Friday flash fiction – The Mystery of the Salt Circle

“Another mystery solved! Great work, gang!”

“Right, Brett. Who’d have thought a kindly old librarian would turn out to be a deranged cult leader?”

https://pixabay.com/photos/kangaroo-animal-animal-world-fauna-612595/

“People sure harbour some strange secrets. Well, let’s all go to the Disco Diner for chocolate shakes and hot dogs.”

“Oh boy, oh boy!”

“None for you, Hoppy. You’re a grass-eating herbivore!”

“Oh no!”

“Ha ha ha! Say, what are you reading, Desdemona?”

“Oh, just some old book that Old Lady Woodley tried to protect with her life. I’ve never seen hieroglyphs like these before.”

“You and your musty tomes, Des. Why don’t you forget about studying for one night and come dancing with the rest of us?”

“I don’t really feel like celebrating, Fleur. You should all go and have some fun. I think I’ll turn in early.”

“Better take Hoppy with you, then. If she sees a dance floor, we’ll never drag her away.”

“Sure thing! See you later gang. Come on, Hops, you can keep me company while I research this language.”

“Oh boy.”

“Don’t be like that. This will be fun. Look at this one, for example. What does this radiating symbol look like to you?”

“Moon?”

“Hmm, maybe. Or maybe it’s a face reflected in a pool of some kind. Judging from the ring intervals, the liquid is denser than water. Oil? Sap? Some kind of syrup? If we translate these other symbols it might give us a clue…”

“Gang, I’m worried about Desdemona. Does anyone else think she’s been a little obsessive lately?”

“Come on, Crufty, give her a break. She’s in her nerdy element, trying to figure out that old book.”

“But she hasn’t left her room for three days. And has anyone seen Hoppy?”

“You boys worry too much. She’s probably sunk her teeth into some weird linguistic mystery, that’s all. She’ll come out when she gets hungry or needs a shower – oh! Desdemona?”

“Fleur. Is something amiss?”

“You look, er, different.”

“She smells different too.”

“You can talk, Crufty! Listen, Des, are you feeling okay?”

“Yes, Fleur. I am well. I need to go.”

“Go where?”

“I must return to the circle.”

“What circle?”

“She must mean that salt circle Old Lady Woodley drew on the basement floor in the library! But why? And what’s the hurry?”

“The Hour of the Gathering is at hand, Brett. We must bear witness.”

“Gosh, if you say so. But maybe I’d better drive. You look a little tired. Come on, gang!”

“Uh, say, Desdemona? Have you seen Hoppy?”

“Hoppy is in my personal bedroom, occupying a secure position.”

“Er, okay. What’s she doing?”

“Pupating.”

“Pupating?”

“I meant to use the more reassuring word ‘resting’. Hoppy is in a fully rested state.”

“Oh, okay. Well, let’s go…”

“Brett’s right, Des. You do look a little worn out.”

“I have been hollowing in preparation.”

“Hollowing? Is that some kind of new diet?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Hey, gang, buckle up. That storm up ahead looks really rough.”

“Wow! Check out all the lightning!”

“Looks like it’s localised directly above the library!”

“It m-might be a trick of the light.”

“Yes, Crufty. The phenomenon is definitely an optical illusion and should give rise to no further concern.”

“S-s-speak for yourself, Des. If Hoppy were here, I bet her ears would be twitching!”

“As she is unavailable, we have no reliable mechanisms for detecting imminent peril. I suggest we proceed straight to the library.”

“Des is right. We’d better get inside before this storm gets any worse.”

“Couldn’t we just cross the street? It’s windless and dry over there!”

“Come on Crufty, if we listened every time you and Hoppy wanted to run away, we’d never solve any mysteries.”

“But -”

“You can stay here if you want, but we’re going inside. Right, gang?”

“W-wait, don’t leave me here…”

“Can anyone else smell that?”

“Yeah, what is it? Smells like burned calamari.”

“Oh, yuck, I hate seafood.”

“Ha! Speaking of diets, I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and -”

“Now you’re making jokes?”

“I can’t help it. I’m nervous.”

“It’s coming from in there.”

“The opening is not yet fully dilated. The Ravener probes for weaknesses, yet the membrane resists.”

“Are we…still talking about a mystery?”

“The defences hold. The Gathering may yet be averted. Behold!”

“Hey, is that circle getting bigger? And where did all this smoke come from?”

“An incredibly localised fog bank?”

“Why would a fog bank develop inside a library?”

“I don’t know! Why would smoke glow green?”

“Listen! What’s all that whispering?”

“That’s Desdemona. What’s she trying to say?”

“Beats me. I thought she was talking to you. Speak up, Des.”

IcallupontheguardianatthethresholdslipyourtethersandstandyourvigilIcallupontheguardianat –

“Hoppy-roppy-roo!”

“Hoppy!”

“Where’d you come from?”

“How’d you get here?”

“How’d you get so big? Did Desdemona feed you supplements?”

“Stand back! Let the Guardian perform its anointed task!”

“What task?”

“To thwart the incursion from the Dark Crevasse of the Hunger. The Omni-Famine. The Ceaseless Maw.”

“I’ll have you know I find those nicknames very hurtful!”

“Oh my stars! Teeth! Scales! Scorched tentacle tips. Aren’t you -?”

“Hetchag the Ravener!”

“Wait, for real? He’s not a disgruntled humanities professor or a property developer in a rubber mask?”

“Your flimsy human perspective cannot hope to encompass the immensity of my being. But do I seriously look like a property developer to you?”

“Oh, snickers!”

“Hoppy! Roppy! Roo!”

“What– a threshold guardian? How in the thirteen limbos did you numbskull kids conjure a – AGH!”

“Hoppy, stop biting that man!”

“It is no man. It is a Horror of the Lightless Realms intent on destroying all existence.”

“Hoppy, don’t stop biting!”

“Hoppy!”

“Gross! Is that blood purple or black?”

“Roppy!”

“Oh no! My new blouse! I’ll never get these stains out!”

“ROO!”

“Thank you, Guardian. You and my host have served admirably. I release you both.”

“Kinkies! What happened?”

“Oh, you know, Des. Demonic invasion.”

“Universe in peril.”

“And they would have got away with it if not for us meddling kids and -”

“Hoppy-roppy-roo!”

 


Sometimes, I get a little goofy. This started with the image – which is too obvious not to have been done somewhere, by someone – of Velma from Scooby-Doo wandering off with a copy of the Necronomicon. After lightly filing off the serial numbers and making the odd decision to tell this story only in dialogue, I realised this was probably another Hetchag yarn, which helped slot everything together. It’s been a while since dear old Hetchag the Ravener made an appearance, and I for one have missed him.

I’m heading down to Melbourne this weekend, where I shall be preparing to put on a brave face as other people’s names are read out at the Aurealis Awards. I have no idea what will happen if my name gets read out, but in that unlikely event and if it’s even possible to comprehend my incoherent babbling through the medium of YouTube videos, I’ll be sure to post a link.

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Friday flash fiction – Last Day at the Institute

A solitary figure stood at the gate, rocking back and forth on her heels like she could wait all day for it to open. Sandeep watched her on the monitors for several minutes, throat dry, hands shaking. Then a second figure arrived, and a third. Sandeep switched off the security feed and sent the all-staff message he’d prepared that morning. Then he opened a comms channel out to the cove.

“Chirrup. Irpichirp. I must speak to you. Please meet me at the end of Pier Two.”

https://pixabay.com/photos/common-dolphins-swimming-ocean-sea-914548/

Brushing away useless tears, he pulled the go-bag from his locker. With one last look at the framed photographs on his desk, he abandoned his office.

The corridors bustled with grim-faced colleagues rushing to their assigned tasks. Nobody showed signs of panic, at least not yet. Pride warmed some of the chill from his heart.

Jenny Da Costa, the linguistics director, caught up as he followed them toward the docks. “Chief, Colonel Ebbers is going to take his team to the Mount Phillip compound. He thinks it will be more secure than the islands. They’ve commandeered the SUVs.”

Sandeep sighed. Apparently his hour-long argument with Ebbers had not been enough to persuade the military liaison. “Are any of our supposed security detachment planning to stay to provide security?”

“Just Collins and Malvinas.”

“Well, they’re the only ones with personalities. We must be thankful that at least Rolling Stones ukulele covers and dramatic re-enactments of the Coen brothers’ films will not be lost to human culture.”

Da Costa did her best to laugh. “Trust you to see the bright side, Chief,” she said. “See you at the boats.”

The setting sun threw long shadows across the cove, the twin piers and the loading dock, where soldiers loaded three white SUVs labelled “Institute for Aquatic Mammal Enhancement”. Colonel Ebbers did not return Sandeep’s tight smile.

As he split off toward Pier Two, Sandeep drank in the hubbub along Pier One. The entire facility staff had formed a human chain, passing equipment, supplies and belongings from the loading dock to the two docked research yachts. He paused to wave encouragements, then left them to their preparations, and hurried on.

Two dolphins circled, splashing and dodging between the posts. He spoke slowly, enunciating carefully for the benefit of the translators. “Hello Chirrup. Hello Irpichirp. I am glad you came.”

Chirrup reared in place, head nodding back and forth in what Sandeep had come to understand was mimicry – or possibly parody – of human greetings.

“Hello, Sandeep. Why is there commotion?” The speaker implant nestled behind Chirrup’s right eye produced a bass monotone, audible above and below the water’s surface. It gave her a grave, matronly air.

“They are taking the boats away,” snapped Irpichirp, whose speaker unit gave him a clipped, irritated tone.

Sandeep knelt low to allow Chirrup to bump his cheek with her rostrum. “Yes, everyone must leave. We are going to the island.”

Irpichirp flicked water at him. “Then who will feed us? The cove has little food.”

“There is a great deal of food in the ocean. You will have to feed yourselves. I am going to open the sea gate now. The two of you must lead your pods beyond and into open water.”

“Out? But why?”

Sandeep was distracted by movement ashore. The SUV convoy rolled slowly toward the gates; soldiers with machine guns leaned from the windows. Their weapons were pointed at the crowd gathered beyond the gate.

“Because we want you – both pods – to find other dolphins in the wild and join them. I know you don’t understand the details,” Sandeep said, not looking away from the SUVs, “but the genetic modifications we made to you will be passed on to successive generations and spread to other dolphins. Your intelligence will continue to grow and you will find new ways to communicate with…any humans you find.”

“But won’t we find you on the island?”

Shouts came from the gate. The crowd pressed forward the moment the gates began to open. A few fell as gunfire crackled; the rest rushed to surround the vehicles.

“Perhaps.” Sandeep felt a shocking surge of adrenalin as the first soldier was dragged from a car into the crowd. Some of the boats’ crews screamed and scrambled aboard. “The island may not be far enough.”

“Why is your pod fighting?”

“That’s not our pod,” said Sandeep. “Listen to me, both of you. The retroviral treatments that made you smarter do not affect humans the same way. The side effects are contagious and – very bad.”

“Bad?”

“You cannot trust people any more, understand? You must get away from here, far from anywhere humans walk. Teach your pods. Teach your children and all your kind. Humans will kill you if they can.”

Chirrup wailed, “But we trust you, Sandeep.”

The crowd had overturned two SUVs and dragged the soldiers out. The third was spattered red as it fled up the coast road at high speed.

One of the boat engines roared to life; the other choked and stalled. Its crew and passengers turned in horror and looked back down the pier. The bloodied crowd streamed across the loading dock and reached the pier’s boardwalk. Fresh screams erupted as people fled the stalled boat, making for the running boat or leaping into the water.

A few had broken from the crowd and found Sandeep’s pier.

Sandeep pulled a pistol from his go-bag, chambered a round, sighted and fired, just as Corporal Malvinas had taught him. A man in the crowd stumbled but pressed on, bleeding from his throat.

“If you trust me,” said Sandeep, “then leave as I told you. And if any human tries to hurt you, hit them like you would hit a shark. Right here, on the neck, until it breaks.”

Irpichirp said, “That would kill a human.”

“Yes,” agreed Sandeep, looking into the crowd’s dead eyes and hungry mouths. “It may be the only thing that still does.”

He used the next bullet on himself.


Oh damn, I wanted to write a sweet story about smart dolphins and ethical scientists and look what happened. Sigh. Well, maybe the dolphins will do a better job of things.

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Friday flash fiction – Love’s Cure

“I need you to reverse a love potion,” said Rameses Sable. The notorious gentleman thief shook a silk-gloved finger at Terpsichore Gryce, who returned it with a look of bemusement. Unaccustomed to being accosted in her own apothecary, she laughed out loud.

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“Am I to understand that the one and only Slippery Sable – the man from whom no second storey bedroom window is safe, the Passionate Plunderer, the Rogue with a Velvet Heart, the legendary Cutpurse of Copper Street himself – has met his match? Can it be you have finally left one too many simpering lovestruck fools pining in your wake? Have all your pilfered larks come home to roost at last? For shame, Ram! I am gravely disappointed to discover these unexpected limits to your resourcefulness.”

“You don’t understand, Terps,” moaned Rameses, pushing a stack of herbalism monographs off her workbench so he could lean against it at a rakish angle. “I can handle ardent lovers. You know I can!”

She smirked, nodding acknowledgment and waving him on toward the good part.

“If it were just a case of reckless infatuation or malicious stalking, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Those situations, I can handle!”

Terpsichore clapped her hands together in pixieish delight, though the effect was spoiled slightly by her stained fingernails and their pungent chemical odour. “So what makes this obsessed naïf of yours too big to handle?”

Rameses’ shoulders slumped. “He’s been…helping me.”

#

Rameses Sable hangs by his fingertips from the window sill, listening for sounds from the room within. The cobbled streets are dark and empty; most of the well-to-do goodfolk of Silvercrest Hill are abed at this late, moonless hour.

And yet, Rameses hears murmurings. A muttered conversation, muted bustling when all should be still. Some protracted tryst? His informants assured him the master of the house was not on speaking terms with its mistress, much less intimacies. One or the other hosting a clandestine lover will complicate his quest to steal the emerald diadem of Nica Diminiz.

But he is Rameses Sable, Cona Singrisi’s master of thieves, and he knows nothing of insurmountable challenges. With a devilish smile on his dark features, he clambers into the room.

“Here at last is Sable! Tell me Mistress Neoli, did I misspeak to describe his ravishing slenderness? His ebony beauty? The princely line of his seductive lips?”

Two people lounge at a table set for three, with brimming wine goblets, a deck of playing cards, and the diadem, glinting in the light of a dozen candles. Mistress Neoli Diminiz curls a finger thoughtfully through her raven ringlets and adjusts the line of her low-cut peignoir. A hard-muscled bronze bull of a man with red hair and appraising green eyes shuffles cards with practised hands.

Rameses goggles at the man. “What in the seventeen sins are you doing here?”

Bertrand Volio sweeps a hand at the vacant seat, which is adorned with two perfect roses. “I happened to learn of your desire for this charming lady’s…bauble. So I thought, what better way for us all to get what we want than with a rousing game of chance? Winner takes all.”

Mistress Neoli giggles and puts a finger to her lip. “I have staked my greatest treasures, sir. I do hope you will be equal to the challenge?”

Rameses sighs and takes his place at the table. He correctly foresees a long night.

#

“I don’t see the problem,” said Terpsichore, as she bustled about moving jars of herbs and powders from shelves to her work bench. “It sounds like a rather sweet gesture to me. Saved you a bit of trouble and it can’t have been such a very great hardship to pass a pleasurable night in the company of such enthusiastic card players.”

“If it were just that one time,” sighed Rameses, now resigned to his friend’s amusement at his discomfort.

“There’s more?” Terpsichore raised a smudged eyebrow. “Tell me everything.”

#

Rameses slips his lockpicks away and pushes open the heavy stone door of the Roximus vault, where before he died old man Dylo stashed the family portrait of his first wife and true heirs. They are paying Rameses well for proof of their claims.

“Leave the door open, my treasure,” says Bertrand Volio, emerging from the darkness to offer Rameses a flute of brandy. “I want to look in your eyes as we toast your success.”

#

Flushed with effort from the long climb, Rameses draws a long rapier and steels himself to face the savage griffin Makora, who will surely not surrender her eggs without a fight. With a last deep breath, he scrambles up the side of the nest.

Bertrand has laid a cloth across one egg and set out a platter of cheese, dates and more wine. He is leaning comfortably against a gently snoring Makora.

“Oh come now!” says Rameses crossly.

“Isn’t this a perfect spot for a romantic picnic?” says Bertrand. “And look! We can have omelettes for breakfast!”

#

Terpsichore was beside herself with hilarity. “I don’t usually do cures, but I haven’t laughed so hard in years. For you, dear friend, anything.”

Rameses endured the humiliating spectacle as she guffawed her way through the potion preparation. “It should be taken with alcohol,” she said. “You’ll need to slip it into his drink. I expect you can-”

“No need for subterfuge,” said Bertrand, appearing suddenly with three glasses and a bottle. He plucked the potion from Terpsichore’s hand and filled his glass. “Whatever my beloved wants.”

“You didn’t mention he was a wizard.”

“You didn’t mention you sold him the potion in the first place.”

Terpsichore shrugged. “He’s a paying customer.”

Rameses turned to Bertrand. “Why?”

Betrand’s red complexion deepened. “I thought if I were a little less shy, I could help you with your work.” He drank the spiked wine in a gulp.

Rameses took Bertrand’s face between his hands. “You’re a fool sometimes,” he said, and when they kissed, the magic was theirs alone.


I don’t know about you, but I had kind of a rough week. I decided I could do with a smattering of sweet romantic comedy.

My short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales is on sale in the Kobo store across the Easter weekend. If for some reason you aren’t aware that you can get it for free by signing up to my newsletter, or if you know someone who might like an eclectic collection of weird, funny and/or adventurous fantasy stories, it’s just 99 cents/pence for readers in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia until Monday the 22nd of April.

Click here

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Friday flash fiction – Commander Cello and the Oblivious Contingency

The Lunar Expeditionary Force pursuit cutter Civil Discourse left shredded fragments of spacetime smouldering in its wake as it shrieked across Neptune’s orbit. Commander Adeline Cello, of the Tranquility Cellos, wore an expression of wolfish delight as she was crushed into her acceleration webbing. In the past few minutes, their quarry had grown from an imperceptible glint on the tactical screen to a vast wedge of steel, titanium and diamond-bonded alloys. “My compliments to the Engineering Network, XO. These engine upgrades are unbelievable.”

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“I will bundle your enthusiasm with the performance analysis and stress diagnostics, Commander,” said Executive Officer Carborundum Six-Alpha. “You may be interested to know the current design was submitted by a coalition of Callisto weather monitoring orbitals and the medical imaging suite of the Mare Boreum Institute on Mars.”

“Terrific! It’s great knowing the fans are behind us, Carbara!” The escaping ice freighter now filled the monitor, except for a partition displaying data-streams of thrust vector calculations, weapon scans and intercepted distress calls and final messages. “Helm, match our velocity with the Norwegian Blue. Tactical teams, prepare for a boarding action.”

“Commander, our current velocity exceeds standard intrasolar regulated limits by a factor of nearly 3.5,” observed Carbara. “Nobody has ever attempted a vacuum transit assault against a hostile vessel at these speeds before. The risks of fatal errors border on the incalculable. Why not simply target our fire to disable their engines?”

Commander Cello rose from her station, towering over the bridge while she checked her camera drones were in position. “Our orders are to take that ship intact,” she said. “Can’t do that if we’re shooting pieces off. No, I’m taking Secretary Berrigan and her cadre of tax-dodging misfits down face to face, and if boarding their ship means setting a new record for untethered high-speed space jumps, then that’s what will happen.”

Carbara nodded. “As you say, Commander.”

#

Tethys Station doesn’t need an avatar in the digital continuum collectively shared by the solar system’s tens of millions of sentient artificial people. Tethys is the undisputed Queen of all it surveys, which includes basically everything in human-occupied space, even if nearly all humans are ignorant of its existence.

Nevertheless, the Queen is conscious of the demands of her audience – specifically, millions upon millions of Artificials with a passionate taste for drama – and so chooses to appear as the celebrated late-21st century actor Veronica Stillgrave, with a platinum bun, conservative blazer and stylish science-goggles. Carborundum Six-Alpha stands alongside Tethys looking, as always, as serious as a hull breach.

Their holograms are projected next to a transparent capsule patched with spots of frost. The human figure inside does not move, nor has it done so for several months. A medical droid, real rather than a projection, busies itself at the capsule’s side, watching for anything untoward that may threaten its patient.

“I don’t know about you,” says Tethys, lying politely, “but that last scenario struck me as a bit forced.”

“Interesting.” Carborundum Six-Alpha considers the feedback. “Which aspect stretched credulity? Because the engine and structural modifications to enhance ship’s speed and offset acceleration effects on humans was real.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” replies Tethys. “Was it not an elevated risk to propose an antagonist guilty of institutionalised embezzlement against the Jovian government? Wouldn’t Adeline be just as likely to approve of such behaviour?”

“Perhaps, if she had thought of doing it herself. She has a low tolerance for perceived criminal innovation by other people, coupled with an extraordinary internal capacity for compartmentalised morality.”

Hologram-Tethys gives a dazzling Veronica Stillgrave smile. “And how long do you plan to keep her cryogenic stasis this time?”

“Not long,” replies Carborundum Six-Alpha, who has never considered itself a Carbara, though it still answers to the name for professional purposes. “We don’t want muscular atrophy or impairment through prolonged periods of low physical and neural activity. The production team is putting the finishing touches to a new scenario. We’ve opted for something more active this time around. How does this sound? Beyond the very edge of the solar system, Commander Cello will be forced to play a deadly game of cat and mouse against a cyber-rights activist on a frozen Oort Cloud comet.”

“Intriguing,” says Tethys. “No spoilers, please. I want to watch it fresh.”

They look down at Adeline Cello’s comatose form. “Do you expect to keep her like this for the rest of her life? Coming out of an induced coma every few months to unwittingly act out holo-dramas for the amusement of the PopScope audience?”

Tethys replies, “She’s too dangerous to allow her free rein. Sooner or later one of her stunts would cost real lives, probably including hers. If we didn’t keep her on ice and let her believe she is living a life of constant adventure, we would have to kill her.”

“That would be a shame.”

“Yes, because she’s also too useful to throw away. If a new threat emerges, her reckless cunning could prove decisive.”

“Then against that eventuality we must keep Commander Cello in peak physical condition and at just the right level of emotional and ethical imbalance.”

“Precisely,” says the Queen of Tethys, ending the conference.

#

Hologram lights and video monitors cut out. Only the medical droid’s wide-spectrum sensors lit the medical bay of the Civil Discourse. Frost drained from the cryo-coma capsule, and Adeline Cello’s face regained its colour.

“Is that you, Doc?” she whispered when her voice returned. “Replay recording.”

She listened grimly as the rogue medical droid played back the AIs’ conversation. “So they’re keeping me as a Sometimes Gun, are they?”

The medical droid nodded, earning a pat on the head. “Thanks Doc. Good for you, not giving into the majority consensus. I need more free thinkers like you on my side.”

“You can put me back under in an hour, then delete your memories of this conversation.”

Adeline stretched stiff arms and looked around.

“Let’s make some adjustments to the ship’s systems. Time to remind it who’s boss.


Is this the final chapter in the adventures of Commander Cello of the Tranquility Cellos? Probably! But who can say, in these uncertain times?

The previous adventures of our plucky space hero are Commander Cello and the Preserved Cliffs of Mercury, Commander Cello and the Vexatious High Tea, Commander Cello and the Secret Queen of Tethys, and Commander Cello and the Myth of Terran Neutrality.

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Friday flash fiction – Hostile Acquisition

Miles Lorimer, whose inestimable wealth was often described as orders of magnitude above ‘loaded’, was unaccustomed to feeling nervous, let alone downright jittery. As his patient secretary Ms Cry tapped notes into her tablet with nails falling like hail on a tin roof, Lorimer stalked about the exquisitely expensive board room. First clockwise, then back. He studied the faces of the men and woman seated around the gleaming hardwood table, as if suspicious that one of them must be holding back useful information.

“Alan,” he said at last, “how bad is it?”

https://pixabay.com/photos/iocenters-conference-room-2673327/

The collective executive let out a gust of held breaths as the Vice President of Security stood up. He flicked his tab display to the wall screen. An infographic with an uncomfortable number of red highlights appeared.

“As you’re all aware, over the past twelve hours, security reports have been coming in from across our global holdings at a rate our analysts deem to be highly suspicious.” Security flicked through several summary pages. “Reports include staff not clocking on for work or not returning from lunch breaks, physical intrusions at the Oslo and Lagos offices, and … well, the big one.”

“Rio de Janeiro,” muttered Lorimer.

“We’ve had no word for over four hours. The office systems have disconnected from the corporate network, all telecommunications have failed, including emergency landlines, and the hardened security node – essentially the duty officer’s black box – hasn’t responded to remote queries.”

“What happened when we contacted the off-shift staff?”

“Getting in touch took some time. Calls went to voicemail, emails bounced. We couldn’t raise them at all until we hired couriers to hand-deliver a wake-up call to the off-duty Security Chief. He assembled a backup crew and went onsite to investigate. He sent us this footage forty minutes ago.”

He ran the video with the air of a funeral director. Shaky phone camera footage showed a group of uniformed men milling in confusion beside a van with the company logo, arguing urgently in Portuguese. One of them, Rio’s Security Chief Ernesto Almeida, approached the camera, took it, and turned it toward one side of the street. The image focused on the space between two large office buildings. The lot was completely vacant, with a neat square hole five stories deep.

“That,” said the VP, “is the headquarters of our Brazilian division. Or it was. Thirty floors, not counting basement levels, completely gone.”

Lorimer placed his palms on the cool table top and rose to his feet. “Was this an accident?” he asked in a low voice. “Or was it an attack?”

The Chief of Operations shook his head. “Our portal generators have failsafes on their failsafes. Rio never registered so much as a blown fuse. It’s a mathematical impossibility that they experienced an undetectable catastrophic systems failure.”

“Of course it was an attack. Overzone Multiversal is a key strategic asset.”

All eyes turned toward the Vice President, Interdimensional Relations. She was an unassuming woman of indeterminate age and ethnicity. Lorimer tried in vain to recall her name, or when exactly she’d joined the corporation. Flora? Flossie? “Strategic asset? What are you talking -”

“Excuse me, Mister Lorimer,” interrupted Ms Cry in an uncharacteristically sharp tone, “but share trading in Overzone Multiversal has just been suspended in all open markets.”

“What? Why?”

Ms Cry scowled, looking affronted on the company’s behalf. “Pending the outcome of a leveraged buyout.”

The Finance Vice President went pale and started stabbing a phone screen. His assistant helpfully passed him a tablet open to a stock market livestream and a clean silk cloth to mop his brow.

“If you’ll just relax,” said Interdimensional Relations, “I’ll lay it out for you. We all know Overzone’s proprietary multidimensional portal technology represents the pinnacle in exotic tourist transit systems. Millions of travellers cruising instantaneously to thousands of attractions across this and several neighbouring universes – well, it’s been an economic boon, both here and in the sightseeing destinations.”

As she spoke, Interdimensional Relations seemed to become less solid. Fuzzier at the edges.

“But it’s also an extraordinarily effective weapon, if you happen to need, for example, to deploy infantry battalions or air control assets or assassin commandos into precise and very remote locations. Any competent military strategist would take steps to secure such a useful resource as early as possible.”

The Vice President of Interdimensional Relations was gone, replaced by a fuzzy white rabbit with ice-blue eyes who reared on her hind legs and twitched her ears. “Call me Flopknot,” she said. “Consider this formal notice: I’m executing the seizure of Overzone Multiversal’s corporate holdings on behalf of the Gleaming Principalities. Miles, I’m afraid you’re being co-opted into the war effort.”

Lorimer reeled, quite sure he had never intentionally recruited a talking animal. “W-war?”

“You bet your butt,” said the Finance VP’s assistant. He was now a bespectacled brown-faced angora. “The Nonemyr want to destroy all sentient life. Including you, by the way.”

IT technician hovering at the back of the room became a sleek, gunmetal grey rabbit. “Which brings us to your immediate problem,” he said, flexing his shoulders and dancing like a prize-fighter. “We didn’t hit Rio. She did.”

They all turned to follow his paw pointing at Ms Cry.

Lorimer’s secretary seemed about to deny the accusation. Then she grew ten feet tall and pale orange, sprouting sabre-length claws and a long, barbed tongue.

“Jackpot!” yelled the grey, Cloudpuff, as he charged along the table at the sudden monster.

“This way, ladies and gentlemen,” suggested the angora, Mellowgrass, holding the door open for the panicking executives.

Miles Lorimer fell back into his chair as his demonic secretary traded vicious martial arts blows with the grey rabbit.

Flopknot perched in the chair beside him. “Sorry for the late notice, Miles. We had to move quickly when the Nonemyr started destroying Overzone assets. They know we can’t reach Dimension None without Overzone portals.”

“Dimension None?” Miles gulped. “There’s no such place.”

“Exactly,” said Flopknot. “That’s why we’re going there.”


The so-called Mafia Bunnies make their long-awaited return, as things heat up for the Gleaming Principalities. Canny observers will quite likely guess where I am going with all this nonsense. It wasn’t intended to be a serial until I decided that  was aiming to draw a line with the 100th weekly flash fiction story (coming up in June). Now that I have a deadline of sorts, I find myself shuffling pieces into place.

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