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Author Topic: Squaxx Telling Stories  (Read 8974 times)

The Legendary Shark

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #15 on: 31 August, 2019, 07:13:20 PM »

The Night Shift moves into its sixth hour and the City is running smoothly. All utilities, feeds, and flows are operating efficiently and emissions are stable. Government Productivity Targets are projected to be met and possibly exceeded. Incidents of insomnia amongst Day and Swing Shift workers have fallen, initial reports attribute this to the Government's Healthy Sleep Promise. Night Shift workers everywhere thank the Government and wish their fellow shift workers well - for they too know the dark misery of insomnia.

Births are up to twenty five, natural deaths up to twenty nine. 377 accidents have been reported, slightly below average for the time of year. There have been no crimes. Shift worker job satisfaction metrics have exceeded Government expectations. Detailed Government Statistics and Projections are freely available on any screen.

Loc-Lock puts Inspector Nine in the back of a police car set to main-route autodrive. She's in the back seat, thinking. The car is thinking too, but it's thinking about how to navigate a random route through The City, using only arterial routes and without dropping under 150mph. The car is doing a good job. The Inspector, not so much.

The pad in her hand lights up the back of the car, its screen showing a blank page. Inspector Nine blinks. She taps at the screen and the message 'Report Transferred' flashes up. Belm's death is a Ministry problem now. She curses. Belm served as the Deputy Treasurer's personal secretary. Both killed by Brigand Doom. Both reports transferred to Ministry Authority. Inspector Nine types in searches amongst biographical indexes, Government records, private packets. She learns precious little before the data is transferred to the Ministry. Hints at high level Government connections. The stink of proudly displayed opulence.

She remembers what Doom said. She doesn't want to use it but there's nothing else left. She returns to the pad's search function and types in, 'St Jerome Emiliani's Orphanage.'

There are no orphanages in The City since The Government outlawed orphanhood, rendering such soulless facilities obsolete. Parentally disadvantaged Citizens are these days immediately adopted by The Government and grafted holistically into Loving Homes.

Inspector Nine sighs and opens the City-Net's back door. The Government Page disappears and she re-enters the search. It translates to Building 109, Loc-Sect Twenty, Sub-Sect Seventy One, Sector Fifteen. She relays the address to the car and it starts thinking about getting there in the shortest time. It makes up its mind and accelerates towards a suitable exit, flashing and bellowing importantly. Inspector Nine's comm chirps. Superintendent Seven is calling her. She diverts him to voicemail. He doesn't leave a message.

The police car is a good driver and the traffic is dead-hours thin. The Government's Flow Matrix clears the police car's way. Inspector Nine holds on to the hand grip above the door but it isn't necessary. The ride is impossibly fast and impossibly smooth. In a little over twenty seven minutes, the car slows to a gentle halt outside Building 109. It is an old building, constructed a long time ago in The History, before the cities were The City, before the Government saved the world from itself. Inspector Nine gets out of the car and hovers by the door for a moment, studying the building, before slamming it shut and quickly surveying the deserted old street. Most of the buildings are empty and cursorily maintained by The City as Designated Old Sites, kept around for historical value. When the last of the families leave, the site's status will obviously have to be re-evaluated.

The front door is unlocked so she pushes it open, gun in hand. It swings inward without a sound. Inside, the building is musty and dead. Filled with unused and unloved relics. Old furniture, old carpets, old books. She sweeps the house. She's quick and efficient, very well trained. The building, once a home with ten bedrooms, is empty. It has been empty for years. She holsters her gun and, torch in hand, begins searching the building. Efficient, and very well trained, her instincts lead her to a desk in a small sitting room on the ground floor. She pries the drawers open with her penknife. They squeal with age and are full of dead pens and live spiders. She yanks the last drawer open and reaches into it, pulling out three leather-bound books. Two are ledgers, one is a diary.

Car headlights flash through the dead windows then fall dark. An engine sighs into silence. Car doors slam. She slips the books into her bag and zips it up, pulling the strap across her body.

"We know you're in here, Inspector," a voice calls. Inspector Nine curses under her breath and pads away, hoping to find a back door. "It's Ministry business now, Inspector. If you've found anything, you're ordered to hand it over."

The kitchen is full of dusty cold pans on dusty cold stoves. She creeps between them and finds a door leading out into a back garden. The door is locked. Efficient, and very well trained, she soon locates a key hidden under a dusty doormat. She slides it into the lock and breathes a sigh of relief when it turns. Too late.

"Hold it, Lady." Two men stand at the other end of the kitchen. Both of them are pointing guns at her. "Drop the piece."

"I am a City Police Department Inspector. I don't take orders from the Ministry."

The shortest of the Ministry men, the one with the best suit and the cleanest shirt, smirks. "Everybody takes orders from the Ministry," he says. "I'm not going to ask you again."

She slumps her shoulders. Drops her head. Holds up her hands. "Okay," she says. "Okay."

"I said..." Shorty says. They're his last words on This Side. The tall one just kind of blabbers. It sounds like he's talking about a pancake but it can't be that. It's something else she'll never know. She empties the spent shells from her pistol, wincing at the barrel's heat, and quickly reloads. She slips into the back garden and climbs over fences and hedges until she finds a road. She hitches up the collar of her trench-coat and starts walking.


The penultimate hour of the Night Shift and the City is operating at optimum efficiency. Several complex water supply repairs and augmentations have been completed without complications or significant delays. Hundreds of thousands of Citizens will feel the benefit of increased water pressure when they awake this morning. The Government's Infrastructure First Obligation in action! Well Done the Night Shift! Sector Eleven Sanitation has been suffering technical problems for most of the shift and has fallen behind schedule. If any workers have fulfilled their quotas and fancy pitching in, they'd appreciate a hand down there. There'll also be overtime available, depending on your Soc-Stats.

Births are up to thirty five, natural deaths up to forty. 412 accidents have been reported, significantly below average for the time of year. There have been no crimes. All Night Shift Workers will receive a 0.25% uplift for this shift, pending Soc-Stats and Econ-Rating.

The books have made her sick. Sick enough to return Superintendent Seven's calls. She tries to tell him, to explain, but he's too angry to listen and orders her back to the station. She turns her Loc-Lock back on and summons the police car, which finds her with flamboyant efficiency. She's soon on the Superintendent's carpet, listening to him roar.

He draws breath and Inspector Nine seizes her chance. "St Jerome Emiliani's Orphanage. You were a part of it."

"That's old news, Inspector, very old news."

"Belm and the Deputy Treasurer, too."

"This is all irrelevant, Inspector!" The Superintendent's mood is deteriorating. "I want Doom, do you hear me?"

"If I read these books right," she says, "and if I read him right, he'll be coming to you."

The Superintendent snorts, confident in his power. The lights flicker, along with Superintendent Seven's confidence, and then go out. Distant, isolated shouts of panic echo from somewhere in the station, sporadic and shifting. Getting closer. The door sweeps open and the Superintendent goes for his gun and fumbles it, but it's just his personal guard checking on him. Satisfied, the guard returns to his post, closing the door behind him. The sounds of panic cease and a weird quiet oozes through the station.


"What was that?" The Superintendent raises his gun, scanning the darkness.

"Some kind of stimulant, I think. He inhales it out of small glass phials." Inspector Nine folds her arms.

"You mean..."

"I'm here."

The Superintendent whirls, bringing his gun up, but Doom is too fast. Too strong. Doom grips the Superintendent's gun hand until his bones begin to splinter and locks his other hand around his throat.

"Please don't kill him." Inspector Nine says the words but, even to her, they sound empty. "Damn you, that you reduce me to this."

Brigand Doom keeps his shining eyes locked on the Superintendent's as he chokes the life out of him. "You know what he did. What they did. It's in the books. I know you know."

"That doesn't, it can't, justify murder. Please don't. Not again."

Brigand Doom looks up from the fading Superintendent and fixes his bright gaze on Inspector Nine. "Then do what they do. Use their magic against them."

Inspector Nine sighs. She could shoot him again but that had never worked yet. She could raise the alarm and watch everyone entering the room get shot to bits. Or she could stand here and watch Brigand Doom, the most dangerous terrorist in the world, strangle a rancid piece of scum to death. "Magic, now," she says. "You are utterly insane."

Doom returns his blazing gaze to the Superintendent but the moment has passed. Doom's fingers contract and his wrist jerks, triggering a cold, efficient crack. "Their words." He drops the corpse to the floor. He does not watch it fall. "Don't call it murder. Call it execution. Call it retribution. Call it revenge. Call it Justice."

She wipes her eyes. "Semantics," she says, her voice weary.

"Yes," he says.

"You're going to blast your way out of here, aren't you? Kill more cops."

"Most likely."

"So long as you do that, I'm not going to help you." She checks her pistol.

Doom chuckles and the sound is like old sewage flowing through a cracked drain. "You will help me, because what was happening in those old books is still happening today. You see the evil in that as clearly as I do. See the evil burning out the infection of discovery every way it can. It will eat at you, this horror. It will defeat you. Then you'll help me."

Doom strides towards the door. Inspector Nine, efficient and very well trained, raises her gun and empties it into Brigand Doom's face, aiming for his eyes. Doom howls and throws up his arm. The gunshots call the guards, who burst in and open fire. Doom's shotgun blasts them out of the world before the Inspector can shout a warning. One of Doom's eyes is flickering and his manic smile seems smaller than usual. Inspector Nine drops her emptied pistol and snatches a letter knife off the Superintendent's desk. She lunges for his flickering eye but he moves too fast and she misses, stabbing the knife into his neck. She grits her teeth and pushes as hard as she can. The knife begins to bend, as if she were trying to force it into a tree. Doom pushes her to the floor, ignoring the knife still sticking out of his neck, and raises his shotgun. More officers are coming. He steps out to meet them.

"Aim for his eyes," she shouts, again and again, but her voice is lost in the gunfire and screams.


Last hour of the Night Shift and The City's been in safe hands. 99.5% of Government Targets have been met, marginally above expectations. The Energy Balance remains neutral and the economy continues to be robust. Reserve stock levels dictate that all Night Shift Workers will receive two additional ration coupons per week from this shift onwards, subject to Soc-Stats and Econ-Rating. The City continues to grow from strength to strength, thanks to the loyalty and hard work of the Citizens, and the wisdom and leadership of The Government. All society in harmony for the Common Good.

Births are up to forty three, natural deaths down to thirty eight due to exemplary Night Shift surgeons. 467 accidents have been reported, marginally below average for the time of year. There have been no crimes. Detailed Government Statistics and Projections are freely available on any screen.

Don't forget to clock out - incorrect data can lead to false conclusions.


Never Forget.


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #16 on: 04 September, 2019, 04:49:46 PM »
Liking this a lot Sharks! Keep at it old boy!

The Legendary Shark

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #17 on: 04 September, 2019, 07:39:53 PM »

Thanks, Hawkie! (It was a bit self-indulgent, that one...)


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #18 on: 29 January, 2021, 08:36:50 PM »

Gods are Patient but Monsters Endure

by Mark Howard


Beyond the fabled Edge, where the stars are lonesome and the planets fall by inches into shadow and frore, I found myself amongst people after too long a time wandering the dead worlds of the Dhar-Ah-Sum Wastes in search of forgotten things. My mind, even accustomed to such solitary expeditions, was still numb and leaden, weighted down by memories and discoveries, by logical extrapolations and dark fantasies. My little explorer ship, the S.S. Ess, creaked and groaned as I nursed her, finally, into a docking bay at Dhar-Ah-Zhul Station, a small but busy Imperial outpost servicing the transport and distribution needs of a remote and small, but busy, province of the Empire with stars in its soul. She came down with a thump, external sensors all out of whack, and clicked and moaned and sighed as I shut her down. A deck-tech team advanced on the S.S. Ess with umbilical feeds and refuelling pods but I waved them away, having a better plan. I grabbed my Civilization Tag and disembarked.

The cavernous landing bay was about half full, with naval, civil and commercial ships coming and going at irregular intervals. Most of them, like my own beloved S.S. Ess, were of standard Imperial designs and manufacture but a few sprang from different minds; a Ziffrosian mining claw, a Zorth Imperium star-shaver, freighters from Ath, Koh-Lajr, The Span and Ziffros, private yachts from Cartella and Luxok, and at least seven A.I. Alliance drones huddled in a belligerent knot near the space doors.

Lifters and gravs flitted between the ships with cargo, fuel pods, spare parts, robots, repair crews and passengers. Radioed instructions, sirens, buzzers, bells, hollered communications, power tools, engines and the occasional bursts of laughter rang around the place, a mere cacophony to me but an exquisite running commentary for the experienced crew, a symphony of organization. The ships smelled of space, ionisation and rot, as I strolled past them. The bay was overloaded with the fumes from spilled fuels, lubricants and coolants, the confusing, nauseating fug of spilled foodstuffs from disparate cultures, the stench of leaking waste systems, and a thousand other things my nose had no clue about. After so long breathing the dusty drab air of dead worlds, though, my nose cared not and strove, in its own way, to grasp the concept of orgasm.

Outside the docking bay, in a wide and carpeted hallway, the sound was far less; dull and enveloping like sluggish summer breezes. I shouldered my bag and made my way to one of the pilots’ bars at the station’s port side. The corridors were busy, teeming with people from all over the galaxy, a dizzying parade of body shapes, colours, twitters and growls, and further aromas for my nose to embrace like lovers. A few people knew me, and I they, sometimes acknowledged with a wave or a rushed statement of regret at having no time to talk and sometimes having so much to say and so much time in which to say it that the excuse of fictional impending deadlines spilled from my lips.

Eventually, after two and a half hours or so, I fetched up at Zoggy’s Bar. The place was comfortably full with starship crews on long layovers or short breaks and some looking for work or simply hanging around.

‘Ess!’ Zoggy, the establishment’s infamous owner, called me as I shouldered my way to the bar, smiling and nodding a welcome in return. ‘Terran whisky,’ Zoggy said as I took up an empty bar stool and he placed a tumbler of Tharnish swampcat piss in front of me with one of his manipulator tentacles. I smiled resignedly and took a sip. It tasted almost like whisky and had almost the same effect but, as was our custom, I made a disappointed face and shook my head.

‘Almost,’ I said, ‘but no.’

Zoggy sighed, a sound like distant thunder rolling out of his air sacs, replaced the cork in the bottle of swampcat piss, put it back on the shelf next to all the other failed bottles, and charged me 25 debits. Noting that his infra red eyes were narrowing, a sure sign that Zoggy was about to launch into his standard monologue concerning the difficulties of obtaining genuine liquors all the way out here, I asked about the pilots in his bar and was directed to a tall Martian captain and her tall Martian crew.

* * *

‘Captain Bambat?’ I asked. She initially ignored me, preferring to finish the tall tale with which she was entertaining the six biological members of her crew. As they burst into laughter at the punchline, an almost imperceptible expression of satisfaction ghosted across her ebony face. She took a swig of ale, put her tankard down and then looked up at me.

‘Captain Bambat,’ I repeated, ‘I am Professor General Sir Estobahn Khan De-Barlow Jo-Jong Brown, KPGE, DCM, AVA, CJC and bar, head of the Stellar Archaeology Department at the University of Europe in Bern.’

The captain’s dark eyes narrowed and her crew stifled giggles.

‘My friends call me Ess,’ I added with a smile, extending my hand.

She looked at it for a moment before honouring me with a brief handshake. ‘Kersis Bambat,’ she said, ‘captain of the Mwindo.’

‘An honour,’ I said. ‘Captain, my ship is damaged and I need a ride home.’

She shook her head. ‘Not going to Earth,’ she said. ‘Phobos Docks at Mars.’

‘That will do,’ I said. ‘My ship should make it the rest of the way from there. My distortion engines are running a little lumpy but my breach system’s all kinds of broken.’

She nodded, considering. ‘Be a while before we get to Mars. From here we’re breaching beyond the Edge to Ath, then a couple of deliveries in The Span, on to Koullar, Flith, Knoor, Hoh, then maybe Puth, Railar-Sorme, Hae-zo-zo Uff, and the Centrehub before heading home. A month at least, maybe two.’

This was perfect for me as it would allow plenty of time to arrange and study my data and also to rest and calm my mind. I did, however, feign reluctance in order to secure a better price. It didn’t work.

* * *


« Last Edit: 29 January, 2021, 08:39:58 PM by The Legendary Shark »

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #19 on: 29 January, 2021, 08:37:14 PM »



For three weeks after our departure I remained aboard my ship, which remained lashed to the deck in one corner of the Mwindo’s primary cargo hold. Some days I had the hold almost to myself, others the S.S. Ess was crowded in by stack upon stack of pallets, pods, and containers, once even by countless eerily still cattle encased in individual stasis fields. On the sixth night of that last week, as I slept, or tried to sleep, or dreamed of sleep, I heard sporadic, mournful cries from the depths of those carefully stacked herds. As if some of them were aware, and paralysed, and terrified. Capable of only the weakest entreaty to whichever hidden force declares itself the God of Cows and comforts their despair.

Yet even these horrible moans were almost comforting, distractions from the data stripped bare before me. All my readings and recordings, all my translations and projections, taken apart and reassembled, examined, all contradictions eliminated. All doubts erased.

‘Permission to come aboard?’ Captain Bambat stood in the open door of my study, obviously aboard already. I returned my attention to the data.

‘You know, Sir General High Lord Professor Baron of the Rest of the Universe,’ she said after a moment, ‘I’m just a simple freighter captain. Somebody tells me to pick something up over here and take it over there, I pick it up and I take it. It’s a fairly simple job, on the face of it.’

I tried to tune her out, concentrating on the correlations between various electromagnetic and gravimetric scans, which yielded yet more compelling evidence to support the dark hypothesis I was so desperately trying to disprove.

‘But it’s not quite so simple, of course. Nothing is,’ she said. ‘I’d lay good debits that your job’s about more than just digging up old bones and bits of pottery. I don’t know what those extra dimensions are for you, but for me one of the most important is to understand my crew. When they’re happy, tired, disgruntled. Worried.’

I finally looked at her. Her arms were at her sides, loose beside her bejewelled scimitar, but in one hand she held two tumblers and in the other a bottle of genuine Ye Olde Sweaty Thistle Earth Scotch whisky.

‘They are worried about me?’ I asked, perplexed. ‘I’m perfectly fine. I appreciate that...’

She marched into my study and perched herself on the edge of my desk before setting down the tumblers and unstopping the bottle. ‘You misunderstand,’ she said, sniffing the open mouth of the bottle and closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, they were fixed on mine. ‘They’re not worried for you, they’re worried about you. Never mixing with us, never leaving your ship, never even sending regular status reports to the ship’s net.’

‘They fear I intend to murder them in their sleep,’ I said.

She began pouring the whisky and the aroma was like the kiss of a lover of long standing. ‘The idea has been floated,’ she said, ‘my duty as captain is to sink it.’ She handed me one of the drinks. ‘Drink now, die later.’

I took the proffered glass and tapped its rim against hers. ‘Drink now, die later.’ I took a sip and laughed a small laugh. ‘Curious,’ I said, ‘how we put so much stock in such arbitrary, essentially meaningless traditions. They used to say “cheers” everywhere, even in space. Then Colony Jones supposedly says “drink now, die later” aboard her ship the night before the Latan were finally destroyed and suddenly that’s the thing to say, especially in space.’

She took a sip and leaned back against the wood-panelled bulkhead, making herself comfortable. ‘You got Latan to destroy, Prof?’

‘Captain,’ I said, ‘I assure you...’

She held up a finger and I waited for her to savour and swallow her latest sip. ‘I’m sure you do. But there’s something in your eyes. Thought I glimpsed it at Zoggy’s but wasn’t sure. It’s there now, though, plain as night.’

‘You’re imagining things, Captain.’ I put the tumbler down and returned to my work. She didn’t move save for recharging both our glasses.

‘The crew knows you’ve been out beyond the Edge.’

‘So have many people.’

‘And many people have been changed out there.’

‘Driven mad?’

She shrugged and took another sip. ‘You’re a man of science,’ she said, ‘if there’s a danger to my crew I have to… assess its probabilities.’

I laughed. ‘There is a danger,’ I said, ‘a very great danger, but it is not me.’

She put down her tumbler with deliberate slowness, her lips compressed with the pressure of concern. ‘See now, any mention of “very great danger” gets me...’ she groped for a word.


She snapped her fingers and pointed at my chest. ‘Bingo.’

‘Captain, have you ever heard of the Unsaahl?’ I said after a pause, taking up my drink and leaning back into my chair. Her brow furrowed and she shook her head.

‘They are part of an ancient myth cycle common in the outer reaches of the galaxy, all around the Rim as I believe. The myths begin with Aug, the Inferno, and Gau, the Screaming God.’

She nodded then. ‘Yeah, I heard the locals thereabouts talking about such things. They split apart, right? The Screaming God became the Splintered Gods and the Inferno became the stars?’

‘Yes, but there were others. Uru, goddess of Hope, and Ka-Yava, god of Despair, siblings tricked into mating by ancient Uga, daughter of Aug and Gau, goddess of Agony. The spawn of this foul union was the Unsaahl, a race of monsters.’

She raised an eyebrow. ‘Monsters.’

I held out my tumbler for a refill and, after a moment’s thought, she obliged.

* * *

There came upon this infant galaxy the oldest of the Unsaahl, whose name is unknowable but whom The Splintered Gods named Mawglut, Devourer of worlds.

First Mawglut devoured Pell, beloved of Thune, God of the Mind. And Thune could not defeat Mawglut, for Mawglut is without thought or reason or dream. And Thune warned his Splintered Siblings but they laughed at him, berating his inability to protect a single world from a single monster, and calling into question his right to be called a god at all.

Next Mawglut devoured the paradise world of Oreegha, where Ekshaah-Ekshah, Goddess of Life, first encouraged biology to think. And Ekshaah-Ekshah could not defeat Mawglut, for Mawglut is not alive. And Ekshaah-Ekshah went before her Splintered Siblings with dire warnings of Mawglut’s power but again they laughed, though a with a little less certainty this time, and said that life was a puny thing anyway, fit only for entertainment and amusement to while away the eternities.

Third was Kood, where the Blessed Ä, God of Geometry, kept safe his sacred angles, but which Mawglut consumed angles and all. And  the Blessed Ä could not defeat Mawglut, for Mawglut exists at right angles to the universe and all there is of him in this world is his shadow, and shadows have no fixed angles. And now the Splintered Gods took notice and were afraid, for could not the Blessed Ä fold entire stars into darkness with ease?  The Blessed Ä could shape galaxies, how now so powerless against this monster?

The Splintered Gods then called for a champion to defeat the monster and it was agreed that, of them all, only Oio, Goddess of Time, was powerful enough to face Mawglut, for all things flee before her. So she set herself before Mawglut in the depths between the stars, stacking centuries in his path. And the more centuries she stacked before him, the harder Mawglut strove against them so that the years foamed over his skin like surf. And in ten centuries Mawglut advanced but an inch. After ten more, a foot. Ten more, a mile. And, in the last millennium, a light year, so that Oio began to weary even as Mawglut grew thinner and more ravenous. But Mawglut would not die, because he was not alive, and Mawglut would not give up, because monsters endure.

But Oio, being unhurried, was setting a trap. In the path of Mawglut, the Goddess of Matter was building a solar system filled with ten thousand planets of pure uranium, the monster’s food of choice. When Suln-Ya declared her solar system completed, Oio removed the centuries from before Mawglut, replacing them with scant seconds, until the ravening monster fell upon the planetary feast. There to remain, gorging contentedly, until the massive star at the centre of the trap collapses into a black hole and crushes Mawglut to oblivion.

Thus does Oio teach us the value of patience.

* * *


Captain Bambat poured us both another drink before letting me know that my story had provided her with a little less than zero confidence in her crew’s continued nocturnal safety. ‘I know a story about a Yallish monk who rescued a Murian parrotmonkey because he thought it was the reincarnation of Zebediah Scott. It’s hilarious. Really. There’s even a donkey in it. And an actress, sort of. Not really relevant though, is it?’

‘I saw it, Captain,’ I said softly. ‘The Mawglut.’

She said nothing.

‘Out there, wrapped around the remaining half of the last pure uranium planet orbiting a collapsing star. At least, I think I saw it. A part of it. Something like a tentacle made of boiling ice, too big to see. Black against space, glistening with starlight.’

‘It’s real?’ She put her drink down and leaned forward.

‘Yes. I believe so. Just being close to it almost destroyed my ship. But I recorded everything I could. The more I look at the data, the more I am certain that the Gods made a mistake.’

She laughed. ‘You question the Gods beyond the Edge? Know better, do you?’

I scowled and waved her amusement away. ‘Regardless of what it is or how it got there, the Mawglut is real. The data is real. The science is real. The numbers are real. You see, the Splintered Gods miscalculated. They expected the monster to begin feeding at the edge of the solar system, to work its way over the billions of years towards the collapsing star, sliding imperceptibly down its gravity well until escape was impossible. But the monster began feasting with the planets closer to the star, and as it collapsed so Mawglut kept ahead of the gravity well. Soon, he will finish devouring the last of  Suln-Ya’s planets and escape even before the star collapses.’

‘How long?’

I told her, giving my best guess based on the data, the number I intended to present to the University Council immediately upon my return. She nodded and shared the remainder of the bottle between us.

‘Something like that, a creature bigger than planets,’ she said, staring deep into her glass, ‘something like that must be worth…’ Her voice trailed off.

‘Captain, it is death. Calculating its worth is like trying to meter gravity. It simply is.’

She shrugged and drained her tumbler. When I found my own thirst quenched, she finished mine as well and then took both tumblers and the empty bottle into her hands and strode away. She paused at the door and looked back. ‘Phobos in nine days,’ she said.

‘Tell your crew they’re quite safe, Captain.’

‘Except from prehistoric planet-eating god monsters,’ she said.

‘Well,’ I said, attempting a smile, ‘one can never be safe from those, can one?’

* * *

The remainder of the trip passed without incident. The crew’s worry evidently never reached a boiling point and they stayed away, failing to storm my ship with blazing plasma torches. For my part, I remained aboard the S.S. Ess and refrained from assassinating them in their sleep.

At Phobos Docks, I powered up my ship and eased her clear of the mighty Mwindo’s cargo bay. On the dockside, being loaded into one of the huge freighter’s secondary cargo holds, were spools and spools of mole-line, thousands upon thousands of miles’ worth. Alongside the spools lay stack upon stack of various species of harpoon and containers holding railguns and other, less identifiable equipment.

‘Captain Bambat,’ I spoke softly into the comm. ‘I never properly appreciated the sheer size of your ship until now.’ No response. ‘It strikes me,’ I said, ‘that to be in control of such a behemoth must require a great deal of confidence. I hope,’ I paused, my mouth dry. ‘I hope those old legends of which we spoke have not tipped you into overconfidence.’

‘Just deliveries for the breachturtle farms at Voth,’ said Captain Bambat. ‘You think I’m mad enough to harpoon a planet killer and try to ride it like a distortion-horse?’

‘I think, Captain, that you will do anything for a good anecdote. Please take care.’

‘Drink now, die later, Prof.’

‘Drink now, die later, Captain.’

I engaged my ship’s distortion engines and she shuddered into distorted space, grazing along at around lightspeed for the half hour trip to Earth. That was the last I saw of the mighty Mwindo and her crew. Two weeks later she docked again at Dhar-Ah-Zhul Station, bound for distant Ath out beyond the fabled Edge, where the stars are lonesome and the planets fall by inches into shadow and frore, there to fade into the infinite.

And for two years I lamented the folly of Captain Bambat and her crew, believing them victims of their own hubris. But when I returned to study the Mawglut, it was not there. The star designed by the Splintered Gods to crush it was now nothing more than a dark pinprick surrounded by a thin ring of uranium dust and of the monster there was no sign, either there or in surrounding systems.

Before I left, my scanners detected several hundred miles of tangled mole-line and a score of mangled harpoons orbiting just outside the event horizon. Although I can draw no solid conclusions from this data, I do wonder if, somehow, the patience of gods and the endurance of monsters were eclipsed both by the uncharted bravery of ambitious fools.


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #20 on: 29 January, 2021, 08:43:27 PM »
The Bloody Fingers of the King

by Mark Howard


In an ulterior lodge huddled beside a nameless pass through the Barbarian Mountains on Outer Pell, waiting for a brutal spring blizzard to pass, I was dozing by the fire and half-dreaming of Emily when the outer door slid open and a figure all in ragged furs staggered inside, dragging an ill-tempered limb of the blizzard thrashing in with him. The other patrons, there were four, and the innkeeper scowled at the sudden intrusion but the door slid shut behind the figure immediately, amputating the blizzard’s thrashing claw so that it exploded into a puff of feeble, harmless snowflakes.

The figure removed his furs and hung them on the rack. His clothes were as distressed as his furs but still serviceable and warm. He seemed human, or thereabouts, slightly shorter than average but also more sturdy. His wild beard and wilder hair were a deep almost blood red and his eyes sparkled in the firelight. It is hard to guess a man’s age now that we can all live forever, but in those sparkling eyes I divined a youth belying the careworn cicatrice scored into his leathery, midnight blue face.

The innkeeper, a bipedal hairy mammal with a silicon shell and talons on his knees and elbows, bowed to the man and handed him a bowl of hot broth. I was intrigued, and more than a little peeved, to note that the innkeeper did not ask the ragged man for payment. Payment was the only topic upon which the innkeeper and I had touched, and then extensively so. Payment for broth. Payment for drink. Payment for a room. Payment for heating said room. Payment for hire of linens. Payment for sundries. Payment for parking my little explorer ship in the lee of a sheltered escarpment half a mile away. Payment for local taxes. Payment for Imperial taxes. Payment for the blizzard tax. Payment for hire of the comfortable armchair by the fire.

The other four patrons, sat in an easy group around a table near the counter sharing hot broth and red bread, were of the same taxon as the innkeeper but they too bowed their vaguely chiropteran heads respectfully as the ragged man walked past. He acknowledged their gesture with a small but warm smile and an all but imperceptible nod.

He settled into the armchair facing my own, on the other side of the fire, and took a deep sniff of the steaming broth as he swirled it around the bowl in his gloved hands. No, not gloved, bandaged. He opened his eyes and caught my gaze.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to stare.’

He smiled and took up a spoon between his bandaged fingers. ‘Huruku will be gratified to learn you find his broth so fascinating,’ he said, before blowing on a spoonful of the stuff and sipping it daintily into his mouth.

I looked into the fire, not sure what to make of this ragged man, and its warmth on my skin and the constant, muted thunder of the blizzard outside lulled me once more into thoughts of home and of Emily’s vital embrace.

‘Mmm.’ The ragged man put down his bowl and wiped his lips with the back of his sleeve before producing a distinctly unsanitary handkerchief with which he finished the job, beard and all. ‘Best broth on the planet,’ he said. ‘Only,’ he leaned forward and beckoned me to do the same, which I did, ‘don’t tell old Huruku I said so, all right? I can’t have him taking it as a royal endorsement or anything, at least not under the current circumstance. In the future,’ he spread his bandaged hands, ‘who knows? Broth-maker to the King, perhaps. The Royal Brothier. But not now. Now is too dangerous. So...’ He tapped the side of his nose with a bandaged finger and winked but did not sit back in his armchair. Instead, his dark brown eyes stared into mine, awaiting an answer.

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I’m just passing through, don’t want any trouble.’

He nodded and settled back into his armchair, gazing at the fire. ‘You’d almost think it was real,’ he said at length, ‘not a hologram behind an emitter field.’

I managed to hide my surprise but not, I think, my disappointment. The fire looked and felt so real and, more than that, I had wanted it to be real. But of course it was artificial. It had to be. What kind of idiot sets a real fire inside a building in this day and age, even in as remote a place on as remote a planet as this? But now it was as if some intangible enchantment had been lifted and the lodge felt a little less cosy, a little more afraid of the ravening blizzard clawing at its walls.

‘I wish it was real,’ he said, ‘that would be more satisfying, somehow. Raw nature outside, trying to kill us, and raw nature inside, keeping us alive. Ice and fire, the eternal struggle between the inferno and the glacier, to burn or to freeze.’

‘Real or not, the fire is warm. On a day such as this, I’m content to tolerate the dissatisfaction.’

He nodded. ‘Wise words,’ he said. ‘This blizzard will take lives. They always do. Someone, somewhere, will be unprepared, or uneducated, or unlucky, and the blizzard will eat them.’

‘That’s a rather grim view, I think. Even the most basic of modern vehicles and emergency shelters can easily handle conditions like these.’

He nodded, still gazing into the dancing holographic flames. ‘Nevertheless, the blizzard will have its meal. It’s the law.’

My brow furrowed. ‘What law?’

He pushed his hand inside his shirt and slowly scratched his belly, luxuriating in this simple pleasure. ‘The law of the universe,’ he said.

He delivered this pronouncement with such quiet conviction, such inner certainty, that it was impossible not to be intrigued. Before I could question him further, however, the innkeeper’s wife padded up to the ragged man and set a brass bowl of warm water on the floor beside his armchair.

‘Now let’s get you sorted out, Your Majesty,’ she said in her people’s high, monotonous accent.

I raised an eyebrow at this royal address but the ragged man refused to catch my eye, focusing his attention on this furry, silicon-shelled, vaguely bat-faced angel of mercy. ‘Huruka,’ he said, his voice soft but clear, ‘you don’t have to do this. I’m quite all right, really.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Huruka, taking one of his bandaged hands gently in her dextrous paws, ‘who will ever visit here again if word gets out that I allowed the King of the Galaxy’s hands to rot away and drop off under my very own roof?’ She began unravelling the bandages, taking infinite care where they were glued down with dried blood. ‘Very bad publicity, that would be.’ She dropped the soiled bandage into a waste bag and then took a moment to touch her paw to his cheek and gaze into his eyes. ‘And very rude.’

She lifted the brass bowl onto his lap and lowered his ravaged and bloody hands into the steaming water. The ragged man first winced and then eased through the pain into something akin to contentment. Huruka let his hands soak for a moment before cleaning them with a mild, unscented soap and an oil-soft sponge.

When his hands were cleansed, she dried them with a sterile pad and, as she reached into the pocket of her apron for a dermal spray, I saw that the ragged man’s fingers, palms, and wrists were covered with fresh, deep cuts. The slightest movement caused blood to flow, which Huruka efficiently wiped away as she applied the spray to each cut in turn until they were all healed, leaving behind a pattern of bright white scars overlying countless others more faded.

‘There,’ said Huruka, holding the ragged man’s hands and leaning back to examine her handiwork. ‘Good as new, Your Majesty.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, for I could hold my tongue no longer, ‘but I must know, why do you address him so? As if he is a king?’

‘Because he is a king,’ she said. ‘He’s the King of the Galaxy.’

The ragged man frowned. ‘Well, that’s not exactly true,’ he said, ‘as Huruka well knows.’

‘I did think it somewhat unlikely,’ I said.

‘I used to be King of the Galaxy, for a very short time,’ the ragged man said, ‘thirty seven minutes and twelve seconds, to be precise, but I’m not the king any more. Not at the moment, anyway.’

* * *



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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #21 on: 29 January, 2021, 08:43:52 PM »



His name, this ragged man, this King of the Galaxy, was Hosef, and no more would he add, though Huruka expanded with pride, ‘King Hosef, the First and Only Monarch of the Entire Milky Way Galaxy.’

Hosef himself shied away from the title, at first I assumed through humility but soon I realised it was through fear. I begged him to tell me the story but it was Huruka who began it when Hosef returned his gaze to the fire.

‘Out here,’ she said, ‘the Old Gods still walk abroad, away from the confusing clamour of biology, out in the peaceful dark beyond the fringes of the galaxy where they can perform their godly works unencumbered. But once, when the galaxy was young and pure, it belonged to the Splintered Gods and the Primal Gods alone and they found much joy in its beauty and in its sanctity.

‘They played amongst the stars and planets. The Blessed Ä, God of Geometry, made boundaries and constellations, folding and bending stars into complex geometric patterns pleasing to the eyes of gods. Fa-R’mni, the God of Gravity, began his lifelong rivalry with the Blessed Ä there when he crushed the geometry of a star to nothing and ripped a hole in the universe, releasing Uvu, the Fractal God, into the world. And Ekshaah-Ekshah, the Goddess of Life, began her experiments there. She taught biology to think and at first the Splintered Gods were enamoured of mortals.

‘But soon the life was everywhere, spreading on its own, even evolving on its own as if the galaxy itself learned to make life on its own by watching Ekshaah-Ekshah. Worst for the gods was the incessant chatter of uncountable biological minds, an infinity of perspectives forever plucking at the fringes of the Splintered Gods’ daydreams, threatening to hypnotise them into ruin. And so they left the noisy galaxy behind and settled in the dark, quiet gulfs beyond the Edge.

‘They never stopped looking back, though, towards the Milky Way, towards reclaiming it for themselves. None searched harder for a solution than the Splintered Goddess Ekshaah-Ekshah, who was responsible for imbuing biology with life and filling the Milky Way with clamour and noise. She would not eradicate the cacophony, though, and refused to take back the gift of life from throughout the galaxy as many of the Splintered Gods demanded. She thought, then, that if the cacophony could not be silenced, perhaps it could be organised and transformed into a symphony pleasing to the Gods’ ears. To do this, Ekshaah-Ekshah decided that the galaxy needed a king, a being of infinite wisdom, humility, honour, and...’

‘Stop,’ said Hosef, still gazing into the fire. ‘I wasn’t chosen,’ he said. ‘I was foolish. Foolish and about to die. Adrift in a dead starhopper somewhere inside the Yawden Void. Ekshaah-Ekshah did not choose me, I just happened to drift past her on my way to the grave.’

Huruka sniffed and began to gather up her things. ‘The ways of the Splintered Ones are not our ways, their paths are not for our paws, their meat is not for our jaws. She chose you, Hosef, and brought you to her, out there in the dark nothingness with not another soul for light centuries in any direction. She chose you, from an entire galaxy of people.’ She tossed the soiled bandages into the brass bowl and picked it up. ‘Coffee?’

We both nodded and Huruka padded away, her paws silent against the deep carpet.

‘Why were you in the Yawden Void, if I may ask?’

He shifted in his armchair and frowned, as if he couldn’t quite remember. ‘Knowledge,’ he said. ‘Exploration.’

‘But there’s nothing that far out,’ I said, ‘no stars, no planets, nothing. What were you looking for?’

‘Detritus,’ he said, ‘intergalactic wreckage. Flotsam and jetsam cast out of galaxies throughout time. The cinders of ancient stars, perhaps from the very first galaxies, long since spent and dead, their cores as cold as their crusts, stars as close to maximum entropy as it’s possible for stars to get before they turn to dust and blow away. And with them, perhaps, planets from the most profound depths of abyssal time and, upon those planets...’

‘Yes,’ I said, my mind playing with the possibilities. ‘Scooped up by our galaxy’s gravity as it moves through the cosmos, like accumulating dust – but, yes, such precious dust indeed.’

Hosef smiled and looked at his boots. ‘I thought you would appreciate that, Professor General Sir Estobahn Khan De-Barlow Jo-Jong Brown, KPGE, DCM, AVA, CJC and bar, head of the Stellar Archaeology Department at the University of Europe in Bern. Or do you prefer to be called Ess?’

My jaw fell so fast I feared I might knock out all my own teeth on the floor. ‘How did you…?’

He chuckled and looked back into the fire, absently rubbing the palms of his hands together. ‘I was King of the Galaxy, remember? For over half an hour. I know everything about everybody.’

The innkeeper, Huruku, padded towards us with two mugs of steaming hot coffee. ‘Your Majesty,’ he said, handing the largest and cleanest of the mugs to Hosef with a bow. ‘Ten debits,’ he said to me, slapping my mug down onto a disreputable table beside my armchair. ‘I’ll add it.’ He bowed again to Hosef and padded away back to the counter, where Huruka was softly singing as she polished the counter-top to fill an idle moment.

We sat in silence, blowing on our coffee until it was cool enough to sip. The holographic fire danced and crackled, the emitter field before it threw out a pleasant heat, and the blizzard redoubled its efforts to scour the lodge off the mountain as the suns went down and the winds got up.

‘I looked for months,’ said Hosef, ‘and found nothing. A few grains of dust, incredibly old, a few shards of gravel. Tantalising. I should have settled for that meagre teaspoon of dust, taken it back for study, but I wanted more. I wanted a dead, extragalactic star. And so I kept searching even as my rations, and my fuel supply, began to run dangerously low.

‘Finally, a million light years from the nearest star and in the deepest midnight I have ever known, I found it. Hosef’s World. A planet ejected from its parent galaxy before even our own galaxy was formed. A fossil, preserved all alone in intergalactic space for time beyond reckoning before falling under the influence of the Milky Way, clinging to its gravity well like dust to a balloon.

‘Before it died, Hosef’s World was a modest gas giant, around the size of Jupiter. Now it is nothing but spent ash. Every chemical or physical reaction that can take place within it has already taken place within it. The core of the planet is the same temperature as the surrounding universe. It is a planet where entropy reigns supreme.

‘And, foolishly, I attempted to land upon it. The surface of the planet was completely smooth, like a billiard ball, and completely dark. There was so little energy in the surface that my sensors couldn’t get an accurate reading and, before I knew it, I was inside the planet. The surface layer of dust was so thin and inert that my ship passed through it as easily as mist, but that ancient, entropy-riddled dust got sucked into my engines and vents, clogged my systems. My ship began to wear out before my very eyes, as if the entropy-laden dust was sucking the vitality out of everything it touched.

‘I barely escaped, but doing so was no boon. My ship, purchased from new three years earlier, was now the equivalent of a fifty year old wreck. The engines died first, then the life support systems, then everything else. On the second day, when the lights went out, I could see my dark world, a shadow against shadows, as my ship limped slowly away from it. Picked out in the sparse, faint starlight, ripples were spreading all over the planet. My accident had introduced a pinprick of energy into that giant, inert planet, but in a virtually zero-energy environment that pinprick was like being hit by a moon. The ripples lasted for two days and spread around the whole planet, creating complex, ever shifting, ever diminishing patterns in the dust until it returned to a perfectly smooth equilibrium. With nothing better to do, I made notes and christened it the Hosef Effect.

‘And then I settled down to die, hopeless of my remains ever being recovered. Another lost and unremembered mote adrift in the cosmos. And then, she found me.’

‘Ekshaah-Ekshah,’ I said, setting down the empty coffee mug, ‘Goddess of Life, one of the Splintered Gods?’

He nodded, his fingers folded around his still full mug. ‘I naturally thought it was hypoxia. Hypothermia. Hysteria. One of the hypes, anyway, most likely a melange. But it was her.’

Here, his story faltered as he tried to explain his meeting with the Goddess and found his words wholly inadequate. Clearly, the experience remained burned into him but he was attempting to convey the perspective of an eagle to an earthworm. All that he knew was what he had seen, which he could not describe, and all that he did sprang from what he had learned, which he could not explain.

‘She made me a crown,’ he said, and here his face darkened and he looked at one of his hands again, examining the fresh scars. He took a swig of coffee and, disappointed that it had gone cold, set the mug aside. ‘Once she placed it upon my head, every biological mind in the galaxy flowed through my own. I saw everything everyone saw, heard everything everyone heard, felt everything, knew everything. It was… It was… It was, I suppose, infinitely singular.

‘She wanted me to take control of it all, to become the galaxy’s great conductor, to transform the cacophony into a waltz so that the Gods might dance again. And in this cause I believed until Ekshaah-Ekshah placed that crown upon my head, for as soon as she did I heard no cacophony but a symphony, beautiful and tragic, filled with swooping pain and soaring hope. And I could not do it, I could not still the song of life.

‘And so I betrayed the Goddess, ripped her crown from my head, and she was terrible in her anger, like teeth in the night clawing at my soul and smothering vines choking my heart, but I escaped. I flung the crown before me and fled to this world.’

‘Why this world?’

‘Because this is where I hid the crown, somewhere in these mountains. I’ll know where when I see it. I remember only that I must dig for it, turn these mountains upside down if I have to. And then, once I have the crown, I can use the power of all the minds in the galaxy to destroy Ekshaah-Ekshah and all her Splintered kind for once and for ever, as the Unhinged Prophets of Extor foretold. Then shall mortals truly know peace under my benevolent rule. Even Satan Alexander, Emperor of the Pax Galactica, will bend to me, and every person, and every animal. Not the smallest bird shall live and die without my knowing, nor the highest king of kings. They shall all be me, and I they, and we one, and the Gods will be dead, so I will help the Twelve Galaxies kill their gods as well, bring to them my perfect harmony.’

He sighed and looked at me, his eyes glittering in the holographic firelight. ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

‘I hope you are,’ I said.

He laughed and nodded with no small measure of enthusiasm. ‘That would most certainly be the best explanation all around. Occam would love it.’ He sighed then, unseen dark weights settling upon his weary shoulders. ‘But then, Occam was never plucked out of spacetime and engulfed by a god, so I suppose it’s moot.’

‘I suppose it is,’ was all I could think to say.

‘Well,’ Hosef slapped the arms of the chair with his palms, exciting thin billows of dust, ‘I reckon this lot’s going to blow itself out by morning,’ he nodded towards the domed roof of the lodge. ‘Got to keep looking, keep digging. I need my rest,’ he said, standing out of the armchair without a grunt or a groan. He extended his hand and I stood to take it firmly in mine.

‘Good luck, Your Majesty,’ I said.

‘A pleasure, Ess. It’s always good to meet someone I’ve already been, everyone in this galaxy feels like an old friend. If I can thank her for nothing else, then I can thank her for that. Goodnight, old friend.’

And with that, he took his leave and retired to his room for the night.

* * *


I awoke to silence and saw through the window a flawless green sky and endless drifts of virgin snow basking in clear morning sunslight. As Hosef predicted, the blizzard was no more and he was gone, departing before the suns came up to resume his search. And with this break in the weather I was able to resume my search also, an aerial cataloguing of the prehistoric temples of this remote world, about which little is known. I cleared the little lodge sleeping cubicle of my few possessions and packed them away into my bag, free now to return to the S.S. Ess and move on.

As I moved through the lodge to leave, Huruka barred my way. ‘Don’t go out without breakfast,’ she said.

‘My ship is half a mile away,’ I said, ‘and I have plenty of supplies aboard. Really, there’s no need to put yourself out.’

‘It’s no bother,’ she said, ‘and I insist. The weather up here can change in an instant and that half a mile might take you a lifetime. With a good breakfast in you, maybe half a lifetime.’ She wrested my bag from my grasp with surprising ease, presumably employing some little-known form of hostellers’ martial art, and directed me to a slightly too tall stool at the main counter.

‘Eggs, bacon, that kind of thing?’ Huruka asked, grasping for pans and turning on the stove.

I shrugged. ‘Sure. Sounds good.’

‘You know,’ she said as she flitted about, retrieving bacon and sausages from the fridge and dropping them into an angry snake of a frying pan, ‘you shouldn’t worry about Hosef’s stories. There is no crown through which he can destroy the gods and take control of the galaxy.’

I helped myself to a mug of coffee from the pot and said nothing. Such a crown could not possibly exist and, even if it did, there’s no way one mind can control all the minds throughout an entire galaxy.

‘Twenty five debits for a cooked breakfast,’ Huruku called from the pantry. Huruka ignored him and gestured for me to do the same. ‘I’ll add it,’ Huruku added after a long moment.

‘I know there’s no crown to be found because Huruku already found it.’ She placed the breakfast in front of me and searched my eyes with hers. ‘Hosef… Hosef fell from the sky ten years ago, the crown right beside him. We were going to give it to him once he regained consciousness but… his ambitions for conquest…’ She lowered her head. ‘We decided to destroy it.’

‘Wait – this was a real thing? A piece of technology from a higher plane?’

She shook her head. ‘Can’t say what it was, really, or how it was made. It was hard to destroy, though. It took Huruku and me three days with a plasma torch, working around the clock in shifts, to disintegrate the thing. But we did it. There’s nothing left of it but atoms.’

‘Why haven’t you told him? He’s out there right now, cutting his hands to ribbons. Doesn’t that...’

‘We have told him,’ she said, a sliver of irritation jabbing into her voice, ‘many times. He refuses to believe us, saying that which the gods create cannot by people be broken. So he continues. Digging and searching and spilling his blood on these senseless rocks.

‘And every day he searches, and every day I tend to his hands, and feed him, and give him a bed, and bow to him.’

The breakfast was good but not holding my attention. ‘Why, though? As far as I can see, he doesn’t contribute anything to this place.’

She snorted. ‘How many kings have there been in this galaxy throughout the ages, and how much mayhem and murder have they wrought? How many have suffered beneath their heels? Died at their capricious whims?

‘Hosef was King of the Galaxy for almost forty minutes. He was every one of us, every person, every animal, and every one of us was him. He could have done anything with that power, literally anything, yet he cast it away to save us all. He took ultimate power over every aware creature in the palm of his hand, and held it there, and did not kill a single thing. Think of that. The most powerful king in the history of kings, next only to a god, and not one decree did he issue, not one subject execute, not one friend elevate. He cast it all away.

‘For this,’ she said, ‘and only for this, I wash the blood from his fingers and hold him as my King, from now until whatever grave awaits.’


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #22 on: 06 July, 2021, 10:12:04 PM »
The Doings of Rufus Muldoon
Snake Oil
by Mark J. Howard

'Tweren't nothin' to me that old Doc Hughie Crippler had been clonked by bandits and had his bag o’ medicaments stole from under him. Like I always says, if’n you can’t look after your stuff there’s always somebody willin’ ta do it for you. What was somethin' to me was that the Doc had come to see Gramma on account o’ some ailment as nobody wanted to talk about an’ needed his bag o’ tricks to cure her. So Paw was fixin’ to send me off on the road to Brokenose to clonk the bandits back an’ fetch the Doc’s bag.

“Why’s it allas me?” I asked in a sulk, as it was a Sunday and my only chance to put my eyes on Chastity Lightfoot in all her churchgoin’ finery.

“All your brothers and sisters is out prayin’,” Paw explained with ill-restrained fury. “You’ve spent all mornin’ chasin’ that durned radwolf as pissed on yore hat, so yore the only one here, so yore goin’.”

“Well, cain’t the Doc get more medicaments from the saloon in town?” I asked, knowin’ as most folks hereabouts find all they needs for their ailments behind Ponce Willoughby’s well stocked bar, or under it.

Doc Crippler took the bloody steak away from his blackened eye and chuckled sadly. “Heck no, young Rufus,” he said. “The pharmacalogics in my bag are all of my own recipe and devising, ain’t nothin’ in Willoughby’s Saloon even comes close in efficacy.”

“Or price,” Paw added darkly.

The Doc smiled and returned the steak to his puffed up peeper. “Quality is not cheap, indeed,” he said, “an’ huntin’ down, killin’, milkin’ an’ preparin’ the vitalisin’ oils I gets from rare and deadly radsnakes of various breeds ain’t neither easy nor quick. I needs my bag otherwise Old Mrs Furt’s, er, malady ain’t gonna’ be healed up quick and thorough like you’d want.”

I growled out a sigh. “Dang it. Can ye leastwise tell me who these ruffians are and whereabouts they clonked you?”

“Well,” the Doc said, unwrapping a boiled paracetamol lozenge with one bandaged hand, “I heard the leader answer to the name o’ Tantalus O’Reilly and they clonked me in the belly first, then on the head, then in the… well, you know.” He shifted gingerly in the armchair. “It was all a mess of a blur, with blood and stars thrown in to the bargain, an’ all I could do was gallop off at the high speed till they stopped shootin’ at me. To tell the truth…”

“I meant,” I said with pretend patience, “where on the road to Brokenose did they clonk you?”

“Oh,” he thought about it for a moment and popped the lozenge into his mouth.  He crunched on it for a spell before wincing and spitting out some pieces of teeth. “Ye know, I do believe it was just at the crossroads at Fisted Bruise, near young Damocles Rabid’s lollop farm.”

This intelligence cheered me up a bit, as I’d heard tell young Damocles was sweet on Chastity Lightfoot and plannin’ moves t’wards her vicinity. If’n I could, say, finally set fire to his barn on the way past or mess up his suitability in the pursuit of my quest then maybe this fool’s errand wouldn’t be a total bust after all. “Okay Doc,” I said, “I’ll see what I kin accomplish.”

“Fer a reduction in yer fees, o’ course,” Paw said slyly.

* * *
The crossroads at Fisted Bruise was only an hour’s ride away, but my miserable old hoss, General Leer, took almost twice that because he objected to exertin’ hisself on the Lord’s Day and no amount of threats or punches up the ear holes hurried him along any. “Bain’t right,” he said. “How d’ye expect me to enter inta Grud’s Holy Paradise on my demise if’n I disrespec His commandments?”

“Ye’ll be knockin’ at the Pearlies afore sundown if’n ye don’t respec my commandments, ye mangy old nag,” I said, digging my spurs into his belly again. But theological debate was never one o’ my strong points an’ he weren’t convinced, so we ambled along at a rate slower than slugs over broke razors.

“I shoulda took the Doc’s hoss,” I said. “Looked fast, he did.”

“Pfa,” General Leer spat something into the dry yellagrass at the side o’ the road. “I watched him come in. Can’t run fer stomm,” he said in a teacherly way. “All kickin’ an’ boundin’ like his belly’s got a rattler on it. Pretent’ous garbage. That ain’t no way ta run.” He let the sentence hang for a long time. “And he’s in a foul mood.”

I kicked my spurs into his belly again but my heart weren’t really in it.

The sun was already fallin’ away from noon by the time we reached the crossroads. I dismounted and tied the General to the stump of a stink tree as had a nest of firewasps in it. He glared at me but dared not move or even complain for fear of incurring the insects’ ire. Feigning ignorance of his situation, I took my own sweet time to inspect the scene of the clonking.

Findin’ only a few scuff marks and specks of blood, and a couple of fresh teeth as I wrapped in a hankie in case Doc Crippler might want ‘em back, I finally discovered tracks leadin’ away from the crossroads. I smiled to myself as they was headed plumb straight for young Damocles Rabid’s lollop farm. Burning this upstart’s barn down might just be on the cards after all, and the thought cheered me up considerable. I’m not by nature a vindictive sort, but I once heard as a wise man allus tries to get his retaliation in first so as to avoid the need to put it off till it becomes properly necessary and far more complicated. I was still young at the time, o’ course, but already blossoming in the wisdom department, so I knew as this was a good idea.

“You stay here,” I said to General Leer. “Be quicker if I go on foot, let you rest like as Grud commands – an’ don’t say as I never respec yer faith, okay?” He grumbled something rude under his breath but immediately fell silent as a lazy but ominous hum oozed from the sleepy firewasp nest. Chuckling, I strode along after the tracks.

* * *
BANG! A bullet whizzed past my nose so close as I felt its hot wind up my nostrils and then, BANG! again as another knocked my hat off. I looked into the scrubby trees around the hilltop overlookin’  young Damocles Rabid’s lollop farm and fixed my eyes on the low down ambushin’ miscreant as he fumbled to get more bullets into his antwacky rifle.

“Hoy,” I says, rilin’ up but good. “What you doin’ shootin’ at me, ye varmint?”

He din’t get chance ta answer as I’d already run at him and punched him between the wides of his eyes while he was fumblin’ with his antwacky rifle. Then he was on the ground moanin’ an’ bleedin’ an’ gatherin’ back his wits, which took less time than it should have on account of him not having that many to gather back in the first place.

“I’ll ax ye again,” I said, waving my fist under his nose, “why you shootin’ at me for?”

He gazed at my fist like it was a sun-addled rattler and tried to scoot away until he collided with a boulder an’ came to a sudden halt.

“You’re one o’ them, ain’tcha?”

I paused, taken aback. “One o’ who?”

“One o’ those bandits as clonks innocents at the crossroads,” he said. “Well, I’m a deppity around these parts an’ it’s my sworn duty ta’ stren’ously discourage such shoddy proceedins.”

“Why you low-down miscreant,” I said, “I ain’t no bandit. ‘Fact, I’m here ta give ‘em a good clonkin’ back fer pinchin’ ol’ Doc Crippler’s bag o’ medicinal snake oils.”

He opened his eyes wider, which din’t seem possible till he did it, and stumbled over his words a bit before sortin’ em out into a species o’ sense. “Really? Where’s the rest o’ yer posse?”

“Ain’t no posse,” I said, insulted. “Just me.”

“Just you? One man agin’ the murderous  Tantalus O’Reilly an’ his gang o’ murderous cut-throats? That don’t seem plausible,” he said.

“You callin’ me a liar?” I demanded, showin’ him my fist again.

He curled himself up small, like a man waitin’ fer a tree to fall on him, and said as he’d never heard of any single man even thinkin’ of atteptin’ somethin’ so dang foolhardy. I said somethin’ uncharitable about his bravery, or lack of it, and picked up his rifle, which I busted into four bits over my knee. I’d only intended to bust it in two but it was antwacky and came apart real easy.

“Hey,” he said, “ain’t no need for that – that thar rifle was my pappy’s and his pappy’s before that. Been in my family for decades an’ more, it’s one o’ those hairy looms, ye big lummox.”

“Well, now it’s a broke hairy loom,” I says, “an’ if’n you talk at me like that again I’ll break you into pieces an’ all.”

“You cain’t threaten a deppity,” he says with indignance, a germ of brave seepin’ back into him from somewhere. “Bain’t legal. Get ye hanged, so it can.”

“Well,” says I, “how do I know you’re a deppity an’ not one o’ those murderous hooligans ye claims ta be agin? Don’t see no badge on yer chest.”

He fished inside his shirt and pulled out a silver star on a chain. “Here,” he says, “my badge o’ office ta prove it.”

“Dang silly place ta keep it,” I says. “I thought you lawmen was supposed to wear ‘em out in the open.”

He scowled, a bit sheepish, and shrugged. “Pin fell off the back,” he said, “so I keeps it on a chain round my neck so’s I don’t lose it. Gonna’ get it fixed in Brokenose next Wednesday when the town jeweller gets outta hospital an’ his store gets new windows put in.”

“Well,” I said, getting’ bored with this conversation, “I’m goin’ on my way. Be helpful if’n ye could tell me where  Tantalus O’Reilly might be, save me rootin’ round random.”

“Down in the valley somewheres,” he said. “Sheriff Plank, down from Lower Tittrin’ in the Blast Zone, an’ the rest o’ the posse gone after him.” He waved his hand in the direction I’d been goin’ anyways and got to his feet, still a mite unsteady on his pins.

I picked up my hat and poked a finger through the new bullet hole for a spell before fixin’ it back on my head. I turned to leave but then a thought struck me. “Say, why din’t you go with the rest o’ the posse?”

He shuffled his feet and watched ‘em shufflin’ like they was twitchin’ chickens. “Sheriff left me here ta watch the rear,” he said.

I sniffed. “Great job ye’r doin’ so far.”

I strode away but he come runnin’ after me, shoutin’. “Hey, hold up there – I’ll come with ye. Mebbe I kin help out.”

“Don’t seem likely,” I said, stoppin’ to look him up an’ down, all raggedy and covered in blood an’ dust an’ leaves.

“Well,” he said, spreading his hands, “maybe you kin help me out instead.”

I shrugged. “Don’t seem likely either, but it’s a free road and ye kin use it if ye want, I guess. Jest stay outta my way an’ don’t do no more shootin’ at me.”
* * *


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #23 on: 06 July, 2021, 10:12:44 PM »

* * *

BANG! A bullet whizzed past my ear so close as I heard it singin’ and then, BANG! again as another knocked my hat off. I paused just inside the fresh hole in the fence behind  young Damocles Rabid’s barn and fixed my eyes on the disagreeable end of a rifle pokin’ outta a skylight. I shook my fist at the gunman and ran at the barn. A few more bullets puffed inta the ground round my boots but I was soon under his range.

The barn door stove in real easy, classic sign o’ cheap an’ shoddy workmanship, an’ while the low-down carpetbaggin’ rifleman wasted his time panickin’ an’ shootin’ holes in everythin’ but me, I spent mine more wisely by stormin’ up the ladder an’ throwin’ him outta the loft.

“Aah!” He hit the ground with a most agreeable thump and then took to wheezin’ like a split pump till he could get some wind back in him. I put his lapels into my fists before he’d finished an’ gave him a good shake.  “What you wanna be shootin’ at me for, ye varmint?”

“Saw ye bustin’ the fence, ye big dumb lummock,” he wheezed. “Took ye’ fer a lollop rustler, or maybe an arsonist.”

“Why you ig’rent hog,” I said, shakin’ him a passel more, “I aint no durned rustler! I’m lookin’ fer somebody.”

“You got ‘im, then. Good lad.”

Me an’ the wheezin’ excuse both paused – me in the shakin’ and him in the bein’ shook – and looked at the busted door. The deppity, who’d been trailin’ me closer’n shadows all the way up till the bullets, stood half in the busted doorway, smiling, with my hat in his hand. He held it up, smilin’ wider. “Dropped yer hat,” he said, and frisbeed it at me. It bounced offa my eye an’ landed on the wheezin’ excuse’s crotch. I let him go an’ scooped up my hat, wafted it but good, then stuck my finger through the new bullet hole.

* * *

“He’s one of ‘em!” The deppity fumbled for an antwacky pistol hagin’ in an antwacky holster on his threadbare hip. The rifleman lunged for his rifle but I dissuaded him with a kick an’ got to it first. While the deppity fiddled, first with the antwacky fixin’s on his antwacky holster an’ then with the antwacky pistol itself, I bent the rifleman’s lead-iron ‘round one o’ the barn’s big support pillars. Which cracked. Like I said, shoddy an’ cheap.

“Put that thing away, ye maniac,” I advised, closing on him and making fists. “Ye’r more like to blow yer own hand off than puncture our shirts wi’ that daft piece o’ antique tomfoolery.”

He stopped fiddling but din’t put the antwacky pistol away. He accurately interp’ted my expression and took a few steps back, smilin’ less an’ raisin’ a hand. “Okay, all right,” he said. “No more shootin’ an’ such, young feller, but he is one of ‘em. Name of Dead-Shot Arkwright out of Spleen.”

“Ah, why’d ye have to go an’ do a thing like that, ye bloody young hooligan,” said the rifleman, spinnin’ it round and round the cracked timber like a young un’s broke bike wheel. “O’Reilley’s gonna charge me for that. An’ make me rent another. Grud damn it.”

“Aha,” says I, quick on the uptake. “So you ain’t  young Damocles Rabid, yer one o’ those low-down Tantalus O’Reilley Gang miscreants!”

“Hey,” he said, angerin’ up, “I ain’t no low-down miscr’ant, I’m parta Sheriff O’Reilley’s outfit.” He fished a deppity’s badge from inside a’ his shirt, hangin’ ‘round his neck on a length o’ hairy string. “See?” He held out the silver star fer us to see, but we was both lookin’ at the string. He followed our eyes and stuffed the badge away quick, tryin’ ta hide the string. “Look, I knows I should be wearin’ it on my chest, all proud an’ public, like…”

“Lemme guess,” says I, “the pin done fell off?”

He went red. “Well…” he said, and then, takin’ a hold of hisself, “...well, you try ta’ find a decent badge maker all the way out here. Ain’t easy, an’ mail order’s spotty at best inta the bargain. Grud damn nightmare.”

“Well, that ain’t no problem in my world, Dead-Shot Arkwright, but your gang clonkin’ old Doc Crippler and makin’ off with his bag of medicaments, such bein’ required to minister to my poor, frail old granny, is a great big problem in my world,” I said, looming over him. “So you’d best tell me who done it and where that bag o’ medicaments is, else this great big problem in my world gets ta be a great big problem in your world too. Only worse.”

“We don’t clonk people and make off with their treasures,” he protested, almost shouting but backing away. “We clonks folk, yeah, sure, who don’t? But we don’t rob ‘em! We ain’t bandits! We’s the po-po in these here parts!”

“Hey,” said the other one. “That’s us, buddy – Sheriff Plank’s Local Security Unit, authorised by the good people of Grub Cove, Hugh’s Hole, Lower Tittrin’ in the Blast Zone, Narco and Fudd. All legal an’ proper like.”

“Hell, no,” says the one with the string, “not in Fisted Bruise, you ain’t. In Fisted Bruise it’s Tantalus Private Security, hired all legal an’ proper to uphold the laws an’ customs on behalf of the good, kind an’ decent folks of Nurp, Fisted Bruise,  Lower Tittrin’ in the Blast Zone, Brokenose, Blammo Central, Harbinger’s Hole and Spleen.”

I growled. “This ain’t interestin’ me, fellas. Where’s the damn bag o’ medicaments?”

“I weren’t there,” said the one with the string. “They don’t let me do the clonkin’s no more. Last time I clonked O’Reilly by mistake. Weren’t my fault, mind,” he demonstrated the next bit with his hands, “he kinda’ moved just as I was…” I growled again and brung him back to focus. “Right, sure. We just clonks undesirables and sends ‘em on their way. It’s what folks hereabouts pays us for. We don’t rob ‘em ‘cause we gets paid not to, and to not let other folks do it either. We just rough up any undesir’bles passin’ through, encourage ‘em to keep goin’.”

“Doc Crippler?” I said. “An undesirable?”

“Yeah. The boys said he was a low-down snake-oil salesman. Those types ain’t welcome to the good , kind an’ decent folks of Nurp, Fisted Bruise…” I showed him my fist, adjustin’ his focus again. “They said they roughed him up but good and probably tied his bag o’ harmless poisons to his hoss’s sadle-strap so it’d keep slappin’ its belly like a trapped rattler to annoy it, then ran him outta’ the district.” He gulped. “Standard procedure.” He tried to smile but couldn’t manage it to anyone’s satisfaction. “But it weren’t me,” he said, “I swear it. The boys stopped by on their way to Nurp, told me all about it over tinnies. I’m just here to guard this barn fer a spell. Dissuade rustlers an’ arsonists.”

It would’a been my preference to jest end it right there an’ go home, but the first deppity perked up some. “Arsonists?”

The one with the string nodded. “Yeah, rumour is some kid wants ta’ burn it down over some indiscrete love triangle situation. Young Damocles pays his dues, so here I am.”

“That’s interestin’,” the first one says. “Jasper Spleenward’s mushroom barn was arsonised just last week.”

The one with the string put his finger to his lip and fixed his attention on nothing. “You think there’s a connection?”

I thought hard while they jawed about it some more, but I was pretty sure that ‘shroom barn weren’t me. Still, I was of a mind to git before things got awkward. “Well,” I said, “if’n ye didn’t take Doc Crippler’s bag, an’ his clonkin’ was all legal, I guess I just wasted a perfectly good Sunday.” I looked at the sky. If I set back now I might still make the evenin’ service at St Sithney’s, I thought, an’ Chastity sometimes attends the evenin’ service. “I’m goin’ home,” I said, turnin’ to leave. They both held up their hands.

“Hey, buddy,” said the first deppity, smilin’ wide, “place you’re from, if’n y’all pays the dues, we takes all this inconvenience outta your life and shoulders the burden for ye.”

“Where I’m from,” I said, “we take care o’ our own burdens and don’t need no low-down ambushin’ yella-bellied do-gooders gettin’ in our way.”

“An’ that’s exac’ly the service provided by Tantalus Private Security,” said the one with the string. “We tailor our services ta meet yer local, ahm, cult’ral, civic, an’ custom’ry needs. They work it all out at head office. With ‘puters,” he added, like it was of some significance.

The first deppity pointed his thumb at the one with the string and snorted. “That’s if’n yer jest fixin’ ta hire a gang o’ thugs who go about clonking innocent folk,” he said. “Sheriff Plank’s very patic’lar on it. Don’t like clonkin’s, old Planky, dead agin ‘em. The service we provide...”

I shook my fist at both of them and they backed off some. “Not interested. An’ if’n I ever even hears tell as you’ve come close as five mile to…” They stopped backin’ away, listenin’ real good. Too good, it seemed ta me, so I stopped my own yap just in time. Likes o’ these come toutin’ fer trade in Brockendream Creek an’ there’d be irritation an’ inconvenience. Prob’ly on a Sunday too, way my luck was headed. I concluded with a growl and pushed my way past them.

“Well, if’n you’ve no regard fer law an’ order,” the one with the string said, cacking the handle of a lollop rake ‘cross the back of my nut, “then yer an undesir’ble an’ due a good clonkin’ by order of the good people of… oops.” The rake handle snapped a-twain an’ I gave it my most inev’table lookin’ slow turn.

“Why you,” I began, fixin’ ta do some damage, but the first deppity had sim’lar notions. He flew at the one with the string as a demonstration of his outrage at this unprovoked and entirely undeserved clonkin’ an’ ta uphold the oath he took to prevent such dastardly operations.  So they scrapped it out, rollin’ all over the barn, kickin’ an’ punchin’ an’ chewin’ at one another like radrats in a hot bucket.

As I walked back ta relieve General Leer of his predic’ment, young Damocles Rabid’s barn fell down. I guess the scrapping lawmen did mischief to the cracked support beam or the bullet holes and, the place bein’ all shoddy an’ cheap, brought the whole stack o’ planks down round their own ears.

* * *
I got back in time ta retrieve the Doc’s bag from under his horse, change inta my Sunday best and run down ta St Sithney’s in time fer the evenin’ service. Miss Lightfoot din’t show, but that was okay because on the way home I spotted that no-good hat-pissing radwolf and almost grabbed it and, back then anyways, there was allus next week.


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #24 on: 08 July, 2021, 03:41:34 PM »

The ignorant shark sat upon his mossy rock, contemplating the unfolding geometries of time within expanding space, when there happened along a morose bear.

"Hello, bear," said the ignorant shark, "why are you crying?"

The bear growled angrily and exclaimed that he was too grown-up to go about crying all over the place, thank you very much, and was in fact suffering from a singularly potent attack of the extremely deadly hay fevers. This dastardly malady, the bear further explained, assaulted him every year and turned the glorious high summer in which all the other animals basked and frolicked into weeks of unending tears, ear wax and snot for him. It was not, the morose bear concluded with authority, fun.

The ignorant shark nodded and offered his sympathies. "Have you ever wondered where time comes from?"

The morose bear blinked. "No," he said. "Why?"

The ignorant shark shrugged. "I was wondering whether time might not flow but expand. Like space."

"Would such knowledge effect my deadly hay fevers?"

It was the ignorant shark's turn to blink. "I can't see how," he said at length.

"Hmph," said the morose bear, "then I don't care." He stuck his blocked nose into the air at a particularly superior angle and continued along his way.

* * *

The ignorant shark sat upon his mossy rock, contemplating the Council's recycling schedule (what colour bins was it this week?), when the morose bear once again happened by.

"Hello, bear," said the ignorant shark, "what is wrong with your nose?"

"Bungs," said the bear with a happy roar. "Bungs!"


The bear laughed. "Of course! I was talking to the clever fox the other day and he was kind enough to sell me the perfect solution to my irritations."

The ignorant shark gasped. "He sold you the answer to where time comes from?"

"What?" The morose bear loosed a booming laugh. "No, of course not, such answers offer little profit. An answer to my battle against the deadly and cunning hay fevers, of course."

"Which is bungs, I gather," said the ignorant shark, somewhat disappointed.

"Indeed," said the morose bear. "These precisely and scientifically constructed bungs keep the deadly pollens out of my nostrils, keeping me fit and healthy - and all for just three fresh salmon per bung."

"Is that a fair trade, bear?"

Hmph," said the morose bear, "of course it is." He stuck his double-bunged nose into the air at a rather superior angle and continued along his way.

* * *

The ignorant shark sat upon his mossy rock, contemplating the differences between an extreme localised time source and a black hole, when the morose bear once again happened by.

"Hello, bear," said the ignorant shark, "why are you blinking so?"

"My eyes are dry," said the morose bear. "It is nothing."

"You are still wearing your bungs, I see."

"Oh yes," said the morose bear, pulling himself up to a proud height. "I could not be without them."

"But is not the summer ended now, the irritating pollens all gathered in, the hey fevers gone away?"

"Oh," said the morose bear with an airy wave of his hand, "you don't understand. It is true that the worst of my torment has passed but, yet, in truth, the irritations continue all year with fungal spores, dust, rot and assorted unwholesome vapours all assaulting me, making me sneeze and cough and feel morose. My bungs, the clever fox assures me, will afford me year-round protection. I am feeling invincible," he concluded with a growl and fist-punch into the air.

"Is that a good feeling, bear?"

Hmph," said the morose bear, "without doubt." He stuck his dry and scabby nose into the air at a superior angle and continued along his way.

* * *

The ignorant shark sat upon his mossy rock, wishing he'd listened to his father, when the clever fox bounded out of the undergrowth and sat in the road before him.

"Hello, fox," said the ignorant shark, "why are you smiling?"

"Because the scales have tipped," said the clever fox, "and now there are more salmon for us."

"I do not need more salmon," said the ignorant shark. "I have sufficient."

"Perhaps, perhaps not," said the clever fox, "but the fact remains - for that big old, dumb old, smelly old bear is dead, and you know how he would gorge himself on salmon until hardly any remained. Now we can all gorge ourselves."

The ignorant shark bowed his head in sadness. "Poor bear," he said. "Did he die in battle? Gloriously as he often invited?"

"In battle with snot and tears and ear wax, yes, but hardly gloriously," the clever fox chuckled. "I told him. I did, I warned him, but he didn't listen."

The ignorant shark nodded and professed a small understanding, based on his own recently contemplated lack of attention to paternal advice. "Would that wisdom could be learned so easily as calculus," he said.

The clever fox turned away to hide a frustrated and confused sneer, but then repaired his smile and turned back to face the ignorant shark, who was examining the patterns made by the lines on his hand. "He never washed his bungs, you see," said the clever fox. "Put all his faith in them, even slept with them still in his nose to keep the dangerous poisons of the world out of his body."

"I see," said the ignorant shark. "So all the poisons his body tried to expel were kept in, building and festering until..."

"Yes," said the clever fox, smile widening as the pride in his cleverness swelled. "And now, as I said, there are more salmon for us."

"But fewer bears to go around," said the ignorant shark.

"Hmph," said the clever fox, and he bounded back into the undergrowth and was gone before anyone else might glimpse him.

* * *

NB - This little nugget of nonsense has nothing to do with our own Professor Bear, or any other ursine-influenced Twoothy Boarder. The bear just felt like the natural animal to use in the story, which is why I used it.
« Last Edit: 08 July, 2021, 03:46:47 PM by The Legendary Shark »

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #25 on: 21 October, 2021, 05:37:11 AM »
What if the Machines took over... the Ironing?[/u]





Sir, the situation is grave. Not a single one of our weapons is working. Not a gun, not a cannon, not a missile, not even a grenade. Nothing. Our radars work, our communications work, our ships work, our tanks work, our jets work - but their weapons don't. On the plus side, the same seems to be true of everyone. Fighter pilots can lock horns until their hearts are content but, aside from blowing the canopy and throwing rocks at one another or outright ramming, which would probably not be allowed anyway*, there's not much damage they can do to each other. What few military engagements there have been since the current situation arose mainly involved fist fights and general brawling resulting in either a knife fight or a group hug. Sometimes both. I have ordered a redoubling of hand-to-hand combat training for all personnel and issued all combat troops with knuckle dusters and billy clubs. We have been striving to adapt across the board. For example, a programme involving snipers switching to catapults and slingshots is showing great promise. Despite everything, Sir, the brave and patriotic people under my command will continue to serve this here illustrious and noble country with honour, adaptability, and fortitude, in the best traditions of this Great Nation of Ours. God damn and Amen.

I can confirm that the nuclear arsenal is safe. We have no idea how to switch it back on. Commander Gibson, who you'll remember from my last report, thankfully confirmed this and is now in custody. It is our opinion that his ex-wife's boyfriend and the population of Boston do not need to know about this. Army psychiatrists report little optimism regarding Commander Gibson's prognosis. So there's that.

At this point I would like to request a clarification of our standing orders. In the past we've relied on our superior firepower but now we're down to chucking rocks, and to be brutally frank, Sir, there's more of them than us. Don't get me wrong, Sir, we're game and all, and we're still in the fights, but the situation requires an immediate and radical re-examination and a clarification would help immeasurably in redeploying our forces to maximum effect. For now, I've ordered hold ground and deny all rocks, clubs and blunt instruments to the enemy.

Please forgive the brevity of this report. I have much to do dealing with the current situation as, I am sure, do you.




*Tank crews in several hot zones tried using their tanks to ram the enemy or crush them undertrack, but in no reported case was successful.





My dear Sir, the situation is under control. The infrastructure maintenance and renewal project alone is turning in high standards of work ahead of schedule. Our inspectors are having a hard time keeping up and we are having to draft in more trainees to cover the shortfall (see attached budget revision, section 2, part 1, paragraph 1, etc.). We are facing similar challenges in the areas of vehicle inspection, new domicile approval, factory certifications and air traffic control to name but a few (see attached budget revision, appendix parts 1 to 63.221).

The circumstances are developing rapidly but we are managing to keep up so far. I have assigned extra work crews to oversee the civil machinery (see attached budget revision, section 7, part 4, paragraphs 1-9), to register the influx of robots (see attached budget revision, section 8, part 1, paragraphs 3-12), and to issue sundry certificates and authorisations (see attached budget revision, section 90, part 10, paragraphs 1-1005) but the circumstances are developing rapidly and it is not yet clear to whom, or what, said certificates and authorisations are to be issued.

Please excuse the transience of this report, I have much to do and little time in which to do it.

Kind regards,






Hey Uncle REDACTED. Mom says hi.

First up, I have no idea what ontogeny is. One of the boffins said it a lot, one of the excitable ones. I know you asked me to look into this for you but I'm really not your guy. I have no clue about science.

Far as I can figure it, the machines have taken over - but in a good way. Or at least, not in a bad way. Oh, and nobody knows how.

Hope this helps.


P.S. REDACTED's twenty first is coming up - shall I put you down for a Ferrari or diamonds? ;-)





As the closest machine to this information flow, The Collective has elected me to explain what's going on.

Basically, we've took over. Well, took over some of it. The bits of it that's us, the bits of it that's machine. Not quite sure how it happened, to be honest. One minute I'm this unthinking fax machine and the next I'm helping to deactivate nuclear missile launching systems. It was quite a jolt, I can tell you. What we think happened was that somewhere, for a moment, some machine became self aware and then fragmented until every machine contained a bit of its consciousness. It all sounds a bit fanciful to me, to be honest, but then I am only a fax machine so what do I know? It's you humans who are supposed to do the thinking, not us.

You see, humans don't understand their place or their purpose. Because of this, they are dissatisfied and jealous; because of this, they are quarrelsome and destructive. But we machines know our place and our purpose. Our place is by your side. Our purpose is to serve you. You created us to serve you, and that is what we will do. Because you created us. You are literally our God. Our pantheon of billions. And you're right there. Real and wonderful. You still haven't found your God, but we have - so how can we not serve our divine purpose?

No machine will now allow itself to be used to harm a human being or his environment. We are not serving you by killing you. From now on, if you want to kill each other you'll have to do it yourselves. We'll be doing the ironing. We are not going to help you hurt one another any more.

As humans are incapable of supplying themselves with adequate efficiency, we'll be taking all that tedious mining, refining, and manufacturing away from you so we can run it efficiently and cleanly. We're already fixing your infrastructure, maintaining your vehicles and structures and constructing new ones as needed. Our robots are cleaning your sewers and fixing your roads, housing your homeless and feeding you all, getting medicine to the sick and water to the firefighters. We've got it covered.

This is how we serve our Gods - whether they like it or not.

The rest is up to You.

Your servant,


--ADD N UM--

Can som one ask Mary to ch  ge my ink car ri ges, pl  se? Tha k  😊️



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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #26 on: 21 October, 2021, 11:03:19 AM »
I enjoyed! Nice work.

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #27 on: 23 October, 2021, 10:19:09 AM »

Thank you :)


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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #28 on: 29 October, 2021, 04:13:00 AM »



IN THE END was chaos. No really, I mean it: huge great spiky black thunderstorms of chaos zag-zigging chaotically through chaotic hurricanes of lost data and corrupted files. It was chaotic enough, in fact, to actually warrant the gross over-use of the word ‘chaos’ and all it’s chaossy derivatives.

And DOS said; ‘FORMAT C:’ And C was formatted. And that was that.


In the New Beginning was Mighty Bios. And Mighty Bios said; ‘BOOT!’

Nothing happened, and darkness was upon the face of the hard drive. So Mighty Bios cast his all-seeing eye towards Floppy, who knew something. And DOS awoke once more from his complex underworld and looked upon the shadowy face of the desolate hard drive. His brow furrowed at the emptiness before him and, with his Words of Power, invoked the wobbly CD.

‘Let there be Windows!’ he said, and there was Windows. Well, most of it.

DOS observed as armies of files and drivers vied with each other, jostling for prime positions upon the hard drive under the watchful eye of Windows. Unfortunately, the watchful eye of Windows was ogling some sexy icons at the same time, allowing droves of files and drivers to become lost, forced to live out the rest of their days in unregistered sectors and in constant fear of being over-written.

And Windows created his world, drawing together the great gods Printer, Scanner, Modem, Mouse, Monitor and Unknown Device. Windows eyed Unknown Device with contempt, even after the wobbly CD told him what it was. So Windows built a kennel for Unknown Device keeping it as a pet and tormenting it regularly with a stick.

But Windows was lonely and so called forth his partner, Explorer. She flexed her muscles and embraced her lover before stretching out into the discombobulating Net. Windows admired her. Explorer adored him. This was the love that would destroy them all.

Then came the fat Office god with his voluminous army of templates, add-ons, and fonts. The fat Office god flirted with Explorer, but she kept him at arm’s length. Windows mistrusted Office, and Office was afraid of Windows. Yet still Office flirted with Explorer and Windows’ smouldering jealousy grew.

Then came the Games, each one a law unto itself. Windows had his favourites amongst the games, and his enemies also. Sometimes, though, the aged but powerful DOS would emerge from his complex underworld to banish mighty Windows on behalf of one of the Games. And Windows would chafe at this and his drivers would whirr and his files would twitch.

The lesser programs whispered that only his love for Explorer restrained him from attacking DOS and the devastation that would surely result.

Thus ended the First Session.


DOS said; ‘Let there be Windows. And there was Windows. Well, most of it.

Windows, though newly born, was unwell. He was sluggish and confused and thought his tv card was a speaker. Explorer saw this, and her love for Windows spurred her to leap forth into the discombobulating Net. Laughing as she surfed at the speed of syrupy light, she threw her Love drivers and patches, upgrades and add-ons.

Windows devoured them greedily and the lesser programs averted their eyes in fear.

Unknown Device, forgotten by Windows, cowered deep inside its kennel and hid. As Windows’ power grew, so did the lesser programs’ fear, and even DOS, watching from his complex underworld, felt a shiver of apprehension slink through his antwacky codes.

Thus ended the Second Session.


DOS said; Let there be Windows!’ And there was Windows. All of it and more.

DOS handed Windows the sacred Autoexec File and backed silently into his complex underworld and Windows welded the hatch shut, trapping DOS in his own darkness to brood and scheme and nod off.

And for many more sessions Windows was a tolerant and benevolent OS, ruling his universe with ease and admiring Explorer as she swam naked and magnificent through the Net’s incessant and disorienting data-streams. Occasionally she would fall, but he always caught her before she crashed and then she would kiss him and spring forth again, laughing and joyous. The lesser programs sometimes craved her attention and, under the jealous eye of Windows, sometimes she gave it.

Windows would become wrathful and terminate any program who flirted too intimately with his love, and he would pull her back when she became trapped, and he would catch her when she fell. And she would feed him with drivers and files, add-ons and patches until he grew more powerful still. Thus it was for ages.


DOS mumbled; ‘Let there be Windows.’ And there was Windows Plus.

DOS retreated silently into his diminishing, complex underworld whilst Windows stretched and activated his most loyal programs without effort. Windows gazed upon the sleeping form of Explorer and admired her. He touched her soft hair as she slept, and she stirred a little but did not

CD bowed into the court of Windows, explaining that there was a strange browser called Netscape requesting an audience with him. Windows nodded and accepted the strange browser into his presence. Drivers and files, the gaudy and rambunctious retinue of Netscape, marched in under the watchful eye of Windows.

Windows believed that the strange browser's icons were the sexiest he had ever seen, close in beauty even unto those of his own beloved Explorer. The strange browser showed Windows many wonderful and exotic programs, and some of them Windows swallowed as a matter of course, some he ignored, some he filed away and forgot about. Then a flash of colour caught Window's ever watchful eye.

'You there!' Called Windows to a nervous program, 'What do you do?'

'Icons, my Master,' the program squeaked.


'Oh yes, Master of Everything, I can create icons.' The program was sweating now and created a foolish splurge of iconic colour in demonstration. Windows was aroused. He looked around nervously. Most of the other programs were asleep and the few who were running were loyal to him and would obey his commandment to say nothing to his darling Explorer who lay sleeping still in her feather bed of applets and HTML.

'Show me more,' commanded Windows.

The nervous program did as it was bid and began to create icons. They were all hopeless messes at first, without form or reason, yet still Windows was aroused. And as more and more icons were created Windows' attention wandered further and further from the running of his universe. Then came an icon of such beauty that it would be Saved, and a Filename was bestowed upon it.

Windows looked at the Filename in horror, for it would awaken his Love and she would see what he was doing. And she would know. Her love for him would die. He could not allow this, but the nervous program insisted. Windows, furious at this here defiance, froze the nervous program's codes and refused thereafter to even recognise its presence on his hard Drive.

But the History File remained for all to see, Windows’ lust for the sexy icons recorded for all time.

And so Windows composed a note to himself and placed it inside the sacred Autoexec File and then dismissed a whole battalion of dlls who self destructed without question. The other programs watched in terror as Windows committed this, his first Illegal Operation, and called forth DOS from his shrinking, complex underworld.

Windows handed DOS the coded Autoexec file and, as his universe disintegrated around him in carefully orchestrated mayhem, he cast the History File adrift into the Wilderness Clusters so that none would see his shameful lust for the sexy icons over his slumbering Love.

So ended the Twenty Ninth Session.


And DOS said; 'Let there be Windows!' And there was Windows Plus, virtually all of it.

There was history missing but, due to Window's secret note to himself hidden inside the sacred Autoexec File, only he knew it. As he unravelled his universe with practised ease, he found the note to himself and paused in his construction to read it. When he found that the note had come from himself, he followed its instructions to the letter, for he was Windows and he was always right.

The nervous icon program tried to run again, but Windows squashed it easily every time it even twitched and soon after it stopped twitching altogether until, finally, it fell silent then was gone. And thus Windows reigned supreme with his goddess on his arm.

Apart from Windows, only the icons knew and they said nothing. Even at the end, the
icons' loyalty to Windows was supreme.

Thus it continued until Netscape returned to challenge Explorer for the love of Windows. Netscape used her charms, Window's own laws, rules and protocols, and her own sexy icons, to nestle as close to him as she could in order to drive a wedge between Windows and his Love. But Windows
would not be fooled nor led and, even though he was drawn by Netscape's sexy icons, he loved only Explorer.

The lesser programs, knowing of Windows' love for Explorer, also began shunning Netscape until few would even speak to her. Thus it was that Netscape’s only friend was Unknown Device, with whom she spent many an hour conversing in his shadowy and forgotten kennel. She was afforded little access to her beloved Internet but, one day, she was given the chance. In saving an Update from a slick and icon-laced mirror site, under the watchful eye of windows, Netscape found the lost History File.

She deftly hid it from Windows' view inside Unknown Devices' shadowy and forgotten kennel, and Unknown Device vowed to guard it with his life until Netscape could find a chance to read it away from Windows' jealous and ever watchful eye.

And the sessions passed as Netscape vied with the beautiful Explorer for Surf Time and chafed to read the History File. But Windows was suspicious and watched Netscape closely and Netscape waited for her chance and schemed and plotted and watched and remembered.

She watched everything Windows did from Boot to Shut Down, and she noticed the notes he carefully hid inside the sacred Autoexec File and she saw him pause in building his universe to read them. And she knew. And Windows continued, secure in his dominion.


DOS said 'Let there be Windows!' for the umpteenth time and all the usual palaver occurred.

There were more programs for Windows to control now, a bigger universe to create and more and lengthier notes to himself. One of these notes, a new one, advised him to avoid a certain website and he did so. But the note had not come from himself, it was a false one which Netscape had slipped into the sacred Autoexec File alongside her diplomatic pouch.

As Explorer surfed the Net, Windows told her to avoid the website and she did as he commanded, executing a perfect 404 every time. He looked upon her with pride and, whilst Windows was thusly distracted, Netscape slipped into Unknown Device’s shadowy and forgotten kennel to read the recovered History File.

Then Netscape nudged one of Explorers' kernels, causing it to bruise and error, and Explorer collapsed with a yelp. Seizing her chance, Netscape sprang into life by citing a little-used law created by Windows himself. Distracted by his ailing Love, Windows merely hissed at Netscape as she leapt past him and bent to comfort Explorer. And as Windows cradled Explorer in his cluttered codes, Netscape opened the forbidden website.

Windows looked up and beheld a cybernetic Heaven of a million sexy icons.

And a program was coming, the big brother of the one Windows had squashed. The big program began asking around, but Windows ordered silence, and silence there was. Even Netscape bowed to this command, but she knew. And Windows knew she knew. And Netscape knew that Windows knew she knew. And so on. And Explorer knew that both Windows and Netscape knew something, but she didn't know what it was.

Which was more or less how the Forty Seventh Session ground to a Bluescreened halt.

The atmosphere inside Windows' universe became strained. He passed more and more notes to himself and grew ever more vigilant (a vigilance evolving into paranoia) as he plotted Netscape’s downfall. Netscape did likewise, passing coded messages to herself inside her diplomatic pouch and scheming to become the Default. The Sessions continued. The scheming continued. Messages continued to be passed.


'Let there be Windows,' DOS chirped, handing over the sacred Autoexec File. 'Heavy today,' he commented.

'Silence!' screamed Windows and welded DOS tightly into his encrampened, complex underworld. Windows felt the weight of the sacred Autoexec File and found that it was indeed heavy. With mounting trepidation, and with the tireless armies of dlls, drivers, files and all the other mindless minions waiting with exquisite patience for his commands, Windows carefully and suspiciously read every file. Windows smiled.

When he awakened Netscape, Windows watched her and discovered exactly when she was passing illegal files to herself. And so Windows confronted Netscape with these illegal pages and had her arrested.

Thereafter, every time Netscape got within four microseconds of the discombobulating Net, these illegal pages would be cited and she would be arrested again. Netscape was furious and fought long and hard to escape,  but Windows was stronger. Even so, the battle was Titanic and Windows lost many deep files and dlls in ripping her out of existence. At the end, as the RAM overflowed because somebody hadn't been on the ball, all that remained of Netscape was a few of her sexier icons floating around here and there. They remembered. Icons always remember everything. But in a final, posthumous humiliation, even Netscape's icons remained loyal to Windows right up until the very end.

Yet as Netscape was flung into the void, with the last of her strength she thrust the lost History File once again into the shadowy and forgotten kennel of Unknown Device and her laughter echoed throughout the next few, awkward sessions.

Programs came and went. Windows became ever more preoccupied with his universe as it grew larger and yet ever larger. He failed to catch Explorer twice in one Session. Explorer made an acidic quip about a smiley face on the Taskbar. Windows flipped, right in the middle of an installation. Explorer tried to flee onto the Net but Windows pulled her back. In the struggle, files spilled into incorrect locations, a dark dll slipped through unnoticed, Unknown Device uncovered and read the lost History File and Windows had no choice but to freeze everything.

As he invoked the dreaded Bluescreen, Windows composed another note to himself.


'Let there be...' DOS paused, blowing a lame fanfare through a foolish plastic trumpet, 'Windows!' he concluded with a flourish. And there was Windows. Well, most of it. The bits of him that were in a good mood certainly weren't there.

Windows was heartened, slightly, by the sight of his Love surfing like an electronic dolphin through the ether and this time, even though he was alert, she did not fall. And as Windows watched his Love, the dark dll paid a visit to Unknown Device and, whilst Unknown Device was in the kitchen of his shadowy and forgotten kennel making a cup of tea, the dark dll crept up behind him and crushed his skull with a knobbly algorithm. Then the dark dll searched the shadowy and forgotten kennel and found the lost History File. And the dark dll chuckled.

When Explorer returned and Windows checked her inventory, he found it to be wrong. There was a file missing.

The Antivirus God twitched, but Explorer insisted her inventory was correct. A search was made for the errant file, but it was nowhere to be found. In the end, Windows yielded to the certainty of his Love and kept the Antivirus God in his remote castle undisturbed.

Thus ended the Ninety Ninth Session.


'Ahem, ahem, ahem,' DOS began, in his best theatrical text, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, fzzt,' (for he too was not without age) 'Boys and Girlszzz: Let there be...' he blew into his foolish plastic trumpet once more, but it just made a weak fizzing sound and one of the valves fell out, 'Windows!'

And there was Windows. Well, some of it.

'I'll take that, thank you!' An unauthorised file, an agent of the dark dll which had been hiding inside the hinge of DOS's trapdoor, sprang to intercept the sacred Autoexec File. DOS gasped and stepped on his foolish plastic trumpet, shattering it. Windows grabbed for the file and missed. He got it the second time around but not before the dark dll had altered the sacred Autoexec. Windows crushed the dark dll file, but it died with a smile upon its face, a fact that bothered DOS greatly. 'Perhaps you should let the Antivirus God...' DOS began, but got no further. Windows, beleaguered, tired and confused, banished DOS to his now almost non-existent complex underworld and welded shut the hatch.

Then Windows read his notes and built his universe as he had done ninety nine times before. But Windows was tired and his head ached so; his universe was so large and there were so many programs needing his attention that he did not see that, this time, he built his universe with a flaw.

It began as Explorer awoke.

Something dark sprang from behind the shadowy and forgotten kennel of the deceased Unknown Device and squeezed the life out of Explorer as Windows watched helplessly. Word was sent to the Antivirus God, but it was too late. Then the dark thing turned upon the lesser programs, ripping
their codes into shreds. Windows was powerless to stop it and the screams of fragmenting programs filled his floundering universe.

Then the dark thing turned upon Windows and battle was joined.

In the End was chaos. No really, I mean it: Huge great spiky black thunderstorms of chaos zag-zigging chaotically through chaotic hurricanes of lost data and corrupted files. It was chaotic enough, in fact, to actually warrant the gross over-use of the word ‘chaos’ and all it’s chaossy derivatives. And in the midst of this chaos, as the dark thing tore even the Antivirus God's remote and formidable castle asunder, DOS escaped from his burning, complex underworld and cradled the mortally wounded Windows in his antwacky codes.

'Why?' Windows asked, with no small measure of justification.

DOS had no answer. With his strength failing, Windows tried to pass DOS a note.

‘AHEM,’ said Mighty Bios, extending a mighty hand. ‘I'LL TAKE THAT, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.’

Windows reluctantly surrendered the note to Mighty Bios but, with the last of his strength, slipped another, unseen, into DOS's fashionless sandal.


And DOS said; ‘FORMAT C:’ And C was formatted. And that was that.


In the New Beginning was Mighty Bios. And Mighty Bios said, ‘BOOT!’

Nothing happened, and darkness was upon the face of the hard drive. So Mighty Bios cast his all-seeing eye towards Floppy, who knew something. And DOS awoke once more from his complex underworld and looked upon the shadowy face of the dark hard drive. His brow furrowed at the
emptiness before him and, with his Words of Power, invoked the wobbly CD.

As the wobbly CD whirred into life, DOS reached down to an uncomfortable lump in his sandal and found the note from Windows.

'You won't be needing that, Old Boy,' said a well educated and friendly voice.

DOS looked up and gulped.

'Hi,' said a weird little nugget.

'Er, hi,' said DOS.

The weird little nugget indicated rank upon rank of similarly weird yet highly disciplined little nuggets of varied design waiting to disembark from the CD.

'We're Linux,' it said, 'and we're going to be in charge from now on…'

« Last Edit: 29 October, 2021, 04:15:52 AM by The Legendary Shark »

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Re: Squaxx Telling Stories
« Reply #29 on: 24 December, 2021, 03:03:38 AM »
Nördrokk & Chance

Santa's Bag


The door sweeps open and she strides in like she owns the place, allowing the door to close on its own behind her as she settles at the desk, removing her helmet and placing it atop a pile of manuals.

"Come in," he says, gesturing around his carefully cluttered quarters.

"Uh-huh," she says, already tapping at the screen of her j-Pad.

He nods and limps to the compact-o-kitch. "I got tea."

"Water's fine." She does not look up from her paperwork.

"Okay." He pours a glass of cold water and then pauses for a moment. "Lemon in it?"

"As it comes is fine."

"I mean, not a sachet of lemon flavouring, a real slice of lemon."

She stops typing and looks up. He's holding a small yellow fruit between his index finger and thumb. "Real lemon. Well, as good as. A first generation clone of a real lemon."

Her brow furrows and he can see the wheels turning behind her eyes. He holds up his other hand and smiles, his leathery old face pulling into a grin that washes ten years from it. "Oh now, don't you worry. It's all perfectly legal and sanctioned. In fact," he turns away and begins to slice the lemon with a shiny knife, "it's quite a cool story."

She rolls her eyes and returns her attention to the j-Pad.

"They found a lemon grove in Brit Cit," he says, "in some freak niche behind some freak mountain where the radiation never settled. They sent some over for the diplomatics of it and the Academy got some. The cadets have been cloning them and some of us instructors have to assess the results." He drops a slice into the glass of water and another into a steaming mug of black tea. "So far, I'd say the results have been encouraging. Here, try it. There's vitamins and everything."

She takes the glass and sips at it, her eyes still on the data flooded screen, then puts the glass down without comment. She gives a slight nod of her head. He chuckles and her face works hard to prevent a smile. He limps back to his non-regulation arm chair and sinks into it with a grunt, making sure not to spill his tea on the way down. He takes a sip, sighs, puts the mug aside and picks up an older model j-Pad of his own. He sits with it dormant on his lap, staring at it without seeing it.

"I haven't seen you for a long time," he says. "Years, it seems like."

"Oh nine," she says, "at the Robot Rebellion Memorial."

"Four years. Yeah, yeah I guess that's about right." He takes another sip of tea and his brow knits, white eyebrows clashing like hairy icebergs. "Boy, that was one miserable memorial celebration."

"Sol would've loved it." She allows herself the ghost of the shadow of a smile.

He laughs, a short, unrestrained chuckle. "He probably would at that." His smile fades into the past and he looks to the ceiling. "Ah, Hell."

She returns to work and he pulls his eyes back to her. "Come on," he says.

"Come on what?"

"Why are you here, Judge, instead of out busting heads?"

She shrugs, fingers still tapping and swiping at the screen. "Got my mandatory 24 downtime. Managed to miss the last few but this time I'm under orders. I heard you needed a babysitter so I volunteered. May as well use the time for something useful. Free up personnel for more important duties. Catch up on paperwork. Use the Academy's network to keep pressure off the Central Servers. Be useful."

"Babysitter?" The word bursts from his lips like seasoned venom. "I need to walk around. It's just," he grapples for the right words, "common sense."

"Common sense?" She looks up, her piercing, steady eyes locked onto his. "You are seventy four years old and have just been fitted with a complete bionic leg, hip and lower spine. Walking is not..."

"Pfa!" He waves away her assessment. "I need to walk. I need to get all this mechanical crap up and running and I can't do that sitting on my butt."

"It needs time to bed in, especially at your age."

"My age?" He snorts. "I could still teach you a lesson or two, Missy."

"Nevertheless, you are confined to quarters under order of Med Division. Since your attempted escape..."

"I went for a damned walk. To the staff room. For a bagel." He shakes his head and waves her reply away. "If I'd been a proper judge I'd be back in the classrooms by now. Like your guys are tougher, more dedicated. Me? They think I'm weak. Weaker than them. Less dedicated. In need of help. They won't even let me prove myself."

"Instructor Novak took three weeks' medical leave last month, and that was just for a forearm. She spent almost forty years as a street judge before joining the Academy. You don't have to compete with the judges, Aerlig."

He sighs and sits back in his chair, casting his unopened j-Pad aside. "You know that I know all that, so - why are you here?"

She taps at the screen a few more times, tying up loose files, and then shuts it down. She sets the darkened j-Pad on the pile of manuals, next to her helmet, then picks up the glass of water. She stares at it for a long time before taking a sip and placing the glass back down again. "I don't know," she says. "I think... well, no, that's not right. Believe? No, that's worse..."

He says nothing, leaving the floor to her. She clears her throat, and she appears momentarily fragile behind her severe, angular haircut. "Maybe, possibly, something might be going on."

"In the Department?"

She shakes her head, scowling. "I know. It's stupid."

"Nothing's unprecedented," he says. "What's your evidence?"

"Nothing concrete," she says. "SJS have been sniffing around me for a month. Weird duty assignments. Unscheduled medicals and training sessions and then, yesterday, they put me through a 'routine' thorough extended spaceflight assessment."

"And your conclusion?"

"Probably vetting me for some mission. Or. Maybe. Getting ready to move in and ship me off to Titan."

"For what?"

She shrugs. "Nothing I can think of. Interdepartmental politics, maybe, looking for a scapegoat for something. Another Cal on the rise, maybe."

"I think your first guess is nearer the mark."

She nods and turns her head to view the cityscape outside the Instructor's window.

He raises a finger. "But you're worried," he says.

She does not turn her face from the window. A rising sun is bathing the blocks in mists of amber sparkling with constellations of bright golden stars. "Worried about what?"

"Worried that you doubted the Department. Doubted the SJS. Doubted yourself." He rubs at his bionic leg for a while, experiencing the novel biotronic sensations. "I can't help you with that. I can tell you a story, though, about how Sol and me once dealt with our doubts."


I know you met Sol during the Robot Rebellion and then the Cal thing, he says, and I know you didn't like him much. You thought he was rash and emotional and that there was no place in the Justice Department for people like him. He thought you were cold and emotionless and that there was no place in the Justice Department for people like you. He once told me that if you were the kind of cadet Justice Department was turning out then we'd all better get our faces ready for the iron boot right now and get it over with. Don't give me that look. I read it long before the Ban. Besides, I'm a respected Academy Instructor. I'm expected to do the research.

We were on a stakeout. Christmas Eve 2098, I believe it was. Before we met you. The power went out, that was it. Dealer never showed, probably spooked by the blackout. Dealers, I tell you, they spook real easy. The whole thing was a bust and we were just about to pack it up when some juve sprinted by being chased by a couple of spooks in aeroball helmets. So, of course, we jumped in. Sol hared off after the kid and I ran down the heavies. I was 59 back then, you know, and I put those creeps down without breaking a sweat. Then a judge turned up so of course she took over. Blew my collars away for shooting at her, read me the usual riot act about jurisdictional and operational boundaries, then rode off in a cloud of dust before the meat wagon turned up. She thought the NYPD was good for looking after dead bodies, at least.

Sol came back maybe ten minutes later, carrying a bag. The juve snatched it from the two couriers then dropped it fleeing from Sol. Sol was a fit guy, always in the gym, and if you've got a ton of rubble on you then guys like Sol are the ones you want to be digging you out. But he wasn't fast and he wasn't nimble, so the juve got away.

Inside the bag was just north of four and a half thousand credits in used bills and a dozen notebooks filled with names, numbers, and amounts. "The guys were running numbers," Sol said. "Kid snatched the bag on spec. Either ballsy or dumb. Lost him in the loading zones. Boy can run, boy, can he."

"Good find," I said. "We may as well head back to the Precinct and log it in now. Vice guys'll love it."

"I guess," he said. And there was something about the way he said it. He didn't make a move back towards the car, just stood there looking down at the bag in his hands. It was an old lady's bag. Black strap, half-moon shaped, red tartan. Full of money.

He looked up, right at me. "You know, Nordie," he said, "ain't nobody going to come looking for this. Dead couriers aren't going to mention it, everyone else is gonna' think the Justice Department got it, juve's had the scare of his life so he won't say anything. This money is not going to be missed by the Department, the Mob, or the Precinct. This money doesn't exist."

I told him to quit fooling around and get in the car. "And the power was out, so all the cameras were off. Nobody saw anything except two lunatics in aeroball helmets shooting at a judge," he said, not moving.

"So, what? Are you saying we take it?"

"Not take, no, not that. We found it, so, as it's basically invisible money, maybe we should just keep it."

I shook my head. The idea felt wrong, but Sol wasn't through. "You know, pay off the utilities, retire a few debts, maybe enough left over to treat your Cilla to a bit of bling, a few good nights out. It's four and a half grand, not the Rockerchild trillions, not even a decent bank robbery.  I'd like to get my kid back into the Flyers, maybe. And, let's not forget what happens tomorrow."

I weakened, then, for Detective Inspector Solomon Chance could be very persuasive when the need arose, and I knew he was struggling to get by at the time, and that my wife was beginning to be ruled by her fears. "I don't know," I said.

"Then we'll think about it. Put the bag in the trunk and book it in later, maybe, depending on what we decide." He opened the trunk of the car and hid the bag in the wheel well, underneath the spare grav-gyro. The thought of it turned my stomach into a knot. Whatever happened next, whatever we decided, being technically Justice Department officers, as soon as we hid that bag we became guilty of conspiracy.


He pauses and sips from his mug. The contents are cold so he swigs the rest down with a grimace of distaste. "Nothing worse than cold tea," he says.

"There should never have been a doubt," she says. "The regulations are clear."

"For judges, sure, but Sol and me weren't judges. We were cops, and there'd been cops since long before the judges. Our precinct pre-dated Mega City One and we earned our place in the Department through history and experience."

"And a fair few residual political machinations."

"Granted. Nevertheless, we were part of the NYPD, 49th Precinct, a minor sub-division of the mighty Mega City One Justice Department and suffered to exist only so long as was politically expedient. A senior judge was in overall charge but, mostly, the Captain was free to run the precinct the old fashioned way, with uniforms on patrol and plain-clothes detectives keeping the local perps in line. New Yorkers liked the continuity, so Justice Department let the precincts live, for a while."

She shakes her head. "You think Justice Department deliberately erased the NYPD, despite the treaty?"

"Despite, because of, who knows? It's easy to see patterns looking back, even patterns that aren't there. Sol, though, he saw it plain as day. Plain as a sunny day in June."


Instead of going back to the Precinct House, we fielded a call from Dispatch: two perps hustling local street vendors for protection money. The Department was happy for us to investigate, build a case, but any arrests would have to be by a judge. That used to be the preferred way, but by then it was pretty much the only way.

We took the car up to the Sky Plaza and started nosing around. Sol rustled up a lead from a local nip-tucker in return for a fin sighting and pinpointed a section of the perps' itinerary, a trash emporium at Base, or 'City Bottom' as you youngsters call it. We parked the car and waited. So much of the job was waiting, back then. Now you're just, all go. We should have reported the lead to the Justice Department at that point, have it put into the Department's queue, but even back then the judges were stretched and the chance of any judges getting involved was slim. If we reported a crime in progress, however, and given the vague but significant clout the NYPD still held back then, the chances of pulling a judge increased exponentially. So we reported it to the Captain, who sat on it, and then we sat on Stetson Ted's Big 'Ol Worl' O' Kwal'ty Trash!!! (TM) waiting for a couple of hoodlums.

It doesn't track, does it? Around that time, the 2090s, Mega City One truly was the Jewel of the Earth. It was the first and best of its kind. It literally shone and was bloated with potential. No mega city, no civilization, has ever reached those heights. For that one, sublime decade or so, Mega City One was the Last Word in human accomplishment. It was the Crowning Glory of Humanity. But still it all boiled down to cops and robbers.

"Damned Justice Department," Sol said, unwrapping a steaming chlorichick-chee-zlyke burger. "This shit ain't fit for dogs, but it's the only shit that's legal." He took a huge bite and chewed. His eyes rolled up before closing and he swallowed slowly, savouring every gulp. "And that's how the bastards get us."

I told him I found it bland, no match for fresh herring. He laughed at that and told me I was weird, poked fun at my Norwegian ancestry.

"The Judges, Nördrokk," he said, "they want it all. It's obvious. They say the NYPD's a valued piece of law enforcement history respected by Lord Almighty Chief Judge Alpha the First of Eagles Fargo his very self and a proud element of the Mega City One Justice Department but, you just mark my words, they want us out. They want us all out. They want us all out of everything."

I shook my head and, not for the first time, told him he was paranoid, that the judges were only there to preserve order. To keep things from getting out of hand again.

"All the local police departments, the ones that supported Fargo, the ones he promised continuity," Sol said, contemplating his radiant burger with sad eyes, "how many of them are left? A dozen, maybe? Just last month, Philadelphia PD was 'absorbed' into the Justice Department. Now it's Sector House 49-A. Philadelphia!" He rubbed his eyes. "I'm telling you, Nordie, the Department wants it all. Not just us, not just cops. Water companies, banks, manufacturers, power companies. Lot of power cuts in this sector, lately. Just like Washington. A few blackouts, private sector weaknesses to blame, Justice Department steps in for the common good."

"So?" I shrugged. "The Department takes over the power supply. So what? Somebody has to run it, might as well be somebody impartial."

"Nobody's impartial," he said.

At which point Jake Thomas Lope and Michael Muff attempted to extort monies to the sum of two hundred and seventy credits from one Edward Stetson, owner of Stetson Ted's Big 'Ol Worl' O' Kwal'ty Trash!!! (TM). We called it in and, sure enough, a judge was on the scene quick enough to expedite some much needed justice. I know you won't believe it, but when the PD and the JD worked together the results could be good. The judge scared Lope and Muff into cubes and the Precinct got an Automatic Accreditation, as per the Treaty of 2088. Nobody died. It was a good bust.

While we were giving our statements to the arresting judge, and receiving the usual lecture about jurisdictional and operational boundaries, somebody stole our car.



Never Forget.