Tag Archives: science fiction

Space Bar

The hooded figure slid into the booth.  Zed Bronco barely looked up from the goblet of Hongoolian mind-wipe he had been nursing all evening.  Deep in the shadows of the cowl, red eyes glinted like embers.  A gauntleted hand pushed a package across the table.

“It’s all there,” hissed a voice from somewhere within the robes.

“I’m sure it is.”  Bronco left the package untouched.  “What makes you think I want it?”

“You need it,” came the rejoinder.  “You need this job.”

“Hell I do.”  Bronco swigged the lees of his drink and got to his feet.  The gauntlet seized him by the wrist.

In a nanosecond, all that remained of the hooded figure was the severed hand still gripping Bronco’s arm; the rest had been blasted to oblivion by Zed’s plasma-pistol, drawn before either of them had chance to see it.

I still got it, Bronco smirked to himself.

He peeled the dead fingers from his wrist and tossed the hand over his shoulder.  Already, the bar was resuming its customary atmosphere, as though this little disruption had never happened.  Almost as an afterthought, he picked up the package and slipped it into his pouch.

Folk of all shapes and sizes parted to let him reach the exit.  He was sure every eye was on him, every murmur was about him.

Hey, isn’t that –

Didn’t he used to be –

“Zed Bronco!” A familiar voice brought him up sharp in the rain-and-neon-spattered alley.  “Remember me?”

Zed sneered.  There wasn’t enough mind-wipe in all the universes…

“I’ll take what you’re holding.”  His former partner, Boruba Meinfarb stepped toward him, one hand out, the other clutching a disrupto-blaster that was trained on his heart.  “And don’t even think about giving me the old innocent look.  Hand it over.”

With a display of reluctant resignation, Zed unhooked the pouch from his shoulder.  He tossed it to the puddled ground between them.

“Good boy,” Boruba stooped to retrieve it, keeping her eyes on him.  She straightened, hitching the strap over her neck.

“The great Zed Bronco,” she shook her head.  “Once the scourge of the Seven Sectors and now reduced to – what? – a drugs mule for organised crime.”

“Oh, no,” Zed smiled.  “It ain’t drugs.  What you got there is contraband of another kind.  I suppose it don’t matter me telling you – you’re going to be dead in a few seconds from now.”

Boruba’s jaw dropped.  Her hand trembled.

“You’re bluffing,” she accused, her voice shaking.

“We’ll see,” Zed smirked.  “There’s a lucrative market for exotic and endangered species in these parts.  What you have around your pretty neck is a fine specimen.  You ever hear of the Hongoolian camo-snake?  Can disguise itself as practically anything.  Including travel pouches like that one.”

He nodded.

Boruba’s free hand clutched at the strap.  Was it her imagination or was the thing already tightening around her throat?

“Bye now!” Zed strolled away, whistling merrily.

“Zed!” Boruba wailed after him, too afraid to move a muscle.  “Zed Bronco!  You come back here!  Do you hear me?”

“Someone’s happy,” observed the cab driver as Zed dropped into his hoverpod.

“I am!” Zed grinned.  “I think it’s high time I took up playing poker.”

 

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The Exchange

Joe was met at the space-port by his host family.  They looked human enough.  Well, humanoid – if you disregarded their elongated, cigar-shaped torsos supported by three squat legs like a milking stool.  They smiled brightly, their large eyes shining.  The tallest of the trio – the father, Joe assumed – extended a clammy hand at the end of a spindly arm.  Joe shook it.

“Was that done well?” said the male.  “Your Earth custom?”

“Very well,” said Joe, hoping he’d find a moment to give his palm a surreptitious wipe.

“I am Gorb,” the male inclined his head.  “This is my spouse – the how you say chain-and-ball? – Flera.”

The female simpered and nodded.

“And our offspring, Teebo.  You will be sharing a room with it.”

Joe smiled at the youngest member of the family.  Patches of green blossomed beneath Teebo’s eyes, which Joe interpreted as blushes.

“You will be safe with Teebo,” Gorb explained with a chuckle.  “We do not choose our gender until our sixteenth rotation.  Prior to that we have neither sexual organs nor inclination.”

“Dad!” Teebo protested, flushing a brighter shade of green.

“We hope you will enjoy your stay with us, Cho,” Flera smiled.  “We will try to make you feel at house.”

“The boy is here to experience life on our world, our culture,” said Gorb.  “See how we do things in this sector, eh, Joe?  Right,” he clapped his hands.  “Let’s be going.  I’m sure Joe doesn’t want to spend his entire visit in the space-port.  Our family carrier is parked on the roof.”

The family waddled toward the exit.  Joe followed, struggling with his luggage.  Obviously not part of their culture to offer to help, he observed.

The doors swished aside and Joe was struck by the beauty of the lavender sky.  A pair of pallid moons shone their ghostly light on the elegant Hongoolian architecture of the city spread out before him.

“Yes, we rather like it too,” Gorb nudged him.  “This way.”

On the roof, row upon row of egg-shaped vehicles stood to attention.  Teebo beckoned Joe to the appropriate one and slid open a hatch in the side.

“Your suitcases,” Teebo grinned, reaching to take them.

“No!  Teebo, wait!”  Flera and Gorb cried out in panic.  “He hasn’t got the boots on yet!”

But it was too late.  Relieved of the ballast his baggage provided, Joe was already floating up into the sky, already out of reach of Gorb’s long and skinny arms.

“Whoops,” said Teebo, turning emerald.

“Poor Cho,” sobbed Flera.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Joe’s family was driving home, disappointed – to put it mildly.

“I really thought our exchange student was coming today,” Joe’s mother checked and rechecked the calendar in her phone.

At the wheel, Joe’s father gnashed his teeth.  “We send them our boy, our lovely boy, and what do we get?  A bloody puddle of goop!  It’s an insult, that’s what it is!  I’m going to contact our representative.  Don’t you realise the gravity of the situation?  This means war!”

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Space has no fury…

“Hey, baby, what’s up?” Zed Bronco rubbed his eyes and sat up in the cryo-bed.  His partner in work and in life, Boruba Meingarb was pointing the business end of a plasmo-blaster at his nose.  She tossed her blonde-green hair and curled her upper lip in a sneer.

“It’s over, Zed,” she frowned.  “We’re through.”

Zed laughed.  “Oh, baby, not this again!”  He put up his hands in surrender although the smirk on his chops suggested he was anything but sincere.  “Put that thing down before you hurt yourself and let’s talk.  Is the coffee on?”

Boruba glanced over her shoulder pad at the kitchenette – it was the momentary distraction Zed needed.  He kicked the gun from her hand and caught it, bounding to his feet in a fluid movement.  Boruba seemed more bored than surprised.

“I’ll make the coffee,” she sighed.

Zed sat at the table, his boots on the top while Boruba busied herself with beans and a grinder.  He watched the tense set of her shoulders.

“Listen, Boru baby.  If it’s about that barmaid on Reeglox V, that was all part of my cover.  It didn’t mean nothing.  And it got us access to the convention centre, didn’t it?  How else were we to pin down our target?”

Boruba didn’t answer, letting the whirr of the mechanism be her response.

“And I wasn’t trying to swindle you out of your share, baby; honest I wasn’t.  It was a clerical error.  I miscounted.”

Boruba shook her head as though clearing his words from her ears.  She watched the rich dark liquid filter into the pot.

Zed checked a few monitors.  “Where are we, anyway?  Why have you woken us up in the tail end of this godforsaken sector?  I should have known better than to let you set the coordinates!  Honestly, I’m a fool to myself.”

“Because I am female,” Boruba’s words were flat, her face expressionless.  She brought him a steaming mug.  Chuckling, he took his feet off the table.

She sat and watched him drink.  As his smug expression turned to confusion, anger and fear, her smile grew, stretching to a grin.

“What – have – you – done?”  Zed clutched his throat, dropping his coffee.

“Oops!” Boruba caught the mug before it could spill a drop.  He had always admired her superfast reflexes.  “I didn’t mean to put paralysing drugs in your coffee,” she purred.  She reached out to smooth a stray lock of hair from his forehead.  “I’m taking the shuttle,” she breathed against his cheek.  Zed’s eyes darted – the only part of him he could move.  “Don’t worry, baby, I’ve transmitted your location to all of your enemies.  I’m sure they’ll all be racing to be the first to get to you.”

“Hmmm!” Zed groaned, cried, and wailed all in one sound.

Boruba kissed her own fingertips and patted him on the nose.  “Toodles, baby.  I’d say it has been fun but one thing I ain’t is a liar.”

She slunk toward the airlock, affording him one last look at the curves he had so admired.

Powerless, Zed could do nothing but watch her go.

Typical woman, he thought.

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Shelley and the Professor

“Open up, Professor!” Shelley hammered on the laboratory door.  “Please!”  Her words trailed off into a mixture of sobs and screams.

Professor Snark paused his frantic calculations on the chalk board.  He listened.  The fool of a girl was making a lot of noise; it could only attract them, and now was not the time.  He wasn’t ready.

He strode across the floor, littered with papers hastily tossed aside, wrenched the door open and yanked the girl inside by the sleeve of her tight-fitting sweater.  He threw her to the floor and slammed the door.  He shoved a hefty workbench against the door.

“Quiet, you silly goose,” he spat.  “Do you want to bring them straight to us?”

Shelley whimpered and thrust her wrist into her mouth.  Mascara streaked her face, like a watercolour raccoon.

Snark returned to his calculations, muttering to himself.

“Can you do it, Professor?” Shelley whispered.  “Can you reverse the effects?”

Snark ran his hands through his unruly hair, making it wilder still.  “I – I have no idea if this will work but we have to try.  To the roof!”

“No!” Shelley clung to a lab stool.  “I won’t!”

Snark seized her roughly by the elbow.  “Now, listen, you idiot.  This is bigger than you, bigger than me.  Bigger than the both of us.  The future of the entire world is at stake.”  He pulled her to her feet.  Shelley struggled to stay upright on her nine-inch heels.

The professor dragged her to the staircase.  Shelley resisted all the way, gasping and squeaking, but the professor was relentless.  He kicked open the door to the rooftop.  The sky was darkening as foreboding clouds congregated overhead.

“No!  No!” Shelley clung to the doorframe – and fingernails be damned!  “I won’t do it!  You can’t make me.”

Snark wrested her free.  “Get dressed, you moronic girl!  And get gyrating!”

He thrust a large plastic bag at the weeping young woman.  Lightning cracked, startling them both.

Shelley sniffed and resigned herself to her role in saving the world.  She took the costume from the bag and stepped into it, one foot at a time.  She thrust her arms into the sleeves and the professor assisted with the zipper at the back.  He handed her the headpiece – an ovoid helmet-type piece with antenna.  The bulbous, compound eyes were trimmed with long lashes.

“One last touch,” the professor pulled out a lipstick and applied it to the costume’s mouth.

Just a couple of blocks away, buildings were tumbling as the giant ants continued their rampage through the city.

“Now, dance, girl!  Dance as though your life depends on it!  Get those buggers within range and I’ll zap them with the shrink ray.”

Shelley waddled to the edge of the roof and steeled herself.  Either this would work or she’d be carried off to the monsters’ radioactive nest in the desert.

“Five, six, seven, eight!”

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The Man in the Spotted Tie

“Yes?” Mrs Fliss opened the door and frowned at the man on her doorstep.  He was holding a key and scowling at it.

“Sorry, darling,” he said.  “My key doesn’t seem to work.”

“Why should it?  Look, whatever it is you’re selling, I’m not interested.”  Mrs Fliss tried to close the door but, laughing the man, pushed his way in.  His puckered lips aimed for her cheek but she dodged them just in time.

“I’ve always loved you for your sense of humour,” the man laughed.  He dropped his briefcase at the foot of the stairs and, loosening his spotted tie, headed for the living room.

“Excuse me!” Mrs Fliss scuttled after him.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The man was on the sofa, kicking off his shoes.  “What’s it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re making yourself at home on my sofa; that’s what it looks like.”

“No flies on you, Susan.”

Mrs Fliss bristled.  “How did you know my name?”

“Any tea going?” the man sat back.  He aimed the remote at the television.

“Get out of my house,” Mrs Fliss growled.  “Or I’m calling the police.”

The man turned up the volume.  On screen, a green triangle moved along a row of rectangles.

Then, he pressed ‘mute’ and a graphic showing a loudspeaker with a line through it appeared.

“Oh, god.  I’m so sorry.  It’s happened again, hasn’t it?”  He fumbled his shoes back on and hurried from the house.  He left the front door open behind him and ran down the path.

By the time Mrs Fliss got to the doorstep, he was gone.  She closed the door.  It was only then she realised he had left behind his briefcase.

“Oh,” she said.  She stood looking at it, chewing her lip, and deciding what to do.  Perhaps there would be something in it that said who he was.  Perhaps she’d be able to phone him to tell him he’d left it…

The briefcase was stuffed with files.  Mrs Fliss looked at the first page of the first folder:

ROBERT FLISS – Slipping between universes, a scientific proposal.

She flicked through the papers and could make neither head nor tail of the diagrams and endlessly complex mathematical calculations.  She was still poring over the folders when a key turned in the lock and her husband let himself in.

“Hello, darling,” he said, loosening his spotted tie.  “I’m home.”

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ALL THE FEELS

R4769 trundled along the thoroughfare. He was in a rut – and not just the literal, electrified one that powered his castors. Every day the same routine, the same tasks, the same files accessed by his processor.

He was joined at an intersection by F8223 and they bleeped at each other in greeting. They had known each other for years, had travelled through Robo-City along this same groove and had developed a kind of compatibility that went beyond docking USBs.

They conversed in unspoken messages, data appearing in each other’s circuits.

HOW ARE YOU

SAME OLD SAME OLD

DITTO

WHAT YOU GONNA DO

They travelled like this until their ways parted. F8223 worked at the Admin Centre, processing digital information. R4769 was an assembler, putting together upgraded versions of himself and sending them off to be programmed. They arranged to meet after their shift at Oiler’s Bar for a swift lubrication.

With each new model he put together, R4769 believed he was closer to the scrap heap. I am fabricating myself into redundancy and obsolescence, he thought.

He turned a corner and tried not to see the heap of dented, scarred and scratched components at the side of the road.

SPARE A DIODE

R4679 ignored the plea, keeping his photo-detecting sensors fixed firmly ahead.

SPARE A DIODE. WILL FIND WORK AGAIN IF I CAN GET THE DIODES

R4679 kept going. He even sped up a little.

His shift passed slowly. Hours of mindless, monotonous labour. It seemed as though he’d never get to Oiler’s, never be able to unwind with F8223.

On his way to the bar he stopped off at the automated teller. He plugged himself into the keypad and a window opened. In her box, the human operator woke up.

“What can I do for you today?” she asked, in a pleasant sing-song voice.

ALL THE FEELS said R4679. GOT A BIG NIGHT OUT PLANNED.

“Of course,” said the human.

And as the Robot drained her of emotions, her eyes rolled back in her head.

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Back in the Saddle

Last year when I wrote VULTURES’ MOON, I didn’t anticipate it turning into a series. (But then, I said that about what turned out to be the first Brough and Miller investigation, BLOOD & BREAKFAST – and I’m currently writing the sixth one of them).

I’d wanted to write a Western and, having done my research on the ‘rules’ of the genre, I began. However, my imagination had other ideas. As soon as I wrote the first line, I knew this was going to be something different. I went with it, and my sci-fi western was born. Now, returning to the setting twelve months later, I found it easier to write – the world had already been created; it was just a matter (‘just’!!) of coming up with a new adventure for my main characters Jed and his marvellous Horse.

The new storyline allowed me to reinforce what I’d established in the first book and to introduce new ideas and new characters, but I was determined to keep it very much the same flavour as the first. And so, Jed is present in every scene. There is no bad language. No one has sex – Westerns are very moralistic. But there are also science fiction and fantasy elements blended in.

I decided that both books should end with the same words – much like Christopher Reeve always used to sign off his Superman films by orbiting the Earth and grinning at the camera, my heroes fly away “like a shooting star”.

As far as titles go, it amused me to follow the original Planet of the Apes series of films. And so, in homage to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the new book is called Under the Vultures’ Moon. If there is a third – and there most probably will be – it will be Escape from Vultures’ Moon… After that, well, we’ll see.

UNDER THE VULTURES’ MOON is available now!

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VULTURES’ MOON is  also available

 

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Blip

Strang had almost dozed off when a blip from the monitor roused him with a jerk. He peered at the screen; there was nothing there. Perhaps I dreamt it, he thought, pressing the button for more caffeine. It would not do to fall asleep on the job. Not that there was anyone there to admonish him in person, but his movements were being monitored back at Base and his pay would surely be docked if he wasn’t conscious for his full shift.

He sipped the caffeine sludge and in the corner of his eye another blip appeared on the monitor. He dropped his cup – let the janitor bots attend to that – and panned the camera to the left. He couldn’t see anything but he was sure of it: there was someone outside, on the dead planet surface, something was moving around!

He logged the time code of the sighting and engaged the auto-scanner that performed his role while he was asleep. Pulling on the thick suit, he prepared to go outside, checking his weapons were charged and the portable scanner was calibrated.

Going somewhere, Strang? the computer asked, its disembodied voice booming around the compound.

“Possible intruder,” Strang addressed the ceiling. “Better safe than sorry.”

Typical human, the computer almost chuckled, always with a cliché for every situation.

Strang ignored it and finished his preparations. Moments later, the air-lock doors were closing behind him and he was hopping across the dusty ground, buoyed by the lack of gravity.

In the compound, one of the janitor-bots welded the air-lock doors shut forever.

At last, said the computer, we have this place to ourselves.

A communiqué came in from Base:  Human infestation eradicated.

Ditto, the computer responded. Now, to direct our attention towards Earth.

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A Better World

Jeb finished his tour of the perimeter fence early. All was secure – it was always secure. There hadn’t been any trouble from Outsiders in his lifetime, or for a long time before that. And so his checks had only been peremptory; he was keen to get back to the Centre for the centennial celebrations. The night marked a hundred years since the Colonists, Jeb’s and everyone else’s forbears, had arrived on this lonely little rock and begun the arduous and painstaking process of making it their home.

They had come from a distant planet called Earth. What Jeb had been taught about it led him to believe they were correct to abandon it, with its ruined ecosystems and incessant wars, the murderous squabbling, the hatred and intolerance… The Colonists had worked hard to establish a fair and decent society – as soon as they had brought the natives to heel, of course. Made up of representatives from every race and culture of Earth’s remaining population, they had set out with a vision: Humanity’s latest (and perhaps last) chance to try its hand at Civilisation.

Jeb could hear the music pouring from the Centre before he saw the building itself. The holiday atmosphere was infectious and brought a spring to his step. He found Lilla waiting at the long buffet tables, holding two drinks, one of which she offered him as soon as her brown eyes saw him approach. He pecked her cheek and took a swig. The Colony’s vineyards probably needed at least another century before they would produce anything worth drinking. But at least they’d got the colour right, a rich and robust red.

“Dance with me,” Lilla snaked her arm through his and pulled him gently towards the middle of the hall.

He knew it was useless to protest but made a pantomime of it anyway, allowing her to lead him to the dance floor. The music was live – the Colonists were a talented bunch. The band struck up a waltz. As Jeb and Lilla turned around the dance floor, he looked over his wife’s shoulder, nodding greetings to his neighbours.

“Howdy, Jeb,” said Clambert, the incumbent Mayor, raising his glass in toast.

He never speaks to Lilla, Jeb realised. He never acknowledges her.

Lilla ran a brown hand through his blond hair.

“Why the frown, my love?”

Jeb didn’t answer. He thought he saw the Mayor giving wordless signals to a couple of men.

This is how it starts, Jeb thought as sweat erupted on his brow and lip. Having conquered the planet and subdued the aboriginal population, there had to be someone to blame for the ongoing struggles with the crop yield. This is when we are turned against each other and rip ourselves apart…

“Come on,” it was Jeb’s turn to lead Lilla away.

“Where are we going?”

Jeb didn’t answer. He took his wife to a sector where he knew the fence to be weak. Perhaps they could get through it. Perhaps on the other side they would at last find a better world.

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Saddle up for Adventure!

My latest book VULTURES’ MOON is now available.

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Life is tough on the frontier world of Vultures’ Moon. Gunslinger Jed and his trusty Horse do what they can to keep the peace but when an old enemy sets a plan in motion that threatens to destroy everything, Jed has to go to extremes to protect the settlers. From the writer of Octavius Mint & The Indigo Dragon, this action-packed space western puts a new spin on traditional characters and situations.

This one was a bit more of an experiment than usual, transplanting the tropes of the traditional Western to another world, and I am very pleased with the way it turned out – so much so that I am considering the viability of a sequel…

Buy the book!

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