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…”
February 9, 2017 Leave a comment
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
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
February 3, 2017 Leave a comment
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.
“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.
January 18, 2017 1 Comment
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.
December 12, 2016 Leave a comment
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.
December 6, 2016 Leave a comment
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.
May 18, 2016 Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
Procedure BREAK [AUTH:CleaverK] "Remember, Actual hardware connected now. Be absolutely fucking sure before this times down."
[30.....29.....28.....27.....26.....25.....24.....23.....22.....21..... 20.....19.....18.....17.....16.....15.....14.....13.....12.....11..... 10.....9.....8.....7.....6.....5.....4.....3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Procedure DEBUG [AUTH:CleaverK] "I hope you know what you're doing"
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.
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.”
April 6, 2016 Leave a comment
(Inspired by Webster’s Leap Year microfiction, and also Becca’s, which I can’t link here)
You would think I’d track the date, but it’s always a surprise. There’s a presidential election in the US, and there’s the Olympics as well, and there’s one more thing. Always one more thing.
I was on a bus. I am a lot, these days, as I never got around to learning to drive, and work is far away. Half asleep I had boarded it this morning, no time for coffee, and the world was still asleep as the sun slowly rose over the spires of Oxford as I was driven towards it. Perhaps the sleep is why I didn’t notice the day, or perhaps it’s always supposed to be a surprise. It was a surprise, anyway.
With the sun rose the colours, the saturation of the world slowly climbing higher. The pale orange of the distant star became a vivid splash that crossed the sky. The faded blue of corporate bus livery became sapphire brilliance, and the bus took a right turn that hadn’t been there yesterday morning. The bus came to a stop, and I was already leaving it for a cobbled road with upper stories vaulted over it, the thin sliver of sky overhead lighting the street only by association.
The bus was gone, and the subtleties of the world faded with it. Almost all the doors along either side of the street were plain, dark colours with numbers that defied reading. I haven’t lived here long, and I’m sure there are crannies and bolt-holes in the ancient city that I will never find on a map or twice by exploration, but I’d bet you dollars to damnation that this was not a place you could find deliberately.
Almost all the doors. The arch before me bore a viridian door with a golden lion holding a ring exactly as if of *course* it didn’t really want to play fetch, but if that’s a game then fine, here’s the ring. A trick I remembered of old, but couldn’t tell you from where. A piece of candied ginger was in my pocket, and the cat took it with a desperate lick as the door slid sideways and the dark room beyond beckoned.
(There were others. Their doors differed according to some method beyond me.)
A glass of something rich, dark and enlightening came with the knowledge that this time I was here to observe the ceremony rather than take part. So I sat and I wrote the visions I saw, and the words folded into paragraphs and chapters as they drained from my mind with the pictures. They may be the greatest words I’ll never know, and I miss them.
The world was exactly as colourful as it always was when I found myself on the bus as it neared my stop, and drab by comparison. Slowly, as I always did, I forgot this day and its meaning.
I wonder often where the words go.
February 29, 2016 Leave a comment
A psychiatrist took an emergency appointment one cold summer’s day. She didn’t usually take these kind of things, but the month was slow and the pay was good, so she opened her office door to a short, athletic man with an easy and honest smile, and sad and soulful eyes, and he sat on the sofa where the clients sit, and spoke.
“I don’t know what to tell you doc. I’ve been travelling for so long and through so many, many places that I feel that I’m losing my sense of self, have lost it, even. I used to be an individual, with my hopes and dreams sketched out across my future; but instead of the bright watercolours I saw them in when I started, they are shadows of Indian ink, shining as they dry, soaking though and blotting the paper. I once had hope, and life, and with joy I brought that to others; but now I feel that every day it seeps from my pores, my life-force going to keep others going, to keep them fighting, to face – not the future, but now.
Every day that passes seems bleaker, and the world clouds over as everything gets worse and worse. Bleak policies thrust upon us with insincere regret to combat an insidious darkness that we feel creeping into our bones, only to discover that these policies only force the cracks wider, bring the darkness quicker, that it floods the souls of the unfortunate and the lonely before lapping gently at the shorelines far below the lives of the rich and the well connected.
We rise up to show light to the new shadow that blots out the sun like a tsunami heading towards us, a wall of dark mist and despair that washes over and somehow though us, and remains. We survive, colder and in the grip of the depths from that wall as we see rising before us a new, even darker future that is – as bleak as it seems – a shimmering light in comparison to that will follow it.
I see those around me fighting as hard as they can, winning battle after battle in front of them, but fatiguing and falling as their reinforcements have to fight their own way to the front.
I see those who fought before, canonised and worshiped, falling themselves into shadow as they mistake the battles they were winning for the wars not yet won.
But mostly I see all the points of light in the darkness flickering towards suffocation, depressed and disenfranchised; and I wonder how much longer I can keep my own lantern burning, and who will be left to see it fade.”
“I don’t have any easy answers”, said the doctor, “You seem depressed, but I don’t have your records or the ability to proscribe you anything to help. The best I can recommend is to go out and find someone experiencing joy, be with people who are having fun. It might sooth your soul, it won’t make things better, but it might make it brighter for a while. There’s a circus in town, apparently the greatest clown in the world is playing tonight. I was planning to go, but I will give you my ticket.”
“Thank you for the offer, doctor, but I’m busy tonight. You should go.”
“If you’re sure”
“I am. Thank you, for listening. It does help, I think”.
May 14, 2015 Leave a comment
A meme on Facebook asked me for page 54 from “The Bakerloo Incident”, a conspiracy thriller set on the London Underground. So:
As we exited Stonebridge Park, I looked at the display on the screen. My oyster card was clear, but Jane’s was infected, just like Roy’s had been.
I couldn’t get off this train yet. For all I knew the person who sent that email really had my daughter, and could see the cameras, but Wifi was working at Wilsden Junction, and I pulled up a text conversation with the duty manager at HQ.
Richard: Hey, John, we’ve got a problem. John: Richad! How’s retirement treating you, mate? Richard: Been a rough first day. Someone’s kidnapped Kate, and they’ve said they’ve put a bomb in the network. John: Tell me your joking. *connection lost*
The train pulled out of Wilsden Junction, and couldn’t connect to the wifi at Kensal Green. There was a delay at Queen’s Park, and I could connect to the wifi network again:
Richard: By my life. No. John: Where is it? Can we stop it? Richard: I’m looking for it. He’s sending me email. I think it’s triggered by something spread though Oyster cards. *connection lost*
Jane had been running some tests on her laptop, and whisperered urgently to me.
“Rich? I think I’ve got it”, she said breathlessly.
“What have you found?”
“The cards, there’s an esclation exploit on them. I… I think it spreads the virus from the card to the gate, and from there to the other gates on the same barrier. There’s a counter on there too.”
“Something central is keeping track of how many oyster cards are infected.” said Jane.
“I don’t know” she said, helpless.
One swipe though a gate, and that station would catch it, and every card of every person who entered or left that station would be just as infected. It was still early, and the Overground was down for the day, but as our empty train rattled though Kilburn the cogs and gears in my mind started to think though the consequences.
Richard: I need you to shut down everything north of Paddinton on the Bakerloo before the train with carraige LL24601 gets though John: That’s a big ask, Richard. You’re not on the PTP anymore, I can’t just do it on your say so. Richard: If it gets to Paddington it will be impossible to stop the spread of the virus. There’s just too many interchanges. *connection lost*
The train slowed in the tunnel and came to a stop, and for a moment Richard thought they might have made it though.
“One million” said Jane, suddenly
“That’s what the counter’s looking for. When 1M cards are infected, that’s when the signal goes out.”
“Signal to what?”
“I… can’t tell. I think it might be the bomb.”
“How long until it spreads that far?”
“Infection isn’t my strong point, Rich, but if I’ve got my numbers right… about two hours after it hits Kings Cross. I think… maybe lunchtime.”
The lights flickered and went out, only to return some seconds later. The train started back up again, and slowly picked up speed to the next station.
Paddington was a nightmare at the best of times, but as a nexus point for the virus, it was terrifying. Jane looked briefly up at the emergency cord.
“I’m not sure enough. Do you think I should pull it?” she asked me.
Jane pulled the cord, and I hoped to hear the squeal of brakes. I should have known better. A voice came over the radio:
“We’re nearly at the station, whatever will have to wait until then.”
True to his word, the florescent lights began to flood though the window, lighting the grimy tiles of Bakerloo Paddington. The doors opened, and hundreds of infected cards poured out with their carriers, to spread across the tube network, relentless and unstoppable.
The tannoy at the station fussed and blared briefly as a microphone was turned on.
“Inspector Sands to the Station Master’s office, please. There is a package for you.”
Me and Jane exchanged a look. The code-phrase. We got off the train and hurried up to the main ticket barriers before I realised. In order to get out, I’d need to put my ticket though the machine. I’d need to infect myself.
I was saved from this terror for the moment by the Station Master’s office being on the right side of the barriers. I knocked, and they answered quickly.
“Hi,” I said, “My name is Richard Sands. I believe you have a package for me.”
The Station Master handed me the item, ashen-faced. It was little more than a bundle of tissues, and one end was clearly dyed a bright and liquid crimson.
September 18, 2014 Leave a comment