Monday, 30 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - Gunpowder, Treason and Plot: Part 2

Sunday 6th November 2016

The blue-faced girl called Malady was busy trying to heal Squeeze's broken nose.

"It's no good. You'll have to zap me again." She turned away angrily and spoke to Arc-Light who was overseeing the proceeding. She was wearing civilian clothes over her skin-suit; clothes had also been found for Squeeze and Bark to wear. With a look of distaste Arc-Light complied and a pulse of electricity leapt from her hand into Malady's chest. Squeeze had been watching them do this for ten minutes and still found it disconcerting. For some peculiar reason, Malady could only 'suck-out' other people's illnesses and wounds when she was either in pain or euphorically happy.

"Couldn't you just try and make yourself happy?" Squeeze asked.

Malady shook her head, her face drawn in frustration. Once again she tried to draw out the wound. Squeeze felt a tingling sensation replace the pain in his nose and watched in mild-horror as the wound manifested itself on Malady's face. "Again!" She spat as the pain creased her brow. Arc-Light zapped her again and the wound healed itself.

Squeeze touched his nose and wiggled it experimentally. It was fixed. "Sorry to have to put you through that." He muttered guiltily as Malady flattened her hair which was beginning to frizz.

"No worries." She replied jovially, helping him up. Squeeze brushed himself down and looked around. The 'Underground' base was in fact someone's house on the edge of Brynmill park. The meeting room was in the basement. They town house belonged to Malady's parents.

Her room was pink-themed and the walls were covered in posters of pop-stars and glossy celebrities. Most prominent was an enormous picture of The Elementals above her bed – the government approved band of PROBO scum he'd assumed that the 'Underground' hated. "It's for the inspections mostly." Malady had explained. Squeeze remembered the random police inspections that had meant he'd had to keep his paint cans buried in the garden. "Besides," she whispered conspiratorially when Arc-Light had gone, "I like their costumes."

"Who is that one?" He said pointing at the girl in the purple cloak.

"Oh, that's Siren. She's the newest member – and the prettiest. I like her the best. Not that I like any of them really." Malady enthused. "She likes to be known by her real name – it says so in her interview in the Evening Post. I think it's Nia."

Squeeze did a double-take and looked again at the girl in the poster. It certainly looked a bit like her, but then again his memories of Nia were dim.

"Anything wrong?"

"Nope. Just déjà vu."


Gwen and some of the others were in the living room of Malady's house and were chatting over a dawn tea-break. Squeeze entered to find them discussing plans spread out over a coffee table. They stopped talking as he entered behind Malady, who half skipped into the room declaring him "All better!"

"Excellent," Gwen said, offering him a plate of biscuits. Squeeze hadn't been in a room with so many people in such a long time that his manners had devolved. Sheepishly he took a biscuit and stood at the edge of the circle.

"We've been discussing things all night and we've come to a conclusion about you and your friend Bark." She continued, sipping her tea, "We have to administer some tests to make sure you're totally free of the drugs and then we'll let you in on our plans. We need as many able bodies as we can."

Squeeze nodded and stepped away so that they could continue their discussion. In the kitchen he found Bark sipping from a mug of coffee. He was wearing a hoody and jeans over his skin-suit. "My brother kept them for me. They're bit tight though. You're welcome to borrow some – they'd fit you a bit better."

"Thanks." Squeeze nodded. "So. We're free."

"Yeah. I suppose we are." Bark replied. The words didn't seem to fit properly – we're free – it all seemed so unreal. Out of the window they could see the red, early morning sun. There was dew on the grass and the air looked sharp and cold.

"So. What are you going to do?" Squeeze asked. Thinking about his parents, jobs, prospects – the future. There was no way they could get work or even show their faces without being recognised. They'd have to spend their entire lives hiding.

"Fight back." Bark replied after a time. Squeeze nodded, the answer seemed obvious really, there wasn't much else they could do. "They've put up digs for us in the basement. We'll stay here with the Others they've gathered together. I think they're planning something big and I want to be a part of it."

That settles it then, Squeeze thought.

"I don't think I ever said thank you for following me into the Hounds and rescuing me from the helicopter." Squeeze said. Bark knocked back the dregs of his tea.

"Don't mention it." He replied gruffly, patting Squeeze on the back. He leapt down off the kitchen counter. Squeeze stood there, rubbing his jumper against the Hound skin-suit. "Just remember you owe me one, yeah?"

ASBO-Boy - Gunpowder, Treason and Plot: Part 1

Nia stood in the corner of the room and watched as Beacon questioned the survivor of the crash on the other side of a glass divide. The shell-shocked kid couldn't have been more than fourteen. He was strapped to a chair in the centre of the dark questioning room at a local police station.

"Can't we just wait for them to count the bodies?" Nia asked – unable to believe what she was saying.

"We have to start looking immediately. The Ward Security isn't what it once was." Elixir replied in a whisper.

"So there were some survivors?" Beacon demanded, leaning in close to the boy. Swelter and Elixir were standing close-by but Nia had never felt further from any of them.

"If you give us names then this will end. Come on, we all want to go home and get some sleep. This'll all be over when you give us names."

"I don't know…" The boy repeated over and over, sobbing.

Beacon stepped out of the room without another word. He entered the room with the others and shook his head wearily. A nearby officer spoke to him.

"Can we take him for processing?"

Beacon nodded solemnly, but Swelter stepped forward. "Let me speak to him." Beacon looked up at him and nodded. Elixir's hand slipped from her brother's as he went through to where the poor little ASBO was sitting. Beacon led them out into the next room and there they stood in silence unable to meet each other's eyes.

"What will he do?" Nia asked with a voice so hollow she was uncertain she'd even spoken. When the other two didn't answer she just swallowed her curiosity and stood watching Beacon trace the lines of the Union Jack on his costume.

After an immeasurable period of time, Swelter emerged looking flushed.

"Bark, Squeeze, Vue and Arc-Light."

A nearby officer passed him a PDA and he scanned over the details. "An electricity wielder, a boy who can manipulate his body mass, one who can open holes in physical objects and one who can turn his skin to 'bark'."

"Between them they can get in and out of any Ward with ease." Beacon muttered, "But they'll make a lot of noise doing it, so my theory is they haven't gone far."

Elixir nodded. "We sweep the area until we find them."

The following day Nia woke up around midday with a headache. Her room at the pent-house was wide, airy and neatly decorated with modern art. One wall was entirely made of glass and looked out over the bay. She sat up and shook the cobwebs out of her pounding head.

In the living space she found Swelter doing exercises. She sat down and turned on the TV wall.

" – last night's explosion has been attributed to a faulty mechanism in the body of the helicopter which was transporting ASBOs from Sandfields Borstal to the Secure Facility at Cefn Coed." The jerky footage was showing the burning hulk of the helicopter last night. "Investigations are underway to find four missing ASBOs. All are Positive Other and can be considered extremely dangerous." Faces of the escaped inmates were shown on-screen and Nia was forced to see Mike's narrow, jaunty face blown up to fill the wall space. With a flick of the wrist she turned the wall off and sat up. After hours of searching they'd finally given up around dawn.

"Faulty-mechanism my arse." Swelter muttered between ab-crunches. Nia was inclined to agree that the explosion was part of a plot to break the inmates out. She tried to imagine the kind of person Mike had become inside the Borstal. Hard, bitter and dangerous. As dangerous as the boy they'd questioned last night? She wondered, thinking back at the terrified creature as he sat pinned to the chair.

"What exactly did you ask that boy, to make him talk?" She asked as casually as she could. Swelter sat up and smiled.

"I just turned the heat up a bit. That's all." He replied with a glint in his eyes. Nia suddenly felt very sick and had to sit up to battle with her stomach.

"But – I didn't do much." Swelter back-pedalled, "I just played the bad-cop and he cracked. I didn't hurt him."

Nia couldn't look at him and began to walk out of the room to the balcony for some fresh air. Outside she found Beacon who was staring off into space across the bay.

"What's wrong?"

"Swelter tortured that boy." She spat furiously. The guilty party appeared at the door of the balcony looking ashen. Nia pointed at him venomously, waiting for Beacon to rise up in indignation as well.

"'Torture' is a bit strong, don't you think?" Beacon replied, slightly bewildered, "He was only a bloody ASBO."

Nia held a hand to her mouth and tried to contain herself. In the corner, near the Japanese water feature was Elixir, smiling vacantly at the water. "Now that we're all here, I have a plan of action." Beacon declared, glossing over Nia's feelings. She looked at each of them in turn and found that none of them met her eyes. They just didn't care. Only Swelter looked as ill as she felt and for that she should have been glad but she only felt empty and sick.

ASBO-Boy - Unleash the Hounds: Part 3

Saturday November 5th 2016

For the second time that night Squeeze woke up to the feeling of Bark hitting him across the face.

“Get up – or you’ll choke on your own blood.” Bark rolled over, nudging Squeeze with his shoulders. The pain seemed to be coming from his nose, closer inspection revealed it was broken and bleeding profusely.

“Where are we?”

“Shhh!” Bark spat. There were voices coming from the next room. The two of them were unceremoniously sprawled across a cold stone floor in a dark room. Above them light seemed to be emanating from a small ventilation shaft. They were underground, somewhere.

“ – of course they’ll be looking for them. That’s why we give them back in body bags.”

“Come off it – like that’s a good idea. If they think we’re stupid enough to kill people they’ll put more than a token into flushing us out. We’re safe for the time being because they think we’re harmless.”

“Sian is right. We can’t think about killing people. Even if they are Hounds. While they’re in our hands though, we have some power.”

“Only until they wake up. We all know that place turns these kids into sycophantic zombies.”

There was a crackle of light from the next room. “I got out, didn’t I?” It was the girl with the talent for pyrotechnics.

“Can we trust them?”

“Possibly. Depends on how long they were under.”

Squeeze shook his head and cleared the stars that were swimming in front of his eyes. He looked over at Bark. With a nod they were both decided. They did their party tricks and soon both of them were on their feet, the ropes from their hands and feet in piles at their feet.

“What was that?”

Bark didn’t hang around – he drew himself up to his full height and quickly doubled in size. With a below he charged forward and ploughed through the door and into the next room. Squeeze, without time to think, dove in after him.

Paper and wood was thrown into the air with a mighty crash as Bark launched the table in the centre of the room up into the air. People were sprawled across the floor, diving out of Bark's way. “Find a way out!” He bellowed to Squeeze, who dodged several attempts to grab him. Briefly he glimpsed a door on the far side of the room and made for it, leaping over heads and limbs.

There was a flash and the room seemed to seethe with energy. Squeeze felt himself being thrown to the floor. Standing above him was the girl from the helicopter, only now she looked like a woman, forty feet tall and rippling with power.

“Enough!” She cried, lowering herself to the floor.

Bark and Squeeze scrambled to the centre of the room while the others crowded in around them. “Leave them!” She shouted.

“Let us go.” Bark spat without much conviction.

Squeeze took a look at the angry, bewildered faces around him. Most were older, from all over the Wards. There were only a few who were around their age.

“Alex!” One of them cried, clambering forward to hug Bark around the neck. Squeeze watched him diminish and wither back to normal. Brother? Father, possibly?

"Kill them!" Someone shouted.

"No. Look at them. They're no danger to us." The girl from the helicopter stepped forward as did the other younger members. Squeeze watched them display their true colours. They were all Others. One had a blue face; another seemed to flicker, like a bad TV signal; another seemed to be covered moss. "My name's Arc-Light." She offered her hand and Squeeze stood up, unsteadily, "Sorry for zapping you."

Squeeze smiled sheepishly. Bark stood up with his relative's help. They were both grinning madly. "This my baby brother Alex." Squeeze scanned the room for people he recognised, but there were none.

"Who are you people?" Bark managed to gasp, clinging desperately to his brother.

Arc-Light stood aside and gestured to someone sitting in the corner of the room, a woman in her mid-twenties. She was smartly dressed and pretty, but there was a haunted quality to her. She stood up and looked down at them severely.

"The Evening Post calls us the Underground. But that's giving us more organisational credit than we deserve. We're a support group really for the families and victims of the phenomenon known as Otherness." She looked around at the tired, lined faces around her. "My name's Gwen. Nice to meet you."

Saturday, 28 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - The Elementals: Part 3

November 5th 2016

The late autumn weather continued into early November with many trees expected to keep their greener leaves right up until the early January frosts. Night was descending fast and the wind was beginning to gather a chill. Nia was just glad to be out of the purple cloak and back in her own clothes.

At the Sketty/Uplands Gate she flashed her card to the guards but they waved her on without a comment. They were more interested in the group of townies who were trying to barge their way through. She had walked all the way from SA1, through the Marina and across the bay as far as Mumbles before turning back. The fresh air and real exercise was enough but the chance to gather her thoughts was enough to relive the battle with the Secretary to leave the building every week from now on.

She’d never walked through the Wards before – her basic civilian pass had never allowed her to. The Elemental right of way was a strange novelty. The Secretary had tried to warn her that awful things would happen. She’d get mugged, attacked or worse. But it wasn’t like that, and in a way she found that more unnerving.

The walk was a stark and bitter reminder of the sheer number of different people she’d signed up to protect and they seemed to recognise her. Her name was all over the papers, there weren’t any secret identities like there were in the old comics. She pulled a bag of sweets out of her pocket that a small girl had given her. The wraith-like child whisked up to her from the shadows without a word and disappeared just as quick -

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Nia looked up sharply and saw Elixir standing in front of her. She was wearing her skin-suit and looked lithe and beautiful. “I’m sorry – I was hoping to meet up with you. I didn’t meant to scare you.”

Nia nodded. Elixir was strange, guarded and very polite. She never seemed to betray her feelings like the other two. She had to laugh at poor Swelter and Beacon – they reminded her of Mike, so eager and genuine. Elixir in contrast, was unreadable.

“I was just thinking about people.” Nia replied, “A small girl ran up to me and gave me these sweets. It’s just the feeling of being recognised – it’s unnerving. I’ve never felt it before.”

“It’s nice. Isn’t it?” Elixir replied, stepping into rhythm with Nia. “You wait until they start wolf-whistling.”

Nia blushed. “What brings you outside then?”

“The fresh air – the heady stench of testosterone was beginning to give me a headache.” Elixir quipped, Nia laughed and for the first time in weeks it felt genuine, “Bless them. The darlings, they are sweet.”

“They mean well.” Nia nodded. A thought occurred to her. “Do ever feel as though the suit and the name take over?”

“No. I’ve always been Elixir. Our Otherness developed very early, so my brother and I were almost baptised with these names. Only we use our birth names.” Elixir nodded, attracting the attention of passers-by, “The suit is a handy wall. It keeps the private stuff private.”

Nia nodded. “I’m not sure I can live like that.”

“Part and parcel of living in the public eye. The good thing is you don’t get treated like celebrities. The tabloids aren’t allowed to touch us.” Elixir said. “I’ve wondered – did you choose Siren?”

“Yeah. It’s a name I’ve always quite liked. I’d rather you called me Nia though, to be honest.”

“Nia? That’s pretty. I was just wondering whether it had anything to do with your ability to ensnare boys.”

Nia blushed again, beginning to feel uncomfortable. They’d reached a crossroad. In front of them the road carried on into the Uplands but to their left and right an avenue lined with tall, lumpy trees cut across them. On the corner of the street was a TARDIS. Big, blue and hideous, the Police Boxes were street-corner prisons. This one looked under-used.

“How barbaric.” Elixir sneered, running a gloved hand against the reinforced steel surface. Nia looked down at her feet, the street light was casting an eery orange glow over them. It was cold now and above, the police helicopters were warming up for the night as their search-lights swept the city. The Uplands was so quiet – hardly anyone ever got arrested around here. But over there… In the distance the walls loomed over the tops of the houses. Keeping them out and us in. Us and them – on every poster, on every corner. Dimly she wondered what had happened to Mike, whether he was really as bad as everyone had said. She wrapped her arms around her in an attempt to warm up.

“Do you want to meet my parents?” Nia needed to see friendly, familiar faces and had an urge to get to know Elixir better. After all, they were teammates, why couldn’t they be friends?

“Yes. That would be nice.” Elixir replied, smiling. Nia felt glad, it looked different, less fixed.

They walked on in silence, turning to walk down the avenue of trees, down the hill and towards her house away from the garish blue box.

Then came the explosion and the sky lit up with great arcs of white lightning. Nia turned to see that Elixir had gone, darting off down the street towards the noise and light.

Friday, 27 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - Unleash the Hounds: Part 2

November 5th 2016

Squeeze sat in the belly of the helicopter. The blades thumped overhead in sickening waves. Below, the streets of the city glowed.

“Alpha two, five zero in transit with cargo to the Helix Compound at Cefn Coed. Do we have permission to proceed?” The sound of the pilot chattering with ground control was barely audible over the pounding noise.

He’d started wetting himself again. He was having uncontrollable sweats and the fact that he felt like he’d sold his soul wasn’t helping. The new skin-suit had unlocked everything he’d hoped would stay locked away and unleashed it with a new level of intensity.

Sitting opposite him was Bark who had become more stoic than ever. Squeeze dimly remembered the last six months, but it felt more like a dream. His arms and legs were longer than he remembered them being and his hair and finger nails were eerily trim. They kept repeating over the speakers that they were being set free, that their lives would be much more fulfilling. But all Squeeze could think about were all the times he’d cursed the Hounds only to find himself transformed into the enemy. He’d taken to wearing the hood and mask all the time now. He just couldn’t bear people to see his face.

Bark on the other hand didn’t seem to care. Squeeze felt guilty that the big guy had followed him but they’d barely spoken since so it was difficult to gauge the consequences. Squeeze remembered him speaking of being released and his hopes for the future. All that seemed to have happened in another life.

Life outside hadn’t moved on much. They were told that there were more terrorist cells these days than there had been, but Squeeze’s cynicism was telling him that that was just propaganda.

The helicopter lurched. Squeeze dared a look over the side and saw strange lights below.

“This is alpha two, five zero – we’re experiencing some technical difficulties…”

Bark was looking intently at the lights. Squeeze followed his gaze curiously. The helicopter lurched again and tumbled to one side. Bark had turned his attention to a girl sitting next to him. Her eyes were bunched up. Her hair was standing on end like she had her fingers jammed in a plug. Suddenly, her eyes shot open and she opened her mouth.

She screamed. Immediately all Squeeze could hear was white noise. Her eyes and mouth were glowing purple. The helicopter gave a shuddering whine and the rota blades stopped. Something exploded and the helicopter began to fall.

Bark sprang into action and nearly doubled in size as his skin turned to that of a tree. Squeeze slipped easily out of his restraints. The girl was now floating in the air, pulses of bright white electricity glowing all around her. Bark leaped forwards, grabbing Squeeze around the waist.

In an instant there was weightlessness. He felt the cold air rushing over him - then there was nothing. Just white light and silence.

Dimly, his eyes opened and he was aware of heat. Bark was kneeling over him, slapping his face.

“Squeeze! Wake up!” There was a burning feeling in his lower back. Around him he could see a street and cars, everything else was a blur. “I’m going to carry you.”

Before he could protest, Squeeze was barrelled onto Bark’s back and the world spun upside down. Around him, he recognised the tall Edwardian townhouses of the Uplands. He was near his home.

Bark was on the move. In the distance something exploded – Squeeze peered up and saw the shell of the helicopter buried in a crater at the centre of a crossroads.

“What happened?” he croaked.

“The copter crashed.” Bark replied. He was running now and gathering pace. In the distance they heard the screams of emergency services. “We need to get away.”

“What happened to the others?”

Bark didn’t reply and Squeeze suddenly felt sick. He loosened himself from Bark’s grip and dropped to the floor. He steadied himself on the wall of an alley. Bark stopped and turned around. “Are you coming?”

Squeeze shook his head.

“Where are we going?” He demanded.

“We’re following that crazed girl who crashed the copter. Come on!” Bark began to run again and Squeeze’s legs followed on auto-pilot.

They emerged from the alley onto a terrace that backed onto Brynmill Park. In the trees up ahead they could see her running, glowing like a lightbulb. Bark leaped over the railing and Squeeze followed him through the bars in time to see the girl slip behind a tree. The glow disappeared.

“Trap door. Must be.” Bark muttered running ahead. A memory triggered in Squeeze’s mind. Something peculiar about that tree. Something bitter-sweet and distant.

“Hang on,” he mused, “I’ve kissed someone behind that tree…”

ASBO-Boy - The Elementals: Part 2

Elixir watched a strange phenomenon happen to her brother over the next few weeks. It began the day Siren arrived and she recognised his feelings from the off. He was attracted to her, that much was obvious. But things were never that simple with Kyle – every feeling he had was multiplied by his power and his temper. So to actually see him cool down and truly control himself gave her mixed feelings.

In part she was happy for him, but privately she found it difficult to like the intoxicating influence Siren seemed to have on him.

Beacon too became irritatingly competitive. Whereas before, in training, Kyle would have risen to the challenge, now he seemed to exude more quiet confidence. In their first few training sessions the Overseers explained Siren’s power. She enhanced the abilities of those around her, particularly if she was in physical contact with them.

At first Elixir had marvelled at the sheer amounts of water she could now control. In forming shapes there was more detail, when she created a wall there was more stability and when she used it offensively it packed more of a wallop. It became increasingly clear over time that this was what was allowing Kyle to control his abilities and his fuse.

The confidence of the team shot through the roof. Beacon, stronger than ever, beamed with pride as he lifted a double-decker bus one day. Kyle slowly learned the ability to freeze water and between Elixir and Swelter combined they could now create icicle weapons for Beacon to throw, or even build towering walls of ice.

Siren herself grew in confidence and popularity between the two boys and they pranced about to catch her attention. Whenever Elixir hinted her disapproval in private Kyle would get all hot and bothered again.

After a while she just bottled her feelings.


The fire died down almost instantly as Swelter climbed through the hole in the building, followed closely by Elixir and Siren. Beacon quickly dispatched the loose steel supports from their path and cleared the ground of rubble and detritus.

Behind them they could hear the crowd baying.

“Hold on!” Beacon shouted to the trapped civilians trapped in the body of the Train Station as he lifted a wall out of his way.

The path was quickly cleared and the people began to clamber out of the building towards the emergency services gathered outside.

When the good deed was done the press gathered around to interview them. Beacon, as ever, stepped forward to answer their questions. Elixir watched his steady, re-assuring actions. He was a natural, she gave him that. Despite her brother's protestations, Beacon barely had an arrogant bone in him. That is until Siren had turned up. They hung back watching the spokesman at work. Elixir’s eyes drifted over to Siren who was staring at the ground trying to look as small as possible. Her gaudy purple cloak really didn’t suit her, although she did like hiding behind her hood.

Elixir had barely spoken to the girl. Vaguely she considered getting to know her, but as she watched Kyle’s eyes resting on the shimmering purple outfit, hopes of her ever liking the girl faded.

“What’s this?” Siren muttered, picking up a loose piece of rubble. Swelter leaned over her shoulder to look and frowned. Elixir watched him as he studied it. Curious, she drifted over and examined it for herself.

The chunk of sandstone bore the edge of a graffiti symbol. She recognised it instantly as the symbol of the Underground. Would-be terrorists who liked spraying walls. They were harmless for the most part but their connection to the explosion at the Train Station was worth pursuing. Swelter clearly had the same thought as he took the chunk off her and examined it further.

“I’ve seen this around.” Siren said, airily.

“It’s everywhere. It’s nothing to worry about.” Swelter replied. “People like spraying things on walls.”

“I knew a boy who liked spraying things on walls.” She muttered sadly, Elixir watched her closely.

“Really? Where is he now?”

“Oh – I think he went to Sandfields.” She replied. Swelter lost interest and dropped the stone in amongst the dust. Around them the people of Swansea were waving and cheering.

“And who is this new member? Does she have a power?” Elixir heard one of the reporters ask. “Her name’s Siren.” Beacon replied proudly turning to wave her forward. Obediently she drifted over to join him. Swelter and Elixir watched as his arm snaked around her shoulders proudly. Her brother’s hand slipped into hers as they stood watching them. His hand was cool. He was smiling, but Elixir knew when her brother was forcing it, she’d watched him do it for sixteen years. It was only in the last few weeks that he’d actually started to genuinely smile.

With their first mission complete as the New Elementals, they returned to the apartment. Siren went straight to her room and Beacon drifted off to meditate. Elixir followed her brother out onto the balcony. The sun was setting again and the sky was glowing red. Winter was firmly upon them now and the air was cool.

“Warm me up,” She muttered, wrapping her arms around his neck. Without a word he complied and steam rose off them as she closed her eyes. For this moment at least, he was hers.

ASBO-Boy - Unleash the Hounds: Part 1

October 27th 1016

Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael.

“One good deed. Just one, and you will be redeemed of all your sins. Your ASBO will be revoked and you will be free to hold your head up high and rejoin civilised society.”

Michael was standing in a long white hall, lined up with all of the other inmates of Sandfields Borstal. Before them, a tall man in a long, pearl-white coat was pacing up and down. In front of him was a black line on the floor separating him from them.

“Joining the Hounds constitutes that One Good Deed, boys and girls. It is your ticket out of here. Once upon a time you’d have been asked to reform your ways and beg God’s forgiveness. But who is God? He can’t offer you a pardon and the chance of a bright and prosperous future. Don’t delude yourselves. The Hounds are the only way that Positive Others are excused and re-integrated into society. Do you think decent, normal human beings want to be plagued by deviant miscreants with all sorts of curious and disgusting deformities? No. Of course they don’t. They want to be re-assured that their tax-payers money is keeping their streets safe.”

The man was swaggering and bellowing at the top of his voice. Michael watched as his mouth moved, spitting and drooling like a dog. Vaguely he remembered having a dog once.

“Those who wish to come with me and reform themselves may step over the black line.”

Zombie-like the inmates began to cross the line. Michael looked up and down the rows. He wanted to cross the line too but there was something holding him back. He couldn’t remember how long he’d been in here. The endless white walls and one-piece black skin-suits seemed to blur all memories together. Day and night – black and white – he felt his mind slipping, when he thought he had a memory – a laugh, a joke, a story – it all seemed to collapse. He couldn’t remember who had told it, where they’d been or if it had ever happened.

He felt his hands clenching as he struggled to remember it. There’s something in the air, the food, the water. Something about this place that gets to you.

Who had said that? He felt the muscles on his face bunching up, he was going to cry, he knew it. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d done that. Why wouldn’t his legs move? Why couldn’t he cross the line – that’d make it all go away. He wanted to get out, to move on, to have a bright and prosperous future. Didn’t he?

Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael. Your name is Michael.

Wiping his eyes with the coarse rubber sleeve, he forced his legs to take a step forward towards the line. A hand gripped his arm from behind and he turned. It was Bark. The lonely black boy with the stern, dark eyes.

“Don’t do it.” He rumbled. He looked sad and more lonely than ever. Michael wondered why. Vaguely he remembered that Bark was different to the others. They had shared a room once?

“You once told me the Hounds were the real scum.” Bark muttered.

“Did I?”

Bark shook his head sadly and let go of Michael’s arm.

Without the resistance his legs took him straight over the line towards the man in the long white coat and the flock of other kids surrounding him. His arms were wide open – he was flickering in the light. He was a hologram, Michael mused. Doors were opening in the walls – a disembodied voice was directing them through it. Michael found his legs following the instructions.

In the next room a group of white-coated men were handing out labels and new skin-suits. A tag was dropped around his neck and a bundle shoved into his arms. Another voice led him onwards. There, he joined a queue with the other kids. Above them the voice boomed.

“You have chosen to correct your mistakes and re-order your life. By joining the Hounds you are making the streets you once plagued a safer place for the law abiding citizens of our city. You have just been handed a new identity tag and a new skin-suit. Unlike your old skin-suit, this one will enhance your Otherness and help you control your abilities. Over the coming months you will be trained and guided towards using your particular talents responsibly.”

Michael looked down at the name on his skin-suit. It read: Squeeze. The word seemed to trigger something in his mind. A shadow passed over his shoulder. He looked around and saw Bark standing there holding a similar bundle. He smiled weakly and Michael felt comforted. He wished he could remember who Bark was…

“Your training will be hard, but rewarding. We look forward to honing your skills so that you can better serve society. There is no reason to be afraid. Soon you will be working to build the future.”

They were led out down a corridor and into a cold, blinding space. Michael began to shiver, his eyes were blinded by the change in environment. Behind him he heard Bark laughing. It sounded like thunder. They were outside in the fresh air. Mike felt his mind unclogging – all the pistons in his head begin to work. He began to remember things, terrible things; he didn’t feel like laughing. He just felt like crying.

ASBO-Boy - The Elementals: Part 1

Swelter stood in the corner of the apartment, behind the glass wall; he was watching the girl the Secretary called Siren as she was shown around the apartment. Her eyes darted over the artwork and designer furniture, the HD Wall and the view that peaked over Swansea Bay.

“This is the living space,” The Secretary began, leading Siren from the elevator door and into the body of the pent-house suite. “You all share this area. It gets cleaned once a week, but we expect you to keep on top of your own mess. ‘Living Responsibly’ – that’s what we promote here.”

Swelter followed them from afar, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. Behind him he felt his sister appear before she ran her hands over his shoulders.

“Ouch – you’re boiling.” She muttered, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He replied, shaking her off; he knew that wouldn’t wash with her, but he hoped his tone told her to drop it. He was lucky, she just arched her eyebrows with what he could only assume was disbelief. With great effort he cooled down and loosened his arms.

“Well, if you’re going to be like that Kyle…” She muttered coyly.

“Don’t go. I was just, somewhere else. That’s all.” He grabbed her arm and spun her around.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Good.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and squeezed. Steam rose from their embrace in a cloud.

“I know you were watching the new girl.” She whispered naughtily in his ear. Momentarily he lost control of himself and he glowed with heat. She laughed as the cloud burst into hissing steam.

“She’s quite pretty. If in a mousy way.”

“Liza.” He hated being teased and she was the only one he’d let get away with it, but even then he hated having his feelings read like a book.

She kissed him coyly on the cheek and walked off, humming to herself. He watched her go. Her skin suit costume hugged her girlish figure. It had been made to match his own. The Elemental’s financiers had a keen sense of style. They loved the idea of twins in matching uniforms, particularly as he controlled temperature and she controlled water; it meant that they could highlight the uniforms in red and blue trim.

He closed his eyes and counted to ten. He might have to go back in the Silence Room for an hour to cool off. It was the only thing that seemed to work.

“If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to ring down.” The Secretary said as she led Siren back into the room. He heard the elevator ring and close as he ducked into a nearby corridor. He heard Beacon’s soft voice introducing himself.


Beacon was ingratiatingly perfect. Blond, blue-eyed and about six foot square. He was the council’s rosy-cheeked Adonis, the one who looked the best on the posters that were dotted around town. After the Helix incident they’d obviously wanted someone a bit more malleable.

Swelter closed the patio door behind him and walked over to the Japanese water feature that everyone told him was so “soothing”. He didn’t see it himself, he just saw water that would probably look nicer turned into steam or frozen, if he was feeling up to it. Boiling things never seemed to be his problem, but cooling things down took real effort. The only time he’d been able to manage it was when apprehending a suspect in Singleton Park. That had been six months ago. Since then, things had got worse, half the team had left and now they were down to three – well, four if you counted Siren.

He sat down on the bench and looked out over the bay. The autumn was shrinking the evenings fast and a chill wind was dusting leaves and late summer pollen across the decking. Below him, the towers of SA1 rose up into the sky. The Elemental building was the highest in the city and the responsibility the Council seemed to be heaping on them reflected that. These days it seemed like it took only one good deed for people to be willing to sponsor you, elevate you on a pedestal and tell the world what a good boy you are.

One good deed. Swelter laughed. He couldn’t remember having done one in his entire life.

“Out here is the view,” Beacon was giving her the tour now, Swelter thought, he felt his temperature rising again.

“It’s beautiful.” She replied.

“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. They treat us like gold and we keep the streets clean.” Beacon nodded smugly - the prancing tosser.

“This is Swelter by the way.” Beacon finally had the grace to introduce him. Swelter turned around and smiled as genuinely as he could. “He likes to play the grump – but he’s a softy really.”

Swelter probably would have exploded into a rage had he not been shaking Siren’s hand. His heart was skipping into overdrive. They both looked down quizzically at the mist rising from their hands.

A thin film of ice was spreading over their fingers.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

The anthropologist, part 2


“Miss Delaware, Mr Duchy to see you,” the intercom informed me.
“OK, show him in,” I replied. A quite acceptable piece of irony, I thought, but from the stony silence that greeted it I could only assume that I was alone in this belief.
The screen in my reception room lit up. I made myself look as presentable as possible, stationing the lower half of my body quite firmly out of sight, and clipped the shutters down over the dry tank; I’m used to it now, but Michael still finds it pretty distressing.
“Michael!” I said finally, and grinned. He’s one of my real constants. There he was, just the same – that permanent, slightly frazzled look he has, as if he was dried with a giant hair dryer, and the face that reveals every nuance of his mood. Lately, of course, that’s been predominantly concern when I’ve seen him, though he tries to hide it.
“Lotty!” He walked towards the screen as if he would walk straight through it and give me hug, and then remembered himself.
“How are you?”
I smiled reassuringly. “Fine. Busy. How are you?”
“Oh, you know.” He paused. Actually, no you don’t. Um.”
I looked at him more closely then, and I thought perhaps I saw something different – something in the lines around his eyes, maybe. I waited. The best thing with Michael is just to wait until his thoughts manage to twist themselves around into a sentence. If you interrupt them he gets all flustered.
“What do you know about Llaren 5?”
“The micro-temporal planet? Quite a bit, starting with the fact that there’s no way you’re getting a permit to go there.”
He looked at the ground. “I’m sorry. That’s not the only reason I came.”
“I never said it was.”
“I know, but just coming straight out with it like that. It was…”
“It’s okay. It’s stressful – I know you!”
He cheered up a bit, and this time the pause was more companionable.
“So how’s the collection?” I have asked him this every time he has come to visit me for the last ten years. I’ve never known an anthropologist more inclined to treat the job like stamp-collecting.
“I want Llaren 5.” He wasn’t being pushy, just honest.
“You know I can’t. I used up all my strings getting you a permit for Mactuskin.”
“I got an award for that paper.”
“I know. And it was very good. This is different. It’s not a case of just asking nicely, it’s a case of having the whole planet re-assigned to suitable for study status.”
“It’s completely off limits?”
“Pretty much. There’re a few cases of people getting residency there through marriage, but the government keeps a pretty close eye on them.”
“That’s it?”
“’Fraid so. Your best bet’s to hang around the universities and try to persuade a native to fall in love with you and take you home.”
“That was a joke, Michael.” Maybe I’m just not as funny as I think I am.
After that we just chatted. He told me how all our old friends from uni are doing. Most of them don’t visit. I’ve changed a lot recently. I think they find me a bit creepy.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Goodbye Mars

“As you can see, I speak Martian and Anglish fluently. I went to an Anglish school in Stella - my parents are both Martian, but they wanted me to have an Anglish background because they thought it would be useful.”

“Yes. The languages – that’s good. Always good to have someone who can communicate with the proles. Excellent. It says here you studied Martian Literature at the University of Mars, Stella – why didn’t you go off-world for that?”

“I thought about it, but in the end I just wanted to stay closer to home. I didn’t take a gap year, I just went straight into it – now, I want to move on and see new things.”

“Yes, yes. Do you have any experience with animals?”


“Space-age travellers?”


“Gypsies. Trash.”

“Oh. No.”


“Other than my sister – no.”

“But you’ve done a lot of writing – you’re keen and you want to see the universe. That right?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Can you sing?”


“Can you pull a pint?”


“Light a fire?”

“Yes. Without a lighter even.”

“Good enough. You’ll do.”

Captain Keynes sat up and leaned over the crate of unspecified cargo, hand extended.

“Oh – thank you.”

Fald sat up eagerly and shook it.

“We leave tomorrow. You can bring up to a hundred pounds of kit, but no more. Be back here at eight in the morning.” Keynes stood up and walked off, leaving Fald sitting in the cargo bay wringing his hands. It was finally happening, he thought – he was leaving Mars.

He stood up and wandered out of the cargo bay – fork-lift autos and crew were loading her up with crates. The space around him rang with the sound of shouting, grinding metal and the groaning of the ship.

Outside, the sun was setting and the hills beyond the spaceport were glowing red. There was a light breeze running inbetween the ravines that divided the shipping berths. The place was alive with activity and the noise of foreigners, port-hands and heavy-duty cranes.

He looked back at the belly of the Prancing Pony’s cargo hold, it looked like a overblown frog, with its crooked limbs and swollen body. Apparently this was just the landing pod. The Pony itself was thirty square miles and housed nearly as many families in an authentic Earth recreation. Timber framed houses, green grass and lumbering, smelly animals.

Dimly he wondered why they wanted an admin assistant, but the thought didn’t last long. He waved down a cab and hopped into the back.

“Stella – District five, near the old Atmo.” He muttered into the speaker. The driver grunted and swung the car up into the traffic away from the space-port. Fald sank back in his seat and relaxed. For the first time in a long time he felt like things were looking up. A steady job, a chance to see the System and maybe even a decent reference at the end. Goodbye debt, he mused happily, goodbye boredom and goodbye Mars.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The anthropologist, part 1

Mr Heston is putting up the skeletons for Hallowe’en. He’s standing on a chair even though he is very tall and he’s got the little plastic ones and the much better rubber ones that jiggle and he’s mixing them together all hanging on the washing line that I can tell he borrowed from Miss Rea because it’s her red one and everyone always pitches in on Hallowe’en. Mummy says it’s because we remember, but she says it like this: we Remember. She says it’s to do with all the time before, and all the ghosties. She didn’t say it like that - she said it’s about all the other times when other people were with us and we have to be careful not to forget and anyway it could be us some time. But it sounds like ghosties to me. Mummy says we use our brains much better when we have Hallowe’en, she says it’s like brain exercise because we have to remember now now and what now was then. She says don’t worry sweetie you’ll get there. Sometimes when things change it’s very different, and sometimes it’s only tiny little differences and then it’s hard to remember whether your shoes are red or green this time. Sometimes I look down and check, but mummy says don’t look, just concentrate and know.

I wonder whether Mr Heston would like Miss Rea to come to his Hallowe’en party and I think he would because he’s always giving her cuttings from his geraniums and …

… things have changed. Mrs Heston (who used to be Mrs Rea, but never was tonight any more) trips across with Millie (who is a baby anyway but is new altogether tonight) and gives me a cookie-skeleton with currant-eyes. I think that tonight was only a very small change for me because I didn’t feel it much. Sometimes in BIG changes I feel tingly and confused. Mrs Heston likes the coat that Mr Heston gave her five years ago and which I never saw her wear before but only remember seeing her wear before. Except that I did.

I get up and walk into the house again but I trip on the step and I wake up in a different time, again. It is summer in this time and I am sitting on the pavement and I see someone who looks like daddy but young like Tommy-my-cousin. He sees me and knows I am out of time so he stops to say Hello and someone else comes over and she is a girl, and they meet over my head and then I am gone and this time it is a VERY tingly change …


I am, now, back in my own time, and everything is just as it has always been except, of course, that it had never been this way at all before this change that I have just caused in a trip into my parents’ past when I was seven. So now, I know two stories: In one of them, my parents met ten years ago on a horticulture course, and proceeded to tell everyone delightedly that it was simply destiny that they should meet as they had been living in the same neighbourhood for years. But in my current understanding, this new story that has always been and that I have just created, my parents met twenty years ago, in their teens, when my father stopped on his way the shop to help a little girl who was evidently displaced in time. “Sometimes you just know”, they say when I ask them about their decision to keep a child conceived at the age of 15.
Everything needs continuity. We travel through time without warning or control and simply act. Sometimes we change things, without having any idea what we are doing until we return and the whole universe has shifted, or some small part of it. Sometimes we like the change, and sometimes we don’t but the point is we can’t choose it. Lives are altered radically and sometimes lost altogether. When I was seventeen, my best friend whipped himself out of existence, quite by accident. There’s a part of me, somewhere in my carefully preserved memory, that still feels … heavy that he isn’t here, but to the dominant part he has never been. So at Hallowe’en we let down our walls. We allow our minds to muddle up entirely and remember everything as equally, impossibly real. And the next day we go back to living stolidly in whichever version of now we have woken up to.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - Bark: Part 2

“I come from Sandfields. My parents moved there when I was a kid, before they built the walls." Bark leaned back against the bed posts in the dark, they were both staring at the shapes the moon was making through the bars of the cell. “When they built the walls they said it was to stop the population growing and to protect the public. But that was bullshit. Everyone knew it. I remember it happening. After a while people just stopped talking. It was like we were all infected with something. Then the black markets sprung up between the different Wards. We got nice stuff in from Uplands and Sketty, some of us got work out in other Wards. I worked in Sketty for while as a paper boy. The black market seemed to bring everybody together, you know? We all got along better when we were stealing from rich people.”

Mike nodded and thought about the Uplands, how much safer they’d all felt being separated from the other parts of the city. His parents waxed lyrical about safer streets and cleaner living but it was hard to listen to Bark and not feel tainted. Living in the Uplands wasn’t a peach either – you couldn’t express an honest opinion for one thing without being silenced – but he wasn’t going to tell Bark that.

“I never left the Ward much, except on holidays. My parents thought it was the best thing that had ever happened. Everyone started to get to know everyone else. I remember waking up at three in the afternoon after a night out tagging. I felt like scum – I felt like everything my parents had ever hated. But it felt good.” Mike scratched his skin-suit guiltily. “I could see Sandfields from my window. The smoke. When the wind blew in from the sea you could smell it too.”

“What did you tag?”

“Political stuff. Some art, mostly stuff aimed at the local community and the government. I turned some slogans around – remember ‘Get On Your Bike?’ – I did one of some people on bikes crashing into one of the walls. They didn’t get it though – they were never going to listen.”

“I remember the day I figured out I was an Other – I was getting beaten up by some lads from Brynmill. After a while the pain went away and they got tired. I walked home and felt good, despite the kick-in – I only noticed when my brother saw me. The stealing became easier after that.”

“Did you ever steal from Uplands?”

“Yeah,” Bark replied. There was a brief silence before they both started to laugh. “But like I say – it was mostly food. They used to call me Robin the Hoody.”


“No – I made that up.” They laughed again.

Mike shook his head, chuckling. “At least in here we can talk.”

“When I first got in I counted the days. But now, I don’t care. Maybe it’s the gas, or the food or these stupid suits. But at least in here I don’t have to steal.”

“How long have you got?”

“I’ll be out in six months. I’ve been good, kept my head down, my mouth shut.” Bark shook his head, “Can’t say I’m looking forward to it. It’s impossible for someone like me to get a job. The ASBO alone is proof that I’m scum.”

“You might be able to find work locally.” Mike muttered without much conviction.

“Yeah, right. Like I want to stay in Swansea. I’m applying for transfer as soon as possible.”

“It’s no better anywhere else.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Mike thought about his parents and their family. He had aunts and uncles living all over the city, some they never saw - not that his parents wanted to see them, it was as if they didn’t exist. The ASBO, once a badge of honour to some was now a curse. All ASBOs were registered online; they said it wasn’t a criminal record, but in a way it was worse. Jobs were harder to get, applications took longer and people automatically assumed you were scum.

“Do you think they’ll let us out?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well – how many Others have you actually met? Where do they all go.?There must be a hundred of us in here alone.” Mike said.

“How could they keep us? They have to let us out. It's the law.” Bark replied. Mike wasn’t so sure.

“The only Others I’ve come across are Hounds – and they are real scum.”

“Yeah.” Bark replied.

Mike thought back to how he was caught.

“They say that joining the Hounds is the only way to get your ASBO revoked.” Bark said quietly.

“Yeah, but still.” Mike replied, trying to sound vehement but thinking about his parents, his family and how easier things would be if…

No. You can’t. Don’t even think about it.

NB - For those who are interested, Bark is a direct sequel to Suspected Other. Siren and Helix are part of the same story but are only thematically linked with Suspected Other and Bark. They all have dates on them, or references to the date within the story, so it is possible to read them out of order, or in chronological order if you want. Comments/criticism is always appreciated.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - Bark: Part 1

Tuesday 19th April 2016

Mike sat up sharply and banged his head on the bed above. He’d been dreaming again of the sea. Blearily, he rubbed his eyes and swung his legs off the bed. The siren was whining again – this time it was telling him to get dressed and prepare for morning inspection.

The door swung open and a guard entered. He cast a cursory glance around the room. Mike prided himself on his own tidiness, despite his interest in chaotic street art.

“Good – stand up,” the guard commanded, “You’re being moved in with another inmate.”

Mike’s heart leaped into his throat. After a week of stewing in solitary he was being moved in with everyone else. The prospect didn’t thrill him.

They led him through the complex of corridors. Throughout the building the walls were reinforced with steel frames and enamel panels. Mike assumed that the glossy white walls had some nullifying power while the skin-suit provided much of the ‘talent regulation’ – as the counselors neatly put it. Apart from that first encounter with the vile spherical room, he’d had no problems with his Otherness – no wet beds, no damp under-arms, in fact he had no control over it whatsoever. He was told this was for his own protection, to which he scoffed internally.

He was led down a long passage with cells on either side. They stopped at a door roughly half way along and opened it – within were two beds on either side of the standardised, bleach white room. Sitting on the right hand bed reading a book was his new cell-mate. The guards closed the door behind him.

The boy with his nose in the book did not look up, he just inhaled deeply. He was enormous. Tall, muscular with rich chocolate black skin. He couldn’t have been much older than Mike, but he definitely seemed it. Mike sat down on the vacant bed.

“Any good?”

The boy looked up, “Yes.” His voice was deep and every bit as rich as his skin.

“What’s it about?” Mike looked away, feeling as though he was staring.

“A world which is afflicted by a strange sickness – magic is weakened, songs and stories are forgotten. A mage and a prince set off across the sea to find out the cause and stop it.” The boy replied, his voice was confident and his words precisely chosen.

“What happens?”

“I don’t know yet.” The boy replied, closing the book and putting it down. “My name is Bark.”

Mike nodded. He was aware that the inmates took new names based on their Otherness. The counselors had warned him prior to him being admitted. He’d been trying to think of one for himself.

“Mike. Nice to meet you.”

Bark chuckled and they shook hands. “What’s your Other name?”

“I don’t know – I haven’t thought of one.” Mike replied, “Why are you called Bark?”

Bark closed his eyes and stiffened his body, Mike watched with fascination as his skin began to wrinkle and bunch up, forming hard creases of ‘bark’ across his face. Bark relaxed and exhaled heavily.

“Takes a bit of effort in here – wearing this, you know.” He gestured to the suit and the walls, “So what’s your party trick?”

“I can,” Mike thought about it – he’d never quite been able to quantify it, but the counselors had spelled it out for him, “I can control the water in my body, making myself more flexible. Apparently. It just means I can squeeze into tiny spaces.”

“There you go, you’ve just named yourself,” Bark replied – Mike looked blank – “Squeeze. Like the X-Files. Although not as terrifying.”

Mike laughed, “Sorry. I’ve never seen the X-Files.” Bark scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. “I quite like that though – Squeeze.”

“Nice and punchy. The one syllable names are always better. The more cocky ones go for really long names or call themselves The Something.” Bark shook his head, relaxing.

“How long have you been here?”

“A year. They got me on a robbery charge but tried to add ‘armed’ because of my party trick. That was never going to hold water – even with our justice system.” Bark replied bitterly.

“But you actually stole stuff?”

“Of course. I’m a thief. Always have been.”

“What did you steal?”

“Food,” he shrugged looking down at the book, “But that’s all over now. I’m a reformed man. Besides, the food in here isn’t worth stealing.”

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

ASBO-Boy - Siren

19:03 Tuesday 12th April 2016

Nia blinked as the flashes burst in quick succession. She felt her smile become very fixed, her fingers tightening over the medal in her hand. She was standing on the steps of County Hall next to the Mayor of Swansea with the assembled press before them.

Shortly afterward she and the other kids awarded with PROBOS were escorted within to the main hall, where a buffet had been laid out in their honour.

“We’re very proud of her. What more could we possibly ask of her.” Her parents beamed to the reporters. Nia managed to slip away and graze some food from the table. It was very nice but she wasn’t that hungry. Around her, she saw the other kids with their parents, smiling and chatting.

“Could I possibly have a word?”

Nia turned to see a diminutive woman in a smart suit beaming at her. Nia nodded noncommittally, wondering what she wanted, tired of the attention.

“I wanted to discuss the nature of award.” The woman said softly, guiding her away from the table and the crowd. “We spoke with the Officers who were there and they say you responded admirably.”

“Thank you,” Nia replied, her head racing.

“They say you exhibited more than just the normal, necessary behaviour to be awarded with a PROBO.” The woman smiled knowingly. “We all know growing up is tough for young people these days and a lot of boys and girls get swayed by fluffed up ideas about human liberties or drugs and ‘bad crowds’.”

Nia nodded, beginning to wonder when this patronizing irritation would make her point.

“But some boys and girls have special gifts beyond that of good reason and a responsible upbringing.” The woman’s knowing expression had become fixed and she seemed to be expecting Nia to act accordingly.

Oh dear, you’ve caught me – I’m an Other. Hahaha, nearly had you going there. Nia mused to herself.

“You’re talking about my being an Other, are you?” She replied dutifully.

“Yes!” The woman beamed, “Now I don’t want you to be scared, but I represent a group of individuals who work with young people like yourself.”

Nia took the card that the woman offered and pocketed it quickly.

“We would like to speak to you further about this matter. We think you could be a great asset to society.”

Nia’s parents appeared behind her and the woman melted into the crowd. “Who was she, darling?” Her father asked. She told them it was no one - a reporter.

Later that night Nia lay back in bed holding the PROBO medal in one hand and the card in the other. She remembered sitting in the body of the helicopter looking down on the park and the Hoody running across the grass in the moonlight.

She rolled over and mused on what they told her afterwards, “By the power invested in me by the State and City of Swansea, I award you with a Pro-social Behavioural Order for assisting in the apprehension of a confirmed felon.”

The achievement had felt hollow even then. She’d watched as the Hounds moved. They were all confirmed Positive Other like she was. Kids in costumes.

She sat up and moved to the window. Outside her attic room window she could see the rooftops of the Uplands sweep below her and in the distance was the sea.

She’d been excited – she was actually getting to contribute, it was what her parents had encouraged her to do her entire life. When she’d been confirmed Positive Other they’d all been so happy – her parents had thrown her a party. They thought it was an act of God that she’d been gifted with the ability to enhance the talents of Others like her. It was a strange feeling, helping other people, it made her feel warm and natural. It hadn’t taken long for her parents to enrol her in the Neighbourhood Watch, which was how she’d ended up in the helicopter.

She remembered the hood being thrown back revealing Michael’s face. Her heart had run cold. From above, with the thundering of the rota blades in her ears she’d watched as they arrested him and bound his arms.

The neighbourhood bad boy; good parents but a bad attitude. Well… so her parents told her.

She put the medal and the card down on the window sill and yanked at a very specific floorboard. Sitting back against the wall, her hands bathed in the orange glow of the lamp outside her window, she unfolded a wad of notes, letters and pictures.

Her heart sank. She thought back to how they’d kissed in Brynmill park under the trees. They’d told their parents they were going to feed the ducks, bread bags in hand full of crumbs and stale chunks. Sadly, she remembered his fascination with the local graffiti – her disapproval and the inevitable arguments.

She looked again at the card. There was a URL at the bottom. Embossed on it, under the symbol of a helix was the name ‘The Elementals’. Curious, she pulled her laptop from her desk and booted it up.

Time she moved on.

ASBO-Boy - Helix

18:21 Tuesday 12th April 2016

“How are you feeling today Helix?”

The voice rang through the chamber like a clamour of bells. Helix looked up and saw Gwen approaching. He smiled.


“I’m glad,” Gwen replied, standing at the perimeter, looking in. She sat down in her customary chair and pulled out her notepad. Helix watched her cross her legs and take off her glasses.

“I wanted to talk about your dreams today Helix, is that okay?”

Helix nodded. He liked talking to Gwen – she made him feel happy.

“What did you dream about last night?”

“A boy. Running through a park. He dreams of the sea.” Helix replied.

“Would that be…” Gwen checked her notes, “Michael Thomas? We got to him in time, Helix. Were there any others?”

Helix shook his head. There were no others. Not now, anyway. There would be more. He knew this. He was watching them. They didn’t know it. But he was. Always watching. Dreaming.

“Good Helix, I’m glad.” Gwen scribbled on her notebook and looked down. She always found it difficult to look at him. The transparent cell was eerily lit and it made him look small and weak. She shuddered.

He was dressed as he always was – in that hideous costume they’d made for him. It was yellow, white and red. There were still holes in it, big sooty patches and tears across it. The blue cape was a tattered remnant. This was the way he’d looked when he arrived.

“How is your brother, Gwen?” Helix asked, standing up and walking to the wall of the cell. She smothered her feelings and fought internally with her racing heartbeat. He put his hand against the invisible wall and watched her, his eyes empty and cold.

“He’s doing better.” She replied neutrally. Her brother was a vegetable, she thought bitterly, hooked up to a life support machine buried deep in the complex. They liked to keep Helix’s victims close by for observation.

“I’m glad,” Helix replied – his hand pressed against the reinforced glass, as if he was feeling out for her. “I hate what I have become.”

Periodically he had these moments of melancholy, where he slipped back to reality and felt as the old Helix would. Then, he would drift away again, his feelings evaporating into the unknown, his soul lost somewhere to the ether.

“Don’t say that Helix. You’re perfect.” Gwen replied. Her instructions were quite precise on the matter of responses and Gwen practised them endlessly.

“Perfect.” He repeated, airily.

Gwen stood up. She’d got what she needed from the boy and she couldn’t stand to be in his presence much longer. “I will see you soon, Helix.” She said politely, standing up.

“I know, Dr Gwen.” Helix replied. “You will come back the day after tomorrow and we will talk again. Our usual topic. Amongst other things.”

She nodded and began to walk away, fighting the urge to break into a run.

“You are very pretty,” Helix said after, his voice changing. It was deeper now, it was the voice all her worst fears spoke with. It sounded like her father’s. She felt his leer drilling into the back of her neck. Her insides turned cold. Grief and repulsion grappled for supremacy within her. She felt sorry for the boy – he was only a teenager, barely any better off than her brother in many respects. Certainly, he wasn’t much younger than him.

There were times when Helix said things which seemed to curdle her – looks, moments of absolute evil which seemed to come and go like all of his moods and emotions.

She feared the day when Helix would break out. She knew it would come sooner or later. He’d seen it – he wouldn’t say when – but he knew it was coming. The others told her they were prepared for any eventuality, but she knew that they were kidding themselves. When Helix decides to break loose, no prison cell in the world will stop him, she thought.

As she reached the door, she heard weeping from behind her. His mood had shifted again. She turned around and watched him, leaning against the door handle. She liked watching him cry. The hunched figure folded on the ground, trapped in a glass cage, lit from all around by piercing light and that tattered cape spilling from his neck like a shroud.

She smiled and thought of her brother. It was these moments that kept her coming back. Somehow watching this shell of a lad crumble under the weight of his own guilt and fear was enough to calm the knot of anger in her chest that demanded his blood on her hands.

Shaking, she opened the door and stepped out, closing her feelings away, locking them in the room with devil called Helix.

ASBO-Boy - Suspected Other: Part 2

23:13 - Monday 11th April 2016

Pellets of foam exploded around Mike as he dove into the nearest bush. The high wall of the Brynmill Ward loomed above him.


The bushes quickly swelled with expanding foam suppressant as the pellets followed him in, pounding against wall and tree. Through the gaps in the bushes beams of piercing white light fractured into pieces.

He needed to get home and he didn’t think he was going to make it. He backed up against the wall and began to follow flush with it, away from the light.

“He’s moving away!” Shouted one of the Hounds.

They were on his scent like animals. Dimly he saw figures moving in the dark. You heard stories about them, how they were worse than the Pigs. Treacherous swine. Turncoats.

A helicopter thumped above him, its light flushing through the bushes as fast as he could run. There were voices following him in the dark. Young, broken voices. He shuddered.

The Hounds were notoriously Others. Captured, subverted and rewarded with PROBOS. They were scum.

Mike’s hands found a gap in the wall. It was a split that had been covered with wire mesh and hidden by the trees. The walls were old these days. Built to protect an ailing society from itself, so they said. Keep the good ones in and the bad ones out, so the papers reminded them. Bollocks, Mike thought.

Closing his eyes he began to squeeze through the gap. His skin began to seep water, he felt his body easing its way through the narrow space.

On the other side he spilled out of the gap and into Singleton Park. Momentarily the sounds from beyond the wall dimmed. Mike looked around – he’d only ever seen it from outside. Only University Students were allowed in now. Only Society’s approved. He thought about tagging some trees, but then he was reminded by a burst of thunder from the helicopter.

“There he is!” Came a cry from the Wall. Mike looked behind him, a crouched silhouette was sitting atop the twenty foot wall.

Mike pulled his hood up and ran out onto the grass. He was exposed here and the light of the helicopter was on him in seconds. It didn’t take the hounds long to alight the wall and give chase. Mike glanced behind him – they were dressed all in black, their faces hidden.

I wouldn’t want my face seen either, he thought as his legs pounded into the soft, even grass.

He laughed, wondering how long the chase would last – would he be able to reach the other side before he was caught. It was unlikely. But there was always a chance – he wasn’t exactly normal - he’d gotten out of tighter squeezes before.

Beneath him, Mike began to feel the grass change texture. It was turning white.

The grass began to crunch – but before he knew what had happened, Mike was sliding across the ground, up to his elbows in snow. He ground to an embarrassing halt as several Hounds descended on him.

He felt his soaked hoody begin to crunch and freeze. Mike looked up, frightened and dazed.

“We’ve got him.” The Lead Hound shouted, his voice high and uneven.

Within moments, Officers descended from the helicopter and bound him in cuffs and suppressant.

One of the Officers spoke quietly with the lead Hound.

“How did he get through the wall?”

“Squeezed through a gap.” The Hound made a gesture with his fingers. The Officer nodded.

“Wrap him up tight boys. Let the station know: Suspected Other.”



The magistrates hammer fell – Mike sat up in his seat, shaking with fear.

“Michael Thomas, you have been found guilty of Vandalism. Upon your restraint, Officers delivered the verdict of Suspected Other. At Cocket Police Headquarters you were subjected to Anbaric Radiation and found to be Positive Other. It is the judgement of this body of Magistrates to sentence you with an Anti-Social Behavioural Order. You will be taken forthwith to Sandfields Borstal and committed to your First Cycle of detainment.”

The hammer fell again and Mike flinched. Distantly he heard crying coming from the direction of his parents. He didn’t look up. He’d finally pushed his luck too far.

ASBO-Boy - Suspected Other: Part 1

Mike’s hands were still covered in paint when they slung him into the TARDIS.

His head banged against the cold white wall and he slid to the floor. The doors were closed roughly behind him and he was left to stare at the enamel white surfaces of the boxy, street corner prison.

He knew it’d be useless, but he struggled anyway. Typically, the pigs had done their job well. Not only was he bound by the cuffs, but they’d coated his arms in suppressing foam which seemed to have hardened and gained weight. Unable to stand, Mike just sat there on the cold, hard floor, with the smell of sick and bleach in his nostrils.

Exhausted, terrified and lulled into a stupor by the gas that was mixed in with the ventilators, Mike seemed to float into a languid broken sleep.

Suddenly, there was light and noise all around him. He opened his eyes to be blinded by the open doors. It was morning and every muscle in his body was aching. Once again he’d awoken to find himself soaked to the skin, his clothes stcking to him like clammy paper.

Two burly pigs leaned in, gripped him under the arms and dragged him out into daylight. His teeth immediately began to chatter. They wiped their hands on their trousers and looked away. They were wearing standard issue visors – to break eye contact - but he could tell they were avoiding his gaze anyway.

The two officers went about their work briskly, updating their PDAs with the TARDIS console. They were dressed in heavy, blue flak vests and were carrying side-arms and batons. Humming nearby was the transport van.

“Fourteen, male Caucasian by the name of Michael Thomas. Address: 42, Beechwood Road, Uplands. School: Bishop Gore State Academy. Apprehended and detained at Uplands Police Box 16, Monday 11th of April 2016 at 23:53 hours. Charged with vandalism. Suspected Other. Picked up for Processing, Friday 12th by Officers Paul Hinchely and David Jones at 9:15 hours.”

Mike listened to the last twenty four hours of his life get read out. But he didn’t hear much of it after the comment Officer Hinchely made about him being a Suspected Other. Too late now. Hadn’t been much of a secret – nobody naturally sweated as much as he did. Maybe they’d adjust his sentence… No chance, he told himself. It’ll be Borstal for you.

When the Officers were done they checked the foam suppressant, wrapped a Processing tag around his neck and opened the back of the meat wagon. He sat down roughly next to the rest of last night’s pickings. Drunks, disturbers of the peace, asbos. What would his parents say? He wondered vaguely, trying to convince himself that he didn’t care what they thought.

It was all bollocks.


At Cocket HQ the meat were unloaded and separated into categories of offence. The older drunks and parasites of Brynmill Park were carted off to one lot of cells and the asbos were rounded up and sent another way. Officers Hinchely and Jones politely asked that he follow them down a third route.

He was led to a large steel door which swung open after a lengthy verification process. Inside, the walls were enamel white like the inside of the TARDIS and the air smelled vaguely similar; bleached and alive with the stench of fear. Mike was frogmarched up to a window. Behind it sat a tall woman dressed in an insulator uniform who towered over him like a giant insect.

Officer Hinchely repeated the clinical summary of Mike’s life while the Officer behind the glass nodded and in-puted data on a screen. When the report was complete, the door on Mike’s right opened and she waved them on.

Mike was led down a long corridor to a hole in the floor. A ladder descended from the ceiling and the Officers set about melting the suppressing foam. They unlocked the cuffs and handed him a black, fitted skin-suit.

“You can change behind that.” He was told and directed to a screen. Slowly and shakily he began to undress behind the screen before putting on the skin-suit. The foamy material grafted to his skin and was unnervingly comfortable to wear. After he was done he was directed to descend the ladder and await instructions.

The ladder led to a spherical room with smooth enamelled walls. When he was down, the ladder ascended from the room and a seal came down to fill the hole, completing the sphere.

Mike had never been particularly claustrophobic but he hoped to all that was just and holy that this wasn’t going to be his cell.

“Don’t be afraid,” spoke a gentle female voice from an unknown source. “We’re going to administer a little test and then you can be Processed.”

The room began to glow and throb. Mike started to feel dizzy, his knees began to wobble. Unsteadily he sat down. He felt drunk all of a sudden, then sick, then euphoric.

His limbs grew weak and he slid to the floor, distantly he felt his body become wet and clammy again. Everything became soft and he felt like he was spreading across the floor, pooling in the centre of the room.

Slowly, the throbbing lessened and he seemed to return to normal. Within moments the ladder dropped down and he was instructed to climb it once again. Vaguely he remembered being guided to a cell. This one wasn’t spherical, but it did have the enamel walls - that didn’t matter now though, all he wanted to do was sleep.

The room faded away and was replaced by a vast, dark ocean. Mike drifted on the surface, the water lapping at his feet. It felt good. It felt real.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Creativity Diagram

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Bus Stop Blues

The rain hammered down on the roof of the bus shelter. Rebecca leaned against the perspex and caught her breath. She was drenched, her make-up was running, her clothes were sticking to her and her hair felt like it was melting.

A great start to the evening, she mused, adjusting her denim skirt fiercely.

Sitting at the other end of the shelter was the Lurker. A grimy man in an overcoat who loved sitting in the bus shelter. He was about fifty but he was playing a DS - who did he think he was?

She kept to her end and sat down precariously on the bench. With practised care and attention she began to repair her image. The emergency kit in her bag contained all she needed; tissues, pocket mirror and make-up for re-application.

Outside, shapes continued to walk past in the rain. A couple looked vaguely familiar. She held the mirror up higher so she couldn't see them and continued. The Lurker's DS was making bleeping noises. She ignored it.

"Objection!" The Lurker shouted into the machine.

Rebecca's hand skipped a beat and she drew a line down her nose in eye-liner. Furious, she made her feelings known by huffing and re-crossing her legs. Furiously she wiped away the line with a tissue.

"Sorry," the Lurker muttered, chuckling.

Rebecca ignored him.

"Do you have one of these? It's very good. I've got BrainTraining and Mario and all sorts. It's not mine though, it's my nephews."

Of course it is, you fucking paedophile.

"It does make you sound a bit like a pratt though." The Lurker mused.

"No harm done though, eh?" Rebecca replied, the tone of her voice implying quite the opposite.

"I see you about a lot."

Rebecca's hand froze.

"I used to work with your mother. I know most people around here." The man chattered, "Nobody talks much any more though. Hard to strike up a conversation."

"Doesn't seem to stop you though?" Rebecca replied.

The Lurker laughed, "No, I suppose not. It's good to talk though - as they say. Was it Bob Hoskins who used to say that?"

"Who's Bob Hoskins?"

"BT advert - you know... in the nineties..."

"I think I'm a bit young for that."

"Oh. Never mind then. Still. It's a good motto. People should talk more."

I really wish you'd stop, she thought. Curiosity got the better of her, "Do you really know everybody?" As a keen socialite Rebecca had over a hundred and fifty MySpace friends, a maxed out phone book on her mobile and a social cicrle that included three schools.

"Oh yeah - well, not intimately of course. But I've spoken to most people at least once."

"That's a bit pervy, isn't it?"


"Just talking to people."

"Is it? Since when?"


The Lurker turned off the DS. "So, do you think me talking to you now is pervy?"

"Well, yeah. A bit. You're like fifty or something and I'm eighteen and-"

"You're sixteen. I was talking to your mother last week."

"Oh my God. See? That's pervy. You can't know stuff about me that I don't know that you know."

"So, if you knew that I knew what I know, then that wouldn't be pervy?"



"How do you find things out about people if you don't ask?" The Lurker asked.

"You just don't. Why do you want to know so much anyway - why do you care how old I am?"

"I don't, I just know." The Lurker replied, "Well, think about it - if I wanted to know all about you, I could go online and look at your myspace profile, or something like that. You wouldn't know that I know then, would you?"

"Well, no - but that's pervy too."

"But what about absolute randoms - people from your school - are they allowed to know?"

"Well, yeah - no. Wait."

"So all this information you seem to think is so precious, it's all sacred and only certain people are allowed to know, but if you want, you can see it all anyway."

"No. Wait. You're still older than me, you don't know me, really. Why do you want to know all this stuff?"

"Because it's interesting. It means something to know the people who live around you."

Rebecca looked at him, make-up half repaired.

"That's so weird."

"As weird as going into town, pretending to be older than you are on a night when your mother thinks you're around a friend's house?"

"That's it. I'm calling a taxi." Rebecca got up - part furious, part terrified that he was going to chase after her mother and denounce her to the whole village. "You're fucking a pervert and a freak and I need some space."

The Lurker laughed. Rebecca spun around and pointed her eyeliner at him.

"I could call the police and tell them you're harassing me - touching me and shit. How would you like that?"

"Well, I'll be honest with you Rebecca. I wouldn't."

"Well, yeah, okay then. Keep your mouth shut and your nose out of other people's business."

She stormed out of the bus stop and was immediately soaked again. Instantly miserable and wound up, she sat obstinately on the wall in the rain and grabbed her phone. She was jamming the number 8 for Taxi when she heard the Lurker shout:


Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Running Man in the Suit

Mr Spencer had been running for nine hours today. He was following a main road – something he hadn't done in a year and a half.

The reason for this was because a car was driving slowly alongside him. Inside was a journalist – a lady in her fifties wanting a character piece for the local newspaper. Mr Spencer didn't mind – he liked company when he could get it, even if those he spoke to so rarely understood.

"How long have you been running?" asked the journalist.

"Twelve hours a day for six years," said Mr Spencer.

"And how do you keep your energy up?"

"I don't know, to be honest," said Mr. Spencer. "I have a big lunch every day, but I think I must be naturally fit."

"And when will you stop?"

Mr Spencer smiled sadly.



"When will you stop?"

Mr Spencer, still running, turned to look at the journalist in the car.

"When I've finished."


February 2nd 2001
Six years ago

Mr Spencer walked slowly through the now-empty house. Soon enough, a young couple would be moving in. Good luck to them, he thought. He'd had his chance at starting a family, and he'd turned it down. Only right that a comfy house like this should be a family home.

He'd chosen to wear his suit and sensible shoes. After all, he was hardly going to be comfortable whatever he wore.

He picked up his briefcase. He'd considered taking a rucksack, but had eventually decided on a style-over-comfort policy.

Standing on the doorstep, Mr Spencer looked out over the neighbourhood. It was late, and nobody was around other than a late-night dog walker and a homeless man on a bench.

Mr Spencer approached the bench. He reached into his pocket, and retrieved a five-pound note. He placed it in the homeless man's pocket. Mr Spencer was a great believer in karma.

Well. No time like the present. Mr Spencer looked both ways. To the left, a park. To the right, a road of pubs.

He faced left. Took a deep breath. And started running.


February 10th 2007

"Have you ever missed a day?"

"No." Mr Spencer was growing impatient with this woman. She was asking stupid questions.

"Why do you run?"

"Because I have to."

"What happens if you don't?"

Mr Spencer sighed. He'd hoped to avoid this subject. He wanted this to be an article about a curious running man who happened to be in the neighbourhood. But it always came down to his motivation, and he had no desire to lie.

"If I don't run," he said, "The world won't be worth living in."

A pause. The same pause every time. Nobody understood.

"I don't understand," said the journalist.

"No, I don't expect you do."


March 13th 2001
Six years ago

Mr Spencer arrived at a bus shelter. By now, he'd managed to block out the physical strain and the constant hunger, but he could never get over the rain.

Sitting down in the shelter, Mr Spencer put his briefcase on the end of the seat. He pulled out his clockwork alarm clock, set the time, and placed it on the ground.

Soon enough, he was fast asleep. But he when he awoke, it wasn't to the sound of an alarm clock.

"I can't believe you're actually doing this," came the voice.

Mr Spencer jumped up.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"You don't have to do it, you know," said the girl. "It's ... it doesn't matter."

Mr Spencer didn't respond.

"You know I'd love to talk to you now," he said. "More than anything. But I really need to sleep. I'm running again tomorrow."

"Why?" wailed the girl. "Why do you insist on doing this?"

"You know why."

"Isn't there anything that'll ... get you off the hook?" she asked, her eyes pleading.

"No. There isn't."

"I ..." started the girl, and then gulped. She was crying. She wiped her eyes, tried to regain control, but the tears came. Mr Spencer saw that she was soaked to the skin.

"You should go home," he said. "No sense in you getting soaked."

The girl cried harder.

"Please," she said. "I ..." She gulped once more. Determined to regain control. "I love you."

Silence. Mr Spencer looked at her.

"I'm so glad," he said. "And I still love you. And nothing in the world will ever change that."

"Then why not come home?" asked the girl. "You've been gone for over a month now."

"I understand your concern," said Mr Spencer. "But I have to run."

"But WHY?"

"If I don't run, the world won't be worth living in."

The girl stared at Mr Spencer incredulously. He lay back down on the shelter bench, and immediately fell asleep. The girl stood up, and returned to her car, crying harder than ever.


February 10th 2007

"Do you have any family?" asked the journalist.

"No," said Mr Spencer. "No, there's only me."

"How do you afford to keep going?"

"Word spreads," said Mr Spencer. "People recognise me – the running man in the suit. They bring me food. Some even let me into their homes to sleep. I'm much better off now than I've ever been, really."

"So you have no steady income?" asked the journalist.

"No," said Mr Spencer. "Some companies have offered me sponsorship in exchange for advertising their products, but I think that's rather opportunistic."

The journalist's chauffeur pulled in to allow a lorry to pass.

"Right, Mr ... Spencer, was it?"

"That's right."

"I still don't quite understand," said the journalist. "You run for twelve hours a day, eat a bare minimum, and sleep rough nine times out of ten."


"A good story, certainly," she said. "But it really is lacking something. Could you maybe give a less cryptic explanation for why you're doing this?"

Mr Spencer smiled. Nobody had been so specific before.

"You know," he said. "I don't think I could."


May 21st 2001
Six years ago

Mr Spencer heard footsteps behind him. He looked behind. There she was – running behind him.

"Hia," she said meekly.

"Fancied a run, did you?" he asked drily.

She didn't reply. She was struggling to keep up. He looked over, concerned. She looked pale and tired, as though she hadn't slept in months.

"You're not going to stop running, are you?" she said.

"I thought I'd made that clear," replied Mr Spencer. "I'm not going to stop until I've finished."

Again, no reply. She was nursing her side – a stitch.

"Promise me one thing, then," she said.

"What's that?"

"Don't tell anyone why you're doing this."

"Hadn't really crossed my mind," said Mr Spencer.

"People are bound to ask eventually," she said. "A man your age running in a suit all day long. Just ... if you have to do this, if you won't stop, please don't tell anyone why. Please, just do that much for me."

Mr Spencer considered for a moment.

"Alright, I won't," he said cheerfully.

"Thanks," she said. "I have to go. I can't keep up."

"See you!" said Mr Spencer.


February 10th 2007

"How often do you change your clothes?"

Mr Spencer rolled his eyes. So close to asking the right questions, but no – curiosity always led people to the strangest questions.

"I always wear the same suit," said Mr Spencer. "I wash it whenever I get a chance, and I have a spare outfit in my suitcase to wear, just in case."

It was as though something clicked in the journalist's mind.

"The briefcase," she said. "What's in the briefcase? Apart from your spare outfit?"

Mr Spencer smiled.

"The whole story," he said. "All the answers, and all the questions. Everything you need to know."

"Why ..."

"So that if I die, people will know why I did it." He grinned. "I don't care for attention right now. But it'd be nice if, after I've finished – one way or another – everyone will read my story, and they'll have an ending."


February 2nd 2002
Five years ago

"It's been a whole YEAR, for goodness' sake."

"Here's to many more," said Mr Spencer.

"You can't keep doing this." She was driving next to him, keeping pace. Mr Spencer hadn't heard her cry in months – after a while, she seemed to have run out of tears. But now, once again, she was in tears.

"I wish you were happy," said Mr Spencer. "You know I'm doing this because of you?"

"That's why I'm ..." More tears. Practically choking. "I love you."

"I love you," said Mr Spencer. "Very, very much."

And he kept running.


February 10th 2007

The journalist was gone. Good riddance, thought Mr Spencer. He'd hoped for a clever one. He soon found an intriguing footpath leading away from the main road, and decided to follow it.

He loosened his tie, passed his briefcase into his other hand, and wiped the sweat from his brow.

And he kept running.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Flick Knife

Sarah walked out of the supermarket, her two bags-for-life full of fairtrade produce and Innocent smoothies. It was very quiet outside.

Sarah liked shopping late in the evening. It meant not having to compete with heavy traffic – very handy, since she only had a bicycle.

It was actually quiter than usual today. Not a single car in the car park, and nobody on the pavement nearby. Weird.

And then she heard a sound. A hissing sound, coming from the direction of the garage. She walked towards the sound to investigate.

She turned the corner, and gasped. The garage was a wreck. All the windows smashed, shelves on the inside thrown all over the place, the newspaper stand outside in pieces. She looked around, searching for any signs of life.

There. By the air compressor – which was also in a poor shape. A shape. A figure, lying on the ground, dressed in a pale green outfit.

Sarah approached slowly. The figure tried to say something.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Run," croaked the figure.

Suddenly, another figure appeared nearby. A slim man in a silver tracksuit, with elbow- and knee-straps covered in blades.

"You want to play hero too?" asked the figure. "Didn't run away with the other civilians?"

"What did you do?" asked Sarah, keeping her voice level.

"All of it," said the figure softly, indicating the wreckage. "Our friend Lunar Mist here tried to stop me. But he's far, far too late."

Sarah looked around incredulously. How on earth could one man commit all of this?

"Take a good look, love," said the figure. "This is my city now. It all belongs to me – Flick Knife."

Exposition? thought Sarah. This guy was clearly a symptom of the modern superhero fad.

"So, for starters," said the man named Flick Knife. "Let's take care of our mutual friend." He looked towards the groaning Lunar Mist. He lifted his right hand, and a long blade slid from a mechanism on his wrist. "We'll start by finding out who he really is."

Sarah barely clocked Flick Knife's evident fondness for secret identities, before moving calmly between him and Lunar Mist.

"What are you doing?" asked Flick Knife, danger in his voice.

"I think you'll do it," said Sarah. "I think you'll readily kill this man. But I'm not letting you get a Supervillain Kills Superhero headline. You'll have to kill me first. And we'll see how THAT looks in the papers."

Flick Knife paused.

"Dangerous," he said. "You're assuming I'm a comics fan." He lifted his wrist-blade again. "I'm not. I'm a psychopath."

He slashed the knife dangerously.

Sarah kicked upwards, her walking boot colliding with Flick Knife's jaw.

"And you're assuming I'm cannon fodder."

As Flick Knife reached automatically for his jaw, Sarah punched him in the chest, hooked her leg around his, and pulled. Flick Knife fell to the floor.

Lunar Mist pushed himself up from the ground, nursing his ribcage.

Sarah stood over Flick Knife, gauging his likelyhood of getting up again.

"You have weapons," she said. "But you're still human."

Secretly, Sarah liked playing the superhero.


"I can't believe it," said Dave, reading the paper during the tea break. "You actually stopped a proper supervillain."

"Don't call him that," scoffed Sarah. "As soon as you acknowledge these people's attempts at being cool, you encourage more of it."

"Still," said Angharad. "They've got a photo of you with Lunar Mist."

"Which means someone else was around and didn't bother to help," said Sarah. "It's sickening."

"I suppose nobody thinks to help superheroes," said Dave.

"He was flat-out on the floor!" said Sarah.

"I didn't mean Lunar Mist," said Dave, before having a balled-up piece of paper thrown at him.