Friday flash fiction – Welcome to the New Robot Order

Things aren’t as bad as you’d think, since the Robot Overlords took control.

Sure, I miss getting to catch up with old friends for a drink, but on the other hand, I’m meeting lots of new people at the social interaction sessions. My personalised TransitPod picks me up at 10 sharp every Wednesday and Saturday morning and takes me to the repurposed football stadium for four hours of small talk and chit chat. Why, as soon as I’ve located all eight randomly-selected psyche-matched Designated Interactees from the two or three thousand humans in attendance, and when I’ve checked off my mandated seven minutes of Thoughtful and Considerate Exchange of Viewpoints, I’m free to talk to whoever I like.

Some of us have formed a theater troupe. We’re working on a production of King Lear.

And I won’t kid you, the long-term benefits of involuntary vegetarianism are undeniable. Not that I don’t sometimes wake up craving a steak or a good slow-roasted shoulder of pork, but my DocBot tells me my cholesterol’s back in the safe range, and I gotta say I feel like a million bucks.

Not that anyone has money any more. Who needs it? The AIs and drones and androids cater to our every functional need, and they make sure we look after ourselves.

I’m in the best shape of my life. I spent two hours a day working out at the gym – precision-calibrated resistance training, weights, crossfit, you name it. Not everybody likes going out on the edge like me, but I even do a little knife sparring with my sensei, the Bladematic down at my local, Physical Conditioning Centre #29. He keeps me on my toes – only cuts me just the tiniest bit to let me know when I’ve let down my guard.

I’m learning a lot.

It’s hard not having the family around, but the Nurturing and Responsibility Program has been a real lifeline. My companion animal is a ridgeback by the name of Daisy, and she’s a real treasure. After we’ve had our grooming and exercise sessions under the watchful eye of security and surveillance GunDrones at the recreational area, we sometimes curl up together in the habitat cube and listen to the tone feeds or I’ll read her a book on self-improvement.

I’d like to get back into song writing. Once in a while I ask about getting a guitar, but so far, I haven’t accumulated the Approved Behaviour Points. I try, but the opportunities for exceptional contributions don’t come up as often as I’d like.

And I lost a lot of progress the week before last. Daisy got carried away when she saw rabbits hopping around the ruins of old city hall, and she slipped her leash. I was so scared she was going to catch one, I lost my temper and raised my voice above the maximum permitted volume. Uncool, right? If the GunDrones hadn’t been on hand to pacify me where I stood, I might have chased her into a Null Zone. Nobody wants that.

Everything turned out fine though. Daisy came right over to see why I was having a seizure and vomiting, so when the sedatives wore off my ABP score was in a hole, but nothing worse came of it.

Lucky for me, I’ve got a chance to get the points I lost back, with interest. There’s going to be a Pursuit.

Some guy crossed the line. Actually, it’s a guy I know slightly. Damien Somebody. We dated for a while, back before Singularity Day. He was a tennis coach, until the development of Sportomatics put human professional trainers out of business. First of many, but I digress.

Anyway, Damien Somebody got flagged last night. He was spotted by Sec & Surv coming out of the western wing of the Museum of Modern Art, which is still pretty intact in places. It’s a Null Zone, and a pretty serious one from what I hear. In one of my exchange chats last month, my Designated Interactee told me she’d just heard about some kind of dissident group that gets together in Null Zones to denounce the Overlords. I wanted to hear more about it, but for some reason the Master Chaperone interrupted us to break up the chat and take the Interactee off for impromptu counselling. I haven’t had a chance to catch up with her since then, even though I’ve ditched a couple of rehearsals to search for her in the stadium. Pity. She seemed really cool, if a little intense.

This morning, a notification came through to my hab cube. Damien Somebody is on the run. My social session has been cancelled. Daisy and I have been nominated to join the Pursuit. I’m not sure why they picked us. I’m not sure why they don’t track him down themselves, with their GunDrones and heat-sensitive satellite images and predictive behavioural modelling. I’m not the sort of person who makes wild, meat-limited guesses about the motivations of robots.

My best guess is Bladematic must have endorsed me. All my training has paid off! It’s a pretty big deal. An honour. A real sign of trust. I’ve even been issued a temporary permit to carry my knives.

A TransitPod is taking us to the outskirts, past the old amusement park. My first authorised visit to a Null Zone. Daisy’s got a good nose for a hunt, so I’m sure we’ll make a good team. Zones outside the city limits are pretty big but there’s only so many places for someone to hide in the burned-out ashes.

Daisy and me, we’ll find Damien Somebody. And maybe while there are no cameras around, we’ll ask him some questions about what else happens in Null Zones.

Maybe we’ll like his answers.  Maybe we won’t. And maybe we’ll have time for a thoughtful and considerate exchange of viewpoints about the pros and cons of the New Robot Order.

Or maybe he’ll just help Daisy and me recall the taste of slow roasted pork.


Okay, in my defense, I’m only human and I could not resist that last line. On the other hand, I’m very very sorry and it won’t happen again. Well, it might not happen again. Look, I’m not promising anything, okay?

After the recent free book giveaway on Instafreebie, I’ve picked up an awful lot of new followers for my newsletter, many of whom will be encountering the Friday flash fiction for the first time. To those brave souls, I would just like to welcome them to the club and assure them that it’s not always like this.

Well, I’d like to – but again, I’m not promising anything.


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Friday flash fiction – Fancy Meeting You Here

Colin Morris, who despite his Friday night gyrations on the dance floor at The Tone Factory could not claim to be the most agile junior clerk at Barr and Camberstone Partners, did well to keep his feet as he experienced three simultaneous inconveniences: he burned his lips on his morning coffee; his mobile phone went dead; and he tripped over a corpse lying in the street.

“What did you do?” hissed an incredulous and strangely familiar voice. “What did you do!?”

Colin didn’t answer immediately. He spluttered scorching coffee droplets and shook his phone. “I lost my signal,” he complained. “And I didn’t see this…er.”

He finally looked down at the bundled figure at his feet. “Oh, I beg your pardon, mate. Am I standing on your hand?”

The corpse didn’t reply, but suddenly a cold metal barrel was pressed at the precise midpoint between the untidy knot of his novelty superhero tie and his thinly-whiskered chin. “What,” demanded that tantalisingly familiar voice again, “did you do to him?”

Colin looked along the rusted rifle barrel to the woman holding it, glaring at him with suspicious green eyes. Her wild copper hair sprouted in all directions out of a tight twist of multi-coloured electrical wire. Her deep natural tan was mottled with caked mud, grease smears and dry blood spatters. Her fingernails, jutting from dishevelled fingerless mittens, were so chipped and scratched Colin felt instantly queasy.

“Tania? Tania Ellicott?” At last he placed the voice and the eyes. “I haven’t seen you in ages!”

In reply, Tania thumbed back the hammer on her rifle and muttered, “If you don’t answer the question right now, I am going to blow your head clean – I’m going to…”

She stopped and sniffed the air with a look of utter confusion. “Why can I smell coffee?”

Colin held up his keep cup. “Grigori’s new barista makes a top-flight mocha. Bit of a special treat for a Monday morning. I don’t usually indulge in chocolate. I’m trying to keep my weight down, you know?” He looked at the slabs of hard muscle of her bare shoulders and biceps, stretching the rough stitches of her rustic leather top. “You’ve done some lifting since I saw you last.”

Keeping her weapon pointed where it could do the most damage to Colin’s pleased but bemused expression, Tania knelt and felt at the face-down corpse’s throat. “He’s dead,” she pronounced after a moment.

It looked very professional. She must have gone onto medical training after high school. That was when he’d last seen her, surely? At that last school dance?

Horrified, Colin held up his phone, searching for a signal. “I’ll call an ambulance.”

Tania knocked the phone out of his hand and smashed it with her rifle butt. “Are you insane? Where did you get that? Where did you come from?”

Colin counted off his fingers. “I don’t think so, the Pomegranate Store, and I just told you I was in Grigori’s, around the corner.”

Tania waved. “What corner?”

She had a point. Colin hadn’t looked up from his phone since walking out of Grigori’s with a cheerful “See you tomorrow” to Sven the barista. He must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. “This isn’t Wisdom Street.”

Wisdom Street was a busy thoroughfare of modern office blocks and apartments with ground floor gourmet delis, gelato cafés and bicycle repair shops. This was a street of pulverised glass, crumbling brickwork and fire-gutted interiors. Now that he came to look, most of them were conspicuously missing several upper floors and walls.

“You’d think they’d put up a sign and some safety barriers,” he complained. “That’s unsafe.”

“There haven’t been Pomegranate stores for ten years!” retorted Tania. “Not since the Ravening.”

“Oh, were they bought out? Maybe I got it online.”

“No, the Ravening! When the Y’giorthi swept across the world?”

“I must have missed that season. I only got a CouchFlix account last month.”

“No, I mean the incursion from the 29th dimension! When our machines turned against us and all civilisation ended?”

Colin frowned. “I don’t seem to recall…”

“How can you not recall the end of the world? And why do you look like him?”

Tania rolled the corpse over with her boot. The dead man’s thick, tangled and bloody facial hair offered little concealment for the map of scars, burns and lesions written across features he knew well.

Colin whistled. “Wow, he looks like me if I went to a costume party as Hobo Moses.”

“He is you, you pasty little dolt! He’s the you who survived! He’s the one who learned to avoid the Flesh-Hunter patrols. He’s the one who learned how to boil bark and live off sliced worms. He’s the one who showed us how to make weapons from looted hardware and office supplies.” Tania was almost shouting now. “He was the one who kept me alive for ten years after the goddamn aliens ruined our first dance!”

“None of that happened to me!” protested Colin. “Is this a theater thing? Are you doing live roleplaying?”

Tania shook her head in frustration. “I’m just trying to stay alive. Like he did, right up until you showed up!”

Colin waved his hands, sloshing coffee out of his cup’s sipping hole. “I didn’t hurt him! I only went to aikido classes for two weeks.”

Tania frowned. “This has to be a dimensional thing. His death must have brought you here somehow. Like this universe couldn’t abide the absence of Col the Human Toll.”

“He had a cool nickname? I’ve never had a nickname.”

Tania sized up his ill-fitting coat, his thick glasses frames and his stooped posture. “He had a lot of things. You? You’re not going to survive the first Skin-Boring Bot that crosses your path. Not without help.”

“Oh.” Colin wondered if he should assert his masculine pride and thought better of it. “Will you help me?”

“On one condition,” replied Tania.

Hope surged in Colin’s heart. “What’s that?”

“Give me that coffee.”

I have written enough stories now where dopplegangers from other universes show up without any explanation that I fear I may be revealing something appalling about my psyche.

Or I could just be tapping into my primal horror at the idea of a future without coffee.


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Free – Mnemo’s Memory and 139 Other Fantastic Books

This week I’ve been a participant in a massive fantasy book giveaway at Instafreebie! Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales is up for grabs, along with a massive 139 other titles.

With 140 items listed in this free ebook giveaway, you’re statistically likely to see something that catches your attention! That’s just how science works! (Also magic)

Do check it out, and let me know which books made you take a second look.


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Privacy Policy

For your information, I have added a Privacy Policy to the website (under About the author in the menu), which explains what data is collected when you visit the site or opt into my newsletter. If you have questions about the policy or how I use your data, feel free to ask them in the comments below (anonymously, if you prefer).

Basically, it boils down to: I use software that collects various stats about numbers and locations of site visitors (WordPress plugins including Jetpack). I use this information mainly to ask questions like “Why are people from South Korea visiting my site? Is it because I keep mentioning I play Overwatch?”

I also collect names and email addresses in my email newsletter signup. This data is stored at a third party mail distribution provider (Mailchimp) and backed up in a cloud storage provider (Dropbox). The email list is opt-in and recipients can opt out at any time, even after the download their free book. I’m totally cool with that.

I don’t run ads on the site, but if I did, it would be through some kind of third party provider over which I would have little to no control. Which is pretty much why I don’t do it.

If you have questions about the policy or how I use your data, feel free to ask them in the comments below (anonymously, if you prefer).

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Friday flash fiction – The Thief-Catcher’s Prize

Aravel looks at the place where her hand used to be and smiles.

The light in her cold cell of wet bricks and black moss is poor, but she can make out the frayed linen bandage capping the stump of her wrist. Yesterday it was a soaking crimson; now it’s beginning to crust and turn brown. And again, there’s a faint smell like burned oranges and tomb dust. It’s not coming from her hand.

She wonders if they will hold her until she rots. Until she looks all over like her ruined arm. Pinched flesh, muscles consumed, veins just grey streaks.

They haven’t fed her. What little water she’s had to drink has come from the cracks between bricks and tastes of decay.

But she thinks they don’t want her to die. They wanted the hand, not her life. If they wanted her dead, she wouldn’t have the bandage. She remembers the surgeon, the one with the bad teeth, holding her down by the stump of her freshly-dismembered arm. She remembers – he tied off the veins and pushed her stump into the burning coals until it sizzled like steak. Only then did he apply the bandage.

She remembers. The recollections are hazy, through the wall separating her from the worst of the agony. But Aravel remembers.


The voice from the next cell, hissing again. The madman, spitting his words like they’re made of salt. Aravel has listened to him all these hours, snuffling and babbling vicious insults at some tormenter only he can perceive. A few times he has turned his wandering attention to her, which seems to anchor him in coherence, if not sanity.

“Poisoner! Hexen! Foreign scum!”

She’s as Pylorian as he is, but she knows it’s not worth her breath to correct him. She says, “Just a thief, old man. And not a very good one, to be so easily caught.”

“Oh, you do yourself a great disservice, Lady Nyles,” comes a haughty voice from the corridor outside her cell. A face made of deep lines cut into marbled steak appears in the viewing slit, stroking a sharp moustache. “You led us on a very merry chase through the streets of Calloix. I’d almost given up hope of taking you alive.”

“Better for us both if you hadn’t, Inspector Gossard. Better if you had simply shot me dead, that I might float face-down in the Jounte-Bellon and wash away out of your life.”

The Inspector beamed, nasty in his triumph. “Another anonymous thief dead in the river is nothing to me. But the famous burglar Vincenze, revealed as a Lady of the Court? Madame, my career is made, and I have you to thank for it.”

“The hell with your career, murderer.” Aravel coughs, deep and bloody. She spits on the floor, not heeding whether it splashes her tattered silk shoes.

“She’s a monster! Don’t let her touch you!”

“Shut up!” says Gossard. Then, to one of the square-shouldered guards who dress in violet and black, he adds, “Shut him up.”

A door creaks open. An old man whimpers. Something hard hits something soft. Something cracks. Then again, and again, until the whimpering is done.

Aravel watches Gossard’s face as they listen to the beating. A form of ecstasy is written across the Inspector’s stony features. She imagines the same look on his face as he wrought his “justice” upon her brother Somer. She finds it easy to harden her heart.

“You have something of mine, I think,” she says. The effort of standing makes her faint. The end of her wrist flares with an undiscovered species of pain. But she stands. She faces Gossard through the bars. His breath smells of rare beef and good liquor.

“Do you mean this?” He steps back, grasps the gold chain about his neck, and raises it. She would recognise the hand dangling from it anywhere. Long fingers, sharp knuckles, finger pads stained by a thousand tinctures, extracts and acids. Its twin is shaking at the end of her left arm. “You are mistaken. This is mine now, forever.”

She shakes her head. “Very well. I was done with it anyway.”

Inspector Gossard smiles unkindly. “You will not need it, Lady Nyles. The headsman knows his manners. He will assist you on your ascent to the block.”

Aravel regards him as she might one of her specimens. As though he is a wriggling thing on a slide, thrashing about his tiny spot of pond water. “You are not satisfied just to take my hand for your trophy? You must insist on my life as well?”

“As you said before, Lady Nyles. Better for us both if you do not live to see another sunset.”

Neither says what is unspoken. They both know what poisonous secrets Gossard protects, his own and others. Nothing will come of her speaking them aloud. The guards’ loyalties are bought easily if not cheaply, and Old Saltrum is not a prison where the inmates entertain visitors.

“So be it, Inspector. I hope, very soon, we can resume our acquaintance in hell.”

The vice within her chest grips her lungs in a vicious squeeze. Her composure collapses, and she coughs hard enough to weep.

Gossard barks once. “I think not. I plan to live a long and comfortable life. Goodbye.”

Gasping for air, unable to lift her face from the cold stones, Aravel listens to Gossard’s confident footsteps recede. She thinks she can make out the sound of the gold chain bumping its grisly weight against his chest.

Pain coils inside her. Aravel doubts she will survive until her appointment with the headsman. She thinks of Gossard, dining with his corrupt patrons. She thinks of her brother Somer, the great burglar Vincenze, betrayed by his accomplice.

And she thinks of the disease – that tiny, wriggling pond-worm, so happy to feast and multiply until it has spread to every cell in her body, here and elsewhere, and soon everywhere – and wishes it godspeed.


Well that got dark. A friend mentioned on Facebook that this week is the 29th anniversary of The Cure’s album Disintegration, so I listened to that and let the vibe lead me astray. (“Lullaby” may be the greatest creepy body horror song of all time)

By the way, I am currently participating a mass free book giveaway. There’s over 130 fantasy titles available to choose from, so even if you already have your copy of Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales, there’s probably something in the lineup to catch your eye. Check it out here, and feel free to send the link to anyone who might be interested in a cornucopia of zero-cost fantasy (offer runs until the 15th of May 2018)

Fantasy book giveaway!

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