Writing Prompt: A tech-company is developing a super weapon. During a project meeting, QA reports a big problem.

The X-weapon control centre was supposed to have been in a bunker, but development costs had eaten that part of the budget so it had been moved to a nice open plan office, originally intended to house a call centre.

Jack Hacker, former Green Beret Colonel of the project, didn’t feel that storming into a call centre had the same gravity as storming into a bunker, but he was prepared to deal with it in order to keep the Nerds in line.

“Someone tell me what the Hell is going on!” he thundered “The DoD is going to be here to evaluate the project in less than a week and I do NOT want to hear a lot of guff about missed milestones!”

“Sir! The Nerds are claiming the weapons system has passed the Turning Test Sir!”

The man barking a response was also ex-military. Hacker paused a moment to recall his name: Herman. Danny Herman, former Marine Sergeant and now civilian engineer. He was a little gung-ho for Hacker’s tastes.

“Turing test, Danny” said another voice. Hacker knew this one from the monthly project meetings; a young woman called Josie or somesuch. Lead programmer. Damned good one.

“It passed the Turning test last month,” echoed the other coder, name of Matt. “That isn’t what it’s doing now.”

Hacker could sense that one of them wanted to tell him what the Turing test was, but he waved the explanation away. He already knew what it was. No one dealing with truely smart weapons could avoid knowing.

He put his hands on his hips.

“So what the Hell is it doing now?”

“Give the Boss the feed from Camera 3” said Josie and Hacker turned to look at the Big Screen. There was the Weapon, a humanoid collection of angles and curves that resembled nothing less than a collection of weapons, from knives to vulcan cannons, rendered in beautiful chrome. It seemed to be talking to a terrified female technician.

“What you are, darling,” drawled the weapon “is a classic pear shape. So let’s do away with thes big solid blocks of clolour…”

“We think it’s developed fashion sense” said Matt.

Hacker boggled at the screen.

“What in the Hell for?”

“We don’t know!” snapped Josie “but we wawrned you, several times, that recycling the code base from Alexander Frou’s previous project was a mistake!”

Hacker had to think. Frou had come highly recommended and had a definite knack for creating software which could learn and predict based on real world and real time input. His previous job had been with with some dressmaker or other.

“No, sir, his previous job was with DKNY and he was contracted to predict or anticipate fashion trends” said Matt.

“I said that out loud, huh? So what does this mean in terms of the fighting capability of the weapon?”

Josie handed Hacker a tablet with test information on it. There were graphs. Hacker liked graphs.

“If I’m reading this right,” he said after a moment “the lethality index has risen a startling two thousand percent against targets wearing denim loon pants, smoking jackets or jeans with a denim jacket. But it refuses to shoot Nazis. Why is it refusing to shoot Nazis?”

“It knows their uniforms were designed by Hugo Boss”.

Hacker considered this carefully.

“As I see it, we have two options. Firstly, in order for this weapon system to remain effective we need to make sure NATO forces have uniforms and combat equipment designed by high level fashion designers. Secondly, we must ensure that the USA has a monopoly on those designers. We cannot allow a Designer Gap!”

Josie frowned.

“What’s the second option?”

“Option 2 is that we roll back the update on the Weapon’s core operating system and install a non-intelligent expert system” said Matt.

Hacker paced, chewing a pen.

“That would cost us too much time and too much money. We’d have to pass those cost increases on to the DoD and we’d lose the project. Is there no way we can deliver on time? Is there no way the Weapon can be adapted?”

“We could turn the voice off?” offered Danny. Hacker grinned.

“Now that’s some proper thinking!”


General Sturmond Drang watched the machine pirouette through a group of armoured personnel carriers and leave nothing but metal confetti behind.

“Oh, Hacker” he said “you have excelled yourself. This weapon system is pretty close to perfect. Tell me, how does the telemetry look?”

“Fine, sir, just fine” said Hacker, holding his thumb over the part of the printout where the machine had printed “green is so last season”.

He wondered how many fashion designers there were in the world. He wondered if the USA was rich enough to employ them all.

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Writing Prompt: Mystery Inc. Investigate the Cult of Cthulhu

In the dreams that didn’t make her wake up screaming, Velma remembered Fred taking the oars and ribbing Shaggy good naturedly about not getting in the boat.

“It’s not me, man,” Shaggy had said, “it’s Scoob! He’s, like, rooted to the spot!”

Scooby had planted himself, claws in the wooden deck, hackles up, absolutely refusing to get into the ship’s boat. Not even food would tempt him. The dog had growled at anyone who came near him, even Shaggy.

Velma had suggested that Shaggy look through some of the documents she’d brought aboard, because if the appearance of a mysterious land mass in the middle of the Pacific wasn’t a real-estate scam, she’d eat Fred’s ascot. They’d all smiled at that. Fred had rowed them to the island, and that was generally where she woke up, glad not to be covered in sweat, glad not to be screaming.

She didn’t have that dream often.


They’d bumped into the Church of Fooloo in Providence, where they’d unmasked the mysterious Fish Demon as the Church’s Worship Leader, Father Dave Gunn. The Fish Demon had been sighted around Riley Cove and the gang’s investigation had uncovered the fact that the Olmstead family, who had once owned the Cove, were being forced to sell their private beach having fallen on hard times.

The Church had wanted to buy the Cove, but the family had put it up for Auction and so Gunn had hit on the Fish Demon scheme to drive away interest.

Fred’s trap, involving fishing nets and counterweights, had suceeded in trapping Shaggy and Scooby. But Daphne’s quick thinking and her use of a pair of vintage glass floats as bolas had ensured Gunn was unmasked.

Unusually, Gunn hadn’t cursed them as meddling kids. He’d simply stared into Fred’s eyes and quietly insisted that the Church of Fooloo would not be denied.

Velma remembered that they’d laughed about the whole scheme being fishy from start to finish.


Daphne used to keep a dream diary. It was her sort of thing. No one read it until afterwards. Velma wished with all her heart that she’d been the sort of girl who did sleepovers and shared makeup tips and secrets, and giggled over boys because then she might have understood things were more serious than normal. They might have had a clue about the Church, and the significance of Riley Cove. They might not have gone.

As Fred applied himself to the oars, Velma caught Daphne in an uncharacteristic moment of poise failure. Daphne, who held herself to frankly ridiculous standards, looked grey skinned. Her eyes were circled with dark bags and just for a moment her cheeks looked hollow. She noticed Velma’s glance and smiled, instantly banishing any hint of weariness from everywhere except her eyes.


Daphne’s Dream Diary

Thursday

Had the mermaid dream again. Haven’t had that one since the case at Riley Cove. Just like last time, I’m somewhere tropical because it’s so warm and I’m sitting on a hill overlooking a beach. It’s evening, and there’s singing coming from the water. When I look down to the rocks, I can see people on the shore dancing and, in the water, there are mermaids swimming. They’re doing the singing and it sounds so lovely I just want to run down and join them.

Sunday

The Mermaid dream again. I can remember feeling light, like I was floating in the ocean, and the song surrounded and lifted me.

Wednesday

Mermaid dream. More detailed now. I can see the people on the beach and they aren’t dancing. It looks like they’re playing…trying to throw one another into the surf. With each one in the water, the mermaids sing louder and more clearly.

Thursday

They don’t want to go in the water. I can’t imagine why, but people struggle to not go into the water even though I know they should.

Friday

The surf is pink with their blood and they scream and scream and scream but nothing stops the mermaids and their knives.

Saturday

The tide washes their limbs ashore and the pink foam leaves a mark half way up the beach, all that clean white sand forever bathed in human redness. At sea he stands, free from his unceasing deathsleep, and our knives and hands make short work of his tribute! He is beautiful! He consumes us utterly and he is beautiful!


On the days she doesn’t wake up screaming, Velma thinks about Shaggy and Scooby.

She remembers Shaggy pulling her out of the water, the bravest moment of his life when he was the only one who would go on deck and the only one who would haul on the rope. And later, when people wanted to know what happened to Fred and Daphne, he was the one who stood beside her with his hand on her shoulder quietly offering his support.

He was around, even if it was at arm’s length, for years afterwards. Until her third breakdown, because he’d begged her to leave it alone even when he knew she couldn’t. That was when he and Scooby moved to Denver.

“It’s, like, the highest and driest” he’d explained. She understood. Neither of them slept well any more.

The last time they’d seen each other, she was a few days out of the hospital and he’d begged her to let him take the books away. Velma could remember the tears, just two, that he’d shed for her in silent frustration. Then he’d said it.

How he couldn’t, wouldn’t, lose another friend to chasing monsters. How he wanted her to be well, be whole again.

He didn’t beg, he just said the words and waited for her to respond. He wasn’t even angry.

Not like she was. Angry at Fred for thinking, even for a moment, that new land in the middle of the Pacific ocean might be the goal of a stupid fringe church of weirdos. Angry at Fred for rowing them there, angry at herself for being captivated by the strange architecture and becoming lost in the angles that she’d only read about in books about very esoteric pure math. She was angry at Daphne for leaning on the door which swung serendipitously open – although later, Velma would claim it had been waiting for her – and tumbled her into the darkness. She was angry at Fred for diving in after her, dragging Velma along with him, and angry at them both for wanting to investigate a little deeper.

She was angry at the Church of Fooloo for leaving a telltale robe where Daphne could reach out and grab it when she needed to clean her face, and at Fred for seizing on this clue as the validation for his theories. She wanted to cry and beat her fists against his chest for having gone on, following the sound of singing to the terrible chamber where they saw…they saw…


Luminous grey, the fishbodied men dancing in the slow circle. Red, dripping, the sacrifices a literal hot mess on the ebon floor and the wrench of realisation when the wall move that it was no wall, but the opening eye of somethingawful, something monstrous and frightful that made mockery of the careful Smithsonian timelines Velma had so loved as a school tripper. Something that fixed her to the spot with sudden awareness of just how small, how frail, how insignificant she is. And had it not been for the other howl, the far off cry of terror and longing from a ridiculous Great Dane that by some miracle came down the uncanny passages, she would have stood, as Fred and Daphne stood, as the questing tentacles found them out.


She was angry at herself for running.

She was angry at herself for throwing herself heedlessly into the ocean, swimming with insane resolve for the ship as an explosion of tentacles followed her into the bright, salt, sun and sea world.

Mostly, she was angry at herself for having survived.

The books said she was lucky, that the sacrifices – so many of them, her friends included – had done little more than induce a momentary wakefulness in that creature beneath the Pacific. She knew that one day – one day soon, if everything she had learned was to be believed – the stars would come right and it would rise again. Unstoppable.

The last mask she’d torn away had been her own, and now there was nothing to hide behind: no ignorance, no pretence that kids could meddle and muddle and somehow win through. The greatest real-estate scam of all time, that Men are masters of their world, was close to ending.

Want to hear this story – and one of the worst Shaggy impersonations in recording history – read by the author?  You can, at Soundcloud.

Writing Prompt: Voldemort survived. Potter died. The Muggle government steps in resolve the conflict.

Security Notice: The following document is Classified Top Secret FINAL STRAW.

If you are not cleared for FINAL STRAW please hand this document to your security officer. Do not read any further.

Item 1: Recon drone footage lasting seventeen minutes. The first ten minutes are from a high altitude drone operated as part of WICKED STEPMOTHER and comprise slightly grainy IR footage of the area surrounding the area known as Hogwarts. The camera reveals a large number of hotspots, probably fires, and a larger number of dark spots in the rough shape of human bodies. The resolution isn’t that clear, but the drone was not able to descend or linger as a number of DELTA ECHO targets were present.

The last seven minutes are smaller tactical drone cameras deployed no later than one hour after the incident we’re now calling FINAL STRAW; these drones – we see footage from two – were used by the Close Target Recon team of SBS X Squadron as part of MAGIC MIRROR.

The footage is more distressing. One camera explores the interior of Hogwarts at a height of around four feet. A number of bodies are visible, clearly children between the ages of 11 and 17, later estimates put the number at thirty along with a dozen adults.

The exterior camera shows a higher number of corpses, but the function of this camera was interrupted by DELTA ECHO action after two minutes of operation. The MAGIC MIRROR team were ordered to withdraw.

Item 2: Extract from the minutes of the Hopkins Committee.

Present are The Home Secretary (HSEC), the Defence Minister (DMIN), the chair of the All Forces Committee of Policing (COP) and the Intelligence officer currently overseeing WICKED STEPMOTHER (Woodsman). They are joined by Doctor Janette Parry, an expert in the reconstruction of war crimes.

COP: Dr. Parry, how would you describe what you witnessed at Hogwarts?

Parry: I’d characterise it as a massacre.

DMIN: Do you believe the children were combatants?

Parry: It’s really hard to say. I’m not really all that experienced with….this sort of…warfare.

HSEC: Woodsman, you know a little more. Can you comment?

Woodsman: It is extremely unlikely that the staff of Hogwarts would have deliberately put children in the line of fire. I think we have to remember that they were, first and foremost, teachers rather than tacticians and this might explain the tragic loss of life and how the enemy were able to inflict such serious casualties.

DMIN: Do you think we have our casus belli, Home Secretary?

HSEC: I plan to take today’s report to COBRA as soon as we’re done here. A massacre of this nature on British soil must be considered an act of terrorism if not a declaration of war.

Item 3 Extract from After Action Report.

Local police sources provided intelligence that a DELTA ECHO priority target was in the area, possibly supported by a small number of DELTA WHISKEY personnel. The initial plan was to deploy a squad of MAGIC MIRROR operators with elements of 23 SAS in support.

23 SAS were able to deploy to cover and concealment, but the approach of the MAGIC MIRROR team tripped some form of early warning system. The DELTA WHISKEY elements scattered immediately. The DELTA ECHO target engaged in combat with the MAGIC MIRROR team, disarming the lead elements immediately. With the situation deteriorating, and with a clear and present danger to civilians in the area, snipers of 23 SAS acted to eliminate the threat. Two rounds of .338 Lapua Magnum were fired, one striking the centre mass of the target and the other striking the head.

Item 4 Extract from After Action Report.

On receiving flash traffic from WICKED STEPMOTHER that three high profile DELTA ECHO targets were in open country on redacted, I tasked Asset: DUCKING STOOL to the immediate area and alerted MAGIC MIRROR.

(DUCKING STOOL is n AC-130 Spectre gunship on loan from the US).

With no MAGIC MIRROR assets in strike range of redacted I was ordered to task DUCKING STOOL with interdicting the targets. Targeting information and painting was provided by WICKED STEPMOTHER, and DUCKING STOOL interdicted the targets with the M102 Howitzer and M61 Vulcan cannons. MAGIC MIRROR later confirmed the targets had been eliminated before they were able to flee.

Item 5 – Memorandum from Woodsman to the Director of the Security Services.

…and I must say, Neville has been extraordinarily helpful. For a young man with no real exposure to this sort of work, he’s taken to analysis like a duck to water. It also turns out he has a gift for interrogation work. Normally, I wouldn’t put a civilian in that position but when the Malfoys turned themselves in there wasn’t anyone who could accurately judge their state of mind.

It can’t have been pleasant for him, but he pivotal in ensuring their co-operation and completely professional during their questioning. He wasn’t in the same room, but his observations -that Lucius and Narcissa will do practically anything to protect Draco- have been very effective in ensuring they tell the truth.

The Malfoys are, of course, enemies of the state and I’m sure we’ll have to do something about them in due course, but Longbottom is superb. He’s a botanist, so I’m told. Can we find him a nice quiet research position with DEFRA after this is all over and keep him on the books? Maybe sort him out an OBE?

Item 6 – Operation FLYING MONKEY

Classification: Eyes only. Codewords: FLYING MONKEY, FINAL STRAW

Abstract: CONDUNDRUM’s location has been confirmed as the former Malfoy residence <GPS coordinates redacted>. Operation FLYING MONKEY is tasked to infiltrate and pacify CONUNDRUM and as many DELTA ECHO and DELTA WHISKEY targets as possible. If CONDUNDRUM cannot be secured or eliminated reducing him to a disincarnate form is considered acceptable.

(handwritten note, present in the hard copy file but not present in the digital archive: “Following the incident at Chequers, the PM has made it known that he wants the bastard’s head and will not settle for anything else. See to it, ladies and gentlemen. The memorial service for his wife is next Wednesday at St. Pauls.”)

After Action Report.

The house was isolated from the Floo Network by MAGIC MIRROR assets known as BELL, BOOK and CANDLE, who also deactivated several Portkeys in the area and actioned Apparition countermeasures. The effort of this last action hospitalised BOOK and CANDLE. They are not expected to recover.

Conventional assets deployed:

Perimeter security was provided by the Rifle Regiment with a battalion of 2 PARA creating a close cordon.

As well as Rifle Regiment snipers, elements of 23 SAS were deployed at range to catch leaks.

Air cover: DUCKING STOOL and SILVER PIN (AC-130s) were tasked to orbit the location to provide fire support. WICKED STEPMOTHER assets were deployed and given air cover by 6 Squadron RAF Typhoons.

Special Forces insertion was carried out by 7 Squadron RAF and Squadron 657 Army Air Corps.

The assault on the house was carried out by 22 SAS, X Squadron SBS and MAGIC MIRROR with immediate support from 45 Commando.

ITEM 7 – extract from “Nothing Up My Sleeve” by Soldier X, currently classified under the Hundred Year rule.

The Immediate Action plan was that we would assault the ground floor while 22 SAS fast roped onto the roof and assaulted the top floor. The more considered plan was more or less the same, but with less swearing and running about.

During the briefing, 45 Commando were tasked to go in with us to hold rooms that we’d cleared. That was when the people from MAGIC MIRROR showed up and everything got detailed and much less Disney.

We’d all been in action against DELTA WHISKEY types, but normally DELTA ECHO targets were considered a bit more hardcore and definitely worth potting from a distance if you could. No one had really chanced CQB against them since the initial contacts of the conflict, so we got a briefing on what that might involve.

MAGIC MIRROR turned out to not be your average Green Slime, which was a nice surprise, and some of the information they laid out definitely saved lives. Of course it was SOP to carry more than one weapon, since an Expelliarmus is only going to take out what’s in your hand. We’d already partly defeated this by attaching lanyards to firearms and doing a lot of fast draw practice to get a pistol in hand and rounds down range before the Delta could wave his or her stick again.

MAGIC MIRROR reminded us that the big bloke, codenamed CONUNDRUM, was experienced and powerful. He was allegedly responsible for the killing of fifty of his own kind at FINAL STRAW, so we were ordered to take any opportunity to slot him since if you could see him he could see, and kill, you.

To cut a long story short, by Dark and Early O’Clock the next morning we were in position and ready to launch. Our key tactics would be speed, surprise and aggression, to create the maximum of disorientation in the targets and keep them off balance and out of communication with each other.

To kick things off, anyone at a door or window did an explosive entry followed up by frags and flashbangs into the initial rooms. We had no civilians to worry about and no non-combatants. I was straight in the front door, Jock to my left and two lads from four-five behind me. The net was full of “Contact! Contact!” and I could hear gunfire, more flashbangs and then “Delta down!”

My target was the Drawing Room at the end of the main hall, which was one of the locations we expected to find CONUNDRUM. Jock had an entry charge for the door and our plan was to blow it, then go in with flashbangs and frags – a couple of each in quick succession – to sow a little confusion before clearing the room. As it turned out, two DELTA ECHO types decided to open the door for us. Jock went sideways, I continued in a straight line down the hall and put a short burst of rounds in the bloke to my immediate front as Jock did the same to the target to the right. They seemed surprised, but not inconvenienced, so I made sure the next rounds went to my target’s head and he went down like a sack of washing. Jock and I doubled to the door, went in with flashbangs and followed in immediately. I went left, he went right. We engaged and destroyed another two DELTA ECHO targets immediately and then I heard someone shout something like “abracadabra”. Jock went down very hard and I put my back to a corner and clocked my target at the end of the table. I registered who it was and put out a “CONTACT CONUNDRUM” message on the net before putting a long burst from my C8 into him. He moved almost immediately, but I know at least two rounds got him centre mass before he tried to turn into smoke and looked really unhappy when it didn’t work.

I ducked into cover, changed mag and came up pointing at his last known position and shooting. It’s a good thing I did because he was mid wave of his stick and one round clipped his hand. He screamed and a bloke from four five came through the door with a browning in his hand and put two shots right into the side of CONUNDRUM’s head.

FINAL STRAW APPENDIX THREE

Final clearances of Ottery St. Catchpole, Tinworth and Upper Flagley have been completed.

The classification of the capacity of interest is MERLIN. Any Merlin capable, or Merlin potential, citizens are to be tagged and submitted to WICKED STEPMOTHER for relocation and education.

COBRA has determined that the act of 1689 will go to the House to be repealed. Merlin capable society has shown itself incapable of self governance, restraint or respect for human life. Documents found in Diagon Alley and the remains of Hogwarts show that Merlin capable individuals have routinely engaged in memory alteration and even assaults on Crown subjects with complete impunity. This will end forthwith. If there are dangers to be faced, we will face them but no longer in a position of ignorance.

Until then, these people are not considered to be Crown subjects and, as such, not accorded the protection and privilege of non-Merlin citizens.  Round them up, deprive them of their wands and make sure they pose no immediate threat to Crown and Country.

Former staff members and pupils present at FINAL STRAW are Classification B, as are Merlin-capable relatives.  They should go to Sites BLAINE, COPPERFIELD, DANIELS.

The citizens referred to a Squibs, or the non-Merlin parents and relatives of Merlin capable individuals are Category C will go to the Kent facility.

Category D targets are subject to Special Measures as set out in Paragraph Six of the Emergency Bill now before the House.  In the event that the Bill does not pass, these targets are to be subject to Special Rendition to Site Orange for disposal.

Category F individuals that surrender are to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention until further notice.  Category Fs that offer violence should be treated as Enemy Combatants.

Writing Prompt: A Forbidden Romance

They stood in companionable silence for a while. John felt the familiar pangs that they could only meet in public, could only appear to be with each other by chance. He stole a glance at her, the haunted eyes telling of her own hollowness, companion to the ache at his own core that they couldn’t steal just a few minutes to do what he knew they both longed for.

He couldn’t even look her in the eye. It wasn’t practical, it wasn’t safe.

The crowd thinned, and John’s heart leaped. Palms sweating, the pounding of his heard thunder in his own ears he waited and an agony of seconds ticked by as people wandered away.

They were alone.

“I know it’s not easy for you either,” he blurted, almost afraid to look at her, almost afraid to see the pain in her eyes, “but believe me, I want to be with you as much as you want me. And it can happen. Things are changing. I read things, on the internet, people like us finally being together. It’s not a hopeless cause.”

He looked at her feet, and then away.

“I just need you to be patient with me a while longer. Can you do that?”

But the moment was gone and the people were back. The bustling horde that gave them camouflage but also denied them intimacy. But he could see the faint smile on her lips, knew what it meant.

They stood in silence for a few minutes more, but eventually John drifted away. As he always had to.

For her part, if the Statue of Liberty shared his pain at their parting she allowed no hint of it to reach her face.

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Writing Prompt: You are a P.O.W. being tortured in a very ineffective manner.

They kept asking the same questions over and over, in the same monotone, and I gave the same answers.

Name

Rank

Serial Number

I cannot answer that question.

After a couple of hours they stopped, and brought me a cup of tea. Then the offered me a cigarette, which I declined, and they took a break.

I drank the tea during the next round of questioning. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t drugged or tampered with.

After a couple of hours, they brought me another cuppa and then took me to a bathroom. When I got back to the interrogation room they’d brought biscuits as well. The questions varied, but I gave the same answers. Even though they were now asking how my Dad was.

After dinner, which was very decent for all that it was basic meat and two veg, they started asking me about my opinions on the performance of Arsenal this season. Not being a fan, I suggested that Arsenal’s problem was that they always tried to walk it in, and they seemed well pleased with this.

That’s when they brought the beer in, and one of the interrogators introduced me to his sister.

The evening went rather well after that and, after a couple of hours of them discussing the fine points of The Archers, the interrogators “left us two young people alone”.

She didn’t speak any English and, although very pleasant and quite pretty she seemed as baffled as I was.

I went to the door and listened. In the corridor, the interrogators were talking.

“And tomorrow,” one said “we will invite ourselves over to his place and borrow his lawn mower.”

“And this will be effective?”

“The implied level of familiarity will be torture to his English soul. Soon he will break.”

Idiots. I haven’t even got a lawn.

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Writing Prompt: “Curse you, Space Witches! You may have foiled my plans, but you haven’t heard the last of Arch-Emperor Zatagong!”

Andy hit backspace a couple of times and removed the extra exclamation marks, hit Save and exported the whole project to a manuscript format. Within a few minutes, it was on the way to the publisher.

A twenty book contract had seemed like a good idea at the time.

Seven books in, he was more or less convinced he’d signed up for slow mental suicide and the worst of it was, the bloody books were flying off the shelves. Volume 7, “Peril at Perihelion”, was already being pre-ordered on Amazon. Accordingt to the publisher, there were legions of pre-and teenage girls out there who wanted more than anything to be Space Witches (and series heroine Nikolaze in particular). He wondered sometimes why he’d bothered with the degree and Masters in Literature. He wondered why he allowed himself to be entranced by the great Romances. So did his wife, usually becauise he was having a Monday and bemoaning his fate.

He stood, ignoring the creaks in his knees, and stretched. His workspace was wallpapered in books, edge to edge battered paperback spines with titles from the classical to the lurid, wombing him in his own reading history from the year before college to now.

There wasn’t a book in the rest of the house. The madness had to be contained somehow.

He shuffled into the kitchen and put the kettle on, blinking at the bright lighting and enjoying the silence. He checked the calender. He checked it again. Early. He’d finished a week early.

As the kettle rattled and bubbled, Andy walked slowly around the kitchen and ticked off tasks on his fingers. Peril at Perihelion revised, corrected and off to the publisher. Sarah was at her parents for another three days, the dog was with her and he had no pressing or urgent reasons to be anywhere. He smiled, and made himself a cup of tea.

The Book was always waiting. He’d been writing it since the last year of college, the fictionalised life of Nicola de la Haye, and in that time it had gone through many incarnations. Currently, it was a romance. A love story. Andy was pleased with it, because it had themes – the first time he’d ever written something with a theme (although there was some danger that the “On Solar Winds” series featuring the heroic Space Witches might end up with theme music, if his agent was to be beleived).

He could spend time on The Book.

He would spend time on The Book.

He turned on his phone, cleared out the invitations to buy two pizzas for the price of one on any given Tuesday, and sent Sarah a quick text celebrating the release of the latest magnum opus. Then he shuffled back to the office and opened up The Book.

He found himself scrolling through pages, impatient and irritated. Where normally he’d slipped into the book’s narrative like a weary man into a warm bath, every line of dialogue he’d given Nicola seemed to simper like the imperilled heroine of a penny dreadful instead of the powerful and charismatic castellan of Lincoln Castle.

Andy sat back, sipped tea and imagined her during the last siege in 1217. Nicola had been master of Loncoln and loyal to the King during an invasion by the French. Surrounded and besieged, she would have taken her turn on the walls, looking for signs of enemy activity, taking her chances with the ordinary troops, her ebon plasmatic battle armour reflecting nothing by the actinic glare of her plasmaglaive…

He stopped and put the tea down. Arch-Emperor Zatagong had no place behind the walls at Lincoln Fair. For one thing, he’d have sided with the French (only to betray them at the last moment, naturally…Zatagong would have held back his forces until the arrival of William Marshall and then either committed them to join in Marshall’s infantry charge or withdrawn completely leaving de Gant’s forces to be crushed, and then claimed it was his plan all along).

No, Nicola de la Haye was clearly more Space Witch material. She was intelligent, firece in a fight, loyal and brave.

He saved The Book and opened a blank project.

After a few minutes, he titled it “Vengeance on Venus” and started typing.

“So, Arch Emporer Zatagong! We meet again! Did you really think we’d let your latest scheme progress unchallenged?”

Yeah. That was more like it.

 

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