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“Well, even if they’re using a cover, Security will be able to match it back to their Identity and they’ll be up on murder charges.”

He bit back an acerbic comment, though some fragments of irritation surfaced in his voice. “That’s what I’m telling you, mum, they don’t have Identity the way we do. They buy and sell it. They burn through covers until they get tagged, then they burn the Identity, log out and start over.”

“Well I don’t know how they could do that. I’m sure it’s criminals who do those awful things. Identity is permanent, Security wouldn’t give you a new one, especially if you were wanted for murder.” Her voice was matter-of-fact. Really she was only half-listening, focused on pruning back the rosemary bush which was threatening to occlude the path completely.

“They own Security, mum. They own everything. That’s why they do it. They change their shells for fun and they don’t care what happens to them.”

She clucked her tongue. “Terribly wasteful. I wouldn’t want to put my mind into one of those creepy shells anyway. They don’t look like real people. Too…” -she reached for a better word, fell short- “real.” He sighed. She’s forgotten I’m in a shell. Just because it looks the way I used to look.

“I have to go to work, mum. Don’t watch too much news.”

“Oh, honey” She rose slowly, began to pare back the top of the bush. “Don’t you like it there anymore? If they’re really like that, why do you work at the School?”

He looked down at his fingers, turned his hand palm down, flexed the joints. Silent, perfect. He thought of the cost to replace them, imagined trying to find enough money just to cover the maintenance if he wasn’t employed by a Corp. “I dunno, mum. Guess it’s not so bad.” He clenched and unclenched the fist. For a moment he felt like he was a thousand feet away from it. He gave his head a small shake, looked up. His mum was diligently clipping away. “Gotta go.”

“Hmm?” she looked up. “Oh, love you, dear”

“Love you, mum”


Beneath the apple tree


There are farms next to the wood on the border, and even the farmers do not go into the wood.

Some evil lives in the dark places in the wood. A great network of caves lies beneath. It might be that there are ley lines which converge in that great silent darkness.


Karpov, the Vampire Lord, held court here in the days of his power. The lands were wild after the Empire fell, and none could challenge him, though many tried.

It came to pass that one attempt cut through Karpov’s arrogance and let him see that his own strength and power remained finite. He realised the folly of keeping his coffin beneath Karpov Castle. Should an adversary overpower him, finding his coffin and destroying his body would be trivial.


Karpov laid his coffin deep within the caverns below Apple Grove. No story I have heard has adequately explained how a grove of apple trees came to grow in the depths of the wood. Sorcery is suspected.

Kingdoms rose and fell. Karpov was defeated and rose again. He became cautious, wielding his power in shadow and traveling to distant lands for years at a time to let his presence in the region be forgotten or mistaken for mere superstition.

It was held in some circles that the adventurer and hero Ralagar was able to divine the location of Karpov’s sanctum. Reputedly he even made a map. Unfortunately, Ralagar met a premature end as the result of an escalating series of dares during a drinking contest.


Some hundreds of years passed. A great Lich arose and brought terror to the villages. His followers grew in number. Folk flocked to his death cult in the deluded belief that he would extend their lives or ease their suffering.

Twelve warriors, as different as could be imagined, saw the plight of the common folk. Although they had little in common, they chose to swear an Oath of Vengeance, becoming paladins and comrades.

Before their might, the Lich and his cult fled. The paladins pursued him to the caverns below the Apple Grove and wrought his ruin. But his inner circle, his most trusted followers, remained hidden.


In the months and years that followed, the followers of the Lich bided their time in the shadows, and grew cunning and cruel. One by one, the paladins fell – not in glorious battle against evil, but in ignoble deception. Nameless poisons, unspeakable curses, heart-rending betrayals – until the order was destroyed.

This was only the beginning. After each paladin fell, they were laid to rest with great honour by the people they had saved. But in secret, the followers of the Lich stole the bodies away. Though they lacked the unholy arts mastered by the Lich, it was prophesied that the strength of his enemies would return him from the grave. The followers built the Tomb of the Enemies and sealed the paladins inside, preparing for the day when another great necromancer would arise.


Hundreds more years passed and knowledge of the Lich faded from memory.

Karpov attracted the attention of the Keepers of the Chain when he brought the Orb of Form out of hiding and began to experiment with it. Using their extensive network and deep historical archive, the Keepers were able to locate Ralagar’s map of the caverns, long assumed to be a fake. With this in their possession they could move against Karpov with confidence that he could not escape.

Karpov, however, was alert to the possibility of attack, and butchered the party that came for him, though they succeeded in defeating his servant.

His coffin still lies in the caverns beneath the apple tree, and none have yet succeeded in locating it.


Grave matters

Decay clung to the nostrils. Stones were crumbled to dust, wood rotted to dirt, weeds twisted and choked everything. The headstones stretched out as far as the eye could see, innumerable and indistinguishable. The plots were tiny and I became afraid that the bones of uncounted children rested here.
“Dear God!” I cried out in horror. “Spirit, what is this place?”
“Here lie all the blogs abandoned by their creators” said the Spirit.



The shell hung limply in the darkened alcove, inert.

Presently, a cascade of lights swooshed down the smooth surface of the alcove, and a host of umbilicals snaked out to seize onto the shell. It seemed to shiver, and then sagged slightly further into the alcove. The umbilicals disconnected and the shell switched on.

“Marvellous!” it said.

It ran a hand through its hair, slightly shaky. “Sync status?” From the alcove a voice softly replied “[Sync complete]”.

“Marvellous!” said Frank Hawthorne. He crossed the room to a full-length mirror and studied the shell – his shell. “They have captured me perfectly” he pronounced.
In fact, Frank Hawthorn could barely remember what his birthshell had looked like. He had long ago traded the last vestigial flesh and bone for a sleek synthetic physique.

He felt sure that the flawless complexion he now beheld was a much truer representation of his inner self, the self he really deserved to be, than any crude biological remnant.

“This model,” he mused, “is even more like me than last year’s.”


It’s A Delicious Life

I found him perched on the railing of a bridge, contemplating the dark water beneath.
“I’m going to eat you” I said.

“Oh, right” said the teenager, not looking up.
I tried again. “I’m going to consume your soul.”
“In your agonising last moments, your sense of self will be forcefully torn from your memories.”
“Big deal.”

My shadows drifted about us both. My stomach rumbled. I was not sure what to say.
“You seem unconcerned” I volunteered.
“I hate my life.”
“What?” I said “What? I’m a dark and bitter creature (lifeless and unfeeling), you don’t see me complaining about it.”
“And you have a young and warm body and every reason to believe in a promising future.”
“Bullshit” he said. “I might as well throw myself in.” To emphasise his point he spat in the river. “I wish I had never been born” he added as an afterthought.
“That’s awful!” I said, somewhat horrified. “I can’t eat you like this!”
I reached out and took his hand. Time and space spun around us.


The Ruins

We are some time and some distance from here. We are in the Future. We are in Fremantle. We are in the ruins of Old Fremantle. We are almost completely alone. There is nothing that moves here.

This was a Port. That is the word which was used. Port. It was Latin once, then it was English, a shape made by mouths while there were still mouths to make shapes. It held a meaning. It signified that there were lives here and they were fed by great ships which came from over the horizon. It signified that the water was deep. Words held a great many meanings and something as small as “Port” stood for a beehive, rumbling through the day and glowing and buzzing through the night, propelled by hundreds of lives. Now we are almost completely alone.

We are almost completely alone. However, there is a boy. He lives in the ruins of Old Fremantle. He has been seen walking around. He has been seen with a stout walking stick. He is about the same age as you, only somewhat younger.

There is also a girl who lives in the ruins of Old Fremantle. The boy and the girl have both lived in the ruins for quite some time. Luckily one day they met and they slowly became friends. The boy has a soft cap with a metal flower which the girl gave him. The edge of the flower is jagged which is a useful reminder to be careful.

One day it starts snowing, which is unusual for Fremantle. The snow is also unusual: it is a sort of chemical foam. There is some half-functioning factory nearby, perhaps. The foam floats on the river and coats the bank at low tide. When it falls on the girl her scalp becomes itchy and red and it spreads to her face. The boy has thick hair so he gives the girl his cap so that her head is protected. The flower reminds her to be careful.

The boy and the girl live together in a cargo container which is one in a stack of hundreds of cargo containers. There is one important difference between it and the other containers; it is a home. The boy and girl have collected only the nicest rubbish for their container. They have a broken table, some pillows, a wonderful pile of old newspapers, and a tea set.

When it is not snowing they have a favourite place. It is a playground which is made out of broken cars and cranes and pieces of machines. When they found it, there was nothing but junk, so they had to gradually remake it themselves. For example one day the girl said “Look, this old car is actually a cave!” and they quickly ran into the cave. Then another day the boy said “Look, this crane is actually a slide!” and they quickly climbed up the ladder and slid down the long yellow arm.

The boy and the girl are quite happy together in the ruins of Old Fremantle, although they are completely alone,



Night Walk

I felt restless, so I got out of bed and out of the house. The night made the city a stranger, and I wandered. After some time, it came to me that I was lost. The buildings had an unfamiliar shape and the streets were named for people I’d never heard of. I felt a growing sense of disquiet. I found myself on the edge of a graveyard. In the gloom I could faintly see the rows of tombstones. I was compelled to enter.

I found myself first in the oldest part of the graveyard. The tombs here were wrought from marble and loomed over me, holding the remains of the first families to settle here.  As I continued to walk, they gave way to more modest stones and more ordinary lives.

Finally I came to an open grave. The yawning mouth of the pit was strangely familiar. I could barely make out the inscription on the stone, so I leaned towards it, and with a jolt of horror, I saw that my own name was written there!

I slipped on the crumbling damp soil and tumbled into the grave. I cried out in panic and thrashed about, but the sound seemed to be absorbed by the dark earth. I continued rolling around and screaming for some time, but eventually I became tired. I realised that the grave was still completely open so I stood and looked about for a way up.

It was then that I noticed something: the headstone didn’t actually have my name on it. Blast! I’d misread it, probably because it was the middle of the night and there were no lights in the graveyard. I made several attempts to climb out, but the earth crumbled through my fingers and I kept slipping back in.

“Hello?” I yelled experimentally. There was no answer. I had to wait until the funeral the next day before somebody noticed me and helped me to climb out.


Day of the Beards

I heard a rustling sound from the corridor and glanced knowingly at Joe. “They’re back.” Together we flung open the door and fired our revolvers at the horde of beards gathering outside. We shot dead perhaps five of the beards and the rest scattered, but they would return before long, and the fact of the matter was there were more beards in the night than there were bullets in the drawer. I poured another glass of whiskey to steady my nerves. Joe flicked open his revolver and calmly slid another round into each chamber. Outside we could hear a dragging sound as the beards carried their fallen comrades away. They’d be back. They’d be back soon.


If you asked me

If you asked me, I would say the best thing about it is being able to see the stars again. But you can’t ask me. You’re dead. Everybody is dead, but it’s you I miss most.

Another thing I like is how quiet it is now. Although it can get to me at times. Sometimes I shout, or talk to myself. I used to sing but I’ve been forgetting things and I prefer not to be reminded about the gaps. I can’t remember what your face looked like. Somehow that hurts more than everything else we’ve lost.

I was at some work function a few years ago, and I didn’t know anyone. I’ve always been rubbish at starting conversations, so I was just listening to the jazz lounge music and staring out the window. One of the few people I know came up to me, saw me staring at this tall, glittering tower, said to me deadpan: “Thinking of buying it?”


For a moment.

Anyway, I stopped time, no, I transcended time. It held no meaning. Everything was happening in the same busy instant. But it was not the dizzying journey I had hoped for. It was like flipping through a book. I read the first page and the last page and skimmed the chapters, and that was when I realised that the only good thing about the whole lousy affair was watching it unfold. All I’d done was take away that rush of blackness we’d all been plunging into, and there was nothing more to learn, just a vague irritation with myself for spoiling it.