The ‘Brexit novel’ is a thing, but they tend to be literary works, which aren’t really my thing. I would like to make the case for Northern Gorehouse being not only a fun alternative, but also one of the first to be published
The novel was finished in April or May of 2017, but it didn’t feel right to release it so soon after the Arena bombing, given the violent ending of the story. So it came out for Halloween of that year.
The book was written as an action horror story. The ability to map the stupid politics of the last few years onto it is a bonus. Indeed, the B word is only mentioned once in the story, right at the beginning, to establish the run down state of the nation, and show how the vampires have come in to take advantage of it.
Vampires as a stand in for capitalists and the ruling elite is not a new metaphor, but as I’ve established it’s post Brexit, I’m going to call them the disaster capitalists who caused, and benefit from, all the pain. Being vampires, they, of course, take advantage of the homeless the country has abandoned. And have corrupt servants in the political system, covering up for them, and pushing policies that aid them. Again, not new tropes in vampire fiction, but ones that map perfectly well onto the Brexit theme.
Of course, the political allegory was never the main aim of the story, and it’s harder to map metaphor onto it once the action really starts. The zombies are created by the vampires but (spoiler) it’s an accident. In a true Brexit allegory, they would be a deliberate method for distracting people at street level and keeping them away from turning on the elite.
Similarly, the fact that vampires exist wouldn’t be such a shock in a more pointed Brexit take. Everyone would have at least an inkling they were there, but their bought politicians and the media would be demanding that people look the other way.
Since I wrote the book, I’ve discovered another character who wasn’t included- the Brave Warrior claiming to be from a long line of vampire hunters, who has actually betrayed the people they pretend to be protecting, for reasons that don’t make any sense. There’s no Lexit Van Helsing in Northern Gorehouse.
I think you should read my accidental Brexit novel. If nothing else, you can pretend the vampires are Farage, Gove, Johnson et al. (It won’t be any stretch at all with Rees Mogg.)
Slashed is now available in paperback, printed and delivered by Amazon. This edition has a redesigned cover, and also features bonus content- the two short stories which made up book two of the Lost Picture Show series. Order your copy now.
A house with a grisly history.
The killer who calls it home.
Eight teens planning a party.
But who’s hunting who?
Warden’s Lodge has a blood soaked history dating back to before the Civil War.
After a violent massacre it has stood empty for over twenty years. The locals keep their doors locked and are never far from a gun, fearing what they think lives in the lodge.
When eight teenagers turn up, determined to have a party in the lodge despite the warnings, blood can’t be far away.
In one long, violent night the lodge is going to claim more lives.
The Lost Picture Show series I write as Garth Owen, is inspired by genre film. But horror paperbacks of the seventies and eighties are sneaking a bit of influence in there as well.
I don’t have anywhere near as many to read as the guy interviewed here (the book he’s just published is on my to-read list, though, so I can find more to look out for). My interest was renewed a couple of years ago, by re-discovering the works of Guy N Smith (Crabs, etc), and finding a big pile of them in a charity shop. I need to sit down and devour half a dozen or so over a week some time soon.
The next planned Lost Picture Show story is going to have a few nods to the sub-genre, with satanic rituals, sex in odd places, and gore. All updated and given a smartphone and internet twist.
Shortly after the service launched in Manchester, I took a Mobike hire bike out for a test ride. Whilst I was about it, I visited some of the locations of Northern Gorehouse (aka Zombies V Vampires). Here’s A Writer’s Life, episode 3.
I’m not a big fan of all these plans to build higher and shinier and more expensive towers in the city centre. I can’t shake the feeling that more down to Earth developments, aimed at people on an average wage or below, and not backed by the super wealthy, would have a harder time getting planning permission. But I am a natural cynic.
Zombies vs Vampires got a big bit of inspiration from Gary Neville’s plans (even if I put my versions somewhere else by accident), and it feels like I may be tapping into something of relevance with my ‘1% lording it over the 99%’ narrative.
Take a look at some of the towers and skyscrapers which could sprout up around the city centre over the next few years
The black tower was a stake driven into the heart of the city. Overbearing and ugly, it loomed over the pale sandstone and red brick of the lower rise buildings cowering under it.
Terry knew the story- a version of it, anyway. The development had been proposed by a pair of footballers, looking to invest in property for lucrative retirements. But post-Brexit decline meant all the floors remained unsold, and the sportsmen wanted out of the project. Mysterious partners and backers- Russians, everyone agreed- stepped in to buy out the famous faces and finish the buildings themselves.
No-one got into the tower. No-one that anyone knew, anyway. It was a mystery. A slab of darkness looking down on the city centre. There were shops at ground level, then two storeys of offices, but, above those, the dark windows swallowed sunlight during the day, and never lit up at night. So it was surprising- and thrilling and frightening- that Glenn said he could get in.
Terry wavered between being wary of Glenn, and being in awe of him. The older man- only a few years, but it seemed to count for so much- gave the impression he had decided to be Terry’s protector. It didn’t feel like the other times men had taken an interest in him, Glenn didn’t look at him the way they had. And he wouldn’t let anyone else. There were plenty of predators around Tent Town, prowling for a piece of fresh meat who looked as young as Terry did. But Glenn wouldn’t allow them the chance. So far, he hadn’t asked anything in return. Perhaps he was truly a good person.
They were in an alley behind the towers, where the goods for the ground floor shops were delivered. In front of them was a heavy door, clad in pale grey metal, and with a large shiny handle and security grade brass lock. To the right were the roller shutters protecting the windows of one of the shops. Left of the door was a galvanised fence, to keep them from falling into the bottom of the ramp that ran down to another large roller shutter. This lower shutter blocked the entrance to the tower’s exclusive underground parking.
Glenn put his hand on the door handle and turned to grin at Terry. “Wait’ll you see inside here! It’s mad.” He pressed down on the handle and pushed at the door.
The door didn’t open. Glenn’s confident smile faltered, until they heard a click, and the door opened.
It was dark on the other side of the threshold. Much darker than under the bright security light outside. Terry waited on the threshold, unsure, until Glenn grasped his cuff and pulled him in. The tug was more violent than Terry had come to expect from his protector. He was too shocked to pull back, though, and quickly found himself inside.
The door closed with an ominous thud. Terry flinched at the sound, then again as a light in the ceiling turned on. The glow was only around them, the rest of the space wasn’t illuminated yet. The darkness was thick, and the detail revealed by lamplight fell off quickly. Terry could see the door, the wall either side of it, and a short way along the narrow corridor. There was no handle on this side of the door, just a vertical pull bar from top to bottom of it, and a brushed steel number pad on the wall.
Glenn was his smiling, reassuring self again, the flashes of impatience and anger gone. He beckoned Terry to follow him. As he strode into the dark, another light came on above him, revealing more of the corridor.
The floor was marble, Terry thought, looking down at the blood red veins marking the shiny off-white surface. A stone stuck in the tread of Glenn’s boots clicked against the floor with each step.
The space wasn’t very large, but it was lavish. The marble of the floor extended halfway up the walls, where a narrow gilt band separated it from the dark wood of the upper half and the ceiling. The lights were set in the cornice at the top of the wall on alternate sides, and activated by movement. The sections behind went dark as they left them. When the fourth set of lights turned on, they were at the far end of the hall, standing before the polished brass of an elevator’s door.
Glenn pressed a button on the wall and, with a ping, the door opened. He stepped in, beckoning Terry after him. “Come on. Come on. He’s expecting us.” Terry worried about what that meant, but stepped in anyway.
The floor and lower wall of the elevator was the same sort of marble as the hallway. There was a wide band of pleated and padded red leather at waist height, and flat brass above that. The metal gave the appearance of having been polished to a gleam, then brushed with a stiffer metal to take the shine off and distort the reflections until they were matt shadows.
Terry stroked, then pressed, the leather, and found it surprisingly soft and supple. He looked to Glenn for some explanation of what came next.
There was a polished panel of buttons set in the brass. As the door closed, Glenn pressed the top one.
The box rose up its shaft rapidly. Terry felt the acceleration in the soles of his feet and the pit of his empty stomach. Glenn had promised him food if he came along, but had said nothing about someone waiting for them. Terry knew, now, that he should have questioned Glenn more. The hunger was stronger than the worry, though, so he leant back against the soft leather and waited to reach the top floor.
Suddenly feeling light, Terry knew the lift had halted. How high up were they, he wondered, as the door opened. He couldn’t remember how many floors the tower had, but he knew they were above anywhere else in the city when he looked across the wide space that had been revealed, and took in the view through the dark tinted windows. “Penthouse suite.” Glenn told him.
Terry walked toward the windows, drawn by the view. The floor was the same marble again, but he couldn’t make out many other details. The room was dark, lit only by small lights in the ceiling. Reaching the window, Terry touched fingertips to the glass, finding it warmer than he expected, and looked down at the Town Hall. A long way down.
The lights that illuminated the Gothic façade of the Town Hall were muted, made a strange grey by whatever coated the floor to ceiling window. This must be the tint that kept the building dark, no matter what time of day it was.
“Life in the sky, mate. Innit brilliant. We can have this view as long as you keep him happy. He does like pretty boys like you, he said.”
Terry didn’t turn round to look at Glenn. He just had to look up to see the reflection in the glass. Glenn was about halfway across the floor, under one of the lights, the lower half of his face shadowed, so Terry couldn’t properly see his grin. The top half of his face, however, showed greed. Terry was going to fight his expression back to passivity before he turned. He wouldn’t show Glenn his disappointment. The older man wasn’t his friend, but his pimp.
“Lap of luxury, am I right? You’ll let him do what he wants, and we’ll be set.” Glenn wasn’t asking. He expected Terry’s compliance.
Focussing on his own reflection in the glass, Terry forced the down turned edges of his mouth flat. This was just another betrayal in a lifetime of betrayals. He was angry at himself for having thought Glenn wouldn’t let him down.
“He should be here soon. I mean, he said he’d….” Glenn’s words were cut short, and he made a sucking sound, then a strange, pained whistling.
Still, Terry couldn’t bring himself to turn. He shifted his gaze to Glenn’s reflection, and fought down a cry. Glenn’s head was tilted to the left, an expression of wide eyed surprise on his face. The skin down the right side of his neck was torn open in a jagged U, from which blood flowed profusely.
The more powerful spurts leapt out into the air, then disappeared. They were going into a red rimmed hole, which might have been in the shape of a mouth, ringed with sharp, even serrations that could be teeth. Two of the teeth, at the top of the circle, were longer than the others.
Glenn managed to move, finally. His right hand reached into a pocket, and drew out a knife. The blade flipped open with an instinctive move of his thumb, then came up and back. Most of the determination drained away, however, before the knife reached the top of its arc. It struck something, slid to the side, then dropped from Glenn’s hand. There may have been the hint of a line of blood, raised by the blade, hanging in the air.
The bloody mouth closed, then opened in a grimace to let out a little sound of disgust. Glenn collapsed, a soft bag of flesh and loosely connected bones.
“Do let me see you, little one. Are you as pretty as he promised?” the floating lips of blood said.
There was something about the voice that could not be ignored. Terry turned slowly. What he saw made him take a frightened step back, until he was pressed against the glass.
Standing over Glenn’s body was a woman. She was tall and slim, with long, jet black hair, wearing a tight sheath dress, split on the left to reveal a shapely thigh, and with wide sleeves that hung down from her arms like limp wings. She reached down, and tore a strip from Glenn’s shirt, using it to wipe the blood from around her mouth. Running it across her forehead, she dabbed up the blood from the wound that Glenn had inflicted. The skin under the thin red line had already closed. Done with the rag, she dropped it so that it draped itself over Glenn’s face.
“You are lovely. Yes, you are. He was a horrible little man, and he tasted foul, but at least he was honest about that.” The woman took a step toward Terry. She was beautiful, even in the unforgiving light directly above her. Terry felt himself relaxing, when he was sure he should be running. His limbs weren’t under his control, it seemed.
Just as Terry felt happy to succumb to this stunning woman, her expression changed. She was hungry, looking at him like a delicious meal. Somehow, without lines appearing on the perfect, pale skin of her face, she appeared ancient. Centuries showed themselves for the briefest of moments.
Terry could do nothing as the woman drew right up to him. His head tilted to the left, exposing his neck to her. “You will taste so much better than your friend. And I will not tear at this perfect skin, no. No. And you can take a taste in return. You shall be so much more than just one meal.”
The teeth entered Terry’s neck so gently he didn’t know his skin had been penetrated. An ecstasy he had never before felt flowed out from the wounds and filled his body.
In Pickers, one of the characters gets a two wheel drive electric motorbike, that she puts to good use all the way through the story. It seems the US military, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is going one better, challenging manufacturers to come up with hybrid versions, with generators that can run on almost any liquid fuel to recharge the batteries.
If this sort of technology trickles down to the civilian market, I might start thinking about taking motorbike lessons.
The U.S. military has been talking about “stealth motorcycles” for years. As of this month, two tech outfits have what seem to be viable prototypes that will both be funded for another revision.
The Lost Picture Show is home to films yet to be made, putting a twist on genres and playing with plots. Grab some popcorn, settle down, and enjoy.
In a climate changed future, Pickers travel the badlands between towns and farms, salvaging what they can from before the collapse.
One family of Pickers is about to start a search for a prize that could change everything.
Remy and his family are on the hunt for a seed bank, hidden away before climate change crashed everything. The trail has led them to a hidden bunker, and what they find inside is going to set them on a long journey, back to the community they ran away from ten years ago.
With a grain blight ravaging crops in France, the seed bank could be the only hope of finding resistant strains and saving the country’s remaining towns from starvation. Remy, Maxine, Veronique and Tony are determined to break into the vault and liberate the seed lines. However, they are in Spain, and they will have to cross the country, dodging ravaging bands of Raiders, and get over the Pyrenees before they’re even in France. And then, there is another obstacle. Only one valley over from their destination is the community they ran away from ten years earlier. The people of The Valley would be ideal recipients for a bounty of seeds, but will they welcome Remy and his family back after all these years?
Pickers was first released as a four part serial last year. This collected edition has had sections re-written.
Part 4 of Pickers is published on Saturday, finishing the serial. It’s the crazy action, big fight, obviously inspired by Mad Max 2 and Fury Road finale, and it was rather fun to write. If you’ve been putting off reading it until all four parts were released, then today’s a good day to get started on Part 1, and you should be caught up just in time.
Publishing it as a serial changed the shape of the story, and probably forced me to get it finished earlier than I would if I’d written it as a novel. There will be a revised ‘Director’s Cut’, full length novel version released some time after its Amazon exclusivity runs out, where I may change the pacing a bit to suit the new format. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a serial again, but I have got some ideas for a series of novella length tales, each self contained, but with recurring characters- the project after the one I’m currently working on.
Writing Pickers has made me think about the way I’ll build stories in the future. Other events that have been going on whilst I wrote it, have made me think again about the sort of tales I want to tell, and the characters I want to put in them. I’ve been watching the Sad Puppies, and reading a lot of commentary about them, and it’s made me change the people I write about.
You may not know who the Sad Puppies (and their friends, the Rabid Puppies) are, so I’ll attempt a quick explanation.
It’s one of those truisms, that science fiction is really about the present, not the future. Thoughtful SF has always included commentary on contemporary issues. Recently, those issues have included gender, race, sexuality and others that make certain types of reader uncomfortable. This ‘liberal crap’ is supposedly spoiling good old fashioned sci-fi, where square jawed white men rode around in phallic spaceships and rescued dizzy buxom blondes. The genre, they cry, has been subjugated to the will of ‘Social Justice Warriors’.
(They seem to think that saying someone is willing to fight for the rights of people other than themselves is an insult. That tells you almost everything you need to know about them.)
The Sad/Rabid Puppies decided they were going to save one of SF’s big awards, the Hugos, from the SJWs, by flooding the ballot with works they approved of, over ones by dirty women, foreigners and deviants. Long story short, the Hugo awards were announced on Saturday, and none of the Puppy approved works won. Somehow, they’re claiming this is a victory.
There’s a lot more detailed and knowledgeable writing on the whole farce, if you go looking for it (here’s Wired’s take).
As a writer, and a reader, I’m on the edges of SF fandom. But I’ve been following the Puppy saga (and the equally ridiculous and horrible Gamer Gate nonsense), and reading a lot of commentary on it. There’s a bias. The commentary almost all comes from the left, SJW side of the argument. Almost everything from the right, Puppy side slips into name calling and self pity quickly. I’ve learnt a lot, and I want to apply some of it to what I write. I want to be more inclusive in the characters I create and the subjects I cover. The Puppies have convinced me to let my inner SJW out.
In so many ways, Pickers is the sort of story that the Puppies say they want to champion. It’s a big, crazy adventure, where violence is far too often the answer. But it’s laden with all sort of things they’d hate.
The Pickers are a family- Remy, his daughters Maxine and Veronique, and Veronique’s husband Tony. The story is driven by the women as much, if not more than, by the men. They’re not there to be constantly rescued, or to stay in safety as the men do the daring work. Without Veronique’s intelligence and technical ability, they would not have the information that starts the adventure. Without Maxine’s bravery and gunsmithing, they wouldn’t even have survived long enough to get to the adventure.
Maxine and Veronique are mixed race. Early on in the writing, I applied one of the lessons I learnt from Puppy coverage. Far too often, when creating a character, we turn out someone who looks like us. I hadn’t quite done that- I knew Remy should have daughters- but I hadn’t really thought about their race. So I took a step back. Did they have to be white? The story was taking place in multi racial (albeit post apocalypse) Europe. Why shouldn’t they be mixed race?
This decision actually added depth further along in the story. Remy and his daughters were out in the bad lands because they had left their old home, a secure community known as The Valley. Why did they leave? Well, their mother was black, and as the only black kids in an insular white community, they were subject to the little town’s racism, even if it was rarely expressed directly. After the death of his wife, Remy’s dissatisfaction at her, and their daughters, treatment, was one of the driving forces behind their exit.
There are other elements that undermine the Puppy ideal. Without lecturing on the subject, climate change is taken as a given, the way the world got to be in such a state. No equivocation or denial for me, or some made up disaster. Maxine is bisexual, and there’s at least one polyamorous relationship. All of these add depth to the world. None of them is irrelevant or gratuitous, though that’s what Puppies would likely say about such details.
I’m carrying forward some of what I’ve learnt into my current and next projects. I’m writing a Rain and Bullets short at the moment, reviving something I started a few years ago, now that I’m more sure how it goes. In the original, I created a supporting character, an MI5 agent, and he came out white and male. As I did with Solstice, I asked if any of my friends wanted to give their name to the character, and Dennis became Amanda. Why did the agent have to be a man? They didn’t, though I hadn’t given the subject any thought in the earlier version of the story.
The project after that should be a series of novelette or novella length tales. Sort of like a television series, where every episode is mostly self contained, but there are arcs and ongoing plotlines running between them. I’ve started working out what characters are needed. None of them, yet, has gender, race, etc. specified yet. I’m working out what their role is, which archetypes they represent, first. The rest will come along later. I’m not quite rolling them up like a D&D character, but there’ll be some element of randomness in assigning sex and sexuality etc.
So, I’d like to say a thank you to the Puppies and the Gamer Gaters. Things I’ve learnt as a result of reading around the issues raised has expanded the scope of what I want to do, and the people I want to write about.
I’m not sure that’s the sort of result they were hoping for.
Remy and his family have made it back to The Valley, which they left ten years before. Now they have to persuade the town- led by Remy’s brother Julien- to give them the resources they need for their expedition to the seed vault.
But there are problems. Raiders block the best route to the vault, and not everyone is happy to see them back after all these years.
The roads were mostly memories, scars through the landscape. But the rough, pockmarked surface generally grew smoother around settlements. It made sense for the route to and from the fields to be easier.
They had just rumbled off rough track onto a tarred single lane which arced away to the right, disappearing behind the gentle roll of hill down to the valley floor they travelled along. The surface change made little difference to the quality of the ride in the wagons. The big wheels and long travel suspension soaked up the ruts and potholes with ease. Maxine accelerated, and the pitch of the whine from the electric motors and rumble of the tyres rose. Behind her, Remy said, “Let’s not go so fast. Something is not quite right here. I’ll go up top and have a look.” He turned in his seat and stepped directly onto the short ladder to the roof hatch.
In the passenger seat, Chloe watched as Remy stood, halfway up the ladder, whilst the captain’s chair unfolded from its storage place in the roof. She turned to Maxine, who was now sitting up straighter, paying more attention to the road ahead and off to the sides. “What could be wrong?”
Maxine opened her mouth to say that she didn’t know, but recognised what her father had seen before she spoke. After a knowing nod, she said, “There’s no crop in the fields, just wild grass. They haven’t been tended.”
Remy reached down to the rack beside the ladder and took one of the hunting rifles, then climbed all the way out onto the roof. The hatch slammed down as he kicked it into place. Maxine reached down to the centre console and clasped, without looking for it, the pistol she had stowed there. She nodded, reassured by its presence, but it was a move that had Chloe wondering where her catapult and darts were. “There’s probably nothing to endanger us.” Maxine said. “Farms and settlements are abandoned all the time. We just like to be on alert when we spot things like this. Just in case.”
“I’m going to get my catapult.”
Sat with the catapult in her lap while she twisted a dart in her hand, Chloe felt silly. Inadequate, certain she would be no use if there was any trouble. She looked across at Maxine, watching the way her eyes scanned the road ahead, then darted left and right, checking the fields and the slope of the hill. She told herself that she wasn’t going to fall in love with this pretty, dark woman, the way she had with her friend Tania. Probably not, anyway, she only had a few days on the road with her.
“Smoke up ahead.” Remy’s voice came from a speaker above them, making Chloe jump so that she poked the dart into her thumb. Maxine looked across at the noise, to find Chloe shaking her head with embarrassment.
“Hold tight.” Maxine warned, as she spun the steering wheel hard and they turned sharp left off the paving and into the grass. The tall vehicle leant a long way over, and Chloe held tight to the arm rest. She hoped Remy was strapped in up above.
They could see buildings up ahead now, and the wagon straightened out to head toward them. Chloe pulled herself up straight in the seat again, and looked out of the window to her right. Wagon two had accelerated to catch up with them, but was still running along the road.
The grass was wild and high, it would have come up almost to Maxine’s shoulders. But it barely reached higher than the bottom of the doors of the wagons. They left a cloud of chaff behind them as they cut a line across the field.
There were two buildings ahead, at right angles to each other, with a gap between them filled in by a low wall. Both single storey, they were constructed from jigsaws of light brown stone with roofs a patchwork of red tile and corrugated metal. The shorter building had two storeys and several windows, whilst the longer one was a tall single story with blank walls facing them. Something on the other side of them was burning, sending a dark smudge of smoke up into the sky.
Ahead of them, the colour and texture of the foliage changed, to the golden green of wheat nearly ripened. Maxine slowed the wagon and turned left to keep from going through a viable crop. “Track ahead of us.” Remy said through the speaker. Maxine pulled on the steering wheel to stand up from her seat a moment, nodding when she spotted the stone littered line her father had been referring to. She aimed for it, heading for a strip of darker greenery that ran parallel.
They reached the deep green strip, and the wagon tipped forward. Suddenly, the foliage was as high as the windscreen. Chloe’s hand slapped the console in front of her as she stopped herself being thrown forward. Remy shouted some words she didn’t recognise, and could only presume were curses.
Just as suddenly as they had dropped into the gulley, they hit the bottom, splashing into shallow water. Maxine twisted a control on the steering column, sending more power to the motor driving the front wheels, and they soon regained their lost momentum. The grass and reeds were denser and taller in the stream bed, but they gave way to the mass of the wagon. They started climbing the opposite bank.
As the wagon left the channel, its nose reared up, front wheels off the ground. Maxine twisted the power controller again, transferring drive to the rear pair of axles. They passed the point of balance, and the front end came back down again, bouncing once before Maxine had the power back to all six wheels equally and they were accelerating away from the obstacle.
Now they were raising dust, rather than hay, as they raced along the track. A spur from the gravel covered road turned sharply around the end of the farm house. Maxine scrubbed off speed as they approached, then turned in sharply. They stopped sharply on the cobbled yard, and Maxine was out of her seat almost immediately, pausing only to grab her 9mm from the middle console.
In a climate changed future, Pickers travel the badlands between towns and farms, finding what they can to salvage from before the collapse.
One family of Pickers is about to start a search for a prize that could change everything.
Part 1 of 4- The Find.
Remy, his daughters, and his son in law, are on the hunt for a seed bank, hidden away before climate change crashed everything. The trail has led them to a hidden bunker, and what they find inside is going to set them on a long journey, back to the community they ran away from ten years ago.
The bunker echoed with its first human sounds in decades, the slap and squeak of rubber soles on marble flooring.
A slight figure sprinted out of the corridor into the three storey atrium, hurdled a chaise and slid to a halt in a crouch. With a sweep of her legs, she turned to face back the way she had come. There may have been the hint of amusement in the eyes as she looked back down the corridor.
Her black hair was cut haphazardly, and a scarf covered her mouth so she didn’t have to breathe all the dust she stirred up. Only her eyes and a slit of dark skin around them were visible. Dressed in loose trousers, dark body suit and light jacket and with an old courier bag over her shoulders, she had weapons and exploration equipment carefully secreted about her body. She was ready for the men who chased her.
Her name was Maxine, and it was her job to be the decoy. She was enjoying it more than she should.
She couldn’t yet see her pursuers, but they made enough noise to compensate for that. They were doing what they were supposed to, following her into the residential wing so she could lay a trap for them. Now that she had them here, she had to work out what that trap would be.
White circles in the ceiling were light domes, diffusing the daylight far above that had been channelled through mirrored light tubes. Rectangles set into the wall lit up with uncertain flickers. They would be powered by the mini nuclear plant far below the floor. Even after all these years, the automated systems still worked, which was impressive. Maxine studied the newly illuminated room, doing a tactical assessment.
The atrium was circular, with only one entrance on its lower level, the one Maxine had entered by. A semi-circular balcony looked down from the level of the first floor opposite the corridor, a dark wood double door at the mid point. Curved stairs led up to the balcony, and a jumbled mix of marble and bronze statues were gathered around the walls. So far, so much like the plans Maxine had seen.
Darting toward the nearest statue, Maxine jumped up on to its hunched shoulders and pushed off from its head to grab the balustrade of the stairs, clambering over them. It saved her whole seconds over the less flamboyant route from the foot of the stairs.
The double doors swung open easily, opening onto a darkened room. As more motion sensing lights turned on, Maxine closed the doors behind herself and drew a seat across to barricade them. It wouldn’t hold for long, but she only wanted to create a small delay. She studied the tableaux revealed by the lamps.
She was in a large dining room, dominated by a long table. Three desiccated figures were sat before their final suppers. Judging by their attire, two women and a man. One woman was sat nearly upright in her chair, head twisted toward the door and mouth open in what could as easily be a smile as pain. The other woman, across the table, had slumped forward into whatever she had been eating.
The man sat at the head of the table. There was something lopsided about his head. As Maxine neared him, she recognised what was wrong. Most of the left side of his skull was missing. She walked around the back of his chair and there, still clutched in the leather wrapped bones of his right hand, was a large semi automatic pistol. The fingers snapped off as she pulled the weapon from them. On the table beside the man’s meal was a box of cartridges.
Outside the room, there were voices, shouts of orders, then a hammering as her pursuers tried to force their way in. She held up the gun. Pulling back the slide to chamber a new round, she didn’t like the feel of it. She had seen too many guns disintegrate under test firing to trust this one. There was a .38 revolver in a holster under her arm that she did trust, and a 9mm on her hip, but she wasn’t sure the guys on the other side of the door were worth the expense of bullets. She felt like improvising.
False windows in the walls looked out onto idealised visions of the world before, back when there had been abundance. They looked like nothing Maxine had ever seen. She imagined they bore little resemblance to the world that had led the occupants to build this bunker, either. Under the windows were long tables laid out with the pretty and pointless possessions the rich folk hiding here had felt were important. An array of big watches caught Maxine’s eye. There was a pile of pashminas and shawls in silk and cashmere beside the watches. She wrapped one of the soft wool scarves around her fist and picked up the heaviest, most unnecessarily knurled of the watches.
Beside the doors, there was an override switch for the room’s lights. Maxine turned the lights off and stood beside the switch as the battering on the door began to splinter the chair barring it. It gave way, finally, with a creak and crack, and the door pushed open. Two figures entered, back lit from the atrium.
“She be here?” the nearest one said.
“Must be. None else to go to.”
“Why no lights?” said a voice from the balcony.
“She hide. We find her.”
“We find her, we do her good.” the nearest one said.