Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
In my case it is simple, because my Lyonnesse is the world I would very much like to inhabit. It is a place where life is simpler and where magic and mystery still exist, and on the whole people are kinder to one another. Money isn’t the be all and end all and life is respected and held sacred. Not just the people, but everything that lives there, animal, plant and fungus. Things aren’t done quickly because it saves a few pennies (or cents). Things are done properly with love and attention.
I have been criticised as being anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Not true, well not in the conventional sense anyway. Probably because I make a big thing out of everyone bartering in Lyonnesse. I fully understand that money is the ultimate, and in some ways, logical tool for bartering with. However I do object to the way it is used in our society. It is used to coerce the poor into unfulfilling and mind-numbing jobs, whilst the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. The mathematics is simple, if everyone gets a 10% pay rise then the man at the bottom earning ten thousand a year get an extra thousand to take home. However, boardroom man earning one hundred thousand gets an extra ten thousand a year, the equivalent of an extra man doing the work at the bottom. I could go on and I know that this is simplistic but it is still true.
Also, because boardroom man is keen to meet targets and because labour and wages are the single greatest expenditure for most companies, if a few seconds can be shaved off of the time it take to do something, so much the better. As a result everything becomes just good enough at best, and pride in the work you do goes out the window. Take roads for example. Yes, alright, I have a bugbear about roads, but they make a good example. Years ago councils used to have their own road building/maintenance departments to look after the roads. And for the most part they did a good job and took pride in their work. They had to because their foreman of works would come along during and after the job to make sure it was being done properly.
Then, in an effort to save a few pennies, it was decreed that all works commissioned by councils had to go out to tender, and council work gangs were laid off. Many of the recently laid off workers organised themselves into small companies, often with the same managers they had had before. They still did a good job of repairing the roads and the council saved a little money because the small company didn’t have to support tiers of management and could therefore do it cheaper. The councils still had to pay someone to inspect the work after, but all was well, and the men still had pride in their work.
Enter big business. Why? Because the contracts for road repairs are very lucrative and there is money to be made. So many of the small business either had to reduce their prices to compete for the tenders or they were bought out by bigger firms. Since the costs of the materials used were fixed the only way to reduce the price was to do the job quick and therefore with less care. This reduced the number of companies vying for the tenders, seen as a good thing because it generates competition. The councils are still happy because they are still saving money, and they can save even more money by nor replacing their inspectors as they retire or leave because they are confident that a good job will be done because it was last year. The workers aren’t as happy because they no longer have the time to do the job to the standard they are used to.
Years pass as they have a habit of doing. All the small companies that were started when the work first went out to tender have now either gone out of business or been bought out by big business. This reduces the number of companies bidding for the tenders. The council is still under pressure to save money and goes for the lowest bid. (Yes, I’m not going to say anything about the backhanders that go on to get contracts.) The big companies have to save money, somewhere because they have the tiers of management to support that the small companies didn’t. But that’s ok because the old work gangs are getting to retirement age and are fed-up with the half arsed job they were doing. Instead of having the expense of hiring and paying wages, all new recruits are taken on as self-employed subcontractors. This not only saves the expense of employing staff but also means they don’t have to pay them if there is no work for them to do. The workers are only happy in the fact that they have a job and are earning a wage. The council still haven’t hired any more inspectors because they can’t afford it. Big business realises this and starts cutting corner in the work they do. This saves them even more money.
A short time later big business is happy because they are making lots of money. There is no one left in the gangs who knows how to repair the roads properly because they have all gone. Instead, the workers have to work to a tick box minimum standard and do it as quickly as possible using the least amount of materials as possible. They have no job satisfaction because not only are they self-employed and have no rights in the company and no say, but also they know they are doing a half arsed and how much the management is getting paid.
In the end the workers have no job satisfaction, council is paying more for the job that it would if it was doing the work itself, and the roads are in a terrible state because they have been poorly maintained and work is no longer inspected.
Big business is happy because there is an endless supply of work repairing roads that they didn’t repair properly before, and they are still getting paid for it.
Alright, alright, this is highly simplistic, but it is still true, and not just for roads, for everything that was subcontracted out and put to tender. Everything is now done to a tick box minimum standard. Excellence and pride in a job well done have become too expensive because there is no profit in it. Communism does not work because there is always someone who wants a larger slice of the pie. However, capitalism can only exist where there is a poorly paid underclass.
As usual please feel free to comment or rant at my rantings.
Tag Archives: speculative fiction
Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
It’s a bit difficult to know where to start. Really I suppose I’m trying to explain what I wanted to achieve in a book without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it.
I drifted sideways from Fantasy to Sci-Fi with my book ‘Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector). I regard SF and Fantasy as a continuum rather than two separate genres. Hard SF is very much at one edge of the continuum, Space Opera is much closer to Fantasy.
Tackling a new field, I wanted to try and achieve something I’d never really attempted with Fantasy, I wanted to show the ‘alien-ness’ that is possible within humanity. Matthew Hughes explained it best in his book, ‘The Other’.
I’ll quote him, rather than try and explain it myself;-
“At that moment, Imbry experienced an instance of the abrupt mental dislocation that often struck those who travelled widely among the Ten Thousand Worlds. He had heard it called the ‘Bump’ or the ‘dissonance’ and had encountered it himself more than once. It was the psychic shock suffered by a human being from one world who suddenly became aware that the person from some other world with whom he was innocently interacting possessed a radically, perhaps chillingly, different mindscape.
The two might be chance-met in a tavern. They would fall into innocent chat about inconsequential matters, each convinced by the other’s views on the weather or the quality of the beer that they were like-minded in all that matters. Until one of them offers an offhand comment about the tedium involved in having to sell his surplus offspring, or enthuses salaciously about next week’s public evisceration of a malefactor whose crime turns out to be something like scratching a buttock within ten paces of the portrait of a local saint.
An icy frisson passes through the stranger. He holds himself perfectly still though his eyes dart about, alarmed. Shadows seem to gather about him. All at once it seems perfectly possible, even likely, that the bland couple sitting at an adjacent table, or the idlers in the street outside might without warning show fangs and unsheathe claws, leap upon the hapless visitor, and turn an until-now pleasant excursion into an impromptu abattoir.”
How do you write ‘the Bump’? Is it possible to allow the reader to experience it or is it merely something you describe the characters experiencing?
I’ve got theories, (or less pompously) I’ve got a feeling that it can be done, but I think that to do it, the universe and the characters must seem normal. They must be people that the reader can empathise with and like. Once you’ve achieved this, you might be able to have your characters and readers go through ‘the Bump’ together. Perhaps.
But still, I wanted to bring into the story things that were of striking normality, experiences the readers could imagine and might want to share. Here’s one of them:-
“When Haldar and Bartan arrived back it was still dark, the streets were quiet, bicycle rickshaws taking the last of the revellers home. Padro was waiting to pilot them in his own flitter. As they flew north and east, Bartan peered down into the darkness spreading out below them. They passed over the lights of the city, then the suburbs, until finally below them was largely dark.
Finally Bartan, sniffing appreciatively, said. “I’m finally beginning to feel at home.”
”Why’s that?” Padro asked, curiously.
“The subtle chife of night soil carried on the breeze,” Bartan explained.
Padro waved a proprietorial arm, as if encompassing the entire plain. “I was born down there.”
Haldar leaned over the side of the flitter and asked, “What are those lights?”
Below them were hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light, concentrated in a rectangular area, perhaps a thousand yards long and a hundred yards wide.
Bartan glanced down. “I’d guess they’re little weeding droids. Are they Padro?”
“Yes, the lights are so you can find the damned things when you need to move them to the next plot.”
“They’re little things about the size of a fist,” Bartan explained to Haldar, “big enough to carry recognition software and pair of snips.”
Haldar was still watching the lights in the darkness. “Why the parallel sides to the area they’re working in?
Bartan asked Padro, “It looks like you use standard half meter soil pipes.”
“Indeed, then they feed into fifteen mil pipes running between plots and we use the usual commercial solar pumps to keep things moving.”
Bartan nodded. “There’s your answer Haldar, the pipes mark the sides of the plot. They serve a combination fertiliser and irrigation system. At least I’d assume irrigation, are there waste water reservoirs, so that you can dilute for irrigation purposes?”
There was pride in Padro’s voice. “Yes, fertiliser and irrigation, but the reservoirs are buried, we don’t waste land. The fifteen mil pipes take standard fittings so you just go in and set up the rain-guns when you want to irrigate a plot.”
Bartan said, “I’ve moved rain-guns in my time. I assume that those down there have their own solar panel to power their pumps.”
“They do.” Padro smiled as he reminisced. “I used to move and service rain-guns before I made enough money to start my first night club.”
“Jarado B14 Masticators in line to keep things chopped up fine and moving, stop the nozzles blocking?” Bartan asked.
“No, we use the big B145, but you only need one every twenty miles.”
Bartan nodded to Haldar. “Ever seen a Jarado Masticator working?”
Haldar sounded a little bemused. “Unless they’ve taken to fitting them to warships, it’s a branch of technology that’s passed me by.”
“They’re impressive. They break things down so completely that they’ll rupture cell membranes. They’ll even break up waste wood that gets into the system.”
“I suppose that’s impressive.”
”It is.” Bartan glanced at Padro. “On New Charity, we reckon they’ll break down a human body in a couple of minutes, and ten minutes later the murder victim is spread over a hundred acres of wheat.”
“Look,” Padro said, “Haldar has a nasty, suspicious mind and doesn’t need encouraging. How about we go down to ground level and take in the dawn?”
Bartan gave a broad smile, “now you’re spoiling me. It might even keep Haldar from mentally running through his missing persons file to see how many have been recycled as fertiliser.”
Padro brought the flitter down and landed it on a dirt road. He switched off the engines, and as they slowly stopped spinning, silence returned to the area. The three men sat quietly for some minutes, watching the first red glow appear on the underside of the clouds. The glow spread, reds, orange, even a hint of purple, and then there was the first rays of the sun. Day had broken.
Suddenly there came the sound of a score of little motors starting up. Bartan tapped Haldar on the shoulder and pointed. On the nearest rain-gun the solar panel was slowly rotating to face the east. Along both edges of the plot a score or more of other rain-guns mimicked the action. As they watched, the sound of the motors grew louder, and then as Star MM43-62 showed her full face, all the rain-guns blasted a ruby laden coruscating fan of water into the air. The rain-guns of Akin saluted the dawn.”
When this topic was first discussed a while back, I joked that I could use a scene where Jared is chasing himself round a garden. It’s a genuine scene, and not quite as strange as it sounds. Because I’m a woman of my word, I’m going to include said scene in this. It technically does demonstrate pursuit, just not in the normal way of someone chasing someone else on foot or in a vehicle. This is more of a hunt, as are most of my scenes of this nature. This particular example comes from Proving Negatives and shows Jared following a scent that he is sure will lead him to a killer, and he is equally certain that he is actually the killer. So he is effectively chasing himself around a garden. By this point I’m sure none of you expect something normal from me. Here we go.
The stench was unbearable as I neared it, and it seemed to be coming from the surrounding carpet rather than the body. It moved away from the body and out through the back door, like a trail inviting me on. It felt extremely foolish to follow it, as though I were the naïve woman in a typical scary film, calling out into the darkness and chasing after chaos. But I’m a vampire, and this was a trail of decay. I had an image of a zombie in my mind, one rotting all over the place and leading similar dead creatures onto the next life. And then I remembered what a true raised corpse was like, and that I am friends with one, and the image faded. I was back in the doorway of my cousin’s house, following a trail into the night.
I needn’t have worried, because the trail led to the back of the garden and then grew weak as it met weeds and the hideout of a hedgehog. As I tried to get a closer look at this, I disrupted the wildlife and a series of animals took off into the night. I hesitated as I realised that the scent led over the fence. Well, it would have been too easy to find the cause lying in a clump of weeds. I knew, deep down, that this wasn’t going to happen. Not because it was easy, but because the attacker was stumbling around in the dark looking for himself. This trail was obviously being used in the same way as the flowery fog back at our house. My true fear was that the trail would grow so weak that what it was here to cover would become uncovered, and that it would be me – my scent – And would loop around and lead back to the road where I had woken. I thought this, but couldn’t quite bring myself to truly believe it. I was desperate for any other answer. Because I didn’t do this. I couldn’t have, it was absurd. And yet I couldn’t prove I hadn’t done it. How can you prove a negative? The most I could do was prove that someone else did do it.
Perhaps now I should try a more typical scene to demonstrate my…uh…talents. The whole of my first novel, Plead Insanity, features this particular topic. The novel is basically about Jared being chased by the police or by his fellow vampires. He also involves himself in a form of chase, though again it’s more like a hunt, as he tries to locate various hostages whilst he himself is still being chased. So without further ado, here is my full novel! Okay, I’m joking. I’ve taken three sections that show Jared’s escape from prison and the police pursuing him. The first portion is his initial escape, shown below.
The fall was over a lot quicker than expected. One minute there was air rushing past me, the next I had landed crouched on the ground and was just feet from the nearest officers. If they hadn’t been so stunned by my sudden appearance then they would’ve had me, but luckily I recovered first and ran from the prison. I ran until my surroundings were blurred and the only sound I could hear was the wind in my ears. I made the mistake of looking back and ended up stumbling. In that moment I was able to register that I was indeed being chased and that they had also closed the gap between us when I tripped. I regained momentum and ran flat out until I reached a large wall that presumably surrounded the entire prison. I fought my body not to slow and ended up running headlong through the wall. My vision burst into stars from the impact so I closed my eyes and used my other senses to keep running. I had managed to run onto another grassy area. I could feel it underfoot, but unlike the grass in the prison grounds this was long and overgrown and harder to run flat out on.
I slowed accordingly but didn’t stop running. There were distant shouts and orders back at the prison. They seemed to have stopped some feet back, probably near the Jared-shaped hole in the wall.
A while later and the only sounds were birds and other wildlife. I opened my eyes a fraction to see if my vision was back and found that I was seconds from crashing headfirst into a tree. I veered off course and slowed down some more. Only then did I look back for my pursuers. They were nowhere in sight. I looked towards a vast gathering of trees and changed direction towards them. Once far enough among them that the field was no longer visible, I grabbed the branch of a nearby tree and pulled myself up.
So far, so good, as Jared is able to remain away from the police and seems to have the advantage of speed on his side. He is soon joined by his father, which can only be a good thing, right? They not-so-wisely seek refuge in a small place not far from the prison, where the police soon come calling. The following shows Jared and Ezra’s escape from their place of apparent safety.
Ezra mumbled a quick “follow me” and jumped onto a small desk and leapt through the ceiling. The noise from downstairs was so loud that I didn’t bother thinking about it and just followed his lead. Once on the roof I had a moment to register that this was the one place that the cops couldn’t see from the ground, then Ezra pulled me into a crouching position. I really don’t have the hang of the whole master-criminal thing yet.
I took Ezra’s lead without being asked this time and started searching for the best escape route. This meant relying on sense of smell and hearing to pinpoint each policeman, as there was no way to look for them without them spotting us.
The men were widely spread around the bungalow but there was a weak link near the sound of flowing water.
“We’ll need to jump into the river,” I hissed at Ezra. “If we swim away then we’re more likely to lose them then on foot. Chances are they have enough squad cars to run us down otherwise.”
He looked at me for a brief moment with a smile playing his lips before answering. “I agree. The conditions of the water will drain what little life we both have. Whilst it’s happening we will be slowed down, but once dead we’ll be able to swim underwater until we lose them.”
I wasn’t very comfortable with the fact that we would be ‘dying’ once more, but ignored that small factor and nodded. He took it as the approval it was and then motioned for me to follow once more before plummeting over the edge of the roof. I followed in a heartbeat and was soon submerged in icy water for the second time.
Ezra was right; the water started draining me immediately. It hardly had time to slow me down before I was back to being the walking dead. Or should I say swimming dead? Okay, no time for attempted humour, the police had somehow noticed two men jumping off the roof and were shooting into the water as we swam. I was really getting sick of being fired at.
I spent the next half hour watching Ezra swimming in front of me. He swam so gracefully, it didn’t really match his personality. He managed to move along effortlessly with just his feet lightly propelling him forwards, almost like a mermaid. As effortless as it looked, he must’ve been putting a lot of power into it as I could barely keep up. I tried to master the same technique as it caused minimal ripples in the water, meaning that it was harder for the police to spot, but all I managed to do was slow us down and miss getting shot by a fraction.
After a few more miles Ezra stopped swimming and turned to face me. He spoke with a stream of bubbles issuing from his mouth but I was still able to make the words out clearly; “Is it safe to resurface?” I found it strange that he was asking me, but searched for the answer nevertheless. I could hear that there was somebody walking along just feet from us, but other than that there was just the sound of leaves and grass being swayed by a light wind. I took a moment to be certain that the person was walking away and to ponder in amazement that I was able to hear everything so clearly even through the murky water.
Once the sounds of the walker had disappeared I swam cautiously to the water’s surface and peered out. We were surrounded by a gravelly path and grass but there were no people about. I swam to the edge of the river and climbed out onto the embankment. Seconds later Ezra was straightening up beside me.
So they’ve made it this far without any real mishap (unless you count being killed, shot at, and all the rest of it as a form of mishap, that is). Now all they have to do is keep moving and go into hiding. What am I saying? Vampires don’t hide from humans, or at least these vampires don’t. But short of fighting the entire human race, what can Jared to do? Ah yes, fake his own death. Is it the norm for scenes of this nature to end in such a way? Generally there might be a fight to the death, or even a touch of suicide to keep from the reach of those who have been so desperately avoided. I guess this is kind of a mixture of those. And whose idea was it? Ezra’s. I’m sure Jared would now disagree with my earlier claim of their reunion being a good thing. Below is the result of this particular perusal. You’ll have to read the novel if you want to know more. [Insert evil cackle here].
By the time we had located a working payphone the sun had risen and people were passing us on the streets to get to work and school. Ezra was the one to step inside and make the phone call as I refused to turn myself in to the police. I walked away so that I could no longer hear him talking low and urgently in the phone booth, which put me around the corner at the end of the street he was on. Even then, if I concentrated, I could still hear the conversation. I tried not to concentrate but it seemed I couldn’t help myself. Sighing, I continued walking away.
Moments later Ezra had caught up with me and seemed to be having some kind of internal struggle. In the end he gave up and turned to me.
“I’ll be staying in a B&B near the graveyard. I would stay with you to see if this works well but I have every faith that you’ll pull it off, and it wouldn’t do us any good at all if I jumped in to try and spare you some of the agony.” He patted me gruffly on the shoulder. Manly. “Whatever you may think, I would jump in to stop it if I could. I really don’t enjoy seeing you in pain. Humiliating yourself, sure, but no parent wants to see their children suffer.”
Strangely, I believed him, and I swear that I saw the glistening of unshed tears in his eyes before he turned away to walk back along the path we had just come down.
I continued walking along the street until I found the bench that Ezra had told the police I was sitting on. I sat down and contemplated whether buying a newspaper to read would be too cliché. In the end I decided not to bother and just made it look as though I was enjoying the wintry sun. People shivered as they passed. How did that man and his daughter manage to sleep undressed at this time of year? Most humans would freeze.
Buttoning up the jacket I had thankfully not ruined too much when escaping prison I sat back and tried to act more human in such temperatures.
I knew when the police were coming because the sirens split through the quiet street. I never really understand why the police will always insist on putting sirens on to warn criminals away. If it’s to get through traffic then why don’t they just turn the lights on?
I opened my eyes a fraction to see that people on the streets were looking around for the source of the noise, but none of them were staring at me. I’m obviously less famous than I thought. Can’t say I’m disappointed really.
The police arrived with many squealing brakes and shouts not to move. I warily put my hands up, palms out, so that they could see I wasn’t carrying any offensive weapon. Then I remembered that I was supposed to provoke them into shooting me. Looking around, I couldn’t see anywhere to make a clean break for it without them hesitating due to civilians.
In the end I just decided to try and cause them as much pain as they were about to cause me. I grabbed hold of the nearest officer and hit him with enough strength to make him pass out. When I felt an arm reach out to cuff me I lashed out and winded him. It only took a couple more blows before the first shot rang out. It grazed my arm but somehow didn’t seem like a killing blow. If I played dead right then I think they would consider doing a post-mortem just because it would be such a pathetic wound to die from.
I managed to hurt a few more of the officers before somebody tried to shoot again. This time I looked around in time to see the barrel of the gun directed towards my head just moments before the trigger was pulled. There was no way I was letting that bullet hit its target. A chest wound would be bad enough. I really didn’t fancy having to heal my brain and skull. It’d probably turn me as crazy as the punishment that Ezra mentioned would.
I thought about just grabbing hold of one of the guns and “accidentally” shooting it point blank into my own chest but decided against it. As tiresome as it was to keep fighting, it was nice to be doing something to delay the excruciating pain of having my life drained.
It didn’t take long before somebody tried for the killing blow once more. Unfortunately it was a seemingly inexperienced officer who tried it this time, and his aim was way off, spiralling towards the chest of another policeman. Not thinking, I dove in front of the man it was heading for and felt it make contact with my heart.
Hmm…. I notice a couple of my esteemed colleagues mentioning car chases. So here I am with a book which largely features car chases because the hero is a getaway driver thinking ‘hmm… do I have a bit that is not a car chase?” My main character is absolutely yellow so he’s running fast, in the opposite direction to danger, most of the time, especially in the first book. So yeh, pursuit. Pretty much the whole book including a nice one on foot… but then, with all that talk of car chases I thought I might as well. Spot the petrol head.
This is where I should also fess up he lives in a parallel reality where the cars are all James Bond cars and they fly and they’re called Snurds. And I want one. Yeh.
To set the scene. The Pan of Hamgee, our hero, drives for a gang of bank robbers. They give him some junk items which are of religious significance and Lord Vernon, K’Barth’s despot ruler, wants them. Some members of the security forces have questioned The Pan about it, luckily, not too closely because while his getaway antics are famous, nobody knows it’s him. After their next robbery, things change.
Because there’s a lot of boring information to jemmy into my books along the way, I try to impart it while my characters are doing something interesting. I think this is probably quite a good example of my attempts to dump facts on the reader subliminally, so to speak, while they’re too busy being interested in something else.
The robbery went without a hitch, despite all The Pan’s fears, and the Grongolian police were even dopier and easier to shake off than usual. Maybe that was what aroused his suspicions. Glancing behind him he thought he caught sight of another snurd cutting swiftly through the traffic. It might be somebody in a hurry, he told himself. There was no reason for anyone to be following them, they had thrown off all their pursuers, but The Pan wanted to be sure. They were travelling through one of the newer parts of the city, which was built in a grid formation, so he turned swiftly down a side road and zigzagged onto a parallel street.
Behind him, in the distance, was a glint of light as a distant snurd pulled out of a similar side street and continued to follow them. It was black, with the same anonymous dark tinted windows as the MK II. The Pan pressed the button labelled ‘wings’, waited while the MK II transmogrified itself into aviator mode and took off. Almost a mile back, half concealed by the traffic in between them, he could make out the shape of the other snurd taking off, too. He increased his speed, flipped up another side street and continued on his way. Behind him the other snurd mirrored his manoeuvre.
“The robbery’s over. What are you doing?” demanded Big Merv.
“Trying to spill himself some loot,” said Frank. The Pan sighed. He was used to Frank’s digs. The two of them didn’t get along. In fact he suspected that, left to his own devices, nothing would please Frank more than cutting his throat.
“We’re being followed,” he said.
Frank turned round in his seat and surveyed the road behind.
“I don’t see nothing,” he said.
“That’s why you rob and I drive,” muttered The Pan.
“What did you say? You little piece of—”
“Shut it!” warned Big Merv.
Frank and Harry fastened their seat belts – any chance of a chase and they knew the drill. They craned their heads through the back windows. The Pan waited while Big Merv scrutinised the view in his wing mirror. He was glad that his boss was suspicious, not to mention cautious, enough to check.
“’What’s it look like?”
“Black, low slung, fast. It’s not a shape I’m familiar with.”
“Nah,” said Big Merv. “Me neither. Tinted windows though, like ours. If it ain’t another gang, it must be Grongolian. Either way, I reckon it’s bad news. Lose it.”
Far away in another dimension of space and time the pursuing snurd was a 1955 Mercedes prototype, the Uhlenhaut, with gull-wing doors.
The MK II morphed back into aviator mode and doubled its speed in two stomach-lurching seconds, as The Pan floored the accelerator. He flew upwards, skimming the rooftops of the adjacent buildings and down into the next street in the opposite direction. Slowing up he checked his surroundings carefully.
Surely it wasn’t going to be this easy?
The Pan shuddered. He hadn’t lied to Big Merv, the shape of the black snurd was unfamiliar, but it did fit with rumours he had heard. The kinds of tales no getaway man would want to dwell on. Stories of desperate flights, of the finest drivers relentlessly pursued through the darkness of the night and downed in a boiling fireball. Stories of an invincible shape, a legend, a ghost, a mechanical banshee that came screaming out of nowhere to do its lethal work and disappeared as quickly. It was called the Interceptor and nobody was sure it existed but then hardly anyone who’d seen it had lived to describe their experience – certainly none of the people who had been chased. If the anonymous black snurd was the Interceptor, The Pan realised he and his colleagues were as good as dead and there was nothing he could do about it.
He decelerated to normal speed, landed among the rest of the terrestrial traffic and carried on as if he and the Mervinettes were a group of normal people going about their business.
They had gone almost a mile and there was still no sign of their pursuer.
“Have you got rid of it?” asked Big Merv.
Whoever was driving that black snurd had been very subtle and The Pan suspected it was still out there. He took his hands off the wheel to make a ‘search me’ gesture.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not like the others. He knows what he’s doing.”
They were driving along one of the main thoroughfares of the city and as usual, it was busy. The Pan was sick with nerves. If anything happened, the presence of other traffic gave him little room to manoeuvre and although he could remain inconspicuous more easily with other snurds around him, so could his pursuer. He turned into a side road and pulled onto a narrower, less frequented street one block over that ran parallel to the one they had been on.
They were going in the wrong direction and he would need to turn around, but he wanted to be doubly sure they had lost their tail before he did. Although he could see nothing, he had an instinctive belief they were still being followed. He had learned to trust his instincts but as yet for his fellow Mervinettes – especially Frank and Harry – trust was still a work in progress. They were getting restless; he was going to have to turn round soon or they were going to get irritated and Big Merv was going to vent his irritation on him the only way he knew how – physically. Big Merv never hit him hard, but he still didn’t want to get thumped. If anyone was behind them he would have to draw them into the open by going so fast they had to concentrate on keeping up rather than concealing themselves. He accelerated, and as he did so the black snurd pulled out of a side alley ahead of them, turned towards them and stopped in the middle of the street. The Pan screeched to a halt, engaging reverse. As the MK II’s backing lights came on, a flotilla of police snurds pulled out side roads and garages up and down the street, behind him, about 40 of them.
“Arnold!” said Big Merv. “It’s a trap.”
“Mmm,” said The Pan, selecting first gear.
We join the driver of the black snurd for an instant just to find out who he is – I’ve edited that out for brevity – and we rejoin The Pan just as his colleagues are jumping to the inevitable – though wrong – conclusion.
“You little scrote! You’ve set us up!” shouted Frank, and Big Merv glared at The Pan.
“Well? Is that what’s got into you? Have you been disloyal to me?” His voice had an ominous tone and The Pan realised, with horror, that he was close to believing Frank.
“No, no I promise,” he whimpered.
“If you have, we’re going to be paying a visit to the river later,” Big Merv continued, “It’ll be just like old times.”
“N-no,” stammered The Pan. “This isn’t about us. It’s something we stole.”
“Have you been keeping information from me?” asked Big Merv.
The engine of the black snurd revved and with his foot on the clutch The Pan revved the MK II back.
“Yes,” said The Pan distractedly before realising the gravity of his admission, “I mean no,” he corrected himself quickly, “not on purpose.” He turned to his boss who was glaring at him. The antennae were moving but only just, and they were standing up straight, which meant Big Merv was on the brink of blind rage. The Pan glanced down the street at the black snurd, which was still revving its engine aggressively and at the same time, sneaked a look behind at the ranks of police snurds blocking his retreat. This was not a good time for Big Merv to lose his rag, The Pan needed him to be able to listen, answer questions and more to the point think. Better make the explanation fast.
“Remember that stuff you gave me? The junk?”
“Yer,” said Merv, “we remember.”
“It might have belonged to Lord Vernon,” said The Pan. He said it quickly in order to lessen the impact.
“What?” bellowed Big Merv.
“Some Grongles came to the Parrot and they said it belonged to—”
“I heard you the first time, you twonk,” shouted Big Merv, “Why in Arnold’s name didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it mattered,” lied The Pan who’d spent several wakeful nights wondering how on earth he could bring the subject up and had chickened out.
“You’re not here to think, I THINK, you drive. Anything, ANYTHING you hear, you tell me, right?”
“Yes,” squeaked The Pan. The snurd ahead of them revved its engine again and he glanced nervously about him, checking his escape options.
“Can you get us out of this?” asked Big Merv.
“I don’t know,” said The Pan. He could feel himself going white, he was shivering with fright, cold sweat running down the side of his face. A big part of his job was appearing to be in control, in this instance it was vital. It would be testing enough coping with the chase, let alone if the gang lost their confidence and he had to contend with any back seat driving. He smiled, with what he hoped was a devil-may-care demeanour, rather than the rictus grimace that would more truly reflect the way he felt. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
“You’d better,” said Big Merv, “an’ if you don’t, they won’t catch you alive because I’ll kill you myself. You get me?”
“Oh yes,” muttered The Pan, “I get you.”
He checked the MK II was still in gear and pressed the accelerator pedal as far down as it would go. As he did so, the driver of the black snurd in front of them did the same thing and they hurtled towards each other. The two snurds were on a collision course. The Pan moved the MK II left and the Interceptor moved right. He swung the MK II back to the right and the Interceptor moved left.
“What are you doing you great plank?” shouted Big Merv. “I said get us out, not take him out.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hit us.”
It was Lord Vernon against him, it had to be. It was a replay of that whole sidestepping incident again, only on wheels. He abandoned any effort to avoid contact, selected aviator mode and carried on accelerating. The Interceptor was yards away now but The Pan was going fast enough to take off. Both snurds left the ground at the same time. As The Pan saw the front of his opponent’s vehicle looming ahead, he moved the MK II sharply upwards and as the other snurd followed, he yanked the wheel downwards. The underside of the Interceptor filled the windscreen, blotting out the light, and there was a bump as it, too, moved lower and clipped the roof of Big Merv’s snurd. The MK II hit the ground with a massive crash and bounced into the air.
“Mind my suspension you pillock!” shouted Big Merv angrily as they accelerated upwards.
“If you don’t shut up the suspension’s going to be the least of your worries,” said The Pan, who was beginning to feel more in control, and therefore at liberty to be lippy, “this is going to be difficult enough.”
The police snurds didn’t follow, they were pursued solely by the black snurd and The Pan could only view this as a bad sign. It was the first piece of Grongolian technology he had seen which measured up to the MK II, more than measured up. The Pan couldn’t match the acceleration of the Interceptor and after ten minutes it was as close as ever. After fifteen minutes it tried to ram them and it was only by jinking sharply to the right that The Pan was able to avoid contact. Instead of passing them and cutting them off, it hung back waiting for an opportunity to repeat the manoeuvre. Big Merv was scared and reacted the only way he knew how, by hiding his fear behind a façade of anger. The Pan could forgive him that – nobody was perfect and on the few occasions it happened, he saw it as a bond, a tiny patch of common ground in the vast desert between them.
“I thought you could drive,” Big Merv growled.
“I can and you know it,” The Pan raised his hands and shrugged, “unfortunately, so can he.”
“Keep your hands on the wheel you great pranny!”
“Then, keep your hair on,” muttered The Pan, “you trust me to do this, remember?”
“Don’t get arsy with me you wimp, just get us out of this,” shouted Big Merv, “NOW!”
The Interceptor fired a snurd-to-snurd missile. The Pan wove in and out of lamp posts, buildings, chimneys and trees with the missile in hot pursuit until, finally, he managed to corner so sharply it continued onwards and exploded harmlessly against the side of a nearby office block. Having failed to obliterate its quarry the Interceptor reappeared and made another attempt to ram them. At last The Pan could see a way out, but it wasn’t one Big Merv was going to like.
“I think I can lose him,” he said, “but the MK II—”
“Just do it,” shouted Big Merv, “and for Arnold’s sake get a move on before you make me throw up, you spotty little Herbert. I have some pride, unlike you, so don’t make me humiliate myself in front of the boys here because if I do, YOU will be valeting this vehicle from top to bottom. Got it?”
“Merv,” began The Pan, wearily, oops too wearily, “sir,” he added quickly, “you know my aim here is to keep us alive, not to make you ill. Concentrate on looking straight ahead, or the view out of the window or something. If it’s that bad, there’s always a plastic bag in the glove compartment.”
Ahead of them was the financial district of Ning Dang Po, complete with skyscrapers. The Pan, hotly pursued by the Interceptor, skimmed over the parapet of the Quaarl Futures Building. He flew low over the roof garden full of resting traders in a selection of bizarre striped and coloured blazers, who scattered in all directions, flattening themselves to the green plastic lawn. As the MK II swooped over them and reached the parapet on the other side, The Pan yanked at the wheel. The bonnet dipped and the front bumper clipped the stonework with a loud thud. The impact flipped the MK II upside down and immediately, The Pan accelerated. As Big Merv’s snurd had somersaulted its back bumper had hit the bottom of the Interceptor and thrown it forward causing the driver to lose control for a few precious seconds. Not long, but enough time for The Pan to fly away as fast as he could. After a minute or two he realised he was still flying upside down.
He righted the MK II and descended swiftly into the nearby Goojan Quarter where the streets were narrow and the houses close enough together to mask a snurd from the air. By the time their mystery pursuer had regained control and turned round the MK II had disappeared from sight.
The Mervinettes sat in stunned silence as The Pan drove them back to the lock-up.