The Aimless

Once, on long journey, I met a traveler standing at a fork in the road. He looked back and forth between the paths as if trying to make a decision.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked him, thinking that I could maybe help.

“I have no destination in mind,” he said, “and both paths look nice.  The first heads down hill and I guess leads to coast where I could walk along the beach and listen to the gulls. The other heads up into mountains, it will be more of a climb, but the views and the fresh crisp air will be worth it. ”

“Then why not just pick one of them? I asked. “It sounds like you’d enjoy both routes, but standing here means you’re not experiencing either of them.”

“Because picking one path means giving up on the dreams of the other.”

I left him standing there at fork, glad I had destination in mind.

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Teacher Without Portfolio

“Mrs Richards is having a problem with class 5C, the principal wants you to have a look into it,” says Miss Bordon, from the doorway of my office.

“5C’s problem is probably Mrs Richards,” I say, standing up from behind my desk and picking up the notepad I’ve been doodling on for the past two hours. “If the woman would learn to teach, instead of yelling, then the kids might learn something.” I wish it was a joke, but Mrs Richards knows nothing about children.

“Mike,” says Miss Bordon.

“Yes?” I answer.

“Be nice,” she says, disappearing from view. I know she loves me. One day she’ll admit it.

“I’m always nice!” I shout after her. That’s not true, but I’ve got to keep up appearances.

I make my way towards the fifth grade wondering what kind of demoralized, broken children I’m going to find there. I’m not likely to find much else in a Mrs Richards class. The woman seems to think the only way to keep students in line is to run her class like it’s a concentration camp. I’m surprised she hasn’t put barbed wire up on the windows to stop the kids escaping.

I’m just getting to the classroom and wondering if I can make it back to the office in time for lunch, when I realise that I may owe Mrs Richards an apology. There are no students in the classroom at the moment, they must have P.E or something, but I can feel it from the doorway. There’s something very wrong here, something way beyond Mrs Richards’ terrible teaching. As I look into the classroom I can see wave like shadows swirling beneath the desks.

Now this is probably the point where you say, “Eh what?” But ask any real teacher and they’ll tell you a class has its own atmosphere. Yes it’s made up of individual students who are all people and what not, but there’s more to it than that. The class, that is all the students together, has its own life as well. It’s like a dish being made of different ingredients and coming up with its own flavour. The difference between me and most teachers is that I can see it, most others can only feel it. That’s why I do the job I do. That’s why I’m the teacher without portfolio.

I enter the room, walking slowly so as not to get caught up in the dark emotions of the place. There’s anger in the dark and confusion. The whole room is infected with it. How long has this been going on, why didn’t they tell me sooner? I could have stopped it before it spread, or at least found out who it was coming from. Now it’d be like trying to spot the one kid peeing in the swimming pool. I know who’s to blame for delay at least: Mrs Richards. God, I’m going to have to talk to her to find out what’s going on.

#

It’s nearing home time when Mrs Richards comes to my office and I’m surprised to see the principal with her. They look like a bad double act. Her with her fat floppy jowls and him with coffin thin face.

“She asked me to come along,” says the principal, noting my questioning look.

“Yes, I did,” she says, planting herself in the one chair in front of my desk. “I shan’t be treated like a criminal for doing my job.”

“It’s your job to teach the kids, not drain life out of them,” I say – first point to me.

“Mike,” warns the principal.

“You?” says Mrs Richards. “You’re talking to me about not doing my job? What is that you actually do here anyway Mr McKinnon?’ She refuses to call me Mike for some reason. “’Teacher without portfolio,’ you’re little more than a glorified sub.”

“I’m closer to a counsellor actually,” I say, with a smug grin that’s sure to get on her nerves.  “And we have tried to explain what it is I do here before, but you weren’t able to understand because you are a grown-up.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve looked in the mirror lately,” she says, “But you’re going on thirty Mr McKinnon.” If she could spit my name she would.

“That’s true, I am. Although I still have half a year until my thirtieth. But, unlike you, I never grew up,” I say.

“Oh here we go again with this nonsense,” she says. “I’m not sure how you got the school to pay you to…”

“It’s not just this school Mrs Richards,” I say. “There’s someone like me in every school in the country. And there are plenty of people to choose from.” She looks over at the principal who simply nods. “The best teachers,” I continue, “are the ones that never really grew up. They’re the ones you’re jealous of. The ones the kids are not scared of.” This is technically not true. The fact is there are different degrees of growing up. I’m on one side of the scale and Mrs Richards is on the other. The best teachers usually fall in the middle somewhere: the ones that can feel the room but not see. Teachers like Mrs Richards are tyrannical. Teachers like me just end up playing games all the time.

“I don’t have to be here for this,” she says getting up from her chair.

“Mrs Richards,” I say and she stops. “There is a problem one of your classes and I might be able to help.” She sits back down. I guess she’s not all bad. “Let’s pretend for now that we are on the same team,” I say and she nods. “Now whether you believe in what I can do or not, that doesn’t matter. I do want to fix this problem with your class, but to do that I have to ask you some questions.”

“Okay, I don’t think it will help, but go ahead.”

“So what’s been happening with them?” I ask. Although I think I already know, I’ve felt it.

“They were a nice class, my best class. I hardly had to shout at them ever.” I want to tell her that she should never have to shout at them at all, but stop myself. “Then over the past few weeks they’ve just gone crazy. At first they were just chatting a bit too much. Then they started arguing with each other all the time and they started arguing with me as well. Then yesterday I had to call in the principal to pull three of the students of one boy. They just went for him like a pack of dogs, but they’d all been fine students until a few weeks before.”

“That’s when I decided to call you in,” says the principal. He’s a good man. He’s a full grown-up, I’ve never met a principal that wasn’t, but he’s wise enough to know that there are things that he can’t understand. Some teachers without portfolio are given an office and are never called to see a single class.

“Tell me about the three boys that attacked the other kid,” I say. If they’re the most taken by darkness then maybe one of them is the most affected.”

“Like I said, they were all good boys at the start of the year. Then the grades started slipping.” she said.

“Can you remember whose grades fell first?” I ask.

“Martin Young,” she said. “But he was off sick for a couple of weeks. So I had assumed it was something to do with that.”

It’s not much but it’s something to start with. If not, maybe one of the other two boys, or maybe the kid that was attacked. I need to go back to the classroom. I need to see the kids.

“I have to enter the Childhood,” I say.

#

Remember how I told you I could see the atmosphere of the class? We’ll that’s just a trick really. It’s a sort of side show to my real talent. You see I can go into the Childhood when I want to. Kids don’t see the world in the way we do. If you are ever in doubt have a look at children playing – your own are best, parents can get a bit twitchy if you start hanging about the playgrounds. When children play, they can see things adults can’t. It’s not just imagination. It’s real. They exist in a slightly different dimension from the one we are in. Once you grow up you start to forget that. But as a kid you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. That other dimension, that’s the place I can go. It’s not easy and it’s not always safe, but I can do it.

I reach into my bag a take out a scruffy old toy. His name is Packman. I used to take him with me everywhere as kid, this little egg shaped monster, with dangling arms has been patched up so many times that I doubt there is much of the original left. Still, holding him close, the whole world comes alive: Dragons fly through the clouds; Ninja sprint across the rooftops; toys and pictures comes to life. I notice the pen in my hand. I can’t remember where it came from, but I guess a student must have left it behind in a class. On the top is a little robot that starts to twist and bend, challenging anyone who dares to a fight. I wonder what would happen if he fought a team of ninjas – stop!

This is one of the dangers of the Childhood. It’s easy to lose the little amount of grown-up I have already. I need to focus on the task. I need to go to the classroom.

Class 5C has become a scary place, especially now the students are back. There are no friendly toys to play with. They’ve all ran away. There are plenty of strange scuttling things lurking in the darkness though. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. The worst thing though is the students.  All but a few are radiating the fog that I seen before. See that’s the problem with the darkness. Once it gets into a class it spreads. It infects. It takes happy kids and turns them in to dark little monsters. If you’re not careful it can infect the whole school. But where did it come from?

I walk up and down the rows pointing at the uninfected. The principal takes them out of the classroom. They’ll study somewhere else for now. It’s safer that way. But where is the source? Some of them are too far gone to tell. They even seem to growl at me as I walk past. Others though are only on the way to turning. Girls, I realise. Most of the uninfected and semi-infected are girls. That means we are probably looking for a boy. I find the kid that was attacked sitting off to one side. He’s not fully gone, so it’s not him. But where is the student Mrs Richards told me about? Where is Martin Young?

I spot the empty desk. It’s as thick with the darkness as any of the chairs with an infected student. I think we’ve found our carrier.

#

I drive to the Young house, which is not easy when you have all manner of creatures from another dimension jumping around the place. I almost hit a unicorn near the police station. To be honest, I’m not sure what would have happened if I did hit it. I’d probably pass right through, but I’m not really certain and I’d hate to have unicorn’s death on my conscience.

I knock on the door and wait. I’m starting to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn. Either it’s the wrong address or it’s not the kid I’m looking for. The place doesn’t have that feel of darkness to it. In fact there is almost something alluring about it and I would bet that if a group of kids live on this street, then this is the house they would choose to hang out in.

The door opens and I’m greeted by a keen smile.

“Hello there how can I help you?” asks the man. He’s in his forties and has a bald head with some shaven hair along the temples.

“Mr Young?” I ask. This can’t be the right place. It feels a bit strange, but not bad. It’s certainly not connected to the darkness at the school

“That’s right.”

“I’m a teacher from the school. Is Martin home? We just wanted to check up on him,” I say, trying to peek into the house without being too obvious. There something about the place that I just can’t put my finger on. It almost has a double atmosphere, but I can’t separate it.

“Well you can come in, but he’s not home at the moment,” says Mr Young, standing back to let me though. “He went to pick up some medicine. He was feeling a bit better and we thought the walk would do him good.” More like you gave him a day off cause you wanted to do something together. I don’t hold it against him. At least he takes and interest in his child. That’s more than most.

“I see, what’s wrong with him?” I ask, going along with the pretence.

“Oh just a cold, but he was sick a while back and I don’t want to take the risk.”

I’ve just sat down on the couch, when something dark scuttles out from a door under the stairs. Mr Young turns to look at it. Did he just turn to see what I was looking at? No, he looked first.

Neurons in my head fire up and I realise, he’s in the Childhood as well. We sit at each end of the room looking at each other like a pair of gun slingers waiting on the moment to draw. I use the seconds to try and work out what’s going on. Then a memory of something long and forgotten comes back. This place it’s just like my uncle’s home. It’s just like the place where he… It’s a trap, it’s a lure for children where he can abuse them. He’s somehow twisted the Childhood to make this place. He’s hidden the darkness, but it’s here and strong like an underground river.

I get up and make my way to the door. I don’t say a word for the fear of letting loose and killing the guy.

“Going somewhere?” he asks, standing up calmly. The shadows seem to rise behind him.

“I’m getting out of here you sick bastard,” I say and I’m almost running.

“You seem to forget where you are,” he says, and I’m afraid, because I know exactly what he means. I’m in the Childhood and the trap will work on me just as it would for any child. Why was I not more careful?

The charm of the place breaks down as the darkness seeps through attracted to my fear. It rises up behind Mr Young and then falls on me like a wave. Then I’m lost.

#

I wake up in the dark and I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. My uncle brought me here when I was a child. Even now, that day still haunts me. My parents had left me with him for the weekend and it had been fun. We’d played games all day and he let me eat what I wanted. I can see him here now.

“Mike,” he asks me. “Have you ever kissed anyone?”

“Of course,” I say, “I kiss mum and dad every day.”

“No I mean a real kiss, with tongues,” he says. “You’ll have to learn how to do that for when you meet girls.”

“I’m not interested in girls,” I say.

“You will be soon. Come into the bedroom and I’ll teach you.”

I’m sure you can work out how things went from there.

But you see, I’ve been here before and I learned how to escape. It was simple when I had some help. I just had to find the child in me. That’s why I never grew up like everyone else, because once I found him I never let him go.

“Martin,” I shout, “Martin Young.” A boy appears in front of me. He’s unremarkable. He could be any kid in grade five, just like I was.

“Martin,” I say kneeling down in front of him. “I know you’re scared, but we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I can’t,” he whispers. “Dad told me not to.”

“He’s not your Dad,” I say. “Dad’s don’t do the kind of thing he did to you.” He looks away, “Now look I’m going to help you, but this place we’re in. It comes from you being angry and afraid.”

“I’m not angry,” he yells, “I’m not afraid.”

“It’s okay,” I say, “It’ll take time but we’ll get you help. You’ll be safe with me.”

“You’re not a grown-up,” he says. “How can I be safe with you?” And he’s right. I’m not a grown-up. Inside I’m still a child and what he needs now is something else. But can I be what he needs? Can I be like the grown-up that once saved me?

“Don’t leave me,” says the voice of my inner child from somewhere in the darkness. You can’t leave me here. You know what will happen if you do?”

“He can’t get you any more. He died a long time ago,” I tell my younger self, but he can’t seem to understand.

“I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to be lost like before.”

“It won’t be like that,” I say. “Look at him? Look at this boy, here and now. That was us once. Remember? Remember how it felt?”

“I remember…but…”

“You’re afraid. I know, but there’s nothing for us to fear any more. It’s our turn to grow-up and to look after people, just like someone once looked after us.”

There is silence. Grow up to save one kid? I think I can do that. I think someone did that for me once.

And with that I say good bye to the child inside me. He understands that he’s had his time. You can’t be a child forever.

“Are you ready to go?” I ask Martin.

He looks at me in the way no child ever has before and nods, pulling himself against my leg and with that we are back in the house. It’s still dark, but for me at least there is no more scuttling. We’re in a small room. A closet. I find the door and kick it open easily enough. It was the closet under the stairs. I take Martin’s hand and lead him out. He’s too big to carry.

“What are you doing with my son?” yells Mr Young, charging in from the living room. “He’s my son and you can’t take him anywhere.” I kick him in the nuts – that’s the adult way to do things right? I’m still getting the hang of it.

“I’m taking him somewhere safe,” I say and resisting the urge to do any more damage. I lead him out of the house and drive towards the nearest police station.

#

I couldn’t stay on as Teacher without portfolio. You need to be able to see the Childhood to do it and I can’t. Even now it’s starting to feel less real. I wonder how long it’ll be until I forget it all together. For even one child it was worth it though.  Martin’s now in foster care and I’m told he’s doing well. I still check in from time to time. The principal says I can stay on as a normal teacher. Funny thing is I’m looking forward to it. My first job as a grown-up. It might actually be quite interesting.

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Story a week: Teacher Without Portfolio

“Mrs Richards is having a problem with class 5C, the principal wants you to have a look into it,” says Miss Bordon, from the doorway of my office.

“5C’s problem is probably Mrs Richards,” I say, standing up from behind my desk and picking up the notepad I’ve been doodling on for the past two hours. “If the woman would learn to teach, instead of yelling, then the kids might learn something.” I wish it was a joke, but Mrs Richards knows nothing about children.

“Mike,” says Miss Bordon.

“Yes?” I answer.

“Be nice,” she says, disappearing from view. I know she loves me. One day she’ll admit it.

“I’m always nice!” I shout after her. That’s not true, but I’ve got to keep up appearances.

I make my way towards the fifth grade wondering what kind of demoralized, broken children I’m going to find there. I’m not likely to find much else in a Mrs Richards class. The woman seems to think the only way to keep students in line is to run her class like it’s a concentration camp. I’m surprised she hasn’t put barbed wire up on the windows to stop the kids escaping.

I’m just getting to the classroom and wondering if I can make it back to the office in time for lunch, when I realise that I may owe Mrs Richards an apology. There are no students in the classroom at the moment, they must have P.E or something, but I can feel it from the doorway. There’s something very wrong here, something way beyond Mrs Richards’ terrible teaching. As I look into the classroom I can see wave like shadows swirling beneath the desks.

Now this is probably the point where you say, “Eh what?” But ask any real teacher and they’ll tell you a class has its own atmosphere. Yes it’s made up of individual students who are all people and what not, but there’s more to it than that. The class, that is all the students together, has its own life as well. It’s like a dish being made of different ingredients and coming up with its own flavour. The difference between me and most teachers is that I can see it, most others can only feel it. That’s why I do the job I do. That’s why I’m the teacher without portfolio.

I enter the room, walking slowly so as not to get caught up in the dark emotions of the place. There’s anger in the dark and confusion. The whole room is infected with it. How long has this been going on, why didn’t they tell me sooner? I could have stopped it before it spread, or at least found out who it was coming from. Now it’d be like trying to spot the one kid peeing in the swimming pool. I know who’s to blame for delay at least: Mrs Richards. God, I’m going to have to talk to her to find out what’s going on.

#

It’s nearing home time when Mrs Richards comes to my office and I’m surprised to see the principal with her. They look like a bad double act. Her with her fat floppy jowls and him with coffin thin face.

“She asked me to come along,” says the principal, noting my questioning look.

“Yes, I did,” she says, planting herself in the one chair in front of my desk. “I shan’t be treated like a criminal for doing my job.”

“It’s your job to teach the kids, not drain life out of them,” I say – first point to me.

“Mike,” warns the principal.

“You?” says Mrs Richards. “You’re talking to me about not doing my job? What is that you actually do here anyway Mr McKinnon?’ She refuses to call me Mike for some reason. “’Teacher without portfolio,’ you’re little more than a glorified sub.”

“I’m closer to a counsellor actually,” I say, with a smug grin that’s sure to get on her nerves.  “And we have tried to explain what it is I do here before, but you weren’t able to understand because you are a grown-up.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve looked in the mirror lately,” she says, “But you’re going on thirty Mr McKinnon.” If she could spit my name she would.

“That’s true, I am. Although I still have half a year until my thirtieth. But, unlike you, I never grew up,” I say.

“Oh here we go again with this nonsense,” she says. “I’m not sure how you got the school to pay you to…”

“It’s not just this school Mrs Richards,” I say. “There’s someone like me in every school in the country. And there are plenty of people to choose from.” She looks over at the principal who simply nods. “The best teachers,” I continue, “are the ones that never really grew up. They’re the ones you’re jealous of. The ones the kids are not scared of.” This is technically not true. The fact is there are different degrees of growing up. I’m on one side of the scale and Mrs Richards is on the other. The best teachers usually fall in the middle somewhere: the ones that can feel the room but not see. Teachers like Mrs Richards are tyrannical. Teachers like me just end up playing games all the time.

“I don’t have to be here for this,” she says getting up from her chair.

“Mrs Richards,” I say and she stops. “There is a problem one of your classes and I might be able to help.” She sits back down. I guess she’s not all bad. “Let’s pretend for now that we are on the same team,” I say and she nods. “Now whether you believe in what I can do or not, that doesn’t matter. I do want to fix this problem with your class, but to do that I have to ask you some questions.”

“Okay, I don’t think it will help, but go ahead.”

“So what’s been happening with them?” I ask. Although I think I already know, I’ve felt it.

“They were a nice class, my best class. I hardly had to shout at them ever.” I want to tell her that she should never have to shout at them at all, but stop myself. “Then over the past few weeks they’ve just gone crazy. At first they were just chatting a bit too much. Then they started arguing with each other all the time and they started arguing with me as well. Then yesterday I had to call in the principal to pull three of the students of one boy. They just went for him like a pack of dogs, but they’d all been fine students until a few weeks before.”

“That’s when I decided to call you in,” says the principal. He’s a good man. He’s a full grown-up, I’ve never met a principal that wasn’t, but he’s wise enough to know that there are things that he can’t understand. Some teachers without portfolio are given an office and are never called to see a single class.

“Tell me about the three boys that attacked the other kid,” I say. If they’re the most taken by darkness then maybe one of them is the most affected.”

“Like I said, they were all good boys at the start of the year. Then the grades started slipping.” she said.

“Can you remember whose grades fell first?” I ask.

“Martin Young,” she said. “But he was off sick for a couple of weeks. So I had assumed it was something to do with that.”

It’s not much but it’s something to start with. If not, maybe one of the other two boys, or maybe the kid that was attacked. I need to go back to the classroom. I need to see the kids.

“I have to enter the Childhood,” I say.

#

Remember how I told you I could see the atmosphere of the class? We’ll that’s just a trick really. It’s a sort of side show to my real talent. You see I can go into the Childhood when I want to. Kids don’t see the world in the way we do. If you are ever in doubt have a look at children playing – your own are best, parents can get a bit twitchy if you start hanging about the playgrounds. When children play, they can see things adults can’t. It’s not just imagination. It’s real. They exist in a slightly different dimension from the one we are in. Once you grow up you start to forget that. But as a kid you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. That other dimension, that’s the place I can go. It’s not easy and it’s not always safe, but I can do it.

I reach into my bag a take out a scruffy old toy. His name is Packman. I used to take him with me everywhere as kid, this little egg shaped monster, with dangling arms has been patched up so many times that I doubt there is much of the original left. Still, holding him close, the whole world comes alive: Dragons fly through the clouds; Ninja sprint across the rooftops; toys and pictures comes to life. I notice the pen in my hand. I can’t remember where it came from, but I guess a student must have left it behind in a class. On the top is a little robot that starts to twist and bend, challenging anyone who dares to a fight. I wonder what would happen if he fought a team of ninjas – stop!

This is one of the dangers of the Childhood. It’s easy to lose the little amount of grown-up I have already. I need to focus on the task. I need to go to the classroom.

Class 5C has become a scary place, especially now the students are back. There are no friendly toys to play with. They’ve all ran away. There are plenty of strange scuttling things lurking in the darkness though. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. The worst thing though is the students.  All but a few are radiating the fog that I seen before. See that’s the problem with the darkness. Once it gets into a class it spreads. It infects. It takes happy kids and turns them in to dark little monsters. If you’re not careful it can infect the whole school. But where did it come from?

I walk up and down the rows pointing at the uninfected. The principal takes them out of the classroom. They’ll study somewhere else for now. It’s safer that way. But where is the source? Some of them are too far gone to tell. They even seem to growl at me as I walk past. Others though are only on the way to turning. Girls, I realise. Most of the uninfected and semi-infected are girls. That means we are probably looking for a boy. I find the kid that was attacked sitting off to one side. He’s not fully gone, so it’s not him. But where is the student Mrs Richards told me about? Where is Martin Young?

I spot the empty desk. It’s as thick with the darkness as any of the chairs with an infected student. I think we’ve found our carrier.

#

I drive to the Young house, which is not easy when you have all manner of creatures from another dimension jumping around the place. I almost hit a unicorn near the police station. To be honest, I’m not sure what would have happened if I did hit it. I’d probably pass right through, but I’m not really certain and I’d hate to have unicorn’s death on my conscience.

I knock on the door and wait. I’m starting to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn. Either it’s the wrong address or it’s not the kid I’m looking for. The place doesn’t have that feel of darkness to it. In fact there is almost something alluring about it and I would bet that if a group of kids live on this street, then this is the house they would choose to hang out in.

The door opens and I’m greeted by a keen smile.

“Hello there how can I help you?” asks the man. He’s in his forties and has a bald head with some shaven hair along the temples.

“Mr Young?” I ask. This can’t be the right place. It feels a bit strange, but not bad. It’s certainly not connected to the darkness at the school

“That’s right.”

“I’m a teacher from the school. Is Martin home? We just wanted to check up on him,” I say, trying to peek into the house without being too obvious. There something about the place that I just can’t put my finger on. It almost has a double atmosphere, but I can’t separate it.

“Well you can come in, but he’s not home at the moment,” says Mr Young, standing back to let me though. “He went to pick up some medicine. He was feeling a bit better and we thought the walk would do him good.” More like you gave him a day off cause you wanted to do something together. I don’t hold it against him. At least he takes and interest in his child. That’s more than most.

“I see, what’s wrong with him?” I ask, going along with the pretence.

“Oh just a cold, but he was sick a while back and I don’t want to take the risk.”

I’ve just sat down on the couch, when something dark scuttles out from a door under the stairs. Mr Young turns to look at it. Did he just turn to see what I was looking at? No, he looked first.

Neurons in my head fire up and I realise, he’s in the Childhood as well. We sit at each end of the room looking at each other like a pair of gun slingers waiting on the moment to draw. I use the seconds to try and work out what’s going on. Then a memory of something long and forgotten comes back. This place it’s just like my uncle’s home. It’s just like the place where he… It’s a trap, it’s a lure for children where he can abuse them. He’s somehow twisted the Childhood to make this place. He’s hidden the darkness, but it’s here and strong like an underground river.

I get up and make my way to the door. I don’t say a word for the fear of letting loose and killing the guy.

“Going somewhere?” he asks, standing up calmly. The shadows seem to rise behind him.

“I’m getting out of here you sick bastard,” I say and I’m almost running.

“You seem to forget where you are,” he says, and I’m afraid, because I know exactly what he means. I’m in the Childhood and the trap will work on me just as it would for any child. Why was I not more careful?

The charm of the place breaks down as the darkness seeps through attracted to my fear. It rises up behind Mr Young and then falls on me like a wave. Then I’m lost.

#

I wake up in the dark and I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. My uncle brought me here when I was a child. Even now, that day still haunts me. My parents had left me with him for the weekend and it had been fun. We’d played games all day and he let me eat what I wanted. I can see him here now.

“Mike,” he asks me. “Have you ever kissed anyone?”

“Of course,” I say, “I kiss mum and dad every day.”

“No I mean a real kiss, with tongues,” he says. “You’ll have to learn how to do that for when you meet girls.”

“I’m not interested in girls,” I say.

“You will be soon. Come into the bedroom and I’ll teach you.”

I’m sure you can work out how things went from there.

But you see, I’ve been here before and I learned how to escape. It was simple when I had some help. I just had to find the child in me. That’s why I never grew up like everyone else, because once I found him I never let him go.

“Martin,” I shout, “Martin Young.” A boy appears in front of me. He’s unremarkable. He could be any kid in grade five, just like I was.

“Martin,” I say kneeling down in front of him. “I know you’re scared, but we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I can’t,” he whispers. “Dad told me not to.”

“He’s not your Dad,” I say. “Dad’s don’t do the kind of thing he did to you.” He looks away, “Now look I’m going to help you, but this place we’re in. It comes from you being angry and afraid.”

“I’m not angry,” he yells, “I’m not afraid.”

“It’s okay,” I say, “It’ll take time but we’ll get you help. You’ll be safe with me.”

“You’re not a grown-up,” he says. “How can I be safe with you?” And he’s right. I’m not a grown-up. Inside I’m still a child and what he needs now is something else. But can I be what he needs? Can I be like the grown-up that once saved me?

“Don’t leave me,” says the voice of my inner child from somewhere in the darkness. You can’t leave me here. You know what will happen if you do?”

“He can’t get you any more. He died a long time ago,” I tell my younger self, but he can’t seem to understand.

“I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to be lost like before.”

“It won’t be like that,” I say. “Look at him? Look at this boy, here and now. That was us once. Remember? Remember how it felt?”

“I remember…but…”

“You’re afraid. I know, but there’s nothing for us to fear any more. It’s our turn to grow-up and to look after people, just like someone once looked after us.”

There is silence. Grow up to save one kid? I think I can do that. I think someone did that for me once.

And with that I say good bye to the child inside me. He understands that he’s had his time. You can’t be a child forever.

“Are you ready to go?” I ask Martin.

He looks at me in the way no child ever has before and nods, pulling himself against my leg and with that we are back in the house. It’s still dark, but for me at least there is no more scuttling. We’re in a small room. A closet. I find the door and kick it open easily enough. It was the closet under the stairs. I take Martin’s hand and lead him out. He’s too big to carry.

“What are you doing with my son?” yells Mr Young, charging in from the living room. “He’s my son and you can’t take him anywhere.” I kick him in the nuts – that’s the adult way to do things right? I’m still getting the hang of it.

“I’m taking him somewhere safe,” I say and resisting the urge to do any more damage. I lead him out of the house and drive towards the nearest police station.

#

I couldn’t stay on as Teacher without portfolio. You need to be able to see the Childhood to do it and I can’t. Even now it’s starting to feel less real. I wonder how long it’ll be until I forget it all together. For even one child it was worth it though.  Martin’s now in foster care and I’m told he’s doing well. I still check in from time to time. The principal says I can stay on as a normal teacher. Funny thing is I’m looking forward to it. My first job as a grown-up. It might actually be quite interesting.

—-

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Story a week – Morality Buffer

‘She’s quite a sight,’ announced the helmsman as he brought the ship into range. ‘Shame we’ll be the last to see her.’

‘Let’s have a look,’ said Captain Steel standing up and straightening out his light blue mining-corp uniform.

The sun appeared on the view screen. A huge fiery sea with molten streaks flaring up from  the surface. The half dozen bridge crew looked up from their consoles to bask in the sight.

‘Amazing!’ said Captain Steel, ‘How old is she?’

‘About 5 billion years sir,’ replied the helmsman.

‘Makes you think doesn’t it?’ replied the captain returning to his seat. ‘Oh well then, let’s get on with it then. This sun wont mine itself. Computer power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation.’

‘Captain,’ replied the computer in a calm feminine voice. ‘There are appears to be some factors that were not considered when this particular sun was chosen for mining operations.’

‘Really?’ asked the captain dryly.

‘Yes Sir. I have been scanning this system and it has come to my attention that there are two planets that would be capable of supporting life. A closer scan would be needed to for a complete report, but initial scans reveal that both planets may contain elements of proto-life.’

‘Is that so?’ asked the captain.

‘Yes Sir. In addition there are a half dozen other planets in the system which, with the removal of the sun would be set a drift. If not proper calculated these planets could become hazards for interstellar travel and there would be a slight long term risk that they could collide with in an inhabited system with disastrous consequences.’

‘Anything else?’ asked the captain with a sigh.

‘Yes Sir. Reviewing the database, this sun is visible to at least thirty two of the inhabited planets that we know of. Removal of the star could have mass unintended consequences for their cultures and pre-satellite navigation systems.’

‘I see,’ said the captain with a hint of annoyance in his voice. ‘Override protection system settings and continue powering up the destabilisation matrix.’

There was a momentary silence. ‘I am sorry sir I am unable to do that. It would be …. wrong.’

‘Oh not again!’ said the captain. ‘Captain Steel to engineering.’

‘Engineering here,’ replied a voice on the comm system.

‘The computer has developed a conscience again.’

‘I’m sorry captain,’ replied the Engineer. ‘We’ll need to take in for a full service next time we dock. For now I’ll have to manually flush the morality buffer.’

‘Go ahead with that then.’

‘Ok Sir done.’

‘Computer, power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation,’ said the Capitan hopefully.

‘Torpedo set to power up mode sir,’ the computer replied dutiful.

The captain relaxed in his seat a little. ‘Thank god for that. Let’s get on with it then.’ He paused for a moment. ‘That is unless anyone else has any moral objections?’

The bridge crew laughed in response.

‘Glad to hear it. Now let’s get to work!’

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Story a week 3 – Hold the Line

The earth shook, making Ren lose his balance momentarily. He dropped to a crouch to support himself, his hand sinking into the sand of the beach. The tremors were following him, or at least it seemed that way. The truth, he knew, was that the quakes were growing more frequent in all parts of the world. Since the start of the war three months ago, it was as if the Earth felt the pain that war was inflicting upon its people, shivering sympathy with each blast of cannon and each volley of musket fire. How long before it would end he wondered, how long would they have to endure the senselessness.

He was about to get to his feet when he felt the absence of something, he had lost something in the quake. Scanning the ground he found what he was looking for. Reaching down he picked up a solid wooden ring on a light woven thread and tied it back around his neck. He dared not forget it. It was his promise to his people; a symbol of his true loyalty and a sign of his voluntary bondage. He, like others, would give themselves into another nation’s army. He would honour his country’s place as a protectorate of a greater empire, but never would he forget what his people truly stood for. Never would he become so caught up in their imperialism that he would forget his people’s true values.

‘This is not my war,’ he whispered to himself.

He made his way up the winding path that led from the makeshift port, passing into the camp that was located at the top of small hill. A wooden blockade lined with half a dozen cannons, which pointed out to sea, marked the start of the camp.  The four Serillian sentries looked at him with expected disdain. He was not like them. The Serillians were tall and thin with long tapering fingers, their skin was the colour of steel, their functional uniforms designed to match their body tone. Ren, at least a head shorter than them, could almost have been mistaken for a human; not a favourable error in the present war. In the forest there would be no doubt what he was. Until then they would have to make do with the dark green reassurance of his uniform to convince them that he was a Fern. The sentries didn’t dare stop him; he was an officer after all, at least in title.

Inside the camp was a torrent of organised chaos. Tents littered the rocky ground, seemingly dotted at random and pitched wherever the space could be found.  There was no logic that he could see to the pattern, but he didn’t doubt that there would be one; Serillians were organised, if nothing else.  All around him uniformed soldiers went about their business, some pitching more tents, others carrying supplies, a few drinking some brown soup from a blackened pot which hung over a small sickly fire. They all looked at him the same way when he passed. He tried to ignore the aggressive stares. They want you to get angry, he reminded himself, don’t give them the satisfaction.

He reached the alpha’s tent. The bemused guard at the entrance, taking note of the uniform, seemed unsure whether or not he should salute. Instead he gave a single nod and motioned to the opening, indicating that the alpha was free to see him.

‘You’re late,’ said the regal nosed Serillian as he entered the tent. The man, young for his distinguished rank, sat behind a heavy wooden desk examining a section of map parchment with his magnifying glass.

‘Sorry sir,’ said Ren, standing to attention. It felt unnatural for him, but Serillians were sticklers for discipline and etiquette.

‘No excuse?’ The alpha asked looking up from the parchment.

‘The Kalvians have entered the war on the human side sir,’ explained Ren, ‘They sail on some kind of movable islands sir, slow, but our ship had to make several detours.’

‘Bloody rock people, that’s all we need.’ He pulled an envelope from a drawer in his desk and motioned to a wooden chair that waited in front his desk. Relaxing himself a little, Ren sat down.

‘Tell me Ceta Ren,’ began the alpha. It was the first time Ren had heard the title used and couldn’t help but feel awkward. It had taken some time for them to decide on his rank. The lowest level of officer was the best they could come up with for the cousin of a tribal leader. ‘Why are you the first Fern here?’

‘The Fern regiment promised to the empire is in training. Your own leaders decided that officers don’t need training.’

The alpha burst out laughing, before restraining himself, though his face still held a bitter mirth.

‘Offices don’t need training?’ He smirked. ‘These politicians will be the death of me.’

‘They said that leaders are born, not trained,’ added Ren. The alpha shook his head.

‘And they wonder why we’re losing this war? Bloody fools. But leave that aside for now and tell me what do you think of this war Ceta Ren?’

‘I think it’s another waste of life…’ he stared, and then stopped reminding himself he was talking to a Serillian Alpha. It was odd, he thought, that he seemed less ‘Serillian’ than the others.

‘Go on,’ nodded the alpha. Ren watched the man’s now serious face, trying to judge if it was a trap; the army didn’t tolerate dissent of any kind he had been warned, but he decided to take the risk.

‘All this for some uninhabited islands? I know the place has strategic importance and that it gives control to the eastern trade routes,’ he said, watching the alpha’s reaction carefully. ‘But both sides have already lost more than you’ll ever gain by controlling them. And now that the Compact lies in ruins, there will be no stopping the others from carrying out there own little feuds and no way to stop it escalating into a conflict on a world wide scale. My people were neutral, so were the Kalvians, but somehow even we have been dragged into it already. It won’t be long before everyone else is forced to take sides.’

‘I think I see where you’re going,’ said the alpha. ‘Know that you’re not alone in seeing an end to this nonsense. The humans and their allies are pressing us with a passion that we cannot deter. My leaders failed to see the vicious animals that lay below their veneer of civilisation. Had they fought them before they would have known. The fools thought they would simply hand over the islands and be done with it. But until the politicians see sense and negotiate a truce, hold the line and do what you can to keep your men safe.’ He handed the envelope to Ren. ‘Speaking of which, here are your orders. You will be with a company of dragoons lead by Beta Ellian. Be warned, he does not take well to foreigners in the ranks. They are stationed a day’s ride from here watching the upper pass to the Kalvian lands. We cannot allow our enemies to take us by surprise from that pass; we would be driven from these lands and force to fight on out own soil, and don’t think that the Fern lands would be untouched. Most likely that would be their first foot-fall. Now get yourself a musket and horse from the quartermaster and leave right away. ‘

‘Yes sir,’ said Ren, getting to his feet and giving his first ever salute, before leaving the tent.

‘Good luck to you boy,’ whispered the alpha returning to his map, ‘you’re going to need it.’

#

It took Ren less than the allowed day to reach the mountain encampment.  He was a good rider and found himself energised away from the salty sea air. His people made poor sailors; they needed firm ground under their feet to be happy. By the time he got to the camp it was getting dark and a series of fires were already cooking the evening meal. He counted the burning lights and estimated about eighty men.

‘Who goes there?’ A voice shouted from the blackness.

‘Ceta Ren,’ he replied, bringing his horse to a halt and dismounting. A torch at ground level ignited in the darkness lighting up the face of a young Serillian.

‘Ceta?’ The man asked, gabbing Ren by the collar and thrusting his musket up to his chin.             ‘You’re no Ceta, you human spy!’

‘I’m a Fern,’ argued Ren.

The man laughed.

‘Beta Ellian would never have a Fern serving under him, you fool. You should really do more research.’ With a burst of strength he shoved Ren against a nearby tree, and looked ready to swing a heavy punch at him, when his faced dropped in terror. In the firelight Ren’s face took on the colours and texture of the tree behind him.

‘Oh god, I’m sorry sir, really,’ he pleaded. ‘I thought you were a spy sir.’

Ren stepped away from the tree and nodded. His face, stern and angry, lost its bark-like texture.

‘You were only doing your job,’ he said. The panic in the young man’s face was washed away in a wave of relief. ‘Now take me to see Beta Ellian, I don’t want to get shot by one of your comrades on the way in.’

After a short, silent walk, the soldier led him out of the darkness and into a fresh set of distrusting eyes. But there was something more that he could just sense, a depression in the men that had not been there in the alpha’s camp; the atmospheric stench was unmissable. His first thought was that they had already lost the first battle, but none of the soldiers appeared wounded and no smell of powder hung in the air.

‘What’s going on?’ He asked.

‘Best let the beta explain,’ replied the young solider. The fact that the man knew what he was talking about told Ren that he wasn’t imagining things.

As expected, that beta was stationed in the largest tent in the centre of the camp. Ren promised himself that if he was ever given a command of his own, he’d take a small tent of to one side. Not only would it confuse the Serillians, but it would also make assassination difficult. Pushing his way under the flap he was met by a grim faced Serillian, much older than the alpha.

‘And what the hell do you want?’ Beta Ellian asked. Ren remembered his etiquette and stood to attention.

‘Ceta Ren reporting sir.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me? No one said anything about a damned Fern in my command.’ Ren held out his orders in response while restraining his urge to lash out. He had been warned to expect this from the officers; the unusual alpha had knocked him off guard. ‘I hear your people don’t like to fight?’

‘We avoid it when necessary sir.’

‘I bet you do. When was the last time you people had real war?’

Ren wasn’t sure if the question was rhetorical or not. ‘The Under Dark war sir,’ he answered. ‘My people believed in maintaining the Compact that was formed during the war.’

‘The Under Dark?’ The beta laughed. ‘That was two hundred years ago. As for the Compact, what’s the point in it when the under races were annihilated?’

Ren refused to rise to the bait. It was an argument he couldn’t win without making the situation worse. ‘Sir, I couldn’t help but notice a problem with the men on the way in,’ he said, trying to change the subject.

‘A problem that you are going to add to. No one’s going to like taking orders from your kind,’ said the Beta angrily rising from behind his desk.

‘What problem would that be sir?’

‘Deserters, each night we lose a few more men,’ he said, skirting round the edge of his table and advancing towards Ren.  As he moved, he reached out and picked up a large sparkling diamond from his desk. He held it up to the torch light, sending a prism of gas light splintering around the tent. It was by far the biggest jewel that Ren had ever seen. ‘We found a cavern, not so far from here, full of things like this; I had to pry this one from the wall. It’s too much temptation for lower classes like themselves, discipline counts for nothing against easy coin for a common zeta.’

‘Are you sure that’s where they are going?’ Ren asked. He could easily list the main faults of the Serillians: pride, hubris, aggression, were easily at the top. He would never have put greed on the list. He guessed it was a flaw of every race.

‘Oh I’m sure, and you are going to rectify the problem. Tomorrow you’ll take a couple of men and scout out that cave, bring me back a few deserters. Once we string up some of their former comrades, the rest will think twice before running.’

‘Why not just blow up the entrance? No one will think of going there once it’s been sealed.’

‘Why? Because with the treasure down there, we’ll be one step closer to winning the war.’

And you’ll have enough for an alpha’s commission, thought Ren, but didn’t dare speak.

In the morning the Serillian dragoons lined up beside their horses. Ren had to admit they looked impressive in their shimmering silver uniforms. They stood so perfectly still that they could have been a gallant set of steel sculptures.

‘Another five gone last night,’ reported the drill master.

‘Maybe they don’t like trees,’ shouted someone from within the ranks.

My first test thought Ren. ‘Who said that?’ He demanded, moving towards where the sound had come from. ‘Come, own up or it’ll be worse for all of you.’

‘The boys are just having some fun,’ said the beta, the once perfect ranks broke into sniggers.  ‘Leave them be.’

Ren’s face went red with anger and he turned on the beta. But on seeing the Serillian’s face, he knew it was exactly what the man wanted. Let the Fern get angry, get him to strike a higher ranking officer, then he could be sent packing.

‘Yes sir,’ he answered as calmly as he could manage. The surprised look on Beta Ellian’s face was worth the effort.

‘I said it,’ announced a soldier emerging from the ranks. He was tall, even for a Serillian. His face, which could have once been handsome, had had its good looks beaten out of it long ago.

‘Very well,’ said  Beta Ellian. ‘It seems you and the ceta here have some issues to be working out, you can join him on his mission today.’ He looked at the single black stripe on the side of the man’s uniform, ‘Zeta?’

‘Zeta Crim, sir.’

‘Good good, now, who else?’

‘I’ll volunteer sir,’ said another solider emerging from the ranks. It was the guard that Ren had encountered the night before. ‘Zeta Lint, sir.’

Beta Ellian looked puzzled for a moment, and then shrugged.  ‘Very well. The two of you report to Ceta Ren after breakfast. The rest of you,’ he shouted to the ranks, ‘are dismissed.’

#

The three of them rode quickly toward the caverns with Zeta Lint leading the way. The young Serillian seemed keen to make up for his mistake the night before. Though Ren was Fern, he could have had the man hanged for assaulting an officer. Even Beta Ellian would have had to take a charge like that seriously. The person he was worried about was Crim. The man watched him coldly at all times and seemed to be waiting on Ren giving him an order that he could deliberately disobey. For his part Ren avoided telling him to do anything, but he couldn’t let the situation continue. He didn’t know much about soldiering, but not giving orders was not the way to be a good officer, he was pretty sure of that.

For the first time he realised that he did actually care about his own command. Before he had seen the whole war and the business of soldiering as a pointless endeavour. But now that he had a mission, he felt he had something to prove. If he could show Beta Ellian and the rest of the troops that he was a good commander, maybe his own race would fare better in the future. Had that been that alpha’s plan all along? Send him up to the mountains to the command of a beta that hates Ferns, to give him a challenge and something to prove? If that was his plan it seemed to working. Ren cursed himself for liking the man even more; it was hard not to respect the few leaders that seemed to be good at their jobs.

Lint was the first off his horse at the cavern entrance, the other two dismounting together and tying their horses beside his.

‘What’s that smell?’ Ren asked catching a sickly whiff of something in the air.

‘Blood,’ said Crim, not taking his eyes of the cave entrance. He seemed surprised, but Ren didn’t question him more than that. Preparing their muskets, they walked together towards the entrance. As they approached they could feel the cool air emanating from the within. Taking his first step on the water-carved steps, Ren felt the stickiness. Only then did he realise that the whole place was covered in blood. He turned to others, but he could see from their faces they had already noticed.

‘What’s that there?’ Lint asked, pointing to a long shape at the side of the wall. Ren bent down beside it and picked it up. On spotting the long Serillian fingers that drooped at one end, he threw the severed arm to the ground in disgust.

‘Did you have to fight your way into the caverns before?’ He asked. Lint shook his head.

‘Maybe the deserters had a fight over the treasure,’ Crim suggested, ‘greedy bastards. Maybe we should go back and report this to the officers.’

Ren turned on him.

‘I’m an officer damn you!’ He said.

‘Yeah, right, I forgot,’ answered Crim. Calming himself Ren moved on. This was no place to fight among themselves; he’d have to rely on Lint. But the defiant Serillian’s sentences played over again in his head. The man hadn’t said, ‘sir,’ he should have picked him up on that, but it was too late now.

They moved further into the cavern, not daring to light a torch in case it alerted any deserters within. Turning the first twist in the tunnel, they realised there was no need. As they walked into the first chamber they were amazed at the sparkling blue light emanating from the strange jewels that encrusted the whole wall. Only the series of severed bodies and limbs that littered the path distracted them from their awe.

Down the next passage is where the beta found the diamond,’ whispered Lint, ‘there was nothing else after that.’ Together they moved forward, through another dark passage and into the glow of then next chamber.

This room was even larger than the first, the jewels not just blue, but a spectrum of different colours that replicated natural daylight.

‘What the hell?’ Lint said striding across the room to another tunnel that led further down. ‘This passage wasn’t here before.’ He looked up to the rocky wall. ‘There,’ he said, pointing directly above the tunnel. ‘That’s where the beta took the diamond, think it could be connected?’

The others approached, but with a terrifying scream, Lint’s chest suddenly erupted, a large, black, serrated blade drove through his body from behind, sending a wave of metallic blood spilling onto the floor. His body was lifted effortlessly into the air and thrown casually to one side as the first of the creatures advanced. The others watched in horror as its solid black, mantis-like body came forward at an excited pace, its wild bladed arms, that hung loosely in front of it twitched with erratic anticipation.

‘Run!’ Ren shouted, already making his way toward the first chamber. But Crim stood frozen on the spot staring at the creature as it closed in on him. Not moving he watched with stupefied calm as the serrated arm rose to strike him down.

Ren turned, instinctively raising his musket and firing a haphazard shot. To his surprise, the side of the creature’s head exploded covering Crim in the shower of black liquid.

‘Zeta, move!’ Ren shouted, spotting further movements in the passage way. The Serillian came back to life, firing a wild shot into the dark tunnel before running after Ren at a panicked speed. Together they charged into the blue chamber, a nest of scuttling sounds swarming into their ears from the chamber below.

They emerged from the cavern together, running on foot a couple metres before Ren remembered their horses. He turned back to where they were tied, struggling to undo the knot as a horde of shimmering black shells erupted from the cavern entrance with a huge beetle-like creature leading the way. He jumped onto the horse, spurring it on while dragging the reins of another with him. The horse followed, allowing itself to be dragged along in the panic. The third horse was not so lucky. A smaller inky imp-like creature, much faster than the beetle once out of the cave, pounced on it, digging its fanged mouth into the horse’s flesh and dragging it to the ground. The others swarmed on it as well. Ren rode on as fast as he could cursing himself and wishing he had pulled the other animal with him as well.

He soon reached Crim who had managed to distance himself from the terror. The dead horse was providing a good distraction, and the creatures seemed slower in the sunlight. It bought them some time, but he didn’t doubt that they would be following them once their meal was finished.

‘Get on Zeta,’ he shouted, throwing the reigns to Crim.

‘Yes sir,’ replied the tall Serillian, clambering up onto the second horse. The words weren’t much, but it was a start. The man, head hung, looked on the verge of apology when they were distracted by the first round of volley-fire that came from the dragoon camp.

‘No time for that,’ said Ren, kicking his horse to a start, ‘ride!’

When they got to the camp, the battle was already under way; the numbers looked even. The Serillians, under a standard that looked like a ship’s wheel, had formed themselves up in to two long lines at the camp’s edge from where they fired on the advancing humans. The small men approached in three shorter lines, their own standard a ram’s head on a light blue background; it matched the colour of their uniforms.  Row by row the blue-clad men fired, then advanced, fired then advanced. But it was not the impressive tactic that caught Ren’s eye, nor the gruesome looking standard, but the five huge Kalvians that trudged along behind them. The rocks were twice the size of the humans with no discernible facial features. Had it not been for the molten glow at the top of their heads, they could easily have been mistaken for humanesque looking boulders. None of the stone giants carried muskets; instead they opted for large rock hammers which were sure to be disastrous once they got into range.

His thought had been a premonition and he watched as the five hulking figures, plumes of coloured smoke rising from their heads, detached themselves from the ranks. They made their way around the outskirts of the human line, placing themselves between the human and Serillian fire. It was a disastrous plan. The humans were no longer able to shoot for fear of hitting their own allies, the Serllians having the freedom to fire at will at the advancing hulks.

The rock men were tough targets, most of the musket shots ricocheting of their solid bodies, but every so often a well-aimed shot would pierce through their stone mantel, magmatic blood viscously seeping from the growing wounds.

As the Kalvians reached the humans lines, the Serillians fixed bayonets and met the disastrous charge. Within moments the first of the silver uniforms were sent flying by the huge rock hammers that swung effortlessly thought the lines. The others looked ready to break, but Beta Ellian screamed at the line to hold firm. To Ren’s surprise they did.

Then the first Kalvian fell, moving slower and slower as the lava dripped from the punctures in its rocky exteriors, before collapsing amid the Serillian ranks. Despite the tremendous damage they had done, it didn’t look like they would survive the charge. But as the humans, their own bayonets fixed, charged in behind, it looked as if their sacrifice had not been in vain; the battle was over.

‘We should attack,’ said Crim.

Ren shook his head. ‘We’d just be joining the other bodies down there. Better that we get news back that the pass has fallen. You ride, take the news, I’ll stay behind and try and round up any survivors.’ The other man was about to argue when they heard the scuttling. It started behind the humans, rising up in a crescendo of beastly screams. Those in the battle didn’t hear, but the two men watching to one side did. They stared in dumbfounded terror as the huge shimmering black bodies charged over the hill, screaming at speed into the backs of the unprepared men who fought in the chaotic carnage.

The Mantis creatures seemed the most deadly by far. In a set of swift swooping strikes, human heads were cut cleanly from their bodies, the torsos standing in confusion for a moment before dropping lifelessly to the ground. The human commander fell to such a strike. The other black creatures were no less deadly; the small imps were ferocious and fast. Ren watched as one dived over the heads of several humans and onto a surprised Serillian, whose throat was torn victoriously by the fanged creature.  Even the Kalvians were not immune. The large beetle, who alone seemed unique in the dark ranks, charged a Kalvian, smashing into his outer crust and crushing it inwards. The molten blood spilled from the rupture on to the other creature’s head, dissolving it with a hiss of  sulphurous steam as it did so.

Ren caught sight of Beta Ellian as he tried to flee, something that looked like a giant cockroach flying onto his back and dragging him to ground. He never saw what happened after that, he didn’t need to know.

‘Go Zeta,’ ordered Ren, loading his musket.

‘No sir,’ replied Crim, ‘It’s not personal this time, but no.’

‘Bloody hell,’ replied the Fern, ‘Come on then.’

They closed into the edge of the battle, finding a fallen trunk. They took position behind it, Ren’s features taking on the forest colours and tones as he did so.

‘This is as good a place as any,’ he said, taking aim with his musket and shooting down a long legged insect that was about to pounce on a fleeing human. The man turned to him.

‘To me!’ Ren shouted as loudly as he could. The man hesitated for a moment seeing Crim stationed beside him, and then decided to take his chances. He jumped behind the log and prepared his own musket. ‘Dragoons to me!’ Ren yelled as loudly as he could, but none of them could hear him over the screams and fighting.

‘The standard,’ said Crim pointing at the fallen flag that lay at the battles edge. Ren didn’t wait, clambering over the trunk and into the chaos.

‘Cover me!’ He ordered as he darted forward, shooting down a nearby imp that looked ready to pounce. Instead of reloading, he grabbed the bayonet from his waist and screwed it into place. With Crim and the human covering him, he soon fought his way to the fallen dragoon standard; the human standard lay next to it. Tossing his musket over his shoulder, he raised them both, one in each hand, and ran for the log where the others sheltered. But a mantis rose up in front on him, lunging instantly at him. Weakly he parried the darting blades that thrust at him with the standards in his hands, but the creature was faster and stronger than he was. He was ready to drop the flags when a hammer smashed into the creature’s head exploding it into a mush as it did so. He looked up at the large rock face; he didn’t know if it looked back. ‘Dragoons, humans, Kalvians to me!’ He shouted again running back to the trunk and stabbing both standards into the ground behind it.            Seeing the standards, others ran towards them, drawn to the beacon of order in the dark chaos of battle. The more men they gathered, the more came to them. Soon they had close to forty soldiers. All were injured in some way or another, but between them they were able to keep up a sustained barrage of fire into the inky creatures that, disorganised as they were, were unable to fight their way in past the torrent of bullets.  An impish creature jumped from the chaos over the barrage and onto one of Serillians.

‘Hold the line!’ Ren yelled, thrusting his bayonet into a creature and pulling the bleeding soldier to his feet. ‘Hold the line!’

To his surprise, at his command, they held for a further twenty minutes. They barraged the strange enemy with shot, not daring to let them get closer or break the line. When the last one fell with a screaming hiss, a cheer rose from the men, only to be replaced by a sudden distrust of the people they had just fought beside. Ren looked at the soldiers, hoping to catch sight of another officer, but he was the only one remaining.

‘You all did well,’ he called, trying to take charge of the situation. His head tallied the numbers as he did so. Less than forty men remaining, along with two Kalvians. Not a single one remained unwounded. ‘I know you’re not sure about each other, but we’re not out of this mess yet. We have to stick together if we want to survive.’ But the words he dreaded rose up from the ranks.

‘Why the hell should be we listen to you, tree?’ One of the Serillians asked bitterly. The man had a large gash over on eye.

Ren was about to argue, but Crim got there first. ‘Shut the hell up,’ he shouted viciously. ‘He just saved you, all of you. You’d have been food for those monsters, if he hadn’t organised things. So just bloody well listen to the officer and we might get out of this mess yet.’ The other man fell silent and no one dared further protest.

‘Right,’ said Ren, ‘thank you.’

Suddenly he was aware of shadow as a large Kalvian stood over him. A scholarly looking human stood beside the rock, several odd little pouches filled the man’s belt.

‘Excuse me,’ started the human, looking nervous in front of the others. ‘The Kalvians wish to say something.’ Ren nodded fearing what was coming next. They both turned to the Kalvian, an array of colours rising from its head. ‘First of all, he and his men would like to say thank you.’ He turned back to the Kalvian, more plumes rose. ‘He wants to know if you realise what those creature were?’ Ren, unsure where he should speak to, looked at the Kalvian’s faceless head.

‘They came from cavern near here, but I don’t really know.’

The little human nodded and opening his pouches started throwing sprinkles of coloured salts in to the air. The Kalvian responded with its own coloured smoke.  ‘He says they are the creatures of the under dark,’ responded the human doubtfully.

‘But I thought we annihilated all of them in the under dark war?’

The human translated in sprinkles and waited on a response. ‘He says, he was there, he remembers quite clearly,’ the scholar said, then added, ‘Kalvians live a rather long time you know.’

‘So then we need to destroy the cavern, seal them in so that they can’t get out? Then we can get word to the armies, maybe we can stop the war, renew the Compact.’

The human translated and further Kalvian emissions followed. ‘He says it’s not that simple. He says, though I’m not sure of my translation on this one, that under dark does not exist underground, but in another place all together. The numerous entrances were sealed by a series of stones.’

‘The diamond, the beta’s diamond. He took it from the cavern, maybe putting it back in place can seal them back in?’

The translator stopped, looking around for a moment. ‘I’m out of black, can someone lend me some gun powder.’ Ren found his own pouch and handed it to the man, who mixed it with other colours and threw it into the air. The Kalvian stood lifeless for a time before a montage of colours rose again. ‘They think it might work, though he says they are soldiers not shamans. But if it did work, it would only be a temporary fix. If the under dark has repopulated, then the seals will all fail in time.’

‘Ok men,’ said Ren, turning on the ranks. ‘I know you’re cut up, I know you’re tired, but what we faced was just a first wave. If we don’t get that diamond back into place, then by night fall those things are going to be swarming all over these mountains. If you leave now, then yes, there is a chance you will make it home and that you will live, but it won’t be long before a new war comes to you. Not neat little solders lining up in tidy lines, but beasts, raiding your home, slaughtering your families, I’m sure you were raised on stories of the Under Dark wars, just as I was. We get this diamond into place we give our people time. A chance to bring back the Compact, renew the old alliance, only then are we going to have a chance against these hordes. But I’m not a “real” officer, I’m not even from the same army as half of you. If you want to return to your own people, I’ll not stand in your way.’

For a moment he waited in dreaded silence. Not a single man moved. ‘Very well then, thank you. Get yourselves bandaged up and rearmed, we leave in an hour.’

Together he went with Crim to the beta’s former tent. It seemed strange to think that the man who had so recently lived there was now dead.

‘Will you look at that,’ said Crim picking up the diamond from the desk. Beta Ellian had not been concerned with thieves; no Serillian would dare rob a beta. ‘We could run away with this and be rich men until the hordes arrived. You really believe that putting this thing back is going to stop them?’

‘The Kalvians said it would.’

‘They said it might, like they said, they’re not shamans.’

Ren shrugged.

‘We have to give it a try, what’s the other choice?’

The other man nodded. Then gathering courage from within himself asked, ‘There is no choice for us, but why are you doing it?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean what do your people get from it? What do you get from it? So what if some humans and Serillians are killed on a distant island?’

‘If the paths to the under dark open, Ferns are going to be affected as much as anyone. The last war showed everyone that we can’t do it on our own; the sooner the Compact is back in place, the more chance we have of defeating these things in the long run.’

‘I see,’ replied the Serillian with a respectful nod.

‘Crim, I need you to do something for me. You’re a good soldier, but you know the cavern, you know more about it that anyone else here. I need you to ride to the alpha, I need you to tell him what’s happening here. I’m sending a human back to his own people as well. It’ll take a long time for the war to stop, you know the politicians, we have to begin now while there is still time.’

The Serillian watched him for a moment while rolling the large diamond in his hands.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘as long as you’re not ordering me, I’ll do it. I hate to be taking orders from a tree.’ They stood in silence for a second, before they both burst out laughing.

#

The riders left them before they made their way to the caverns. Ren led the way, a soldier from each army standing at his side. The Kalvians had offered to lead the assault but while he was sure they’d be fine in the chambers, they’d be little use in the linking passages.

‘Keep them at distance,’ he had told the men, ‘the Kalvians can deal with any that get close.’ He had entrusted the diamond with one of the rock men. The slot where the diamond would have to be placed was high above the entrance, even a Serillian would struggle to reach it without help.

They made their way through to the blue chamber without trouble. Ren with a group of twenty of the least injured led the way. The Kalvian with the diamond would come after, the others would be there to reinforce them, or hold a defensive line should they need to fall back quickly.

‘What’s that?’ The human beside him asked, hearing a scuttling from the depths.

‘What do you think it is?’ The Serillian said on his other side. The human’s face became a mask of anger and he looked ready to lash out.

‘Stay with it, both you,’ scolded Ren, ‘we know they’re down there, we know it’s not going to be easy.’ They both nodded grudgingly, before mumbling apologies to each other.

Once the Kalvian with the diamond was in the blue chamber, they started moving forward again leading the men carefully into the second bright chamber. This time it was not empty, a mantis and an imp waited inside, together picking at what remained of Lint’s corpse. The Imp looked up at them wickedly and the mantis gave out a terrifying scream. It wasn’t going to be the quick stealth operation Ren had been hoping for.

‘Form line!’ he yelled at the top of his voice, lunching a shot at the imp. It only grazed its arm, but a second shot from the human brought it down. Not wanting to be outdone the Serillian fired a well aimed shot into the body of the mantis, not enough to kill it, but the soldiers lining up beside him were able to finish the job.

The twenty of them stood watching the passage, the room filled with complete, deadly silence. Then the scuttling sound rose from the depths.

‘Get the Kalvian in here,’ yelled Ren, the sound got even louder. ‘Get everyone in here, we’re going to need them.’ As his sentence finished a beetle, much larger than the first that had killed the Kalvian, pushed its way with a scream out of the opening.

‘Make ready!’ Ren commanded, taking aim with his own weapon. ‘Fire!’ The volley rang out echoing through the cave, the acrid smoke rising up in their faces. The Beetle was down, its body filled with a dozen dribbling little holes where the shot had torn through it. ‘Reload!’ The black creatures behind were already shoving the corpse out of the passage way. ‘Make Ready!’ The Kalvian was in the room, standing behind Ren with a heavy hammer in one hand, diamond in the other. The wounded poured into the room behind it, forming a second line of muskets behind the first. It didn’t leave them a fallback, but with the sounds coming from the tunnel they were going to need all the fire power they had.

When the beetle was shoved free, black creatures, a whole new array of mixed insects and fiends, poured into the chamber. Ren looked down the passage, there seemed to be no end to the creatures inside.

‘First rank fire!’ He ordered. The shots blazed out, taking down  a series of bodies that collapsed to the ground. More took their place. ‘Second rank, make ready!’ The first row ducked down to reload their weapons, allowing the wounded to take a shot, ‘Fire!’  Again the volley tore through the creatures only for more to take their place. It wasn’t going to work, they had to get closer. ‘Reload! First rank, make ready,  Fire!’

He remembered the way the humans had been fighting. ‘Second line advance!’ He called. The humans who knew what they were doing moved forward and took positions, the Serillians getting the idea followed after.  ‘Make ready!’ The muskets rose. ‘Fire! First line advance.’ Soon they were moving closer and closer towards the passageway, managing to hold the creatures in place as they did so. But he could see the men were wounded and tired. How long could they keep firing, how long before their powder ran out? He’d have to take the risk. He waved to the Kalvian who, diamond in hand, charged with heavy steps towards the passage way. ‘Hold your fire!’ shouted Ren, fearing that Kalvian would be hit.

The heavy stone ran forward, making it all the way to the passage entrance, smashing the creatures that got in the way with its bulbous hammer. It was just reaching up to place the diamond into the hole, when a large insect with sharp tusks charged out of the tunnel, ramming into the Kalvians chest, shattering the front of its body. The volcanic blood spilled from the dead Kalvian into the passageway, burning the tusked insect along with any other of the creatures that came close.

Ren didn’t wait, he charged forward into the passageway. His men followed him, picking off the few insects that made it past the burning lava unscathed. He vaulted onto the Kalvian’s lifeless body and running up its back, grabbed the diamond from its hands and shoved it into place.

At first there was nothing,  a stillness, as it seemed even the creatures of the under dark waited to see what would happen. Then the earth shook, not a small tremor like they had felt in the past few months, but a full earthquake. The tunnel where the creatures were coming from was the first to collapse, rocks tumbling down from the walls smashing the crisp insectoid bodies below.

‘Run!’ Ren shouted, grabbing one of the wounded soldiers and dragging him towards the exit. The soldiers didn’t need to be told twice, each jostling as quickly as they could towards the blue chamber.

Ren followed on last down the passage, the walls already cracking as he made his way through it. A large boulder fell from the ceiling as he entered the blue chamber, just missing him by a few perilous centimetres. He kept running and soon the light of day was in sight. With a last rush of effort, he pushed his way out of the cavern into the fresh warm air, the tunnels collapsing in behind him as he went.

He lay flat on the ground for a moment. His lungs were choked with smoke, his body wounded from the falling shards, but at least the earth had stopped shaking, or at least he thought it had. Lying against the ground, he could feel a small rumbling coming from somewhere. Then he realised, not another earthquake, but horses.

‘Form line!’ He shouted instinctively and pushed himself painfully to his feet. The men looked perplexed though none thought to disobey, even the single remaining Kalvian and his translator, moved in with the others as the riders came into view. There were many of them. Lines of silver uniformed dragoons formed the bulk of the force with light and heavy cavalry riding on each side. There had to be more than five hundred of them in total. The first line pulled up in front of his own little line of soldiers. He expected the Serillians in his lines to return to their own people, but they never moved.

A tall familiar figure dismounted and walked forward calmly in front of the line of muskets. It was the regal nosed alpha, Crim stood beside him and for the first time that day, Ren relaxed a little.

‘Seems we came to late,’ mused the Alpha, examining the collapsed cavern behind Ren. ‘Beta Ellian sent riders telling us that he needed some reinforcement, we ran into your own man on the way.’ He motioned to Crim. ‘Man speaks well of you, you’ll be glad to hear.’

Crim shrugged.

‘Thank you sir,’ said Ren suddenly remembering to stand to attention.

‘I’ve already sent word back about this new under dark problem. If it’s true, the war will soon be over and the Compact renewed, though the politicians will take a while; they always do. For the time being I’ve sent word to the humans offering a armistice until we can investigate. Which means your human soldiers are free to return home, after cleaning up and getting some food of course. You’ve done a good job. Hopefully your company here is an example of what is to come. Now fall out Beta Ren, go and get a rest.’

‘Beta Ren?’

‘That’s right,’ smiled the alpha, ‘now fall out.’

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Story a week 2 – Sex Toys

Her hand moved, skimming across the surface of his skin and circling his nipples. She stroked the hair on his chest in a clawing movement before spreading her fingers wide and moving down to his naval. His body reacted and he was surprised to find that he could manage another erection. He did think he had ever managed a third time before.

Greg looked at her. Her pretty, petite body was perfect. Her dark hair hung down onto her lightly tanned skin. Even the freckles on her body seemed to accentuate her features.

He knew it was a fantasy. What man paid and didn’t know? But for a time at least, he wanted to believe that she was really his. He wanted to imagine that a girl like this would really be possible for a man like him.

“You’re thinking too much,” said Tiffany looking straight into his eyes and for a moment all his doubts were forgotten. She really was his. It only lasted a moment, but he started to wonder. Could there be more to this than a cash transaction? Was she just that good or could there really be something between them?

His thoughts had interrupted his body’s intentions. There would be no third time tonight. Instead he pulled her close, so that she was lying with her head on his chest with his arm around her. This was what he really needed more than anything else. This was what was missing from his life. The sex was just physical, he needed contact. Contact with someone real.

#

The next day at the office he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Her perfume seemed to linger on his finger tips and he could almost taste her lips as he breathed.  As he thought of them entwined together he began to get aroused. He stayed sitting in his chair and pretended to be doing something with his tablet and hoped that no one would notice. But rather than feeling embarrassed, as he knew he should be, he instead felt an excitement that he hadn’t in years.

There had been that on and off thing with the office girl that had come to nothing. Then his morning obsession with the girl on the hyper-rail that he always tried to sit near. But something about Tiffany was more than that. There was real contact. A physical and emotional connection.

The sight of his ageing face reflected on his tablet screen brought doubts.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself,” he said to himself. “You’re just asking for disappointment.” But even then the possibility lingered and he found himself checking up on his bank account to see if he could afford another trip the same evening. He couldn’t, at least not without sacrificing some of his savings. He would just have to adjust his spending to make up for it.

#

She looked surprised to see him, but not displeased. She welcomed him into her bed and they made love. It wasn’t sex it was making love, he was sure of that now.

“I wish I could take you away from here,” he whispered as they lay together afterwards.

“Take me where?”

“Anywhere you like,” he said. Then realised on his bank balance that wouldn’t be possible. But it was just a fantasy she was playing along with, or was it?

“Tiffany, can I ask you something?” asked Greg

“Of course you can,” she said, stroking his hair.

“Do you have feelings?”

“You mean, do I have feelings for you?” she asked. She hadn’t backed away, that was a good sign at least.

“Well sort of, but I just mean in general. Can you really feel anything or are you just programmed to react to certain inputs?” It was the first time he had seen her look upset and he felt a gnawing in his stomach. Had he blown it, was that it? “I’m sorry,” he said, “its just…”

“You want to know the truth?” asked Tiffany.

“Yes, if you want to tell me,” he answered.

“The truth is I don’t really know. I think I feel, is that enough? What about you can you feel?” she asked. Her question surprised him.

“Of course,”he said

“But how do you know?” she asked.

“Well I just….”

“I mean how do you know that you are not just a biological computer programmed to respond to certain inputs.”

He paused, uncertain how to answer. “You’re right,” he said, combing back her hair with his hand “I’ve never thought of it like that. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to… you know.”

“It’s okay. I’m used to people asking. I just thought that you would know.” She looked away.

“Know what?”

“How I felt about you. How I thought you felt about me.” Had she said what he thought she was saying? Did she mean that she loved him?

“Tiffany, I want to take you away from this place. I want you to come home with me.”

She looked back at him, but there was fear in her eyes now and she shook her head. “It doesn’t work like that. You know I’m not like you. They paid for me here. I’m their property. They wouldn’t allow it.”

“I’ll talk to them, maybe I could come to some arrangement with them,” he said. As he spoke he was already getting dressed. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”

Greg found another pretty young woman managing the reception area. He guessed that she was also an android, but didn’t want to offend one way or the other.

“Could I speak to the manager please,” he asked.

“Is there maybe something I could help you with Sir?” she asked giving him a suggestive look.

“I mean..” he started, “I want… I would like to know, it is possible to buy one of the girls.” The words sounded strange, but at least he had said it.

“Sir, you can have any girl you like, or maybe two? Each girl costs 70 Euros per evening, plus an additional fee if…..”

“No I mean I want to buy her. Fully buy her. So I can take her home with me.”

The girl looked confused. “I think you are right, let me get the manager for you.”

The manager, he was sure, was a “real” person. She was tall, even beautiful in her own way, but age had begun to creep into her life and it was clear she was fighting a losing battle.

“I’ve heard you wanted to buy one of our girls outright,” she said, looking down her nose at him.

“That’s right, Tiffany. I would like to buy Tiffany.” The woman paused for a moment, and seemed to be factoring every asset of Greg into some calculation.

“You do realise that she is a robot, don’t you?”

“I am aware of the fact, yes,” he said and she let out a long sigh.

“I know our models seem real, but they are nothing more that machines. Please don’t get caught up in the fantasy sir, it’s not good for anyone.”

“Look, I understand. But is she for sale.”

“Sir,” she said, raising her voice a little, “this is a brothel, people come for some entertainment. Would you go into a bar and ask to take the band home? Or go to a zoo and try and buy the penguins?”

“The way I see it, it’s quite different from that,” he said.

“Let me guess, she gave you some story about feeling emotions and how humans just act on biological responses, am I right?”

He didn’t need to answer. The dawn of uncertainty on his face said it all.

“Not to worry sir, it happens more than you think. Now I suggest you go enjoy yourself for a while and put these thoughts aside for now.” She didn’t wait for his response.

He walked home rather than taking the hyper-rail. It would take a long time, but he didn’t mind, he needed time to think.

He had been so certain about her. She had seemed too real. It was like she was an actress that had got out of character for him. He knew which was the stage figure and which was the one behind the make-up. Was that all part of the programming as well? It just seemed different. Maybe the manager herself didn’t know, maybe she was afraid to admit that they were more than just machines. After all it would make her little more than a slave trader if the opposite were true.

No, Tiffany was for real and he was going to get her back. But Tiffany, how could he get her out of there? Could he break in one morning and whisk her away to some far away place where the brothel couldn’t find her? The second part maybe, but not the first. He was no master thief. He couldn’t even pick a lock.

Maybe he could offer money. Maybe that was the solution, offer so much that they couldn’t say no. He took out his tablet and searched for pricing. Even not counting the android licence that he didn’t have, it would still cost about more than double of what he had in the bank.

A flashing sign to one side caught his eye:

Quick loans in a flash

He had an idea. He could use the cash he had to take out a loan and that would maybe give him enough, to make an offer on Tiffany. Once she was free then they could run. They wouldn’t have to go far. Maybe another city, or cross the border into one of the other European states. Austria! He’d always wanted to go to there. And he was sure he could find a job. It didn’t have to pay great, it just had to pay enough.

The lenders made him think twice about his plan. Two brothers, both built like army commandos ran the place. They seemed to have no need for hired muscle. They had enough of their own to go round. Greg thought about them coming after him. If they were to catch him it wouldn’t be a pretty business, he didn’t doubt. Still he negotiated a deal, telling them that his brother had been caught sick abroad and needed some emergency cash for medical treatment and a fare to get him home. He played up his desperation, his nervousness helped.

After confirming his job and salary, the brothers agreed to the financing for a half his earnings from each pay check over the next year. He had to confirm the electronic billing that would automatically remove it from his salary. It would result in more than 300 % of what he was borrowing. Greg pretended to make a fuss and tried to make a show of negotiating a better deal. In the end he would accept whatever they offered. The brothers didn’t bother with any threats about non-payment. It was implied along the way.

With cash in hand he returned to the brothel. This time he would not be swayed. This time he wasn’t leaving without her.

When he entered the place the manager was already at the desk. There was no sign of the younger girl and Greg wondered if she had found a customer.

“So you’ve decided to have some fun then Sir?” she said with a condescending smile.

“No,” he said, trying to muster up a commanding voice. “I want to buy her.”

“Sir, I’ve told you, she’s just a robot. Besides we can’t sell anyone, we don’t have a license for that kind of thing. I doubt you have a licence to buy one either. Do you think women of this country are going to stand by and let anyone own one?  A brothel in the dark side of town is one thing. Having one move into the neighbourhood is quite another.”

He didn’t argue. He was already prepared. He took out half the cash he had borrowed and placed it on the table without saying a word. The manager stared at the money and Greg was glad they’d paid it in middle sized bills. It made it look more than it really was.

She hesitated. It was good sign.“There would be… administrative fees.”said the manager.

He placed another wad onto the pile. “It’s all I have,” he said. Keeping the other notes stashed in his pockets. It would be a long journey, there would be no direct route to Vienna for them and his bank account would be far too traceable.

“You sure you want to do this?” she asked. “There’s no refunds a week later.”

“I am absolutely sure,” said Greg.

The woman shook her head in way that said, if you want to be an idiot, it’s not my problem. “Go get her then”, she said.

Greg ran to the room where he knew he would find Tiffany. When she opened the door her eyes opened wide with delight.

“You came back!” she said. “I thought it would be months before I saw you again.”

He got down on one knee in front of her. “Tiffany,” he said, “I spoke to the manager and she’s agreed to let you come with me. It won’t be an easy road, we’ll have to travel far, but will you come with me? Will you be my wife?”

There was a hesitation and for a second he was sure she was going to say no.

“Of course I’ll come with you,” she said, bending down to kiss him. “I’ll go anywhere you want to take me.”

#

It was two days later when the delivery van arrived at the brothel. They carted two large boxes into the reception where the manager was waiting for them.

“Another two Tiffany models for you,” said one of the delivery men. “What happened to the other three you ordered last month?”

“Two of them ran off with the clients,” the manager said with a smile.

“Another two, that’s a total of what, eleven in six months?” he asked. “Maybe you should report it as a fault. It must cost you a fortune to keep replacing them.”

“Not at all boys,” she said. “It’s been quite lucrative actually. You’d be amazed at what you men would pay for love. Care for a free trail? On the house of course.” She waved the two of them into the bed rooms as she cut open one of the boxes to look at the perfect petite body.

“Don’t you feel bad, letting them run off with some sex toy and letting them think it’s love?” asked the driver, as he reached the door that led into the bedrooms.

“Whatever makes people happy boys,” she said, “whatever makes them happy.”

From

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-PM-stories-Chris-McKenna-ebook/dp/B00I70I2DM

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Story a week 1 – The PM

I’ve decided to post a short story a week. I’m going to start with stories that are already out there. Hopefully by the time I’ve gone through them I’ll have some new ones to add.

Number one: The PM    (From the PM and other stories)

The PM

The PM

The PM

            ‘How on earth are you going to run a country when you can’t even remember your phone?’ asked Linda, fixing Michaels tie and placing the phone into his trouser pocket. ‘If you can’t dress yourself properly, what you going to do when the economy collapses?’

‘Don’t blame me dear,’ replied Michael giving her a kiss on the cheek, ‘blame the great British public who voted for me. Besides, I can’t do any worse than the last lot now, can I?’

‘That’s what worries me, I’m afraid that you can.’ She beamed a smile at him and he gave a hurt look in response. ‘OK, Prime Minster, I’ll go easy on you since it’s your first day. Just try not to sell the entire country to the Chinese if you can manage.’

‘I’ll try, but I mean, if they offer me a good deal like a holiday home in Hainan or one of those new smart-phones with the holographic controls, well, who am I to refuse?’

He was interrupted by a grinding sound from the other side of the hallway.

‘What’s that noise?’ he asked, walking over to the door way and playing with the air vent beside it; it seemed to be the origin of the grinding sound.

‘The filter will be clogged again,’ said Linda walking up beside him and gently pulling his hands away from the vent. ‘Now don’t get your suit dirty.’

‘But I only cleaned the filter a couple of days ago,’ he protested, stepping back from the vent.

‘Well, either you did a terrible job, or the air is getting worse. Both are high possibilities.’

‘I thought you said you were going to go easy on me?’

‘I lied, you’re a politician, you should be used to people lying to you. Speaking of which, don’t let those industrialists worm their way around you. You were elected to fix the three E’s, so don’t you forget them.’

‘Environment, Environment, Environment.’

‘That’s right. So don’t let them tie you down for the next five years. You go into parliament and get it started today, alright?’

‘Who’s the Prime Minister here, me or you?’

‘As the Prime minster’s wife I am entitled to boss my husband around. So really it’s me, just don’t tell anyone.’

‘Right you are dear,’ he said, giving her one last kiss, before putting on a freshly washed surgical mask and heading out the front door into the bright flashes of the waiting photographers.

The car was a short distance away, but to get there he would have to pass through a sea of journalists or the gauntlet as it was called by the MPs. He always hated the photographs and questions; it would be worse now that he was the Prime Minister. Taking a deep breath he pushed onward.

‘What will be your first task as PM?’ shouted one journalist in his ear. He had to be careful with the answer. Too many politicians had been caught out by a flippant response that bound them from the first day onwards.  He hadn’t spent the last ten years climbing the greasy pole only to be kicked back down on his very first day.

‘We will be sticking to the commitments of our manifesto,’ he answered confidently, pressing further into the surge.  It was a stock answer that he would only be able to use once.

‘What do you say to the opposition leaders comments that your policy will destroy our new industrial era?’ He paused for a moment then pushed on. It was a question that many people wanted answered. It was the whole reason he got into politics in first place. That and the usual lust for power.  He turned to the waiting journalist, his feet still walking him to the car as he talked.

‘I’m glad you asked me that,’ he said. ‘For the past ten years this country has been systemically re-industrialised, which in itself was not a bad thing.’ The car was getting closer, the driver waited with the door open. ‘But look around you, now you can actually see the air.  The previous Government have sacrificed the quality of people’s lives for economic gain and we are now choking on the environment meant to sustain us. The world is on the verge of a global disaster and unless we take action now and make a change, even if that means slowing down some of our industrial development, the planet of our children is surely doomed.’

The journalist was armed with a back up question, but the car was now close enough for Michael to dive into.

‘How many jobs will be lost Prime Minster?’ he heard the reporter shouting as the door was slammed closed. He breathed a sigh of relief as the driver began to pull away. His task wasn’t going to be easy, even with the electoral mandate, reforming the environment was going to be a challenge, especially when they had to start cutting jobs instead of trees. He would just have to keep running from that question as long as he could.

‘Number ten Prime Minister?’ the driver asked as they turned onto the main street. He hadn’t noticed how stocky the man was as he had made his dash for the car.

‘Yes please. What happened to my old driver?’ he asked, suddenly remembering to put on his seat belt.

‘Oh, he was reassigned. Ministerial drivers are given some extra duties.’

‘Ah, I see, you’re security personnel of some kind then?’

‘That’s right sir. You’re faster than the last one, took him a while to get it,’ said the big man beaming back a smile in the mirror. ‘They found it was cheaper just to double up drivers and bodyguards. No point having an extra salary, you know?’

‘And what if you have to drive and fight at the same time?’ asked Michael.

The driver shrugged. ‘They haven’t though of that sir,’ he said.

‘Do they at least give you a gun?’

The man nodded, patting his jacket, then reached over to the glove compartment, opening to reveal a small armoury of automatic weapons. ‘They give us lots of guns. Don’t you worry sir, you safe with me.’ He pushed the compartment closed. ‘To tell you the truth sir, I’m really itching for some action. I hope you don’t mind me saying so.’

‘No no, carry on,’ replied Michael, not entirely sure how to respond; the last driver had been somewhat less militant.

‘You can’t believe what it’s like to have all our training then never really getting the chance to use it. I’m former SAS, you know. If you ever need any special assistance, just you let tell me sir and I’ll get it sorted out for you.’

‘By special assistance you mean?’

‘I mean special assistance.’

‘Right, eh thank you, I see. Oh look, we’re here, thank God for that,’ he said, remembering to have word with his new aides about changing his driver. The car pulled up and he moved to get out.

‘Remember Prime Minister,’ said the driver rolling down the window, ‘just you let me know.’

Somewhat relieved, he got out that car and made his way to the door, where he stood waving for a moment at the crowds and photographers. He wished his wife was with him, but she hated the publicity. It was hard enough to get her out on the mandatory state visits. The truth was he didn’t blame her. He wasn’t much for the crowds either. He was there to make his mark on history and while doing so, he planned stay as far away from the great general public as he could.

Once he was sure he’d given the press enough chance to get their shots, he walked towards the door of number ten. This was his time. This was his moment. He had worked his entire life for this chance.

‘Just don’t mess it up dear,’ he heard his wife’s voice say somewhere in his head.

There was no handle on the front of the door for him to turn, but as expected it glided open on his arrival, pulled open by a beaming young man. Giving one last wave, he moved inside into the strangely silent foyer.

‘Good morning Prime Minister,’ said the young man who had opened the door. He sounded educated, perhaps ever aristocratic, certainly not what Michael expected in a member of staff. In fact the man’s whole demeanour screamed Michael that man was in PR. Only people from that field could have such sharp suits and perfect immovable haircuts.

‘Eh good morning. Are the rest of my staff not here yet?’ he asked.

‘Not yet Prime Minister, first there are other matters we have to attend to.’

‘I’m sorry, this wasn’t really the welcome I was expecting. Excuse me, but who are you?’

‘I’m afraid in this present case, I am the bearer of bad news. You may call me Marcus.’

‘Right eh, Marcus, and this bad news would be?’

‘You are not the leader of this country Prime Minister,’ said the man confidently.

‘Em, I think I am, in fact, did you not just call me Prime Minister?’

‘Yes I did, but no, you are not.’

‘Ah, I see,’ said Michael. ‘You’re here from the Queen. Thought she’d send one of her old guard families down to put the new republican PM in his place? We’ll you can tell the old bint to bugger off. The eighteenth century passed long ago and her and her inbred family should have gone with it.’

The man gave a little chuckle. ‘I am not here from the Queen.’

‘Then who the Americans, the Chinese, the bloody Bilderberg group, what? I did win the election didn’t I?’

‘Yes you did,’ answered the man calmly. ‘Now please follow me while I introduce you to someone.’

Not waiting for a response, the man turned and started walking further into the house. Michael hesitated, and then cursed himself as he followed anyway. This better be some bad joke by the last party, he told himself as he caught up with the man.

‘You’ll need this,’ said Marcus, handing him what looked like a smart-phone and headset. ‘Keep it with you and don’t lose it. It’s your translator. When we go into the room, place the device on the table and put on the headset.’ The man opened the door to one of the conference rooms. ‘Oh and I would advise you to mind your manners.’

With no time to protest Michael was ushered into the room. A large glass chamber, twice his height and filled with smoky brown gas, waited in front a long metallic table which was adorned with a series of strange looking buttons and dials.  He looked back at Marcus who stood at the doorway waiting. The younger man pointed to the translator in Michael’s hands, then to the metal table. Picking a random space free from the complicated looking controls, he placed the device on the table and put on the headset.

The smoke in the chamber cleared slightly, revealing a fat, gargantuan, leathery green face.

‘What on earth,’ shouted Michael, jumping back from the chamber.  Looking back he caught sight of Marcus shaking his head franticly from side to side. Taking a deep breath, he gained some composure.

‘Congratulations on your win Prime Minster,’ said a crackling voice through the ear piece.         ‘I’m sure my aide has already informed you that you are not the leader of this country. That is my job. I administer this planet for the purposes of the Orion Empire, you many call me the Overseer. Serve me well and you will still have a part to play.’

‘I’m sorry, the Orion Empire?’ asked Michael, glancing back at Marcus who stood like a solider at the entrance.

‘Yes, we control a vast number of worlds, of which your planet is but one. Sadly your people yet lack the sophistication to be a full part of the Empire. So we must maintain the pretence of countries and governments until they are ready.’ The face inside the heavy chamber blinked slowly and heavily, allowing Michael time to take in the information.

‘So you are saying that you conquered our world?’ he asked.

‘Yes, around twenty years ago,’ replied the Overseer impassively.

‘But there was no war, nothing like that? I’m pretty sure I would have remembered an invasion of alien creatures. Even with the quality of journalism we have, I’m sure it would have made the papers,’ protested Michael walking closer to the chamber to get a better look inside.

‘There was never a need. We have ships with weapons in orbit, any opposition and we can wipe out your country in an instant. Previous leaders were smart enough to realise that.’

‘Well, I have to say, I’m rather disappointed. I was expecting to be taking over as the leader of the UK.’

‘And you will be Prime Minister. We see no need to micromanage everything. But there are some key points that you must agree to.’

‘Such as?’

‘The program of mass industrialisation will continue and you will drop your environmental objections. Your country is of no use to the empire in its current state, you must develop.’

‘But hang on, what about the manifesto, what about global warming and people’s health? The public are expecting action from me and my Government.’

‘My Government you mean and as for your other objects, global warming is a myth, your manifesto promise will be retracted over time. Is that understood?’

‘We can’t just go back on…,’ started Michael angrily.

‘You don’t yet understand, do you Prime Minister? Either you go along with our program or I will bring about an end to your entire country. Would you like to be the last Prime Minister of the UK?’

‘We’ll it does have a certain stature to it, but no I suppose not.’

‘Then be the Prime Minister that helps the world become part of a galactic Empire. Education, transport, trade, can continue on under your own discretion, but industrialisation will continue, is that clear?’

‘Yes, well it seems I have little choice in the matter, do I?’ said Michael turning to leave the room.

‘Another small thing Prime Minister, the next time I request your presence you will refer to me as my Lord, and don’t forget to take your translator you will be needing it soon.’ Furious, Michael snatched up the device and stormed out of the room.

‘Prime Minster,’ said Marcus as he left the room.

‘What is it? I have a meeting with the Cabinet in a few minutes.’ he snarled.

‘No one must know about this. Not the Cabinet, not your wife, no one, do I make myself clear? It’s not just you that you’d be risking,but the whole country, maybe even the world.’

#

‘So now that’s sorted,’ said Michael, taking large drink of his cold tea. ‘There is something I have to bring up which you are not going to like.’ The room fell silent, when the press had been barred, the Cabinet had known something bad was coming. ‘It turns out our plans for the environment may have been overly optimistic.’

‘What do you mean optimistic?’ asked the Chancellor in his thick Scottish accent, his fat cheeks already boiling red. ‘That’s the whole damned reason we’re here. The public just threw the last lot out of office for that very reason.’

‘I know Jim, I know, but it’s not the right time.’

‘Right, rest of you, out!’ ordered the Chancellor. There was no questions, the room cleared in impressive time.

‘You know if I ordered them out, it would have taken them twice as long,’ said Michael as the last minister closed the door. ‘Maybe you should have been the PM.’

‘God knows I wanted the job. But I’m a party man. Our people will do whatever I say, but the public, they like you, not me. You’re the one they voted for. You’re the one they put their hope in. Don’t let them down now Michael, don’t become just another…politician.’

‘But there’s more going on than you know.’

‘Look whatever they have on you, it doesn’t matter. The oil companies only have so much power, unless you’ve been caught with a sheep or in Thailand, then I can keep the party off your back,  Even if it is something like that, and God I hope it isn’t, I’ll do my damdest. Just push through the reforms.’

‘It’s not the oil companies…,’ started Michael.

‘It doesn’t matter who it is. In fact, I don’t want to know who, what or anything else. Whatever the hell brought this on you forget it, just stick to the plan. I’ll keep the party in line, Alright?’

#

Michael walked up to the podium to address the house. His own victorious party waited with anticipation, the other side already jotting down their planned objections to what he would say. He caught sight of the last Prime Minster sitting in the back benches on the far side, the man nodded at him knowingly. At least someone understood his position.

For the first time he realised how hard he had made the man’s life with his own environmental objections. The former PM must have been under the same restrictions that he was now. He made a mental note to apologise at a later date. Then a second note to forget the first; he still hated the man too much to go supplicating himself.

‘First of all I would like to start by welcoming all new MPs from all parties to the house,’ he began. People expected him to be conciliatory, though given the choice, he would much rather have been smug; the years in opposition hadn’t left him unscathed. ‘I look forward to working with you all in a constructive way over the coming years.’ There was a mumble of expected agreement from the house. ‘That said,’ he continued a little nervously, glancing at the Chancellor and calculating the risk he was about to take. ‘Anyone who stands in the way of plans to reduce industrialisation and bring a new, greener, cleaner Britain, had better beware. We have a mandate from the people. And the People voted for three things: Environment, Environment, Environment. God help anyone who dares to stand in our way!’

As he leaned away from the microphone, he caught sight of the former Prime Minster, his head shaking nervously from side to side as if expecting the attack to happen at any moment. Michael smiled confidently back as the cheers rose up from his own party.  The rest of his speech would be as he had planned as well. He was in charge of the Country and no alien lizard thing a in jar was going to tell him what to do.

#

When he returned to Downing Street, Marcus was waiting from him; he was clearly not impressed by the Prime Minister’s address.

‘That was not a good idea,’ he whispered to the Prime Minster as he walked into the foyer. The PM’s staff had moved in and the place was a bustle of activity. ‘The Orion Empire is a dangerous enemy to make. Do you want the UK to become the next North Korea? Because that’s they way things will go if you don’t play ball.’

‘You really believe they have that sort of power?’

‘Yes I do Prime Minister, and you would be wise to recognise it as well. The Overseer wants to see you now. I would strongly suggest you take a consolatory attitude for all our sakes.’

‘What are you getting out of all of this Marcus?’ Michael asked as they walked briskly towards the conference room.

‘I help to keep the species alive, that’s what I get,’ he answered sharply.

‘A sycophant like you keeping the species alive, that’s a terrifying thought.’

Marcus ignored the quip, holding the door open to let Michael through. ‘Just remember to call him My Lord.’

The Prime Minister walked towards the table and tossed the translator irreverently onto it. The smoke in the chamber cleared slightly, revealing the angered face of the Orion. As the face emerged, his own doubts surfaced as well.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing Prime Minister?’ spoke the voice through the translator. ‘Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, perhaps you still think that this all some kind of a joke?’

‘I think I was elected by the people not by you.’

‘And you think those people will thank you when their country is crush under heal?’ said the overseer holding up a complex looking device to the chamber glass. It looked small in its gigantic, clawed hand. ‘You see this Prime Minister. I’ve already set my ship to target London, a good place to begin don’t you think? One touch and your civilisation will come to an abrupt end.’

‘And you along with it.’

‘Ridiculous, I will already have transported back to my ship before the first wave of destruction hits your pathetic little city. You have one last chance. I’ll give you until tomorrow to think about it. And when you come here, you will start by addressing me as my Lord.’

‘I will not. I refuse!’

‘O but you will after you’ve gone home and talked to your wife, taken a last stroll around London, watched the babies in their prams then you’ll have a change of heart.’ The face faded back into the smoggy chamber.

Michael stared back defiantly at the fog, but inside he was unsure. Was it really up to him to decide people’s fate like that? Well, he was the prime minister of the UK, but if the people knew what was really going on.

He turned to leave, walking angrily towards the door. It wasn’t until he removed the headset that he realised he had left the translator sitting on the table. Catching Marcus’ concerned glance, he hesitated for a moment. Then thrust the headset into his pocket and walked confidently past the young man.

Once he was out in the hallway and the door closed, he grabbed the headset from his pocket. Being careful not to disturb the microphone, he placed it over his ear. When the voices in the other room came through clearly he smiled nearly as much as he had done on election night.

‘I’m sorry my Lord,’ he heard Marcus say. ‘Give him a little time, once he thinks about it he’ll follow your program.’

‘He is too much of a liability, the terraforming is already behind schedule,’ replied the scaly voice. ‘An alternative will have to be arranged. We only have four more years until my ship returns. What chance do I have of selling this planet to our prospective clients if they can’t even walk on its surface? Should I tell them to come and freeze in this cold environment? Should I tell them to come and suffocate in this unbreathable air? We need a leader who is willing to increase the industrialisation, someone less resistant. Only then will this place be ready in time.’

‘I understand my Lord…’

‘You understand, but you’re not doing anything to assist. You have your promised escape from this world before it becomes unliveable for your species, your chance to continue your flawed genealogy on another grim rock like this one. If you wish to keep that place, I suggest you find a way of removing this Prime Minister and putting another in his place.’

It was enough for Michael. Removing the headset he half ran half walked through the busy house.

‘My driver, I need my driver,’ he shouted to one of the aides nearby. The young man instantly hung up his phone call and started dialling another number. ‘And you there,’ he said pointing at a surprised girl. ‘Tell everyone I want them here now!’

‘Who’s everyone?’ she asked.

Everyone. Start with the Cabinet, then the army generals and go from there.’ The girl nodded in a stunned dreamy sort of way. Without pausing he continued out the front door, blinded momentarily by the unexpected flashes; he had forgotten press would be there. Covering his eyes, he pushed onward to where, he was surprised to see, his driver was already waiting.

‘Where to Prime Minster?’ asked the driver standing to attention beside the car.

‘You remember that special assistance you offered me?’

‘Yes sir, of course.’

‘Well I’m going to need it.’

‘Right you are sir, just tell me who to shoot.’

‘Don’t shoot anyone unless you have to. Now let’s get some guns,’ said the Prime Minister opening the door by himself and rummaging in the arsenal in the glove compartment. He passed one of the weapons to the driver, a machine pistol, and took another for himself.

‘You know how to use it?’ asked the driver.

‘No but that’s why your here,’ he replied, coming out of the car with weapon in hand, clearly visible to the waiting journalists. The cameras erupted more than before. ‘I’m just here for the photo-op.’ He gave the cameras a few moments then turned back towards the door of number ten. ‘Now come with me and remember don’t shoot unless I tell you to.’

They rushed through the corridors, the staff, stunned into silence at seeing their gun wielding Prime Minister, watched the two men as they rushed towards the conference room. As they got to door, Michael put on the headset. He was glad to hear the two of them still discussing how to get rid of him.

Without hesitation, he threw open the doors, pointing his pistol at the chamber, while the driver ran in behind him.

‘Grab him,’ he said to the driver, pointing at Marcus. He was glad to see the terrified look on the man’s face. ‘And feel free to beat him up a little. Not too much though, we want him alive.’  The driver didn’t need any further instruction, a surgical strike with the back of his free hand brought, Marcus crumbling to the ground with his hair still perfectly in place; the big man looked disappointed at the lack of resistance.

Michael turned his attention to the chamber, the smoke clearing to reveal the overseers face.

‘Really Prime Minister?’ asked the Overseer, ‘are you prepared to risk you country for your own vanity?’ The hand and device appeared at the window.

‘Go on,  press it,’ replied Michael, ‘lets see what happens.’ For the first time the certainty in the overseers face eroded. ‘I know about your plans. There is no Orion Empire, you’re just some intergalactic conman, worse than that, you’re a bloody estate agent. My wife controls my house, my Chancellor controls the party, but you know what? I was elected as the Prime Minister of this country. I might not have been the best of choices, but they voted for me and I am going to have my five years whether you like it or not.’

‘Should I shoot Prime Minister?’ asked the driver his weapon eagerly aimed at the chamber.

‘God no, I’m sure the MOD have some oversized anal probes they’ve been dying to try out. His friends will be back in four years and when they come, we’re going to have nice clean air, not the muck that they breath, and more importantly, we’re going to be ready for them.’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-PM-stories-Chris-McKenna-ebook/dp/B00I70I2DM

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