First Frontier

Zeta X 2 Covero

Space station Zeta X 2 Covero was not a name that conjured the greatest that the galaxy had to offer. No vast expanses of beautiful grounds, kept immaculate in zero G. Nor the sweeping neon of commerce, a slick and clear oil of advertising to make every surface shine. Zeta was a trade outpost whose major customers had long since expended their worth. Nearby, a small abandoned was attempting to relaunch itself as a Dire Warning for future worlds – part education, part theme park – on the subject of mis-calibrated terraforming. The early attempt to turn the oceans green in a bid to become a tourist trap having necessitated this strategic pivot as much as it necessitated gas masks.

Zeta’s ambitious makeover in the hopes of becoming Emeralida’s nearest trade post had long since faded to embarrassment. The gold leaf over the entrance plaque was flaking, the burnished bronze of the handrails corroding, and the gleaming white tiles of the floors slowly drowning under a thousand legions of tired boots.

There was little joy to be found anywhere on the station. Most people were passing through on their way somewhere better – or hoped to be. The best place to find somewhere better, however, was in the BetaChow Crew Bank, a vast room of faded blue carpet and stained beige columns and a loop of plastic desks, most of which featured the logo of a trading company long since out of business, sponsored by BetaChow. This was the place where ships passing in the endless night could recruit those who needed somewhere better to be. Apart from the Sisters of Charity and the local Milita Recruiting, it was almost eternally empty.

Alice was getting very tired of sitting by the Sisters in the Crew Bank, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she’d considered looking into the book the Sisters were preaching, but if getting off this place was going to involve selling her soul, she decided she needed a more interesting buyer. The Milita had done nothing but border patrols for decades at this point, and the idea of getting off the station only to return a few days later, then repeat that for a five year term, didn’t bare thinking about.

It had been nearly three months since she’d been stranded on Zeta. Alice had found some work on the station as security crew, which was enough to claim a bunk and meals in the station canteen, but it would take another year of saving to have enough to summon a taxi ship this far, and double to get her somewhere after that. Still, it wasn’t like Zeta offered anything else to spend her money on.

The empty hall felt like an abandoned careers fair, save for the irregular snores of the Milita recruitment guy clashing atonally with the tinny hymns of the Sisters, and Alice was resolved to stay here for another half hour until her shift started. Alice noise-cancelled the stalls out of her attention, and pulled up a book on her slate.

Moments passed.

There was a dog.

Reasonably large as dogs go, extremely fluffy, mostly white with some very light grey patches. It was sat about ten feet in front of her, feet together, and looking directly at Alice with soft brown eyes. When the dog was sure she had noticed it, it padded briskly closer, licked her knee once, padded away again and looked over its shoulder.

“No pocket-watch”, said Alice, “which is a good start, I suppose.” She stood up and walked towards the dog, who trotted away.

Alice, lacking any better options, followed.

Flung Forth


This is inspired by a real event and location from my former workplace, and was originally posted in July 2016.

I got an email today from Facilities, and one from Conferencing. “Just to let you know” said the first, “That there’s a parcel for you in the Post Room”. The second said “Please collect your raffle prize from the conference department this week. See attached for list of prizes”

There was an attached list of prizes. It was a cornucopia of delights, trips to Edinburgh, vouchers that “Love to shop”, bottles of wine, candles, wheeled shopping trolleys. A village fate come to life in our own little company. I had bought five tickets for Good Causes, and had previously noted that my name wasn’t on the winners list. Bereft of prizes, I mourned the world where I could have won a Yankee Candle.

Today’s email was more pointed, however, and I wondered why. Each winning prize had the winning phone extension number registered to the ticket beside it, and I looked down the list to find my own. There it was! Apparently my name had been transcribed as “Michelle”, a new variant spelling of my name, and one far beyond my expectations. “Green 538”, it said, “has won vouchers!” The lights flickered as the universe assigned me my prize. “Please go to the Conference Department to pick them up”. I asked where the Conference Department was, and got told it was next to the Post Room by something that scuttled away shortly afterwards.

Facilities isn’t on the maps of the building, and it took me a while to find it. A door behind the canteen opened to a dark corridor that led far beyond the brick walls of the building. The lights didn’t work when I switched them, but a lantern hung with some fellows on a hook, and I lit it to continue my path.

A feeling of industrious darkness enveloped me as I headed towards the post room, feet stamping, people fending for their own deliverance. The tunnel went on in a straight line for hundreds of metres before turning abruptly left and down, spiralling into a darkness deeper than my lantern could penetrate, and with a rising heat that came with a dark green light which highlighted the contours of the walls I passed. Corporate beige walls began to crack and fracture as I walked, now a rough rock wall still painted with the officially mandated corporate colours of white and orange. Occasionally a fire extinguisher and a set of recycling boxes to break the monotony, once in a while a cracked and dirty sink with a tap that dispensed water just the wrong side of uncomfortably warm. The suspended ceiling above me ran in waves, lower than my head, higher than I could reach, the spackled tiles cut exactly to the angled and painted rocks either side. Fluorescent lights were installed every few tiles, but either they had failed many years ago or the switches were beyond sight. They rained dust on the carpeted floor as my head brushed against the lower ones.

Eventually I came to a flame-lit door that did not yield to my pushing, though by waving my ID at a small recessed panel it opened with a faint electronic sigh. Beyond was a brightly lit – to my abused eyes, anyway – corridor, and ahead of me was an office environment whose reality didn’t pass more than a cursory investigatory glance. The desks arranged in pods looked solid enough, but the books under the monitors had their spines in reverse print. The monitor cables were slick biomasses that oozed through the desks and plugged into nothing below. The chairs were too low for any human to sit in, with backs and headrests to support something not of our world. The room felt busy, industrious, and hardworking, for all it appeared empty and pin-droppingly quiet. A room to the left down the corridor read “Post-█████████ Room”, with thick black marker redacting whatever the middle had once said. I went inside.

The Post- Room was clinically clean, with stainless steel worktops and a freshly washed blue floor. Silver cupboards covered the walls, and atop one of the shiny surfaces was a small package with my name on it. An… attendant… chirruped at me affirmatively when I picked it up and looked questioningly at them. I summoned courage to ask if they knew where the Conference Department was. It was down the hall and on the left, and I would never forget that now. I left in silence.

I passed many doors down the corridor, and many spaces where I couldn’t tell there were doors. Eventually a brass plaque with deep red engraving read “Conference Department”, and I knocked and – without a reply – went inside.

The room was lit from no visible source. A deep red carpet formed a doughnut around the edges of the five-sided room, each oak-lined wall having in front of it a desk, and in the middle a bare concrete pentagon with a beautiful star-shaped diagram inside, with shading and colours and symbols that I tried to follow as they dodged and weaved over each other, seeming to slip and slide under my vision as I tried to comprehend the whole thing. I tore my eyes away with an effort of will, and closed them.

On one of the desks was a plain white envelope with my name and extension number on it, as well as a taped duplicate of my winning ticket. Picking it up, I left the room. Directly ahead of me was a bank of elevators which took me into a disused office not far from my desk without me pressing a single button.

Opening the envelope, I have won a couple hours domestic house cleaning. It says I should contact Ms Marsh in the Conferencing Department for the vouchers.

I think I’ll email her to post them.

Flung Forth

In The Circle

(There’s a performance reading of this on Soundcloud)

The smell of rain on leaves. The sound of spring unravelling. The taste of sunrise. The touch of hope. My lover will be here soon.

There is no mistaking the sounds of the storm in the forest, as the rain scatters through the trees like a green and impossibly complex helter-skelter ride, splashing from branch to branch and twig to twig, falling in unpredictable patterns as the boughs intertwine in the canopy far above. The drips fall ahead, and the rain is behind, but in the circle nothing falls unless I reach out and touch the shower.

The wind flows through the trees like a crowd though a concert gate, ebbing into spaces, flowing through gaps. Expectant and excited, it explores every corner of every path, picking up leaves to drop them with disinterest shortly after. The forest forms no natural wind-break, yet here the circle is as still as a millpond, as still as rage, as calm as murder.

On the other side of the flowers is the rain, the wind. I can see the drops bounce off petals, watch them flutter in zephyr as their perfect circle forms an equally perfect barrier from the world.

On the other side of the flowers are my possessions, that which warmed me, that which owned me. I need neither here, nor shall I until I return. Should I return.

Here the sun breaks through unseen, the wind calms to still, the rain ceases. I can feel summer on my limbs and winter in the depths, as I taste the smell of rain and feel the hope of sunrise.

My heartbeat speeds

My lover will be here soon.

Flung Forth


This #microfiction may be the closest I come to fanfic. Prompt was “You misspell “immortality” on your Superpower Application Form and end up with the power of immorality”

The phone rang. It didn’t, usually.

It had been a few years since the incident with the Wishing Form. Lance maintained it was a setup, that he’d spelt it right on the form, but that whatever reads these things couldn’t decipher his handwriting.

“Immortality” he had clearly – he thought – written. The power to live forever, to be the rock the universe bent around, to stand in the centre and outlive every enemy, survive every blow.

“Immorality” he had, in fact, got.

It wasn’t, at least, a part of himself – he thought, held to, clung to – but a thing he could get others to do. A mode of his voice, a deep resonance, to convince others to abandon their moral code and do something… other.

The problem was, of course, that if you are convincing other people to do immoral things, that does kind of reflect badly on your own moral code. When you exploit others, you stain yourself. So the odd occasional free drink – “doesn’t the owner make enough money?” – and free pass from a speeding fine – “It’s not as if the law means anything, not really” – produced something to demagnetise his own moral compass. Not through his own power, but purely by being human. Depending, these days, on how you defined them.

On his darkest night, the introspection grew into a fire of self-hatred that threw the shadows of his actions into sharp focus against the remains of his conscious. After a few final freelance jobs convincing illegal boxers to take dives and betting heavily on the outcome, he retreated into a lonely existence where he couldn’t do anybody harm, even himself. He signed up for a superhero group roster, an F-string “hero” to rehabilitate his broken soul.

But F is a long way down, and his badly-spelled power was of little advantage. So he sat in the darkness, and tried not to talk to himself.

Until the phone rang. It didn’t, usually.

“This is the A.X.E dispatch. Can I talk to… Temptation? Mr Lance Beauregard?”


“We have a role for you. Extra rate, but you’ll need to get downtown quickly. Do you have transport?”

“Nothing impressive enough”

“We’ll send a jet. Be outside in ten minutes, we’ll brief on the way”

The costume was tight in different places than when he’d had it made. A few years with minimal human contact and nothing to do but watch netflix and lift weights, it bagged up in the front a bit and was gratifyingly tight around the arms. The preposterous belt hit the former, but the latter was at serious risk of ripping if he made the wrong move.

He considered making the wrong move quite hard.

The cordon around ground zero was several hundred feet out, and his journey to the epicentre was made alone, the helpful bureaucrat from A.X.E having stayed far before the final line of tape. As he passed discarded cars, upright buses and many, many broken windows he wished – once again – that his handwriting had been better. Many of the buildings had horizontal ricochet wounds that would be street-art when this area recovered.

The middle was a stalemate. Two costumed heroes locked in combat, mechanics against muscle.

Lance cleared his throat. Without lifting from their combatative embrace, they both looked out of the crater at him.

“I know you’re both men of principle, but Cap, Tony, hear me out…”

Flung Forth

Vending Machine Out Of Service

Work was being boring, and the coffee vending machine near my desk went down. The following updates were posted to my Facebook wall over the course of three days. It seems a shame to lose them in FB back-history. Thus:

Wednesday, May 4th, 15:19

Hour seven of the coffee machine not working in my sector: Roving packs of operations staff roam the halls. Developers are starting to go odd, having hours ago lost their ability to even. Packets of instant coffee are being traded like illicit substances. Some are siting in rough semicircles around brooms and full bins, chanting and hoping that these offerings bring the facilities staff to our island to fix that which is broken.

Rumours persist that the coffee machine in HR still works, but as heretics they are shouted down and – in extreme cases – eaten.

But here’s a thing: The rumours are true.

Thursday, May 5th, 11:37

28 hours since the vending machine went down.

At some point last night, there was an inadvisable experiment with a stove-top espresso machine. Against all expectations, the crater took out half of desktop support and a passing operations gang. The resulting war hasn’t been pretty. Cheery signs in comic sans have informed us that the issue with the vending machine is known, and an engineer will be sent to look at it. The cheery signs burn merrily alongside the remains of the desk wood.

Initially, the fires set off the sprinkler system, but whatever was in the pipes was water no longer, and did nothing but good for the fires below. Some confused the brown water raining from the ceiling for the life-giving liquid they so missed. Some survived that assumption, many did not. The office is dark now, lit by the orange fires of burning desks and cheery signs.

Two questions remain: Why did I come to work today if it’s like this, and did I not say there was a working machine in HR?

Thursday, May 5th, 15:13

31 hours.

Kidlington is burning.

A stray round from the Desktop Support/Operations nerf war hit a desk wall, and by a series of domino-rally style crashes and a sequence of flying objects and balance failures that would have confused and inspired Heath Robinson, the electricity was out. The generator span up, whirred, spluttered, coughed and fell over. Servers span and were silent. The lights overhead flickered and fell into darkness. Projectors, telephones, desktop computers, monitors all went dark for a final time.

All the vending machines died.

The terror of the development and operations teams subjected to a world without coffee was a slow decay into anarchy and rebellion. The editorial staff started to strain at the edges of their sanity within a couple of hours; but it was customer service who went first.

The rebellion, long confined to the walls of ground floor, east wing, spread like fire on dry grass, and that was less a simile than we would have liked. The publishing sections had far more fuel than the dry desks and printouts of the lower levels, and the flames spawned from the explosion spread through the building. Soon giant flames were reaching from the roof to the clear blue sky, and the fire engines turned up.

With the fire out, we went back to our desks to look at the damage. Smoke and fire had blackened and destroyed much of the fixtures and fittings, but the major structures were safe enough. Anyone who had got out returned to the ruins of their desks. Anyone who didn’t was retroactively fired for smoking inside.

Soon everything got back to normal, until I went to get a coffee – it had been a long day.

Friday, May 6th, 13:19

Flung Forth

Cats and Dragons

on cats and dragons, for Ser Webster

The sky was blue, bright, and clear. Wisps of cloud drifted silently over the valley.

The valley was green, lush, and glorious. Trees provided canopy deep into the depths between the hills, split by a wide, rough path leading straight to the gold.

The gold was glittering, glinting, gleaming. As the sunlight hit it from overhead, it shone like the hope of new love.

The dragon was bright, glorious, and gleaming in the bright rays as he perched at the top of the valley with envy in his face, saliva in his teeth and the reflection of the gold in his eye.

The cat was sly, clever, and quick. Her coat was fluffy, her claws sharp, her ears ripped, her snout scared.

“It is, of course, a trip” said the cat, looking at the dragon’s talons with her own envy.

“You would think. A trail of wagons with the royal insignia started arriving late last night. A troop of the Queen’s own wharf’s dockworkers unloaded the gold. Between the trees shine the armour of the King’s finest trained ready meals, and if they think they can clothe their archers in dragonhide and not have me notice, Our Queen has somehow managed to limbo under my expectations for her. How did you get up here?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Knights”, said the cat


“The ready meals are called ‘Knights'”

“I don’t care what they call themselves. If they come to my cavern dressed in tinfoil and ready for roasting, dinner is what they are.”

“A careless feline might point out that your cavern was once their castle.”

“They weren’t using it.”

“In point of fact, they were using it. They were inside. Sleeping.”

“Then they should have defended it better. I barely sneezed” sniffed the dragon, demonstrably.

“You sneeze, my friend, and four hundred people burned.”

“I do miss those curtains. But that was years ago,” said the dragon. “They have a new castle!”

“It is true, this is something of an escalation. Have you asked them?”

“Conversation is hard. I don’t get on with new people, and they don’t speak dragon. How do you speak dragon?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Has something happened recently?”

“Well… One of the rea… ‘Knights’ they sent recently did have some really fancy wrapping.” said the dragon, thoughtfully. “A kind of pointy hat, too. Pretty thing.” The dragon waved a claw, and the cat could see the molten remains of the prince’s pointy hat fused around it, some of the gem-stones still in place.

“Very nice” said the cat, “though that might explain why they’re so intent on killing you.”

“By sending their armies into a flammable place, wearing the same armour I tore through last time, and rewarding me with gold? I think I can help them.” the dragon tensed up ready to spring.

“Hmm.” said the cat.



The dragon relaxed “No, not nothing. What did you mean by ‘hmm’, cat?”

“I was just thinking, this doesn’t really help a lot. You kill some more of theirs, take the gold. They send more, maybe with thicker wra… armour. It all seems empty.” said the cat, neutrally.

“Actually, after a few dozen I’m usually quite full.”

“Not in your stomach, in your soul.”

“I think I eat that too. It’s all in the wrapping.”

“No, I mean… I mean… _why_ are you eating them?”

“Because they’re trying to kill me.” said the dragon, in a somewhat condescending tone.

“And why’s that?”

“Probably becau…” began the dragon

“I mean what started this cycle?” interrupted the cat.

There was a quiet pause with a lot of weight behind it. The dragon stared at the cat with baleful eyes, for you do not lightly interrupt a dragon. The cat stared back politely. The dragon looked away.

In the internal workings of the mind of the cat, as visualised as a computer game, a small notification would have popped up saying “Achievement unlocked: Interrupted a dragon”.

“They still have my eggs.” said the dragon, quietly. His eyes away from the cat.

“Your eggs?”

“My mate. She died. She…”, he trailed off. “She’s gone. But while I was trying to find her, the King’s son stole her eggs. I know they still have them, but they weren’t in the castle.”

“Do they know?” asked the cat.

“Conversation is hard. I don’t get on with new people, and they don’t speak dragon. They’ll get the idea eventually”

“But not in the last ten years?”

“To the day, nearly.”

“I know people in the castle. I could tell them.” said the cat.

“You send your message, I’ll send mine.”, the dragon tensed again.

“Wait. It will be easier to convince them if you don’t kill their ready-me… knights”

“I still want the gold, though.”

“Fine. How many knights do you think you could carry at once?”

“Some dozen if I enlarge my claws?”

“Enlarge your claws?”

“I’m a dragon. I can take whatever shape I want.”

“So why not take the shape of a human and talk to them?”

“Because I can be a dragon! Wouldn’t you want to be a dragon?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Could you not pick them up and drop them back at their new castle, unharmed, as a show of power? Then just take the gold. It’s not like they can hurt you.”

“And I still get the gold. And you’ll ask them about the eggs? How can you make them understand you?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon, who leapt.

The dragon was huge, and majestic, and his wings spread out beside him like the unfurling of a flag of war. Like the spreading of a terrible dawn. Like… like the wings of a dragon, really, simile doesn’t do them justice. Metaphor is insufficient.

He drifted low into the valley, and as he descended his claws extended… and extended… and extended. The King’s Own Knights leapt (as much as they could) from their hiding places, only to discover the claws of the dragon clamping around them like jail cells. The dragon lifted them and deposited them in a large heap in the middle of the road. Methodically he worked, picking off knights in small packs and throwing them lightly to the pile. Eventually he picked up the whole lot in sky-scraping claws, flew over the mountain, and dropped them with soft precision into the centre of the castle grounds as the arrows from the castle walls bounced harmlessly off his scales. By the time he got back to the valley the archers, any remaining knights and the cat were gone. With shapeshifted claws, he picked up the gold and carried it back to the old half-devastated castle, then he sat, and slept, and hoped he wasn’t wrong to trust a sly cat.

* * *

“It’s been the eggs the whole time?” said the Queen, “I thought it was just because he was a dragon!”

“He is more sentimental than I realised”, said the cat. “If it upsets him so much, I think he should have them.”

“But he can’t hatch them?”

“No. But I think that matters less”

“And we can’t just tell them why they’re with you?”

“This… is more important. For now,.” said the cat. “I’ll need the large basement for a bit. I feel the need to be me on my own.”

“You’ve not wanted to turn back for years. Why now?”

“I’m a dragon” said the cat.

“Fair point.” said the Queen.

Flung Forth

Deep in the Valley

They still crave blood, of course. Community service does not take away biology, but in the dark woods beyond the shrouded village, their huts remain unburnt – save that one accident – their dinners come without garlic, their surf without turf.

They are the vampire bakers, and they are sworn to be the best unpeople they can be.

It is a strange economy, to be sure, but one that works well for the farmers. The nocturnal vampires have long found that the violence inherent in their nature is soothed by the pummelling and folding of a good farmhouse loaf dough, proved over the ashes of a dying fire, and baked in an oven built over a new one. By the time the sun’s rays try to breach the thick branches of the forest, their wares are ready for consumption, and the bakers can retreat to the tunnels for a good night’s sleep.

The farmers awake early, and for the price of a few blobs of cattle-blood every so often, and a reasonable approach to their neighbors, they are welcome to the bread they produce.

It’s getting better by leaps and bounds. When the Wampir first came to this arrangement with the farmer who owned the forest land, the bread was stodgy and poorly cooked, only just fit for soaking up soup. But with a long life comes long patience, and now they can produce beautiful airy loaves that seem like they would float without the crust, to dense bread you could build houses with.

They’ve long since bought the land from the farmer’s descendants, and live in harmony with the village, quietly contributing. The undead bakers of the dark valley.

The Risen.

Flung Forth

EotE4: The Thanks of a Grateful Universe:

In a style borrowed from Mr Webster, a microfiction about luck:

When the fog cleared, the debris swept away, the buildings rebuilt and the criminal proceedings complete, the universe was thankful. Someone paid off her mortgage. Some anonymous donations meant she would never have to work again. She didn’t give many interviews – a publicist worked hard to keep her out of the spotlight – and those she did were unremarkable. She was the right person at the right time. She stood up for what she believed in, and it turned out to be enough. In time, the media attention and the words closed around her, until only the occasional reminders in the background when she shopped (“Isn’t that the girl who saved the world?”) and the thanks of a grateful universe remained.

To be owed a debt by reality in general is a thing that manifests itself in a myriad of strange ways. Her headphones didn’t tangle in her pockets anymore. Buses tended to arrive as she reached the stop. Things she wanted tended to be on discount. She had just enough milk left for cereal and tea. It started to escalate, though.

She noticed that when she was running late, her train would have had signal problems. It seemed like coincidence, but the guilt of making a whole train full of people late for work wore her down, and she went to great lengths not to be late anymore. When she didn’t have a pound for the trolley, someone had left one in the last one; but who? Could they afford to lose the deposit?

She fell through the cracks of her phone company’s systems, and they stopped billing her. When she phoned up to query what had happened, the supervisor said “Someone will be fired for this”, and she worried about who. It became a constant worry, who was paying for all the things that were going her way.

On a hen party trip to Vegas, she was arrested. The casinos couldn’t understand how someone won every game, every time, and assumed she was cheating. It took a couple of weeks for them to decide they didn’t have any evidence that would stick. She was deported.

She tried to be generous with her money, and every pound she donated was returned in a surprise raffle win. When she won a holiday, she gave it to a neighbour, only to discover that due to a clerical error she’d been given a voucher for two holidays, and they wouldn’t take it back.

Without a possibility of failure, she became reckless. Throwing herself from an airplane with a parachute seemed like easy mode. Without a parachute she discovered the existence of a world record pillow fort, over sixty feet high, and fell to a gentle landing.

Eventually she took up being a vigilante, and stalked the streets in the name of justice for some years. The criminals of her city grew to fear her name and her costume alike, though she never happened to show up on camera. Bullets handily missed her. Knives skidded off jewellery, cigarette cases, novels and other unlikely objects in freak demonstrations of physics edge cases. Others around her weren’t so lucky, though, and she abandoned the streets for a quieter life.

Then, one day, a grand scheme arose. Like the plan she originally thwarted so carefully, the world itself was at threat, and reality couldn’t stand the cost of losing.

And this time, she didn’t stand in front of it.

It would have been literally self-defeating.

So she won, with the help of a grateful universe.

Flung Forth


We went to see a special showing of the Tetris movie. The seating was weird, they had allocated tickets in clumps all around the theatre. One family decided they wanted to sit closer to the screen, and as they sat down in the centre, filling the seating row entirely, it all went wrong. There was a blinding light from the floor below the line of seats. Elderly popcorn, splashes of drinks and old Malteser packets were briefly illuminated before being consumed by the light. Soon the seats were invisible against the blast brighter than the sun, and we looked away as people started screaming. When the glow faded, the next row up was where the centre row used to be, there was a new row of seats at the very top, and the adverts were still playing. We had scored 40 points.

Flung Forth

EotE 3 – Executing

The bunker was dark and still, and had been for a while now. The doors pointlessly locked and bolted – there was nobody to find them, and the tunnel had been collapsed – a room made remarkable by its ordinariness. On a desk in the corner, a screen came to life, briefly.

Battery levels, 23%. Estimated time remaining: 104 days.
Lifesigns detected (est. 3sf): Human: 12,500, other: 411,000,000. Undetermined: 1,440
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Progressing state.

The screen stayed on for a moment or two, illuminating abandoned coffee mugs, sheets of paper, the edges of a whiteboard, the back of a chair. Then everything was dark.

For two weeks there was silence, until a fan chirped up, was followed by its fellows. A screen lit once again:

Battery levels, 22%. Estimated time remaining: 90 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 10,500, other: 403,000,000. Undetermined: 3,440
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Progressing state.

Another fortnight. Dust formed over the screen and the keys. Silence continued in the room, far below anyone. Above, the blackened ring of the last launch was slowly washed away by the rain, as slowly the forest reclaimed the city. The brief and scratchy white noise of a dusty fan spinning into action, and the screen came alive again.

Battery levels, 5%. Estimated time remaining: 7 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 4,550, other: 253,000,000. Undetermined: 9,440
CRITICAL: Battery Failure. Executing final state.
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Procedure BREAK [AUTH:CleaverK] "Remember, Actual hardware connected now. 
Be absolutely fucking sure before this times down."
10.....9.....8.....7.....6.....5.....4.....3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Procedure DEBUG [AUTH:CleaverK] "I hope you know what you're doing"
Progressing state.

Far above in the blinding daylight, from the top of a non-descript and abandoned skyscraper, a large amount of red gas blows out into the world like a mushroom cloud. In a few days time, when it rains, the rain is red. It rains like that for a week, staining the roads and pathways, the plants and farms. Where it snows, it snows a light pink shade. It rains an awful lot.

It doesn’t rain in the bunker, where the fan announces its familiar presence.

Battery levels, 1%. Estimated time remaining: 0.01 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 0, other: 273,000,000. Undetermined: 0
Task complete. Shutting down
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]

Soon the screen turns off, and the room will never be lit again. The remains of an office that looks so ordinary, in a bunker so deep, below a skyscraper so tall, won’t ever be seen again. Nobody will read the post-it note that long ago fell from the monitor it was attached to:

“The computer was left on to kill the world.”

Well done.