charlie replied, “We’re a little behind, but don’t worry, the Shotlandii will be ready and waiting for you on the VLS when you need it to be.” Charlie had been moved up from the hanger floor to be Jo’s Deputy, the position Jo had vacated when he had stepped into Stan’s shoes to become Flight Engineer.

    ‘Flight Engineer,’ Jo thought as he finished signing the forms and motioned Charlie to leave. The thought of going into space still filled him with absolute terror and despair. The six weeks of basic training the Pilot, Captain Henry Dunston, had suggested hadn’t really helped either. It had just reinforced to Jo how weak and physically uncoordinated he really was. He had found the entire experience distressing. Apart from the daily assault courses, drills and cross country runs, he had found the whole military machismo factor particularly difficult to cope with; and then there was the amount of mucking in and sharing of personal space he had been expected to do. Jo considered himself a particularly shy and quiet man and he was completely unprepared for the public undressing, showering and of course worse. Did the army not believe in shower curtains and water closet doors? And all the time The Captain was there encouraging him, patting his back, pumping his hand, congratulating him and putting his arm around his shoulder. Jo was just not used to that level of gregariousness.

    “Only six months to go,” Jo said to himself as he stood up to look at the hanger just visible from his office window. “I’m really not ready for this.”

    Jo’s Worst Nightmare

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    Jo managed to get himself down the long central corridor still in one piece, arriving at the Engine Room’s access hatch, which was still open. ‘I don’t know how she did it,’ He thought to himself, ‘But somehow the Lieutenant had managed to buy us all some time.’

    Jo peered into the engine room and saw Captain Henry Dunston’s legs floating up from behind the engine’s control panel.

    “Who’s that,” The Captain’s voice came from behind the panel.

    “Me sir,” Jo replied nervously, he had never quite managed to overcome his awe of the confident and charismatic pilot. Lieutenant Yurika on the other hand, she was just scary in her own right. “Jo!” The Captain said excitedly, “Splendid, just the chap I need.” “Are you stuck sir,” Jo enquired.

    “Stuck? Me? No, I don’t think so,” The Captain replied distractedly, “Now listen Jo, I’m going to need your help.”

    “Yes sir, but you need to know that the…”

    “Never mind that Jo, I’m behind here trying to defuse a bomb. I’ve made a bit of a pig’s ear of it to be honest. I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit of help.”

    “Sir?”

    “Spotted it before I tugged on the old starting lever,” The Captain explained, “Lucky, it was rigged to blow. Thought I’d have a go disarming it, but I set off a timer.”

    “Come out quick sir,” Jo said urgently, “Let me try.”

    “Bold of you Jo old chap, but that won’t work, got my finger jammed in the timer with only a few seconds to go. If I take it out she’ll go off.”

    “What tools do you have? I’ll talk you through.”

    “Ah,” The Captain sounded embarrassed, “Thing is Jo, haven’t got any, didn’t think it through when I started.”

    “Sir?” Jo felt the panic rise, “We don’t have much time Sir, we’re in the enemy’s sights as we speak.”

    “That bad is it?” The Captain observed as Jo grabbed a tool kit from a locker.

    “Can you reach up,” Jo asked urgently, “I’ll pass you… A pair pliers and… An insulated screwdriver. That should do it.”

    “Sorry Jo, I have one hand in the works and the other one I’m using to stop myself from floating around all over the place.”

    “What!” Panic was fast being replaced with anger, “Are you doing this on purpose Sir? Do you know we’re all about to die?”

    “Stay with me there Jo,” The Captain ordered, “We’re not done yet. Only one thing for it Jo, you’re going to have to get in behind here with me.” “What?” panic making a comeback.

    “Jo!” The Captain barked, “I know it’s tight back here and you have that thing about personal space, but you’re going to have to overcome that and squeeze right in here beside me and disarm this darn bomb.”

    ‘It’s basic training all over again,’ Jo thought as he gingerly approached the console. This trip was promising to be Jo’s worse nightmare.

    Another Difficult Job

    Scotland, three months earlier

    Rocketship Gordost’ Shotlandii was being lifted by crane onto the back of a specially designed flatbed trailer that would eventually tilt the rocketship up into a vertical position ready for launching. In about two month’s time the whole shebang would be slowly towed by tractor to the Vertical Launch Slab. Jo surveyed his handiwork with an uncharacteristic sense of pride as he watched his and Stanley Watkins’ sleek and beautiful silver hulled creation as it began to rise into the air.

    Jo glanced at Charlie Rogers; his second, coordinating the whole process with an air of friendly confidence. Surely someone like Charlie would have been a much better option for space flight then he was. That reminded him, he had spotted Charlie caring a box of parts onto the Shotlandii earlier that morning, which had put the whole operation back a good hour or so. He’d obviously forgotten something or he was still significantly behind schedule, either way it was now Jo’s job as his ‘senior’ to pull him up on it. ‘Not only do they expect me to be blasted into space with a crew of individuals

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with, they also expect me to be in charge and boss people around.’

    Charlie had caught Jo watching him and to Jo’s dismay, he started to walk across the yard towards him, presumably to report in.

    “Ah well,” Jo said as he watched his subordinate approach, “Another difficult job.”

    Until We Meet Again.

    Near Earth Orbit, 1935

    “Starshiy Leytenant Andrievicha Yurika?” Captain Fleischer asked over the radio set, “Are you still there?” Andy had delayed answering the German Captain’s last question until long after Jo had disappeared down the corridor.

    “I’m still here,” She finally replied.

    “I was just inquiring after your crew Lieutenant,” Captain Fleischer continued, voice still light good natured, “And of course offering you my condolences for the loss of your original engineer.” “What do you want with us?” It was Andy’s turn to avoid the question.

    “Ah, well your rocketship of course,” Fleischer replied, “I take it you have an airlock of sorts.” “That is classified,” Andy snapped back, Fleischer just laughed.

    “I sincerely hope you do Fräulein, or at least that you all have vacuum survival suits, because we are coming round and we are going to board you.”

    “Under what authority,” Andy demanded, “You realise this would be considered a declaration of war.”

    The speaking tube burst into life, one long blast and a short one.

    “My dear Fräulein,” Came Fleischer’s oily reply, “You must know that war between our great nations is almost inevitable.”

    Andy could see that the Star Rider was now directly facing her and the space torpedo tubes were gaping open like two black eyes.

    “But do you really want it to be you who started the war?” Andy asked the German Captain, “That would be far too much responsibility for one man to carry.”

    The speaking tube whistled again, this time three long blasts.

    “Fräulein,” Fleischer sounded almost regretful, “This will not start a war. We are in out of space, who on earth will really know what happened out here today?”

    At last the final blast on the speaking tube, ‘Dash Dot Dot Dash’. Andy did not hesitate; she punched the ignition button, full blast, no countdown. She hoped the boys were strapped in. The Shotlandii shot forward. The Star Rider was too slow and the space torpedoes missed them by miles as she manoeuvred the smaller, more nimble rocketship past the huge black hulk and away and back towards the Earth.

    “Well played Fräulein,” Fleischer said, his voice still calm and quiet through the speaker, “Until we meet again.”

    A Spy in Our Midst

    Scotland, Later that month

    “And then after we made our escape, we re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and returned directly to Scotland,” Andy explained to Emerson, probably for the tenth time since they landed back in BRASS

    HQ.

    “And that was all thanks to Jo here,” Henry added, “If he hadn’t arrived in the Engine Room when he did we would have all been lost.” Jo looked down bashfully and shrugged.

    “Well, all I can say is well done everyone,” Emerson congratulated them all. “It is a concern that Germany is so far ahead of us, but your report has convinced both our Governments to fund the building of a whole squadron of rocketships, a project I would like you to oversee Jo.” “Thank you Sir,” Jo managed to stammer.

    “And Jo,” Emerson continued.

    “Yes Sir?”

    “Design us some space torpedoes while you’re at it won’t you.” “Yes Sir!” Jo replied, laughing.

    “As for you two,” Emerson told Andy and Henry, “I have a new mission for you both.” “Yes Sir!” they both replied in unison.

    “As you know; having uncovered it, the Shotlandii was sabotaged. I want you both to find that saboteur, who is no doubt hiding somewhere here in BRASS HQ.

    “Yes Sir!” They both said in unison again.

    “And be quick about it,” Emerson continued, “I don’t need to tell you this, but we have a spy in our midst.”

    To be continued?

    © Chris Raven 2014

    Empty Classrooms

    By A.L. Butcher

    An empty classroom, A discarded book.

    The hum of voices,

    The clatter of phantom chairs on schoolroom floors.

    The ghostly echo of a door slamming in a silent school. Benches scratched and worn, But empty.

    Books on shelves, gathering dust,

    Unused for centuries, but opened yesterday. The playground cracked with age.

    Plants tumbling through asphalt,

    A grotesque jungle of foliage, which shadow school buildings, Of an age past, forgotten.

    The pupils, long since dead

    Play in the twisted branches.

    In a future never to be known or lived.

    © A.L Butcher 2014

    End of Days

    By A.L. Butcher

    Perfect chaos

    Delicately reflected Beneath a forget-me-not sky.

    Spirits of an age

    Ill remembered by mortal mind

    Jest with terrible reality

    A vicious parody of counter-creation. Death looks on,

    His blade sharpened by the forge of avarice world trembles,

    Hung by silken lies and unholy greed. Oblivion taunts her obscene mockery And Gaia’s tears become a waterfall.

    © A.L Butcher 2014

     

     

    About the Authors

     

    Chris Raven

    Chris Raven was born in South London just shy of 50 years ago. He originally started out in Theatre in the 1980s but he became side-tracked by health and social care, where he has made his living for the past 20 or so years. More recently he has found his way back to the creative arts by contributing a number of short stories to the Indie collaboration’s series of free anthologies.

    He has also contributed illustrations to other author’s works and has been coordinating a shared writing project with other new writers called ‘Tall Stories’. A relative newcomer to fiction, he is currently experimenting with a number of different formats and genres, including poetry, short storytelling and playwriting.

     

    A.L. Butcher

    L. Butcher (Alexandra) is a British author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles series and several short stories in the fantasy and fantasy romance genre. She is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet and a dreamer.

    When she is grounded in the real world she likes science, natural history, history and monkeys.

    Adam Bigden

    Adam Bigden is a freelance writer who seeks to bring thoughtful stories to the world. He is currently writing variously themed material with The Indie Collaboration.

    Donny Swords

    Author Donny Swords is new to the literary world, but not to writing.  He is a fan of horror novelists Clive Barker, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as a giant fan of both Robert E. Howard and Janet Morris.  While writing, Donny Swords subconsciously attempts to evoke spirit and realism into his novels, never shying away from telling the story as he intends to- guts and all.

    While living in sunny Glendale Arizona with his girlfriend and editor Jen Herring, he has published four novels in less than eighteen months, Three are Ways of the Stygia novels, (Book 2) Fallen Song, and (Character Story 1), the short story novella –Banner.

    His fourth release Ways of the Stygia Cult of Morgod– (Book 1) is an epic novel, full of diverse and interesting characters.  Morgod also contains several richly developed and fantastic large battle scenes.  It is a book full of love, loss, grief, friendship, betrayal, and loyalty- set within the Ways of the Stygia universe.  Readers may know some of these characters, but they have not seen them like this…  The events in Cult of Morgod occur before recorded history…

    For horror fans, and those who love zombies, Mr. Swords is also the author of The Bitter Ends, (Volume1).  Work on new releases is underway for both book series.

    Alan Hardy

    I’m a Brit. Director of an English language school for foreign students. Married, with one daughter. Poet and novelist.

    Poetry pamphlets: Wasted Leaves, 1996; I Went With Her, 2007.

    Comic, bawdy novels: GABRIELLA, GOOD QUEEN BETH and BRITT all available on
    Amazon as Kindle e-books.

    Ray Foster

    I was born in North London (North Finchley) and now live in Kent. Reading has always been a passion and it follows that writing should become a hobby. During the past three years I have been with the Felixstowe Scribblers where their format for writing has been quite testing and loving a challenge I do believe that my skills have grown. The story in this anthology is one that I wrote during that time.

    OTHER PUBLICATIONS BY THE INDIE COLLABORATION

    TALES FROM DARK PLACES: THE HALLOWEEN COLLECTION

    A selection of chilling stories from some of the best indie authors on the market. We dare you to venture into these pages of spine chilling tales and stories of ghosts and goblins. Freely donated by the authors themselves, these dark passages are a great example of their various, unique styles and imaginations. This is the first of a series of free topical collections brought to you by The Indie Collaboration.

    YULETIDE TALES: A FESTIVE COLLECTIVE

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    KISS AND TALES: A ROMANTIC COLLECTION

    Another collection of free original tales brought to you by The Indie Collaboration. This time we present a chocolate box selection of love stories. Some are romantic, some funny, some sad and some mysterious. Whatever the style, there will be a story in here that will melt even the most hardened of hearts.

    SNIPS, SNAILS & PUPPY DOG TALES: A CHILDREN’S STORY COLLECTION

    Another collection of free poems and stories brought to you by The Indie Collaboration. This time we take you to a world of dreams. To far-away lands of magic and wonder, where ducks and children have adventures and learn about the world; where heroes help their friends and elephants get lost.

    So pack your lunch box, grab your coat and shoes and join us in a land of make believe. I can’t wait. Can you?

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