Sunday, November 22, 2015

Day 13 - Red House

“They say,” said Charles Carruthers, pausing for effect as the candlelight flickered against his thin face “that he has parlance with the Devil himself.”

“He is never seen out of the house during the hours of daylight,” added George Meanwell, leaning his portly frame close in to the table and keeping his voice low, “and his curtains are always drawn tightly shut.”

“I met him once,” said Donald Craig, leaning back in his chair and swilling his glass of whiskey contemplatively, “he is tall, thin, and pale and there is something thoroughly unpleasant about him. It would not be difficult to believe he was what they say.”

“Poppycock,” said Luther Basterfield, sipping from his whiskey and then setting the crystal glass back down on the table, his dark eyes glittering in the candlelight. “Utter poppycock. He may well attempt to cultivate an air of mystery and macabre, but I’m sure this Aldous Stark is as human as any of us.”

“Always the sceptic, Luther,” said George, with a shake of his head that caused his jowls to shudder “but there are rumours of dark rituals at his country residence, Red House, on the weekends; of parties that go on for days and from which not everyone returns.”

“I prefer to think of myself as an agnostic,” said Luther, “As you know, I live in eternal hope of finding something that will prove to me that the supernatural is real.”

“I remember you debunking that medium last year,” said Donald, “What was her name? Anna? Elena?”

“Alexandra Moleva,” said Luther, cooly. “At least, that was the name she was using in public. She thought that sounding Russian would add to the mysticism; I can only imagine she felt that her act wouldn’t have the same cachet under her real name of Gladys Sugden.”

“But she fooled quite a few people before you went to see her,” said Charles, “Wasn’t Arthur Moorman paying her a retainer to contact his father on a weekly basis?”

“Indeed,” replied Luther. “Apparently, he was so lacking in confidence at running the business that he ended up using her to speak to the spirit of his father and make the decisions for him.”

“Remarkable,” breathed George.

“Oh, the most remarkable thing about it all was that she was making better decisions than Arthur,” said Luther with a smile, “once I’d unmasked her, he had to run the business on his own. In fact, the last I heard, he was filing for bankruptcy.”

They all laughed soundly at this and Charles poured them all more whiskey.

“You know you have really spoilt us with this Dalmore, Luther” said George, admiring his refilled glass.

“A fifty year malt,” said Luther, smirking. “I’ve no interest in anything that’s not been properly aged.”

“Stark is another case entirely to that medium,” said Donald, once the room had fallen silent, “there’s something about him that sends a shiver down one’s spine.”

“That doesn’t seem to stop him attracting female attention,” said Charles, “they flock to him, that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Ladies interested in a rich and powerful man,” said Luther dryly, “you’ll pardon me for not being terribly shocked.”

“It’s more than that though,” said Donald, “he just seems to mesmerise them; he had two Baronets hanging off his every word the whole night that I saw him.”

“So, he’s a rich eccentric who manages to attract women despite giving you the chills,” said Luther, “I’m still not sure why you think this fellow deserves my attention.”

“Do you remember Colin Morgan?” asked George.

“The name rings a bell, but it’s a vague one.”

“He’s a banker,” replied George, “or, at least, he was. Big fellow with red hair, quite a temper on him.”

“And how is he connected to all of this?”

“Well, he had an argument with Stark at a party a few weeks ago. By all accounts, he got rather annoyed that Stark had apparently bewitched his fiancée. Voices were raised, well by Colin at least, and when Stark ignored him he apparently rolled up his sleeves and tried to take a swing at Stark.”

“Still not earning my interest, gentlemen.” said Luther, with a mock yawn.

“Colin used to box in his spare time,” said George, “he knew his way around a fight, that’s for sure. But when Colin threw a punch, Stark caught his fist and twisted his wrist until he’d forced Colin to drop to his knees. There’s no way anyone could stop a punch like that.”

“And that’s not the end of the story,” interrupted Donald, “Stark left the party after that, but the very next night, they found Colin Morgan dead inside a room on the 5th floor of the Eton Hotel. A room that was locked from the inside. The only way in or out of the room was through a window with an opening that measured less than six inches.”

“And they are certain it was murder?” asked Luther.

“Oh yes,” said George, “Quite certain. You see, when they found him, he didn’t have a single drop of blood left in his body…”

Luther drew himself back from the table, steepled his fingers beneath his chin and pursed his lips.

“Well, I must admit, my curiosity is piqued ever so slightly...”


Securing an invitation to the next of Aldous Stark’s parties had not proven to be easy; not only were Stark’s guest lists selective, they were also highly unpredictable. However, after questions had been asked, a considerable number of favours called in, and a number of palms suitably greased, they had managed to obtain two invitations to Stark’s latest party to be held at his country residence. And, as luck would have it, it was to be a Masked Ball.

“Why on Earth did I ever let them persuade me to come with you?” asked Donald as they bumped along the twisting and dark country road.

“Donald, you really are a dreadful bore,” replied Luther, absently gazing out the window to where the lights of Stark’s country home could be seen burning in the distance. “We’re going to a party, it will be fun.”

“And how exactly do you plan to expose Stark?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see, Donald. But I know his type; once he realises that I can see through his assortment of parlour tricks, he’ll lose any air of mystique he may have cultivated.”

“Assuming they are just tricks.”

Luther adjusted his black sequined mask and turned to look at Donald. “Well, as you know, I live in eternal hope of being proved wrong.”

They sat in silence for the last few minutes of the coach ride, as they turned off from the road and between two gate posts festooned with strange gargoyles. A sign, cast from black iron, was hung from the left gatepost which read Red House. Their carriage continued up the drive, past line upon line of flaming torches, and after bouncing across stone cobbles they finally pulled up in a large circular courtyard at the front of the house. The courtyard had a fountain at its centre that was also dominated by a large gargoyle, while the house itself was huge; three floors and countless windows with a large arched doorway as its main entrance.

They stepped down and were immediately welcomed by two white shirted, and masked, butlers. They appeared from this distance to be identical; both were dark haired and wore red velvet masks, both were well over six feet tall and powerfully built.

“Mr. Stark wishes to speak with you, gentlemen.” said the first one, while the second glowered at them as best as one could from behind a red velvet mask.

“Us?”said Luther, innocently, “Are you sure that you have the right carriage?”

“Quite sure, Mr. Basterfield.” said the butler, clasping his hands in front of him so that he could lightly flex his impressive muscles through the thin white fabric of his shirt.

Next to him, Luther could see that Donald was blanching a couple of shades paler.

“Well, in that case, lead on dear fellow,” said Luther, with a mock bow, before nudging Donald with an elbow and winking at him.


The first butler walked ahead of them, leading them through the large iron studded door at the front of Red House, and into a large tiled entrance hall where twin staircases lead up from both left and right ahead of them to an open set of double doors. The second butler stood behind them, blocking the door.

“It’s rather quiet for a party, don’t you think Donald.” said Luther, looking around and seeing no sign of any other guests.

“I’m beginning to think we perhaps got the date wrong,” said Donald, “maybe we should call it a night and head back?”

But the second butler shut the door behind them even as Donald began to turn around and then made a show of loudly sliding a metal bolt across to lock it.

“Up the stairs and through the doors,” said the first butler, nodding his head. “Mr. Stark has been expecting you.”

“Well, after coming all this way to meet him, that sounds a splendid idea.” said Luther and, with Donald following tentatively behind him he walked up the left staircase. The two butlers stayed behind, arms folded and each waiting at the bottom of one of the staircases.

The double doors at the top of the staircase opened into a large ballroom which, despite being decorated for a party was completely devoid of life except for three people seated at the farthest end of the room.

Aldous Stark was in the middle of the three on a golden throne with one leg crossed over the other; he was wearing an ornate red and black mask, a black suit and a red shirt. The darkness of his attire only served to highlight the paleness of his skin and Luther was struck by the fact that the only people he had seen who were paler had been corpses. To his left was a dark haired woman in a pale blue mask and a white dress seated on a wooden chair. To his right was a blonde haired woman who was kneeling with her hand bowed so that they couldn’t see her face.

“I must apologise for the lack of a party, Mr. Basterfield,” said Stark, his voice a low hiss. “But when I heard that you were so interested to meet me, it seemed a shame not to give you my very fullest attention.”

“You’re too kind,” said Luther, calmly. “But if I’d have known you were going to be so generous, I’d have brought a gift.”

“Your company is a gift in itself,” replied Stark, “and I have made sure that I have a gift for you as well.”

Stark motioned upwards with his right hand and the blonde haired woman jerked, her head snapping up so that she was staring at them.

“Marjorie,” blurted Donald, recognising his fiancée in that instant, “what on Earth are you doing here?”

But Marjorie appeared not to see Donald, she just stared blankly and silently at them.

“You had been hoping to surprise me, I understand” said Stark, his voice a low hiss, “so I thought that it was only fair I surprised you.”

Donald ran forward, taking Marjorie’s hand but she made no sign of having noticed him.

“What have you done to her, you scoundrel?” said Donald, his voice shaking.

“Just a hint of my powers,” smiled Stark, and Luther was immediately reminded of a snake. “Just a hint, since we have a sceptic in our midst.”

“My reputation clearly precedes me.” said Luther, coldly.

“When you go around asking questions about me, I hear about it,” said Stark. “And so I began to ask questions about you. And I was told that you don’t believe in the supernatural, that you like to believe that everything can be explained away by science. I was told that you actively seek out those who appear to be supernaturally gifted, and you debunk them.”

“You are correct,” said Luther, “it gives me great pleasure to expose those who would prey on the naïve beliefs of others.”

“Thus, I thought that today would be a good one for us to meet. For you to appreciate how little you and your science,” he spoke the word with distaste, “truly understand. Marjorie is mine now, she is mine body and soul.”

“Well, if this was all for my benefit then I’m afraid you’re going to have to try harder than that, Mr. Stark.” said Luther, cocking an eyebrow. “The girl could have been drugged, or hypnotised. I see nothing here that causes me to believe you’re invested with supernatural powers.”

“Then perhaps a fuller demonstration of my powers is in order, Mr. Basterfield,” said Stark with a grin that exposed his teeth. He turned to Marjorie, “why don’t you show your fiancée how much you’ve changed since you met me?”

The transformation was instant and horrifying; one moment Marjorie was the same woman that Luther had seen on several occasions, the next her face seemed to shudder and shake and her lips peeled back to reveal not teeth but fangs. And then, before Donald even had time to react, she was on him; her hands suddenly claws that clutched him hard, her fangs biting down hard into the side of his neck. She tore into his carotid artery in an instant, drinking greedily as his lifeblood flowed in her mouth and out around her lips and down onto her dress. Donald Craig was dead before his body hit the floor.

“And now do you appreciate?” laughed Stark, and his face began to shudder and his lips peeled back horribly to reveal huge fangs. ”Now do you understand why you should never have come into my world.

Luther heard footsteps echo loudly off the floor behind him at the two butlers entered the room and locked the double doors tightly shut. The dark haired woman was changing as well, her face contorting as she ripped off her blue mask and tossed it to the floor.

“You’re vampires,” said Luther slowly. “You really are vampires.”

“Do you have any last words, before we feast on you and tear you limb from limb?”

“Well, before you do that,” said Luther, with a cold smile, “and in this spirit of sharing secrets, I think it’s only fair that I tell you my real name.”

He stood straight, one hand fixing his bowtie, and the whole room seemed to darken a little.

“Before I was Luther Basterfield, I was called Henry Wrenwright and I lived in New York City. Before that I was called Toby van Dijk and I lived in Amsterdam. Before that…” Luther let the words trail off, “well, to cut a very long story short, I’ve had lots of names. Although for some reason, people always seem to remember the first one.”

The lights in the room flickered and the vampires looked to each other with nervousness. A feeling so old to them, it took them a moment to even recognise it.

“What are you?” asked Stark, his voice no longer commanding.

“When He made me,” said Luther, “He named me Lucifer.”

They bowed before him then. They grovelled, they begged. They pleaded and bargained. It meant nothing to him and, one by one, he extinguished them and claimed their souls as his own.

“Why?” asked Stark, when he alone was left quailing before him. “We do not do His work. Why us? Why not these humans? Why not feed on their souls?”

“Because,” said Lucifer, reaching out one hand casually and plucking Stark’s twisted and rotten soul from his body as easily as one might pull taffy from a stick, “I’ve no interest in anything that’s not been properly aged.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Day 12 - Judgement Day

Judgement day had finally arrived.

The calculations had initially taken months and, in the end, he’d resorted to setting up a botnet in order to siphon away processing time from the University’s computer network. He knew that it was only a stopgap measure, that his clumsy work would be discovered soon, but by then it would be too late for anyone to do anything about it.

Obtaining some of the parts had proven difficult; these were not the sort of things you could go into a local Radioshack and pick up off the shelf. The more exotic materials he’d found ways to buy illicitly; he had found it quite remarkable what you could pick up on the darknet if you had enough bitcoins; while he’d used his research project as a cover for the less questionable materials.

He was thankful that the oversight at the University was so minimal; as long as he was bringing in enough funding – which, thanks to an entirely mythical project he’d cooked up for DARPA, was not a problem for him – then they left him to his own devices and didn’t interfere. Equally, the research assistants he’d hired had all been carefully isolated from each other and their work compartmentalised so that they would have no way of understanding what it was that they were working on. The results were that he was the only person who understood the full scope of the project.

Which, he thought, as he looked at the array that now crackled with a sheen of rippling blue plasma was probably a good thing. He had a feeling that if anyone were to find out that he, Dr. Alan Goldberg, had constructed the world’s first working time machine then he would have had to deal with a huge amount of interest from pretty much everyone. But, it was still a secret and, if all went as planned today, then it would remain forever a secret.

He’d first stumbled across the equation a decade earlier; an equation that led him to the belief that time travel was not only possible but feasible. And while his initial instinct was to publicise his work, he stopped himself from emailing the abstract to his colleagues at the last moment. Partly it was because he realised that this was an idea that could change everything and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be responsible for that leaking out into the world. But, the real reason he kept it to himself was because he had a plan for what he could do with it.

The development process was long and tiresome; to begin with he had to put together smaller research projects and then inflate their cost in order to secure funding. But that only went so far. By the time that he’d cleared the theoretical stage and had moved onto the construction of a working prototype, it was clear that he needed more money. A lot more money.

Developing a device that would help a gang of criminals bring down a Las Vegas casino was the beginning. It paid for the prototype’s construction and began his spiral into an increasingly dark place.

The prototype worked. It was a small scale version, capable of sending inorganic material back in time no more than five days, but it worked. On the first day that he’d finished its construction and built a test area, a blue lego brick appeared in the middle of the test plate. A blue lego brick that he had only just decided would be the first test object to be sent in five days’ time. Five days later he sent it.

But the costs began to mount from this point and so Dr. Goldberg had been forced to engage in more and more dubious deals in order to ensure that he kept his funding stream active. While juggling real research projects, he had also helped a Mexican drug cartel to decipher military communications and had provided a certain Asian country, opposed to American interference within their affairs, with an encryption code that would enable them to hijack control of the latest stealth drones. Both had proven to be lucrative deals and both had drawn the attention of the FBI. He justified his actions by thinking about what he was trying to do, what he hoped to accomplish, the lives – millions of lives – that were at stake.

World War II had changed the shape of the world forever and, at the heart of the destruction and the chaos, had been the Nazi Party. And at the head of the Nazi party had stood one man. If he could use his device to go back in time, to kill that one man before any of this happened, then perhaps the world would turn out to be a considerably better and more peaceful place. For such a noble goal, Dr. Goldberg was prepared to do whatever was necessary.

The device was fully spooled up and he ignored the banging on the door. He figured that the FBI had caught up to him, or perhaps it was one of his clients who’d decided to eliminate any trail of evidence. It didn’t matter. By the time that they broke down the security door it would be far too late and he would be gone, and if succeeded then this reality would never have existed.

He took a deep breath and picked up the gun from the counter. It was an antique, like the clothes that he was now dressed in, but he couldn’t afford to take something with him that would reveal his existence as a time traveller. He’d spent long months practising with it, even though he’d previously abhorred guns, and was confident in his aim even if he only had one shot.

He checked the dial one last time. He was travelling back to the winter of 1918, before the Nazi Party had existed, and intended to kill the snake by cutting off its head. One chance to change the future. One chance to change everything, for the better.

He stepped into the machine and waited as it counted down from three seconds.

He gripped the pistol tightly.

Two seconds.

He focused. The calculations to ensure he appeared in exactly the right place at exactly the right time had been extraordinarily complicated but he was confident in them.

One second.

The machine flared bright blue, crackling loudly, and the power grid for several kilometres around the University campus blacked out.

As the wave of blue enveloped him and he faded out of this time, he smiled. Today was a good day to kill Karl Heinz Gruber. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Day 11 - Walking by Myself

We'd left seismometers behind on the Moon after the lunar missions in 1969 and 1970 and we eventually used the data from them to prepare us for our return. In the eight years that they remained operable they recorded over 12,000 seismic events, and we were able to use this wealth of data to understand how frequently the Moon was afflicted by impacts from micrometeorites, meteor storms, and asteroids.

The International Moon Base on the far side of the moon had been constructed based on this data; positioned so that it would be well away from the most frequent meteor showers and armoured heavily enough that it was capable of withstanding the types of impact that, statistically, were likely to occur within 300 years of operation.

I remember telling Amy that fact, and I remember her telling me that she’d never liked statistics. She wasn’t happy about me taking this assignment, not with her being pregnant, but I’d assured her that it was fine and that, more importantly, I’d be back on Earth with at least three months to spare so she wasn’t going to have to do this without me.

We got a warning on the shower a few hours ahead of schedule; it wasn’t one of the regular belts, so this was likely debris from a larger asteroid or a comet that was on its own trajectory and orbit. Meteor showers meant we went into lockdown mode; all five of us returning from our work on the surface and hunkering down in the protected section  of the base to wait it out like we’d done several times before in the past three months.

I think it was only blind luck in the end. I’d strayed that bit further from the base than I’d meant to, and so I took a little longer to get back than I should have; the result of which was that I was so behind schedule that I had only just stepped into the depressurisation chamber when it hit. I was looking at the video display that showed the protected section of the base and the others were waving frantically at me to hurry up.

And then all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of tiny meteorites tore through the protective section of the base in an instant, peppering it like a shotgun blast. I watched as Ellen and Jordy collapsed to the floor, having been hit numerous times; I don’t even want to think what that looked like but they at least died quickly. For Vladimir and Meilin it was worse; damaged beyond repair, the canopy peeled back to expose the interior of the base to the near vacuum of the moon’s surface. They fought to get to their own space suits, faces twisted into grimaces worthy of nightmares, but they both slumped unconscious to the floor before they had even had a chance to pull them from the wall cabinets. And all I could do was watch, utterly helpless.

It was over as soon as it began, but the result was the near total destruction of the base save for the twenty square metre section in which I was currently standing.

I stood there, still in my suit in silence, just gazing at what was left of the base. Even the Lunar Escape System was clearly damaged irreparably. And then I started laughing, uncontrollably. I was on the far side of the moon; over a hundred miles from the nearest unmanned base on the near side of the moon and its secondary LESS system. The situation seemed so ludicrous in that instant, and then I remembered Amy and I sobered up immediately.

I knew what I had to do. I had eight hours of oxygen remaining and I had no means of transport. I would have to walk.

The spacesuits they made for the first batch of astronauts were designed for survival, not for mobility, but things have thankfully improved since then. Modern spacesuits are a lot more flexible, a lot lighter, and allow a lot quicker travel. I set out for the near side of the moon.

The first three hours were relatively easy going, leaping in bounds across the lunar surface that carried me fairly quickly, but the exertions started to take their toll and I realised that I was eating up oxygen far too fast. So I slowed things down to nothing more than a quick walk, gently bouncing across the grey rock and dust.

By the sixth hour, it was beginning to get dark. We were in the middle of the lunar day on the far side of the moon, but I was getting closer to the near side which currently was experiencing lunar night. I was feeling tired, my limbs aching and I felt like giving up and just lying down. Falling asleep and never waking up. But then I thought of Amy and I knew I had to push on, I had to at least try.

Midway through the seventh hour, I crossed a ridge and I finally saw it.

I burst into a grin; I was here, I had made it. I wasn’t sure whether I had possessed either the strength or the necessary oxygen when I had set out from the remnants of the base but the thought of Amy had spurred me on.

I looked up at the blue and white sphere in the sky, at my home, and it felt as if my heart was swelling in my chest. There was never any possibility of making it to the secondary LESS without transportation, so I had not bothered trying. Instead, I had used my last energy and oxygen to get here, to within sight of my home.

I hoped against hoped that Amy could feel my gaze, even though I know how crazy that sounds, and then sat down on the ground with my back to a rock and just watched the Earth. The low oxygen warning began to bleep and I wondered whether I would have a son or a daughter and what they would think of me. I wondered whether Amy would ever be able to forgive me and I wondered if she really knew how much I loved her.

I fought back tears and watched the Earth. I watched the Earth until my eyelids grew too heavy and I had to let them close… 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Day 10 - The Riddle

The object landed in the deserts outside Roswell, New Mexico on July 3rd, 1947.

It had been tracked on radar as it entered Earth’s atmosphere and a team had been scrambled to recover it as soon as its trajectory had been calculated. At the time, the prevailing theory was that the Soviet Union was far further forward with its rocket research than intelligence had suggested and they were going to recover a rocket of some description. However, when the team finally reached the area, they swiftly realised that the object was not something from the Soviet Union.

It was a black dodecahedron measuring just over twenty feet in diameter and was inscribed with a series of runes that covered 90% of its surface. The object was transported to the Groom Lake facility and was subjected to a series of tests that revealed that it was composed of a metallic compound that was unknown to science and which was seemingly impervious to all attempts to damage it.

A team was assembled to decipher the runes but, after two years, no headway had been made and the object steadfastly resisted all attempts to probe it. A decision was made to store the object and to re-evaluate it when science had progressed sufficiently.


In 2005, the object was removed from storage and was subjected to a further battery of tests. The exterior was photographed and the runes were digitized and fed into a supercomputer that attempted to understand the language used.

The results were as disappointing as the original examination of the object in the late 1940s; despite the huge advances that had occurred in science, the object remained as much a mystery as the day it had crash landed in the New Mexico desert. It was a puzzle behind the ability of man to decipher.

A decision was made to return it to storage.


In 2057, the object was moved to a secure facility to be analysed. A full holographic display of the object was constructed and attempts were made to conduct a full molecular scan. However, the object resisted the scan attempts and the scientific team were left with just as little to go on as all their predecessors. An attempt to decipher the runes using an NSA quantum supercomputer proved to be futile and the object was again returned to a storage depot to be considered once new technologies and approaches were available.


In 2146, the object was removed from storage and a pioneering sub-atomic probe was used to determine its structure. With an understanding of the way in which the object had been constructed, a secondary scan revealed a hitherto subset of additional runes which had been impossible to visually detect. The full set of runes were then fed into a fusion-powered hyper computer and, after six months of number crunching, it was able to deconstruct and translate the language of the object.

The message gave information on the origin of the object, a star system almost 300 light years from Earth, and provided instructions on how to open the object in order to obtain faster-than-light drive technology.

With great fanfare, the decision was made to open the object on July 3rd, 2147; two hundred years to the day since it had landed on Earth. The momentous occasion would be captured on live broadcasts and the whole world would finally have a chance to see the alien technology that had been hidden from view for the last two centuries.


The object listened carefully as a series of mixed frequency sonic pulses, coupled with a multispectral laser array, were beamed at it. Finally, after all this time, it had been given the correct code and it could fulfil its function. Eight out of the nine locks had been unsealed.

It had waited patiently while the lifeforms of this planet had crudely probed it over the course of the last two hundred years, although it had begun to worry that they might never solve the riddle and thus never find out what lay inside it.

They were going to be impressed by the gamma bomb that it was built around, it was sure. Well, impressed for the 0.003 seconds between them opening its casing and the bomb detonating, at least.

Its makers had been very thoughtful; seed the cosmos with devices that would only function when the lifeforms of that planet grew sufficiently advanced that they presented a real possibility of evolving into a genuine threat.

The ninth lock received its unlock sequence.

The object opened.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Day 9 - Mystery Train

My head nodded against the glass of the window and I woke up, briefly confused about where I was and what I doing, before remembering that I was on a train to San Francisco. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked around; we were just pulling away from 22nd Street station and the train had filled up while I was asleep.

A large man in an ill-fitting blue suit was sleeping opposite me, his head lolled against the window and his mouth open; every ten seconds or so he would let out a snore like someone trying to start up a small motorbike. I smiled and the girl in the red dress, sitting opposite me and to the left of the sleeping man, smiled back at me. I had a feeling it was going to be a nice day.

“Please tell me I didn’t sound like that,” I said, in a low voice and nodded towards where the man was now busy drooling on his own shoulder.

“Louder,” said the woman with a laugh, “No, I’m kidding. You didn’t make a sound.”

“Thank God,” I replied, with a grin and then chanced my luck, “you know, I’d love to buy you a coffee.”

She bit her lip, then smiled. “Maybe”.

There was a split second where my heart leapt a little and then there was a sudden bellowing which replaced every thought in my head. And then chaos.

The whole world seemed to stop and I carried on; rushing across the aisle and raising my arms just in time to smash the sleeping man in the face with my forearms. Luggage and people from the upper deck of the train came flying past me in a kind of horizontal free fall and a small calm voice in my head observed it all and told me that we were derailing. I bounced around the cabin for what was probably a few seconds but felt like three hours, and then the train slewed to a halt with a metallic screech.

We were still upright, was my first thought. The train was at a funny angle and clearly no longer on the tracks, but we were still upright. I staggered to my feet tentatively, bracing myself against the wall of the carriage. My head was hurting and there was a trickle of blood from my scalp but, apart from that, I seemed to be relatively unhurt.

All around me, people were moaning and crying and the aisle of the train was littered with both bodies and luggage. I thought about trying to step over everything but after looking at the aisle for a few seconds, I realised it wasn’t even worth trying to reach the doors; instead I grabbed the small hammer from its case on the wall and swung it at the corner of the window, standing back as the tempered glass exploded into tiny fragments.

“Come on,” I shouted and clambered awkwardly out of the window. The train had slid off the track and come to rest in a parking lot, which was incredibly fortunate. I could hear sirens, lots of sirens, and then as I turned back to the carriage I saw it.

Like something out of a nightmare; the size of a skyscraper, huge and green and covered in scales. I just froze as I tried to work out what the hell it was that I was looking at. I think maybe I was trapped in some kind of feedback loop. My head would ask what the hell I was looking at, my eyes would answer it’s a giant monster, my head would discount it and then ask again. Rinse and repeat.

It bellowed, the noise I’d heard just before we crashed and then took a step nearer; its massive footfall crushing a group of parked cars as if they were nothing and sending clouds of masonry dust up into the air. Instinct took over and I ran. I left behind all the people in the carriage who, moments earlier I’d been about to try and help, and I just ran across the parking lot without looking back.

A second massive foot descended somewhere behind me and off to my right and there was an explosion as something ignited. I kept running, heart pounding in my chest and my lungs on fire, keeping my eye on the gate ahead of me that led out of the lot and into the street. A helicopter blazed overhead and the wail of sirens grew louder.

I was ten feet away from the gate, running flat out, when the shadow fell over me. I realised instinctively what it was but, even as I tried to dodge to the left, a monstrous foot the size of a basketball court crushed me into the ground.


My head nodded against the glass of the window and I woke up, briefly confused about where I was and what I doing, before remembering that I was on a train to San Francisco. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked around; we were just pulling away from 22nd Street station and the train had filled up while I was asleep.

A large man in an ill-fitting blue suit was sleeping opposite me, his head lolled against the window and his mouth open…

…and I suddenly had the most overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I had been here before; I had been in this exact moment before.

I stood up, feeling slightly dizzy, and squeezed my way past the man and the girl in the red dress, who looked up at me expectantly, and stepped into the aisle. It was just a dream; that was the only rational explanation for any of this. I clung onto a metal pole and steadied myself; I was sweating heavily.

I craned my head to look out of the window and, as I did so, saw something huge and organic moving between two skyscrapers a few hundred feet ahead of us. I screamed involuntarily and saw a carriage full of people look up at me before the bellowing sound ripped through the carriage and we were suddenly derailing all over again.

I hung onto the pole for dear life as the impact tried to fling me down the carriage and felt a briefcase smash painfully into my ribs as we leapt off the rails and skidded our way into the parking lot. However, having known what was coming I’d done much better than the first time around and this time I didn’t hesitate at all.

I grabbed the hammer and smashed the window, barrelling out of it at pace and into the parking lot. I didn’t bother looking back, I didn’t bother trying to make sense of things, I just ran as fast as I could between the parked cars and towards the gate. I hit it hard as I heard something massive descended behind me in the parking lot, sending it flying open and ran into the street.

Cars were skidding to a stop all around me and I could see the blue of flashing sirens in the distance. A helicopter blazed overhead and I kept running, heading down an alley between two apartment blocks and catching sight of the reflection of something huge and blue in the windscreen of a parked van. My heart felt like a jackhammer in my chest but I kept running, my feet hammering the concrete with every step.

The bellow came from somewhere above me and I looked up as it passed overhead, seeing a giant blue foot lift up over the apartment block to my left and then disappear from view before a huge blue tail swept along behind it, smashing through the upper levels of the apartment blocks and sending a rain of rubble and masonry down on top of me.

I raised my arms above my head and closed my eyes.


My head nodded against the glass of the window and I woke up, briefly confused about where I was and what I doing, before realising that I was back here again. Panic welled up inside of me and I leapt out of my seat and grabbed hold of the emergency brake.

The train began slowing, its brakes squealing, and everyone in the carriage looked at me as if I was some kind of lunatic. A couple of people were shouting at me, but I was already at the window and craning my neck to try and see ahead of us. Something large was there, in the distance, but we were slowing rapidly enough that we wouldn’t reach it. The train gradually coasted to a stop and I used the manual controls to wrench the doors open, jumping down onto the gravel between the tracks.

Maybe a mile ahead of us, I briefly caught sight of something huge and metallic moving between the skyscrapers. Different from last time; last time it had been some kind of giant monster but now it was something robotic. In the distance I could see smoke rising from the centre of San Francisco and hear the dull rumble of explosions carried across the morning air.

I ran across the opposite track and scaled a five foot wire fence, adrenaline giving me all the athleticism I needed, tumbling over and back onto my feet again on the other side. I was on a small road beside some industrial units; I didn’t have a plan, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

There were cars parked outside but none of the units seemed to be open and so I ran past them, back in the opposite direction until I came around the corner. I dodged through the busy traffic of an interchange and ran into a park.

And stopped.

Something was wrong. It was as if the park somehow faded away at the edges; as if the detail gradually just drifted away and everything at the boundaries became grey and formless.

“Alex,” said a voice from my left, and I instinctively turned.

A woman with dark hair and dressed in a black suit was standing ten feet away from me with a clipboard.

“Alex, we need to talk.”

I backed away from her, not understanding what the hell was going on. Nothing made sense.

“Alex, come back,” she said, but I was already running out of the park and back into the street.

I never saw the bus.


My head nodded against the glass of the window and I woke up, briefly confused about where I was and what I doing and then realised I was in an empty train carriage, empty save for the woman with dark hair and a black suit who was sitting opposite to me.

“Alex,” she said. “Let’s try this again.”

“What the hell is going on,” I said, “Who are you?”

“Just relax, I needed to get you alone so I can explain. But before I can do that, I need you to tell me your last memory before you woke up.”

“I was on my way from San Jose, I fell asleep…” my voice trailed off; no, that wasn’t true. I didn’t really remember any of that. It was like the memory in a dream of something that was never real.

“Think hard,” said the woman.

I remembered a building. A pyramid. Black glass. A logo in silver.

“Mirror-U” I said, slowly.

“You’re doing good, Alex,” said the woman.

“Why was I there?” I asked.

“Try to remember,” she replied.

I remembered signing forms. I remembered a chamber. I remembered…

“Oh Jesus,” I said, my heart pounding. “It can’t be true.”

“It is,” said the woman, “you’d been out of work for six months, the bills were piling up and so you sold a back-up of your personality to Mirror-U for commercial use.”

“Then,” I hesitated, “Then I’m?”

“I guess it depends at how you look at it,” replied the woman. “If this personality were to be rejuved into a clone then you’d have all the rights of the original; but this is just artificial. This is all artificial.”

“But why? Why torture me like this?”

The woman laughed, “Oh Alex, this was just a glitch. A flaw in the system. You remembering between iterations was a mistake, that’s all.”

“But the monster,” I said.

“Is a theme park attraction, and we were using the personalities we own to test reactions to it. Green and scaly? Blue and shiny? A big robot instead of a dinosaur? We wanted to understand how the target audience would respond, see which version worked best.”

“So, what this is like some giant focus group test?”

“Exactly,” said the woman, looking down at her clipboard, “and I think we’ve worked out where things went wrong.”

“So what happens now?”

“We restart and this time you won’t remember.”

“But I don’t want to restart,” I protested, “I don’t want to be here. I’m alive.”

“That’s as maybe,” said the woman, ‘But you also belong to Mirror-U. Commence wipe.”

I tried to get up and then the world went black.


My head nodded against the glass of the window and I woke up, briefly confused about where I was and what I doing, before remembering that I was on a train to San Francisco. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked around; we were just pulling away from 22nd Street station and the train had filled up while I was asleep.

A large man in an ill-fitting blue suit was sleeping opposite me, his head lolled against the window and his mouth open; every ten seconds or so he would let out a snore like someone trying to start up a small motorbike. I smiled and the girl in the red dress, sitting opposite me and to the left of the sleeping man, smiled back at me. I had a feeling it was going to be a nice day.