Saturday 30 June 2012

It's here!

Just a mini update to say...

The anthology is out! ^_^

This is the New Plan is my first collection. The stories were selected from over a year's writing, all re-edited and polished to a standard that I am very proud of, a standard equal to anything you might find on the shelves at your local bookshop, I believe.

I plan on writing a few blog posts going into a little more detail... the story order, the cover, the introduction, and why it's only available (for now, at least) on Kindle, among other things. But this is just to say, "Yay! It's here!"

The blurb (or product description, as Amazon calls it):

This is the New Plan. Thirty three genre-blending works of fiction. Thirty one flash fictions book-ended by two short stories.

This is the way the world dies. The way it is born. The way it lives and breathes. Our world, other worlds. The past, the present, the never, the future.

Discover endings and beginnings; hope and damnation; angels and demons; stolen futures... Gods, cowboys, zombies, witches, sci-fi samurai, psychopaths, little red men from Mars, and more...

Let me take you on a journey, let me show you wonders.


Friday 29 June 2012

Flash Fiction: Ghost, Abandoned

Mercy presses her back to the solid oak of the balcony, the dust has settled and she can hear nothing moving in the church below. She squints in the sunlight slanting alternately bright then stained through the broken glass window in front of her, and waits. Her breathing slows.

There is a crunching, drawn-out squeak as someone pushes the heavy front door open, sweeping rubble and fallen masonry aside. It is a testament to the workmanship of ages past that the church is still standing after the pitched battle that just passed within its walls.

Mercy whispers to her pistol with her mind. Scorpion is an ancient weapon, from late in the first technological age. He has been with Mercy for years; she has kept him occupied and well-maintained and the Lords have never recalled him.

He whispers back to her. Two ogres have entered the church. He warns her that he has only two bullets left.

Her left hand disappears into thin air as she reaches between Realms for a weapon. She is hoping for something heavy... high calibre, high rate of fire, something in black. She gets nothing. She tries again. Not a new clip for Scorpion, not even a dagger, nothing comes to hand.

The Lords of the Armoury have withdrawn their patronage.

She looks down at Scorpion. He is more than a weapon to her, he is her partner. He was granted to her as she haunted the frontlines for an ascendant Britannia, but then came the Regiphage, the King Plague, to decimate their ranks, and soon after that, the Saxonite Betrayal. He is an Artefact; the technologies beneath his matt, black casing cannot be replicated by today’s engineering.

Scorpion weighs heavily in her hand. The Lords are neutral only in as much as they arm anyone who might one day win. Something must have happened, some other unforeseen blow that has made the Armoury utterly lose faith in Britannia.

She whispers inquisitively to Scorpion.

The Lords have requested his return. And he has refused their request. He adds that one of the ogres is at the foot of the stairs to the balcony. The other is moving to the back of the church, below them, to check the vestry.

Did no one tell them about haunted houses? You never split up.

There is no cover up here, just the wooden steps downwards and at the other end, a spiralling stone staircase leading up inside the bell tower. She holsters Scorpion and creeps softly across the floor, relieved as none of the floorboards creak. She hides against the wall and listens as his heavy steps cautiously approach.

He glances her way but she slides between realms and ghosts behind him. He is twice her height and much wider, and most of that bulk is muscle and steel-laced bone. They are vat grown things, ogres, warrior thugs. Not many people have taken one on at close range and survived, the modified build and bone left few weak spots, even without taking their armour and uncanny speed into account.

Mercy snatches a machete from his waist, phasing it through its sheath, and she jumps. She ghosts the blade again as she rises, shoving it through his head and letting it rematerialise inside his brain. Armour and a thickened skull are not so much of a problem when you can move things between Realms.

His swinging arm barely misses her and takes a chunk of stonework out of the wall. She rolls out of the way, back onto the balcony. The primary brain is down, but the secondary at the base of the ogre’s spine still drives him after her.

She dives, grabbing his trouser legs and ghosting. He falls through the floor with her but she is clear first and she leaves him stuck, the wooden floor piercing his stomach. She hangs from his twitching legs for a second, then drops safely to the ground.

The other ogre swivels to face her, pistol in hand. His revolver is almost artillery, probably too heavy for her to even lift, certainly too wild for her to ever fire; the recoil would break her wrists. There is a deep boom as he fires.

She shifts.

Stone disintegrates as the thick bullet punches straight through the ancient wall behind her.

He fires again and she flits between Realms, closing the distance, haunting right up to him.

Scorpion yells danger as the ogre drops the revolver and draws a knife. It is a phase blade, existing through several realms. She will not be able to shift herself out of its way.

She back flips, dodging as the ogre lunges for her. He grins, he knows where she is and she can’t ghost. He has taken her two main advantages away.

Scorpion whispers to her that this entire section of floor, the raised dais where an altar, lectern and priest might once have stood, is made of a single massive block of stone.

Mercy drops and puts a hand to the floor. It’s a lot of mass, but nothing she can’t handle.

The ogre looks surprised as his feet fall through and then angry as she brings the stone back, holding him in place by the ankles. She sees him contemplate throwing the knife, but that would remove his only defence against her.

This would be a lot easier if she could be sure of refreshing Scorpion’s ammo, but she must conserve. She backs towards the door, never turning away from the ogre’s malevolent stare or his wicked knife, relying on Scorpion to let her know if any new threats approach.

She walks out into a war torn city; its cracked towers are empty, its hollow streets are quiet. The gusting wind whips brick and concrete dust into brief spectres. She needs to get back to Britannia. She needs to get home.

And thus ends the second year of the Xeroverse.
Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. ^_^

Two years! Let's celebrate. =)
Starting this Sunday (July 1st) will be the second Xeroversary - a week a guest flash fiction from some of my favourite flash writers.

Check out last year's afterparty for a taste, and do pop by next week, it's an open party! ^_^

Friday 22 June 2012

Flash Fiction: The General

A stern voice was trying to make itself heard in the back of Tony’s mind. It began as observations and not-so-gentle urgings. Tony was familiar with the General’s intrusions.

All six waiters have earpieces.

Tony had to admit, they did all have earpieces. But was that so unusual? Weren’t waiters meant to be coordinated?

They don’t move like waiters. They move like soldiers.

Tony knew this one. His therapist had covered this one. Pure paranoia.

There, did you see that? A gun, holstered where the bulge won’t show.

That did look like a gun. No. No, a mobile phone, a radio, maybe.

Tony was there on the strictest condition that he behaved. The doctor had promised Tony’s sister and her new husband that he could behave himself, that he wouldn’t have another episode.

Tony had thought the General might consider the therapist an enemy, trying to purge his influence from Tony’s mind. But the General said that Doctor Sharman was merely misguided, and doing her job, or trying to, given that she lacked all the relevant information.

His sister was preparing to cut the cake. Tony positioned himself between the table and the trolley holding the plates, between the nearest waiter and the couple. His sister shot him a slightly troubled look, but he was behaving himself. He smiled back, reassuringly.

The General had suggested he stand there, and when the General was insistent he was hard to resist. Besides, it did no harm to give the general a little leeway. That was the route to normalcy, apparently; indulge the General on the little things and it would be easier to stand up to him on other things. Exercise judgement, and restraint.

Tony smashed a handy bottle of champagne over the nearby waiter’s head. A wave of pale yellow and seaweed-green shards burst across the waiter’s face. The sun picked out tiny glistening stars in the spray of expensive wine as the waiter slewed sideways into the trolley, heaving it over in a roaring avalanche of shattered crockery.

The waiter had been reaching for something beneath the trolley. The General had reacted. His reactions were considerably faster than Tony’s.

The General was there to protect Tony, since he had failed to protect Tony’s father and mother. Tony had barely survived that day himself; he had been jammed beneath the master bed, biting his tiny fist to keep from crying out. The bullets had made more noise punching into walls and furniture and flesh than they had leaving silenced muzzles.

His last memory of his father was a body being dragged across the floor, and a smear of dark blood that had been impossible to avoid as he staggered from the room hours later. The General had turned up in six year old Tony’s head a week after that.

Tony pushed his sister to the ground, snatching the knife from her hand as he did so. The General was fully in control now. He flung the knife. It flew the length of the room and buried itself up to the handle in the chest of another waiter.

He ducked to snatch up a couple of larger shards of plate from the ground, then dashed towards two waiters as they both reached into their jackets.

Reaching for their radios, Tony thought.

The General was silent. Tony leapt onto a table, landing on one foot and propelling himself at the waiters. As he slammed the white porcelain into their faces, Tony noticed his hands were bleeding. He landed on his feet.

The two waiters toppled backwards, writhing and screaming, clutching at their faces.

He barely paused before picking up a chair and throwing it across the room between cowering, wide-eyed guests. It hit another waiter, knocking him off balance. People scattered.

The waiter was getting back up, but not quickly enough. Tony led with a powerful kick he didn’t even know he had in him, crunching the man’s nose with the heel of his shoe and snapping the man’s head back fiercely. The waiter’s eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped to the floor, insensible.

Six of them, the General said, five down.

A gunshot rang out and pain flared as a sudden impact punched Tony in the right shoulder. The last of the waiters had a pistol levelled at him.

Now the other guests really started to panic, yelling and running for the exits.

Tony dived beneath a table as another shot sounded and a water jug behind him exploded. He crawled forward between the table legs, ignoring the pain, and scrambled beneath the next table. When he reached the other side he grabbed at the ankles in front of him, yanking hard and pulling the last waiter to the ground.

He jumped on top of the man, knocking the gun from his hand. Then he punched the waiter hard in the face, twice, and knelt on his arms, pinning him to the ground.

Tony gripped the man’s face hard and began squeezing.

“Why now?” The General demanded though Tony.

“Your father...” the man choked, “the project didn’t die with your father.”

Tony kept squeezing, “Explain yourself.”

“You... and your sister... modified. Not... his children, but... his prototypes.”

The man’s eyelids fluttered and his body went slack as he lost consciousness.

“What?” Tony said, suddenly in control of himself.

No one was supposed to know.

“To know what?” He started to shake.

I may not have told you everything. You are your father’s children, but you have been... altered. You are more than human, and some people aren’t ready for that.

Friday 15 June 2012

Flash Fiction: Broken Birds

I am surrounded by angels. They are all me and they are all broken.

++ PARALLEL 0023 ++

Kiara hauled on the stick between her legs, banking the jet hard, fighting momentum as the bird shook around her. Flaming missiles arced past.

After months of training she was finally in synch with her A.I. Warbird co-pilot; the program intuited her responses, assisted her reactions. She brought the jet round in a tight loop, heading back into combat. The targeting display across her visor blinked as it locked onto dragons.

Dragons. What. The. Fuck? Myths, legends, stories to explain dinosaur bones and elevate heroes.

Apparently not. Some kind of rift had opened up over every major city and begun spewing aggressive flocks of the things.

Still, whatever generated the flames they spat burnt hot in their bellies. Hotter than a jet engine, more than hot enough for a missile lock. Kiara fired. Twin trails billowed away. They slammed home and one of the creatures exploded in smouldering chunks.

The A.I. alerted her as two smaller beasts headed their way. They didn’t seem to have the fire breathing or superheated guts of their larger cousins and they were flying erratically, evasively.

Her cannons whirred into life, spitting twin streams of hot tungsten at her new dance partners, but they were manoeuvrable little fuckers. If they were jets they would have streaked past each other and banked for a new run. But they weren’t jets, and her mindset was still adjusting to a different type of threat.

One of them lashed out, claws and wingtip talons grabbing at the Warbird. It struck her wing, failing to find purchase, but with enough impact to take part of the infrastructure with it. There was some small satisfaction as the tiny in-frame video on her visor showed the creature spiralling down towards the ground, but the damage taken was significant.

Landing might be a problem. Then Kiara saw another option. The rift. It was specifically against orders, but if she could shut this thing down from the other side...

++ PARALLEL 7081 ++

Chara banked hard, grunting at the strain on her pinions. She flipped herself just in time, her wings rustling around her as she span out of reach of the metallic wyvern.

The wyvern was a blacksmith’s nightmare brought to life, gleaming sinuous metal that seemed to swim through the air, as fast as her. She came out of her spin with her flaming sword, Inferno, extended and swinging with transferred momentum. Inferno screamed at the foreign things, snapping hungrily at them as Chara attacked. Where the sword bit they bled molten metal.

Inferno was a wild thing, tolerating Chara’s grip only as long as she brought new victims, an arrangement that suited them both. It roared a warning, but too late. Something heavy slammed into her back, clinging with sharp metal claws, heavy and dragging her down.

She swept her wings forward and swung Inferno across her back awkwardly. With any normal blade it would have been weak and ineffectual, but Inferno was far from normal. Her sword blazed and fought with the thing on her back as she struggled to keep hold of the hilt.

She felt the claws loosen, and the thing begin to fall, but it lashed out in death spasm and she cried out as the bones at the end of her wing shattered in a flurry of feathers.

She could barely stay airborne, every flap a hundred jabs of pain. She was below the whirling mêlée now and she saw the rift hanging a short way off, unguarded. The invaders had come through it, maybe the answer to this madness lay on the other side.

++ PARALLEL 3067 ++

“Good luck, Little Bird.” He placed a firm hand on her shoulder.

Chiarr nodded, “Thank you, father.”

She would need it. While their hunters engaged and distracted the whirling, clockwork imps head-on, she was to guide her glider behind them and into the trembling rift through which those whirring, winged invaders had poured.

They could not imagine what she might find on the other side, but if there was some way to close the rift... she had to try.

++ PARALLEL 0333 ++

Kari burst through the glittering rift. The transition from her world to... wherever this was, had put out the flames on the torn wing of her flightWare. The armoured tech-suit was actually maintaining altitude now and she looked around, taking in the incredible sight before her.

She was miles above a blackened, featureless plain and there were hundreds of other rifts hanging in the air around some terrifying, towering, hellish demon. It was an amalgamation of everything: flesh and metal, flame and firepower, magic and tech, and winged. It was as big as a mountain, writhing and lashing out.

And it wore her face. A thousand instances of her face that bubbled to the surface of its skin, screaming, before being dragged below again.

She saw more strangeness emerging from other rifts, in varying technologies and biologies, but all flying and all broken in some way. Her sightWare magnified the faces of all the newcomers and they were all her, they all wore her face, and they were all moving to attack the abomination rearing up before them.

Kari was resolved. From their angles of attack, she knew the other versions of herself were too. All of them were broken, but none as broken as this thing before them, this thing that was them, somehow. It was their duty to end this madness.

++ 0 ++

I am surrounded by angels. They are all me and they are all broken.

They mean to fix me, I think, to end me. But I was broken long ago, broken hard, and the task will not be easy. If they succeed maybe I will finally know peace.

Friday 8 June 2012

Fiction: War Torn pt. 2 (of 2): Angel

previously... War Torn part 1: Guardian
and now... War Torn part 2: Angel

“Lieutenant Ryan Andrews, surrender and she lives.”

Ryan didn’t recognise the man’s voice, but he didn’t expect to; they would have sent strangers with no compunctions about killing him. He kept quiet, not wanting to give away his position. He was crouched down on one side of the room beside a chewed up armchair, avidly watching the only entrance. He adjusted his grip on the knife handle.

The wall behind him suddenly stuttered and cracked as silent gunfire punched into the concrete above the window. They were making their move, taking the curtains down. The room would be open to their spotter, Ryan’s position revealed.

The firing stopped, but the curtain rail was only hanging half off, the job unfinished. Maybe one of the city’s other scavengers had heard the commotion, decided they wanted themselves a shiny, new gun, or just taken a disliking to the military incursion. Whatever the reason, he wasn’t going to question his luck.

The walls, badly deteriorated, burst apart on either side of the doorway, spewing forth two soldiers, their outlines like mist in a broken mirror. Their camo was drawing them in hard angles and shifting shades of grey, a tactic to disorient an enemy up close. The time for concealment was over.

Ryan darted in, trusting training and reaction to deliver his blows to the right locations. He had to stay close, where they wouldn’t risk shooting each other. But they had expected that, they came in guns holstered, blades drawn.

They were jagged, shifting smoke demons. And it was these that inhabited his nightmares, one of these he had once been.

The fight was brutal. Powerful, short jabs and hard, sudden kicks. Elbows and knives.  One of the soldiers went down, possibly fatally, but Ryan was tired and as more of them spilled into the room, they soon had him pinned. He went limp, not expecting them to loosen their grip, just knowing when there was no point struggling. His head was trapped under a knee, crushed sideways to the floor. He could taste blood.

“Well, wasn’t that entertaining?”

The same voice as before. The squad leader stepped into Ryan’s field of vision, crouched down and switched off his camo. Just another soldier: clipped hair, square jaw, cold eyes.

He drew his pistol and pressed the muzzle to Ryan’s forehead. The carbon-steel composite was cool against Ryan’s skin and his whole body seemed focussed on that tiny circle pushing against him. Ryan forced himself to look away from the grey-black filling his vision, to look past it and at the man.

“Lieutenant Andrews, there was a tribunal held in your absence. You were found guilty of your various crimes. The sentence is death. I am here to execute the tribunal’s will and to recover our stolen property.”

“She isn’t property.” He managed to growl between gritted teeth.

“She is just another weapon. And you are just another criminal.”

Ryan kept his eyes locked on the nameless soldier’s. He waited for the end.

There were quiet noises from the corridor then, sliding hushes and thuds. The squad leader’s eyes flicked in that direction, alert, but he didn’t shift the gun from Ryan’s forehead.

Then Ryan felt the two men holding him go limp and begin to fall away. He saw the finger in front of him twitch on the trigger, but no more.

The squad leader looked back at Ryan, panic-stricken, and a strained grunt escaped his throat. His eyes rolled up in his head and a trickle of blood dripped, then flowed, from his nose before he, too, crumpled slowly to the ground.

Ryan pushed himself up and looked around incredulously, warily. He checked the men’s pulses. Nothing. Dead. He could see more fallen in the corridor.

He staggered through to the other room. Samantha was still there, just as he had left her.

Sorry it took so long to get here, Ryan.

He looked round, startled. Then back at Sam. That was her voice, but her lips hadn’t moved.

It’s me.

The voice came from all around. The sound of it took hold of something deep inside him; he had thought never to hear it again.

“But, how?”

It’s a long story. I’ll tell you as we go.


There are more soldiers coming.

He looked at her, propped up in the faded armchair he sat her in each morning. Her eyes were staring at nothing, her strong features had only the faintest hint of colour. He rested his hand on her cheek.

“Sam. I...”

There will be time, Ryan. I promise. But we have to move. I can guide us, but I need you to carry me.

Ryan took a deep breath. He nodded, resolute once more. He didn’t understand, but he knew a second chance when it came. He put their supplies into his backpack, then slipped an arm behind her knees, another under her back, and delicately lifted her.

And, Ryan...


Thank you.

Friday 1 June 2012

Fiction: War Torn pt. 1 (of 2): Guardian

The orbital bombardment was miles away but the tremors still shook the burnt out carcasses of the broken buildings. There was nothing worth shelling in the city anymore, there was barely enough for the few scavenging refugees who had slunk back in.

Ryan was kneeling on the floor in front of Samantha. They were sequestered in a half-collapsed hotel and he paused as concrete shards and dust pattered down from the cracked ceiling. When the trembling ceased he carefully held the plastic spoon up to her mouth and pushed the purée past her lips. Her eyes flickered while she slup slupped at the mush and her head jerked as she swallowed convulsively, but at least it was going down.

When the jar was empty he licked the spoon clean and sat it on top of the case of baby food, their last case, half empty already. They would have to move on soon, but it simply wasn’t safe for them to go out.

Ryan stroked her head. A fuzz of dark hair had re-grown everywhere on her scalp except the rucked skin of the scar that ran from just above her left temple down to the nape of her neck. The scar was still thick, pink, but not as livid as it had been.

“We might have to make a run for it, Sam. We'll see who’s around come nightfall.”

He kissed her on the forehead.

“You have to drink something too. Sorry.”

He carefully tilted her chin back and held the bottle to her lips. He let a little trickle out, so she knew what was coming, then carefully poured a little more. It was a drawn out process, with more convulsive gulping, and the occasional weak choke when he timed it wrong, or tried to pour too much at once.

“There. Done.”

He wiped her chin dry with a piece of cloth torn from his spare shirt, and carefully untucked another rag he was using as a bib. He leant forward and rested his head on her shoulder. He stayed there a moment, holding one of Samantha’s hands in his own, then he sighed deeply and stood up.

He hung the rags of shirt up to dry before carefully making his way into the adjoining room. The curtains were drawn, but he had purposefully left a gap he could peer through. He couldn’t risk twitching the material; there was no glass, but there was no wind either and someone might notice the movement.

It was dangerous, leaving his lookout position to feed Sam, but it had to be done. It was worse at night. He barely managed a few hours sleep when exhaustion dragged him down, but it was fitful and his paranoia dragged him back up soon afterwards. He worried he was disturbing Sam, too, with his angry, futile nightmares. If she could be disturbed.

The rumble of another distant round of bombardment washed through the streets. The city quaked and cried its tears of grey. And something crept under the crumbling of masonry; somebody was using the disturbance for cover. Ryan had got used to the feel of the city, and it suddenly felt wrong.

One of the shadows in the building opposite was trying too hard to be a shadow. It was subtle, but he had that unsettled feeling that looking at optic camo often generated. Civilians would put it down to something in their eye, heat haze, imagination, but Ryan wasn’t a civilian.

He stepped cautiously back from the window and slipped his combat knife from his ankle sheath, holding it so the blade was below his fist, edge forward.

He crept towards the open doorway. No door made it harder to sneak up on him, and there was definitely someone sneaking out there. Several someones. He heard the quiet shffing of their clothes, the soft, sliding steps of their careful approach. They stopped.

A deep voice echoed down the corridor.

“Lieutenant Ryan Andrews.”

The spotter must have told them he had moved away from the window, that he knew they were coming.

“Surrender and she lives.”

Recommended reading:

Dismissed, by Pete Newman.
(spot the shameless self-promotion... Dismissed is the first story not written by me to go live on my drabble project: 101 Fiction. Please go check it out, it's a fantastic, tiny slice of surreal fiction. And say hello! ^_^ )

And in case you missed it, I blogged yesterday about 101F and about my forthcoming anthology, including a glimpse at the very-much-in-progress cover design - comments and critiques welcome. =)