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First pages

The First Chronicle: Seven Days

Lifer sat in his timeless cell. Existing. He had completed the mental puzzles and was now resting for the remaining part of the hour. The drill would start again on the hour, as it did every hour.

 

How do you hold onto your own sanity? Work too hard at it and you fixate – you fixate and become crazy.

 Don’t think about it then. But not thinking is far harder than you might at first... think. And that’s the problem, see? You can’t – with thought-through-deliberation – decide on not thinking.

 Yes, of course, you can just let go. Drift. Sometimes to sleep. But the guards won’t let you sleep too long. No. They come in with their buzzsticks if they believe you’re getting away with not thinking for too long. A well placed zap and you’re strapped back into the electric chair of your mind, and you’re screaming. And there’s no breaking free.

 How long have I been here in this cell? I’ve lost track. I think I was crazy for a good while. It was for... some years maybe, when I stopped trying to hold onto my sanity quite so tightly. It’s hazy.

 The guards weren’t pleased, that’s for sure. Not one bit. They started the drill. How to explain the drill? It starts small and easy. They come in on the hour and use their buzzsticks to coax you through a set of movements. Sit up, feet together, hands on the chair’s arm-rests, looking straight ahead. Then up and around the edge of the twelve-foot cell twelve times, faster with each circuit. Push-ups. 144. Sit-ups. 144. Take fluids. Back to the chair, in the position. The broadcaster images mental puzzles into my head – they don’t use screens or anything anymore – and I have to move my hands on the table to complete the tasks in time... in time or it’s the buzzsticks. The guards leave and I rest for the remaining time. On the hour, back they come and I’m drilled again. On the hour. On the hour. For 16 hours. Then it’s over to the auto-injector for my shot of evil. Rejuve straight into my veins. It’s of my own making, all of my own making. The high protein shot follows the black evil, I just about get to my bed, and then it’s oblivion.

 Until 6 a.m. On the hour. Back they come and it’s the drill. And the drill. And the drill. Into your brain, into your core. Rejuve keeping you alive, over and over. You die again and again and you’re brought back again and again. Damn Rejuve, damn Rejuve. But it was of my own making. It was a drug I invented in my own laboratories. I thought I could save mankind, you see, in my arrogance. I thought I had saved mankind. I thought I would rule the world, dispensing life and immortality to those who could pay enough or had enough influence.

 Or that’s the story, anyway. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It’s the story the broadcaster projects into my mind everyday. I don’t know if the projections are my actual memories or just stories they put in my head. When you can’t differentiate between your own memories and the images forced on you by the broadcasting machine, you don’t know what’s real or who you are, do you?
Because I don’t remember who I am, you see. Oh, sure, I know who I’m meant to be in the projections, but I don’t know if I really did all those terrible things, if I was really responsible for those billions of deaths. I DON’T KNOW.

 

I am sorry for what I did. The sentence of Extended Life is the only justice possible for my crimes. It is a fair sentence. It is a necessary sentence. I do not dispute or resist it. I will not attempt suicide. I will stay alive forever and suffer in the full knowledge and the full horror of what I have done. I willingly accept the Rejuve injections, although that drug is rightly outlawed. The drug is as evil as I am. My original discovery and engineering of that drug was evil. It is therefore my crime and my punishment. I will not ask for forgiveness, for what I did cannot be forgiven. I would ask the forgiveness of the billions who died, but they cannot hear it. They cannot forgive me. Their spirits haunt me, and that is as it should be. They are deaf to me, but I will never be deaf to them. I am sorry for what I did.

 That is the apology message broadcast to the world at the start and end of each day. It’s my image speaking those words, but I do not know if they are my words. How can I know? Apparently... originally... once, I spoke them. I don’t remember. Well, I do, but I don’t know if I can trust the memory, whether it’s my own.

 I don’t even remember my name. It’s been erased, you see, so I can never be glorified in human history. And as I said there have been years when I lost myself, my mind, everything. I can’t... I don’t know my real name. I’ve had many, of course, most of them abusive or offensive. Now, I’m just Lifer.

 Yes, I’ve tried suicide. Some find suicide ridiculously easy, as out in the real world – if there’s such a place – society allows you so many means for it that they’re almost encouraging you. It’s amazing that so many actually live so long. Here in my cell, though, it’s not so easy. I’m constantly monitored. As soon as I manage to pierce my skin, the damned Rejuve starts to repair it. I try to will myself to death, but the broadcaster keeps interfering, correcting me. After all, I’ve promised not to commit suicide, haven’t I? I don’t want to commit suicide.

 Yes. It all gets too much. Madness is almost an escape, but then the drill starts again. On the hour. On the hour. The Rejuve. Oblivion. On the hour. The position. It keeps you alive and fit. You perform the entire drill autonomically. They don’t need the buzzsticks after the first few hours. The broadcaster seems to be turned up a notch and you come back to yourself... although you’re never quite sure it’s the same you as before you went mad.

 Damn them. If it’s not the same you, why keep me here anymore? What is it they want of me? The world needs me here. It needs me. And that strange thought keeps me alive. It needs me, even after all it thinks I’ve done.

 It keeps me alive, on and on. How long’s it been now? There’s no way to tell. It seems forever. I’m sure I’ve seen guards grow old and disappear, to be replaced by others, who grow old in their turn, and are then replaced. Can it really be that long?

 They taught me... or I learnt... to perform the drill on my own without them there to coax me. They leave me on my own once I do that. I do the drill in my twelve-foot cell day on day, year on year, decade on decade... my mind then snaps at some point... but then they’re there to help me re-establish myself once more. I’m getting better. My mind used to go every few years. Then every few decades. Now... well, I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I’m getting better, though.

 I try to tell them I’m better, but they know better than to listen. It is not their job to listen. Their job is to keep me here. If they were to listen, they would be rewarding my words. And I’m not here to be rewarded. My words seek to tempt and entrap them. My words are wrong, criminal, evil. When I attempt to speak, the drill starts, for my words are a sign of impending madness. They wear visors too, so that their eyes may not unwittingly reward me. My gaze is also a temptation and entrapment, of course. Also evil.

 

Lifer sat in his timeless cell. Existing. He had completed the mental puzzles and was now resting for the remaining part of the hour. The drill would start again on the hour, as it did every hour.

 He gazed at the table. The slightest frown touched his brow. Wasn’t the table a fraction wider than it had been? A milimetre wider? What was this? When he was in the position, with his head at the correct angle, the edge of the table lined up just so with the bottom of the far wall where it met the floor. Now, the edge of the table was the slightest bit higher against the wall than usual. Surely he wasn’t slouching, was he, sitting that bit lower in the chair? He lengthened his spine and resettled himself, but the table was still wrong.

 He was not imagining it. He usually knew when he was imagining things, because the broadcaster’s images would make his head hurt.

 They must have changed his table while he was oblivious during the night, in the grip of the evil Rejuve he had created. They must have.

 He looked closer at the table, and his vision suddenly brought it closer. He trembled. Never had this happened before. He saw every imperfection in the surface, every unevenness. It was like seeing a whole new landscape and vista from way up high. A new world.

 He leaned back a fraction and blinked, to bring himself back to his cell. Had the Rejuve made his eyes stronger? Is that why the table now seemed different? Had he been seeing it less accurately before, but now saw it more perfectly?

 There was a warning in his head. The new hour was about to begin. He had become distracted. He rose smoothly from the chair, stepped three feet to the side and then, in three strides, covered the eight feet to the far wall... a whole second late. Madness. He almost called out to them that there were signs of a new madness beginning, but his words were evil. He swallowed them down and began the drill.

 

Red lights showed up on the Record in the close monitoring station. Guard 4345 spilt his coffee in shock and cursed. Guard 4343, the senior of the two, nearly fell off his chair in his haste to read the display.

 ‘What is it?’ 4345 warbled, his mouth left open at the end of his question.

 ‘He’s a second late starting the drill.’

 ‘He’s never late,’ 4345 protested.

 ‘He is now.’

 ‘The Record must be wrong. I read about one time when the idiots shifted the World Clock without warning anyone. Something to do with the Earth’s angle of elevation shifting unexpectedly. What do we do? We should tell the remote monitoring station. Follow protocol.’

 ‘Shut up and let me think. Remote monitoring will already know.’ 4343 took a calming breath. ‘We wait. They’ll tell us what to do. Get your buzzstick and visor. We may have to perform an intervention. We’ll need to be ready to move.’

 ‘Wh-what? B-but there hasn’t been an intervention in... since... ever. I never thought I’d have to do one.’

 ‘You’ve practised it endlessly. Just treat it like another practice. Follow my lead,’ the grey-haired 4343 reassured his junior. ‘Get this right and we’ll be interviewed on every broadcast channel when we retire. Pull yourself together. This could be the one moment of your life that counts for anything.’

 ‘Buzzsticks on full charge. Ready.’

 They waited in tense silence. 4343’s stomach flipped. He was glad he hadn’t had breakfast that morning after all. Otherwise he’d be heaving it up right about now and 4345 would be panicking even worse.

 A deep calm voice came from the speaker on the Record’s console. ‘This is Superintendent Royce at the remote monitoring station. 4343, 4345, report!’

 4343 cleared his throat and switched on the console’s microphone. ‘Both here, sir.’

 ‘Continue monitoring. Stay on alert. If there’s no further incident today, then it’s Superintendent West’s problem to deal with when he takes over at the end of the week. That is all. As you were, boys.’

 4343 switched off the microphone. ‘Shit! And put that buzzstick down before you do one of us an injury!’

 

I thought I knew every inch of my cell. Every panel and fixture. The precise distance between bolted down chair and table. Between bolted down bed and immovable wall. All relationships measured precisely, by the length of my stride and reach and arms and hands and fingers and... and nose. All in relation to me. Fixed. Unchanging. Measured and repeated. Over and over. The drill and the position. From these things come my sanity and re-establishment. From these things I come. Because of these things there is me. Because of these things there is definition... alright, call it control or self-control if you prefer, but they have got the measure of me, and it allows me to get the measure of myself. It allows me to know myself. I need such knowledge, I need that boundary, I need that drill, so that I know where I end and the world begins. How else can I judge how to interact accurately with my environment? Measure, control, definition and imprisonment – all are essential to me.

 Yet the table is a milimetre wider. The measurement was wrong! What I thought I was was wrong. Listen to yourself. No, don’t. That’ll be like talking to yourself, which everyone knows is the start of madness. But listen to yourself anyway, just for a second. You’re having a crisis of self. Either way, it’s the start of madness. Get a grip. Quieten that other voice. Know thyself, Lifer.

 That’s it. Quiet. Which voice is this? The you or the I? It doesn’t matter! Shut up. They’re the same voice echoing. You know who you are. I know who I am. We know who we are.

 Self-indulgent? Shut up! Who said that? You try being in a cell for god knows how long and then discovering something had bizarrely changed. Go on, you try it! It may be just a milimetre to you, but you wouldn’t say that to a man who missed catching the edge of a precipice by precisely that distance, would you? You would? Then let your own conscience deal with being such a cold bastard.

 Shut up and leave me alone. If you don’t like it, just stop reading and watching the Record. Leave me alone!

 

Lifer glared at the broadcaster. It was his suspicion that it was the broadcaster accusing him of self-indulgence. The accusation had certainly changed the direction of his thoughts – such a change was a telltale sign of it projecting into his mind. Besides, hadn’t the faint buzz of the electricity in the walls risen in key? That was usually another sign that the machine had been turned up or they were actively watching him.

 Warning. He lurched out of his chair. On the hour. No, he was too soon! He reached the wall a full second early. He wanted to scream at them, but his words were evil. He swallowed them down and started the drill. Idiot. He deliberately slowed, trying to compensate for the second. But he couldn’t compensate. He knew that. He couldn’t change what had already happened. He couldn’t compensate for the billions that had died.

 

Red lights on the Record’s console. Guard 4345 spilt scalding coffee down his white shirt. ‘Gah!’ He swore ferociously. Guard 4343 tried to bring his feet off the console and back under his chair in one movement but he misjudged and, as he brought his weight forward, almost brained himself on the steel edge of the console. He caught himself with his hands at the last possible moment.

 ‘He’s a second early!’

 ‘B–... What does it mean?’ 4345 turned away, looking to put his cup down. ‘I’ll get the buzz– screw it!’ He threw his cup to the floor and went for his locker.

 ‘Idiot! We’ll slip on that. You trying to kill us? Calm down. Damn it. Listen to me! Stop. Jerry, stop! Remember your training. Remember the drill.’

 4345 kept moving, but did slow slightly. He passed buzzstick and visor to his partner. He gave a small nod. ‘Yes. Protocol. I know. Ready.’

 Their heads turned together to stare at the speaker on the console. Neither of them moved. Neither of them breathed. They waited there in the close monitoring station. They waited for the instructions of the remote monitoring station.

 ‘This is Superintendent Royce,’ came the deep and calm voice. ‘4343, 4345, report, please.’

 4343 switched on the microphone and choked as he tried to breathe and speak simultaneously. ‘Sorry, sir. Both here, sir.’

 ‘Continue monitoring. Stay on alert. Full reports are on the way to Superintendent West. His first day is being brought forward... That is all. As you were, boys... and see you on the broadcast channels! Royce out.’

 4343 switched off the microphone. ‘Damn. I thought we’d be going in for sure that time.’

 4345 began to pace. ‘What was that he said about the broadcast channels?’

 ‘Don’t worry about it. Just get this mess cleared up before one of us has an injury.’

 

The drill is helping. I thought I knew every inch of my cell. Every surface was even and true. Now it’s all warped, all canyons and mountains. Those canyons are teeming with life too. There was I thinking I was all alone in the cell, but not a bit of it! There are countless microbes down there, whole populations of them. Whole civilizations? Who knows? And there’s quite a few of them on my body too.

 How was I never aware of them before? The miracle of life. One moment there’s nothing, the next it’s everywhere. Almost like spontaneous combustions, but the opposite of that.

 Yet I’m still alone. They seem entirely ignorant of me. It’s incredible that they cannot know I’m here. I’d be like a god to them, if they but knew I was here. I sweep my hand over surfaces, but do not even touch them because they are so small. How can they not feel my touch or even feel the movement of air when my hand passes over them? How lonely godhead must be. I’m glad I’m not a god, that’s for sure. Better to be Lifer here in his cell.

 The sound of the electricity is grating now. It’s affecting my nerves. I try and treat it as the background of existence, or as white noise. I try not to think about it, but “not thinking” is impossible – I’ve tried it often enough. I can’t block it out. When did it become so loud?
I nearly stumble in the middle of the drill as I realise what’s going on. No. I don’t want increased hearing as well. It will drive me crazy. No! I don’t want to see and hear better. No. And what will be next? Will I get enhanced feeling? Dear god, no. If my sense of feeling increases, the next shot of Rejuve into my veins will... will be a torture beyond imagining. I begin to fear the moment at the end of the day, the moment when the black evil will be pumped into me. Sweet Jesus.

 The drill carries me on and on towards that moment. It’s no longer helping. On and on, closer and closer. I want to slow it down, but know I can’t because then it would no longer be the drill, and without the drill I am nothing. And slowing down would bring the guards in with the buzzsticks. One well placed zap and they’ll have me strapped into the electric chair of my brain once more, strapped in and screaming.

 Try not to hear the electricity in the walls then. I can’t. Then listen to it instead. You’ve got no choice. The crackle and hum, almost a song. Not exactly a lullaby, but better than the whistle of silence and the flatline on a monitoring machine signalling brain death. It’s a song that varies in pitch and cadence as I run the circuits around my twelve-foot cell. There’s almost a rhythm, almost meaning, almost words, ghostly words. What are they saying? Damn. I thought we’d be going in for sure that time.

 

Lifer ran the circuit. He tilted his head ever so slightly, as if listening to something. Even as he ran, he turned his gaze towards the broadcaster and frowned. He held to the drill, but now he glared.

 He performed the drill without having to watch what he was doing. Instead he glared at the broadcaster.

 

‘Holy Christ. He can hear us!’ 4345 whined, cringing back from the display.

 ‘Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just coincidence.’

 ‘It’s like he’s challenging us!’

 ‘Don’t let your imagination get the better of you. You’re over-reading his actions. Remember your training. They warned you about this sort of thing,’ 4343 bit back.

 ‘He just smiled. He’s laughing at us!’

 ‘Enough! Take a break. That’s not a suggestion, that’s an order.’

 ‘You can’t tell me what–‘

 ‘You either follow my order or I report you.’ The two men eyeballed each other. ‘Take... a... break... Now!’

 4345 broke the gaze first. He looked down and colour came to his cheeks. His shoulders sagged. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘Too much coffee. Caffeine’s got me wired.’

 4343 softened slightly. ‘Happens to all of us. You sleeping properly?’

 A pause. ‘I... When I close my eyes, the after-images last longer now than they did at the beginning.’

 ‘Staring at screens all day does that. There’s no natural down here, of course. You need to change your work shift so that you’re exposed to a decent amount of daylight when you get back up top. I’ll put in a request too. Different hours will be good for the both of us. I’m beginning to feel like I’m more of a prisoner down here in the Pit than Lifer is himself.’

 4345 looked back up. ‘Really? They’ll keep us together then and just swap us with one of the other teams. Don’t think I could have lasted this long without you. I thought this job would be easier, you know? I had no idea.’

 4343 ushered his partner towards the door. ‘Come on.’ He glanced back over his shoulder and almost lost self-control as he saw Lifer staring out of the display at him. Their gazes locked. This time is was 4343 who dropped his gaze. He hurried the younger man away.

 

The drill is helping. I’m more myself now, even though I’m different. My problem was just a matter of perspective, of course. I see that now. Simple really. I shouldn’t have got myself worked up over something so small – and, let’s face it, microbes are about as small as you can get. Well, I assume they’re as small as you get. Maybe, just as I see them, they can see other things that are even smaller. Maybe they live in their own prison of sorts and are even now looking down upon infinitessimally small creatures. And maybe even those infinitessimally small creatures are looking down on things even smaller.

 Maybe there’s an impossibly large creature who even now looks down upon me as if I were a microbe. Just as the microbes are ignorant of my existence, maybe I’m ignorant of that impossible large creature. Maybe it’s me who fails to feel his touch or the movement of air when his hand passes over me. Maybe that impossibly large creature is in a cell of his own and is wondering if there is an even larger creature looking down upon him. All of us ignorant and unknowing. All of us alone even though life teems unseen and unfelt all around us. How can it be?

 Just a matter of perspective.

 

Lifer moved over to the auto-injector. He hesitated briefly, but not so long that any monitor would notice. If he were seen to hesitate, none would believe his contritions for the crimes he had committed. They would want to see him punished even more. At the same time, a moment of hesitation might betray that he was still suffering, might provide evidence that he was properly being punished and still feeling the punishment, even after all this time. It was a delicate balance.

 Lifer placed his wrist against the pressure pad and a needle pierced him. Rejuve entered his system. Cold and evil. He felt it spreading like ice... and fire through his veins, killing him one moment and bringing him back the next.

 Used cells instantly decayed, either sloughing off him as a fine dust or becoming ready within him for excretion. He was starving. He needed to defecate. His body had gone into overdrive, consuming itself in order to renew itself. New cells were being born, but his body drew on essential reserves to create and feed them. His rebirth was killing him.

 The cold fire reached his heart. Its beat slowed. Up to his neck now. So numb he no longer had feeling in his extremities. His mouth stretched in a silent scream. The moment lasted forever, between life and death, between contrition and punishment, between catching and missing the edge of the precipice. The awful moment was a hesitation so brief that no monitor would notice it, but it was also eternity. As long as he’d lived, it was nothing compared to this. There was no becoming inured to it. As bad as each moment was, the next managed to be worse. It was that torture beyond his imagining. He was stretched beyond breaking point on the rack of time, stretched beyond his elastic limit, so that he could never again be what he had been. Stretched so thin that he became transparent, then ghostly, then entirely gone.

 Just as his mind disappeared, the high protein shot pierced him. It flooded him like light. Like sunlight finding its way into an old cave. It raced the cold evil to his brain.

 He turned away and staggered towards his bed. He struggled to co-ordinate his limbs, like something newly risen from the grave.

 Cold fire and warm light exploded in his head. It was the big bang and apocalypse in one. He knew oblivion, and he was grateful. He just prayed – as he prayed every night – that he would not mess the bed like a child.

 

4343 and 4345 stepped off the shuttletube and went to the express elevator that would take them up out of the Pit to the remote monitoring station, the broadcast facility, the surface, and the wide world.

 ‘Why do you think he wants to see us?’ asked 4345 nervously, his eyes straight ahead, then quickly down, then up, then slowly left and right.

 4343 sighed silently to himself. He felt old and tired. He knew precisely why they’d been called, but he didn’t have the heart to explain it. Besides, it wouldn’t have done any good. It was a sign of just how bad Jerry had got that he needed to ask the question at all. ‘Oh, you know how it is,’ he heard himself say. ‘A new Superintendent always likes to meet each of his men individually. It’s just a meet and greet.’

 They entered the remote monitoring station and were ushered through into the Superintendent’s office. The room they entered was as austere as every other in the complex – no hiding places, everything bolted down or locked – except there was a thick red carpet, which deadened noise and created a certain sense of... privacy. The man at the desk rose as they entered. He smiled, gesturing to the two chairs fixed on the other side of the desk.

 ‘Gentlemen. Welcome. Please, have a seat.’

 4343 glanced at the two hulking security guards standing at attention against the far wall, went to one of the chairs, turned his back on the guards and sat. 4345 followed his lead. Then 4343 regarded the new Superintendent, taking in the man’s neat uniform, carefully combed hair, square jaw and clear eyes. He looked to be in his late thirties, which was young for his position, very young.

 The new Superintendent sat a second after they did. ‘I’m Superintendent West.’ He leaned forward ever so slightly as he smiled again and said, ‘It’s an honour to meet you both.’

 4343 noted that the smile had touched the Superintendent’s eyes and had not lasted beyond the maximum four seconds of a genuine smile. He’s either extremely well trained or he’s not right for the job. But they never employ someone who’s not right for the job, so he’s extremely well trained. Well of course he is, you idiot. What else? There’s something different. Ah, the pot plant that was on this desk is gone. Did Royce take it with him or has Superintendent West had it removed? It should never have been here in the first place. It was against protocol, not that I can really see how a pot plant can serve as an offensive weapon. You’d be better off just using your hands in a fight. Maybe the pot plant was Royce’s downfall. Maybe someone reported him. If they did, it’s Royce’s own fault. It’s always of our own making, really, just as it’s my own fault that I’m now called here. Damn I feel old. I need a rest, like Jerry there.

 4345 fidgeted.

 A small sad frown had now replaced the warm smile. ‘This is not how I imagined my first day in post. Indeed, it’s not even day, is it? Lifer has already had his shots and put his head down for the night. This is not how I wanted it to be. Yet the things that have happened... well, they’ve forced the issue. I’m sure you understand.’

 4343 nodded.

 4345 looked from the Superintendent to his partner and back again, acting out his consternation, or denial.

 ‘The world is grateful for the sacrifices that you have made in order to fulfil your role as Lifer’s guards.’

 4343 nodded.

 ‘What is this?’ 4345 asked faintly. ‘What’s going on?’

 ‘You will of course receive a full pension should you wish to retire immediately. Otherwise our replacement service–’

 ‘You can’t do this!’

 ‘–will help find you whatever type of job you would like. There is no shortage of choice for men such as yourselves. The top companies will fight just to have you on a retainer as a consultant. Most will offer you an executive or director position because of what having you on the books can do for their brands and reputation. You might of course prefer the lecture circuit, playing to packed houses, with all its trappings of celebrity, fame, fortune and fans.’

 ‘No,’ 4345 insisted. ‘I won’t let you do this!’

 4343 sighed silently to himself. ‘Jerry–’

 But Jerry was now on his feet. ‘Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t walk in here and take everything away just like that! You have no right.’

 The Superintendent’s face hardened, and he looked altogether a different person. ‘Sit down, guard 4345. That is a direct order. None of this is personal.’

 4345 remained on his feet. His eyes were too wide. The veins on his forehead were too prominent. He raised an angry finger. ‘Telling me not to take this personally, are you, Superintendent West? How else should I take it, then, when someone takes away my job? Do you have any idea what I’ve given up to be here? Everything! I won’t let you take it away from me. He’s mine! I’m his guard.’

 The Superintendent’s eyes flicked to the security guards against the wall.

 That was probably a mistake, but it might be for the best, 4343 sighed to himself. We’re way past the line now. There’s no finding our way back. He’s all but having a breakdown. Poor Jerry. I should have done something long before it came to this. It’s my fault. That’s why I’m here. Damn, I’m tired.

 4345’s eyes narrowed. He hadn’t missed the Superintendent’s signal either. He’d had training himself, after all. Knowing better than to turn back towards the guards, he pushed with one foot off the bolted chair and sprang up onto the desk. He kicked straight at the Superintendent’s throat... as the security guards threw themselves across the room. They weren’t going to make it in time.

 4343 put his head in his hands.

 The Superintendent raised one hand from the desk and moved it sideways, as if casually waving to a friend. He deflected Guard 4345’s kick to the side with perfect timing, and the latter found himself twisted round and off balance. A buzzstick slammed into 4345’s supporting leg, sweeping it out from under him. A second of silence, and then 4345 crashed down onto the desk and then the floor. The hands of the security guards were on him in an instant, hauling him up, putting him in an arm lock and then all but carrying him from the room.

 Long seconds.

 4343 finally looked up.

 ‘I apologise, Guard 4343. I should have handled that better,’ Superintendent West said softly. ‘May I call you Joe?’


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A J Dalton (the ‘A’ is for Adam) has been an English language teacher as far afield as Egypt, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Slovakia, Poland and Manchester University. He has lived in Manchester since 2003, but has a conspicuous Cockney accent, as he was born in Croydon on a dark night, when strange stars were seen in the sky. He is currently published by Gollancz, with whom he has put out the best-selling title Empire of the Saviours (2012). He runs SFF site www.ajdalton.eu.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Well, I get all my ideas from the Ideas Shop at the end of Compton Street. No, I get most of my ideas from my head, but people don't seem satisfied with that. So, if I need a new idea, I'll read SFF and sometimes think, 'Hmm, I wouldn't have written it like that, I'd have written it like this!'
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I love Christopher Marlowe (he wrote the demonic Doctor Faustus play), Raymond E Feist (wrote Magician) and just about anyone else who writes fantasy!
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Look, you can't get a job as a philosopher these days, so you have to write fantasy and scifi instead. Fantasy comments upon society on an epic scale.

Next in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Secret of Blackthorn Manor
Who is haunting Blackthorn Manor?
Riddles of the Regent
Three heroes work expose a nefarious cult.
All The Heroes Are Dead
Boy attempts revenge on powerful villain.