SALIENT MINUS TEN digital premiere 27 May!

salient minus 10

SALIENT MINUS TEN is the new Sci-Fi/Horror short film from award-winning filmmaker Emma Dark, and is a cerebral foray into the darker, more disturbing, side of Science Fiction.

Adam Harper (Alan Austen, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) is an average man. And on an average day he suddenly finds himself catapulted into the strangest, reality changing game… A game of time and chance, where the stakes are a matter of life and death.

“Instead of relying on gore or cheap jump scares to get under your skin, this is a film which asks you to think and connect the dots yourself, and you almost feel as though you want to thank it for that.” – Dread Central (4/5* review), http://bit.ly/2on4LJi

SCREENINGS & AWARDS: * Fantoms (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEWCASTLE UK, Star and Shadow cinema, October 2019) * WINNER ‘Best Actor’ (Alan Austen), WINNER ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom), WINNER ‘Best Editing’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short’, ‘Best Music / Sound’ (Eric Elick & Chris Collier), ‘Outstanding Female Filmmaker’ (Emma Dark) – Stormy Weather Horror Fest Summer 2019 * Medusa Underground Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEVADA USA, The Artisan Hotel Boutique, Las Vegas, January 2019) * Black Sunday Film Festival (The Whirled Cinema, December 2018) * International Moving Image Society (01zero-one, October 2018) * WINNER ‘Albert Pyun Inspiration Award’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short Film’, ‘Audience Choice’, ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom) – The Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival (NORTHERN IRISH PREMIERE, The Hub, Bangor, October 2018) * Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NORTH CAROLINA USA, The Cary Theater, Cary, September 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ – Snake Alley Festival of Film (REGIONAL PREMIERE – IOWA USA, Capitol Theater, Burlington, June 2018) * Rue Morgue Magazine and Unstable Ground’s Little Terrors Monthly Short Film Festival (CANADIAN PREMIERE, Imagine Cinemas Carlton, April 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Horror/Sci-Fi’ – 2nd Annual – Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – PENNSYLVANIA USA (EAST COAST), Mauch Chunk Opera House, April 2018) * WINNER ‘Best Director’ (Emma Dark) – Starburst Magazine’s Media City Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – GREATER MANCHESTER, The Landing, March 2018) * Billy Chainsaw’s Nova Nights (The Horse Hospital, London, February 2018) * Panic Fest (USA PREMIERE, Screenland Armour Cinema, Kansas City, January 2018) * The Dark Side Magazine’s DarkFest (Genesis Cinema, November 2017) * Nominated ‘Best Short Film’ – The British Horror Film Festival (WORLD PREMIERE, Cineworld Leicester Square, November 2017)

CREDITS: Edited, Produced, Written, and Directed by Emma Dark Original Music by Eric Elick Director of Photography Philip Bloom Sound Design by Chris Collier

Adam Harper – Alan Austen

The Woman – Emma Dark

Commuter/Automaton – Chris Hampshire

Commuter – Beric Read

Commuter – Samantha Oci

For a full list of cast and crew credits and to find out more please visit the following links: IMDb – imdb.com/title/tt5935326 Facebook – facebook.com/SalientMinusTen Twitter – twitter.com/SalientMinusTen

BUY on DVD here > etsy.com/uk/shop/EmmaDarkOfficial

Copyright © 2017 Emma Dark. All Rights Reserved. emmadark.com facebook.com/EmmaDarkOfficial

MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY by Nick Kolakowski (Excerpt)

File 2.78.93821.2

Date: 5/29/2110

 

Recovered from the hard drive of a Winpple Laptop Series 5, the last generation of that device line to enter the consumer market. Although the drive was heavily damaged (REF: Midtown EMP, “Big Guy War,” Final Stage), our machine-learning algorithms managed to extrapolate most of the missing text using contextual data. Nonetheless, there are still some breaks, which are clearly delineated for your researching pleasure.

This document is particularly interesting as it provides a glimpse into conditions in Manhattan immediately following the Collapse. Those scholars of the life of Maxine Hardwater will find some brief observations of her character during her “terminal” stage.

 

[Begin Recovered Text]

 

Baby, I crashed the sailboat.

Its gleaming white bow crunched into the new oyster reefs off Governors Island, the ones planted by the Revival Brigade to blunt the higher tides, and splintered like a cheap toy. Two months of sanding and painting and caulking and then puzzling out how to rig a sail, reduced in three minutes to fiberglass chunks and slithering nylon rope and bits of foam bobbing in the harbor’s toxic stew.

By the way, the Revival Brigade’s motto is “The Big Apple! Glorious Once Again!” They believe the first Flood was Special Delivery from the Almighty himself. And with enough prayer and repair work on our part, they think He might deign to spare us a second bath. Good luck with that one, I say.

I strapped on my life preserver, offered the dying ship a quick middle-finger salute, and leapt overboard. It took an hour to kick my way back to shore, where I swallowed two handfuls of antibiotics to kill any of those newfangled super-bugs in my bloodstream. The pills went down easy with my weekly ration of Jim Beam.

Do you remember a book on my shelf in the home office, J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World? It turned out to be a remarkably prescient novel: global warming, rising water levels, a little bit of social chaos to keep things interesting. Its hero, a scientist named Keran, ends up wandering south (“Like a second Adam”) into the blooming jungles.

I was taking the opposite path: due north, toward you. By sailing, I would have avoided the crumbling highways, the dead towns and ports stripped of food and gasoline, and New England’s warring clans: the New Iroquois, the Battling Irish, and—just when you think the human race has exhausted its capacity for corny nicknames—King Tut and the Beatdown Seven.

“Love you,” was the last thing you said over the phone, from Halifax, before the connection went dead. I want to believe that Nova Scotia fared better than everything south. Given the rising temperatures, they say, Canada will soon become the breadbasket of the world. Once that happens, they’ll likely demand a stop to any jokes about moose and ending sentences with “Eh.”

Lower Manhattan now looks like Venice with a couple added skyscrapers. Half of Brooklyn is out to sea on a tide of PBR cans and fake hipster moustaches. The latter case demonstrates, yet again, that every bad situation has a silver lining.

In the first hours of our watery doom, when the tide rushed in and the news screamed about the barriers and floodgates finally giving way, I splashed my way uptown past bellowing cops and tiny skiffs from which street capitalists, who only a month before had been shilling Gucci knockoffs, hawked everything from swim trunks to scuba gear. The Bluetooth in my ear connected to the broker in Shanghai.

Don’t roll your eyes: For once, I wasn’t just working the numbers. Remember that Shanghai survived its own deluge, at great cost: thousands of casualties before they erected those concrete barriers and flood channels.

“How did you make it through?” I asked the broker, whose clipped and pleasant voice bore the faintest trace of an Oxford accent. By this time, I had huddled in the vestibule of an apartment building on Park, after slipping the excitable doorman a crisp fifty and waving him away. Screaming crowds and water churned past.

“I stayed in my condo, near the top of a skyscraper,” she said. “I drank beer for weeks, because it was cleaner than the water from the taps. The ones with money survived. The ones with money always survive.”

Considering our three-story brownstone in Brooklyn, the advice about skyscrapers helped me not one bit. “Thanks so much. Let’s short my entire U.S. stock portfolio,” I said, then tapped my jaw three times to end the call.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I start off every morning with a watery cup of instant coffee and three painkillers. Depending on the weekly rations, lunch and dinner are some combination of energy bars, noodles, and jerky. People around here would massacre a dozen nuns for a bag of fresh apples, but nobody dares touch the fish eating our wreckage.

I call it the “End of the World Diet,” and let me tell you, there is no better way to erase those love handles.

Two weeks after I crashed the sailboat, I awoke and rose and swiped the moisture from the bedroom window and stared out at a world of gray water needled by soft rain. The tide seemed higher than ever, the roofs of parked cars like flat pond stones. Above the white-noise hiss of weather, I could hear Brooklyn settling on its rotted joints: the low growl of crumbling concrete, broken by the occasional shriek of steel on steel. In a few thousand years they might whisper legends about this place, the same way Victorian people once wondered about Atlantis.

“Jake!”

The voice sliced sharp and high through the rain. On instinct, I ducked back and flattened myself against the wall, then peeked around the windowsill. But I knew the figure rowing down my street: skin red and craggy as something left in a smokehouse for a month, the face of a pugilist with no knack for defense. He wore an enormous tri-corner hat, a knee-length brown coat splattered with paint, and a truly impressive cutlass on his belt.

I walked downstairs and unbolted the seven locks on my steel-reinforced door and stepped onto the stoop that now doubled as a small dock. I had my double-barreled shotgun in my hand, out of habit. I said, “How goes it, Walter?”

The burnt man stood in his tiny rowboat and doffed his hat, revealing hair dry and tangled as a bird’s nest. “Dear me, that’s an impressive phallic symbol in your grip. Yet, as the Martians say, I come in peace.” He bowed. “I’m sorry about your sailboat.”

“You saw that?”

“A few uncharitable souls laughed. Not me, I hasten to add.” Walter rocked on his heels, almost stumbling. Bottles clinked along the rowboat’s bottom. “I come with a tale of woe, involving none other but our fearless leaders. Cheats and liars all, but what did we expect of democracy, where any moron can become a king, provided he purchases enough television ads in swing states…”

“You know you talk like a pirate when you’re trashed, right?” Walter served as the gopher for Brooklyn’s Operating Committee, and I suspect they paid him in top-shelf liquor. It seemed like he needed a quart of scotch a day to kill the demons from his tours in Afghanistan and Egypt.

“Doing my best to preserve the King’s.” He shook himself like a dog, scattering rainwater in a wide fan. “Listen, it’s the shipment.”

Ah, I knew it. Every Monday, twenty trucks rolled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, loaded with everything from instant noodles to my good friend Jim Beam. For the first two months following the Flood, those supply boxes had “Property of U.S. Government” stamped on their sides—until a federal transport oh-so-mysteriously exploded in the harbor.

I always suspected The Big Guy had ordered that little escapade, from his Midtown skyscraper. If he wanted to keep outsiders away from his island kingdom, it worked. Now our supplies came courtesy of the Sovereign Nation of Manhattan, which in exchange wanted Brooklyn’s brains: our engineers, electricians, horticulturalists, gunsmiths, and the occasional pastry chef.

Investment bankers rank pretty low on that list, and for that I’m grateful: Rumors abound that The Big Guy likes hanging people for middling infractions. Such as speaking your mind.

You see why I want out of this whole mess?

This past Monday, though, the trucks had rumbled halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge—and stopped. Surrounded by men with guns, my buddy Marv told me over chess that afternoon. Add in some snipers on their side of the river. They’re taunting our little City-State here.

I stared at Walter floating off the coast of my front steps, like Blackbeard arriving to the party three centuries late, and wondered anew about the situation. “Last I heard, it was still on the bridge,” I said.

“Yes, yes,” Walter said, “and we need you to get it back for us.”

“Yeah? And how’ll I do that?” Manhattan’s fighters outnumbered ours by a ratio of three-to-one, thanks to its Jersey refugees, and while I can blast decent-sized holes in things with my trusty shotgun, I am not exactly Mad Max reincarnate.

“Because a former acquaintance of yours, one Charles Teague, is apparently The Big Guy’s Bridge Man.” Walter sighed. “We need to know what he wants.”

Teague had been a senior vice president at Goldman, the sort of plus-sized jackass who commissions a self-portrait and hangs it in the living room of his Park Avenue apartment. “He probably wants bottle service,” I said. “You know there’s only one reason The Big Guy put him in that position, right? What are you prepared to offer me for my help?”

Walter moaned. “How about civic duty, cur?”

“Teague likes 30-year-old Scotch and his strippers blonde,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I mean, I know how the man thinks.” Back when I did mergers and acquisitions, my firm and Teague’s targeted the same companies. He once mailed me a gutted trout wrapped in newspaper after I snatched a particularly rich biotech firm from his grasp. Sadly, that was not an unusual occurrence in my former line of work. “They probably have a couple RPGs aimed right at those trucks, you try and launch a raid or something.”

“Aye, we suspect so.”

I thought it over as Walter swayed like a metronome ticking off the seconds. “I’ll do it,” I said, “under one condition.” And I named it.

He shook his head. “Impossible.”

“Then good luck to you.” I turned for my door. From behind me came a furious splashing as Walter tried to dock with the front steps. That sort of action constitutes justifiable homicide these days, but I kept the 12-gauge lowered as I spun around again.

“We got sick people in the hospital,” Walter said, in his panic dropping the stupid pirate affectation. “Some sort of water parasite. Kids are getting it the worst. The drugs we need are on those trucks. How heartless can you be, man? Come on. We’ll work something out.”

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I left my shotgun behind.

As I passed through the crowd on our side of the Brooklyn Bridge, hands reached out to shake mine. Others slapped me on the back. Funny how much people start loving you when they need something. It was three minutes to noon and the rainclouds had burned away, revealing a nuclear sun that glinted and sparked on the span’s suspension wires and the water below.

Before I stepped onto the Bridge, I turned to Walter, who had rowed us from my house to Brooklyn Heights’ drier land. “We have a deal,” I told him.

He nodded, and I started up the slope toward Manhattan. The crowd applauded, a tiny sound against the vastness of the East River, the towers of ruined steel and concrete. After a few moments, it stopped. Nobody wants to celebrate at a funeral.

The sunlight glared off the windshields of twenty battered trucks, parked midway down the Bridge’s three Brooklyn-bound lanes. Dozens of men stood atop their roofs, bulky and spiny with weapons: AK-47s, riot pump-actions, antique rifles, machetes, and a few long spears.

I stopped fifteen yards from the first truck, climbed atop a convenient pile of rubble, and yelled: “I’m here for my buddy Teague.”

I never saw the meteor. It rocketed out of the throbbing blue sky and smashed into my chest, hurling me backward—

No still alive still alive it’s only pain stop screaming—

I blinked. Coughing blood, yes, but alive. On the pavement near my twitching hand, a stubby blue beanbag round, loved by riot cops the world over for its crowd-suppression abilities. That’s okay, I thought. I came with a little weaponry of my own.

The sun went dark, eclipsed by a man. “Small world, huh?” The square-jawed face, once moisturized and exfoliated to a polished sheen, seemed gaunt as a skull. The gray-speckled beard hacked in a ragged line below the chin. He wore a pair of brown coveralls dusted white at the elbows and knees.

“What?” I gasped. “No tailored suit?”

“Real workers don’t wear suits.” Teague glanced toward the trucks and waved. A guard by the outer rail waggled a stubby black launcher, probably the very one whose beanbag destroyed my ribs. “You’re a little far from the boardroom, kid.”

“Remember…DynMed?” My strength was returning, along with my voice.

He cocked his head, confused. “Um, yeah. You lying bastards stole that one from us. Little backroom dealing.”

“What we did,” I said, “was save you…a twenty-million-dollar bath when their HIV vaccine didn’t pan out. Well, it’s…payback time.”

“You’re a funny guy.” Teague knelt on cracking knees, and his scabbed hands circled my wrists, patted my hips and legs, felt along my spine for any weapons. He rifled through my pockets, removing my battered wallet and a silver pen and tossing them on the concrete. “You know why these trucks haven’t moved? Your masters forgot to send our tribute.”

“Teague. Don’t be a douche,” I said. “Those trucks are carrying medicine.”

“You think I don’t know that? Spare me the do-gooder crap,” he said. “They’re giving you something to do this, aren’t they? Maybe if you cut me in, we can do some business.”

“What’s The Big Guy want?”

“Oh, every one of your mechanical engineers.” Teague jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, toward Manhattan shimmering in the heat. “We lost a whole bunch the other night—maybe you saw the smoke? Big accident. I’m surprised Penn Station’s still standing after that, frankly.”

“And if I say no?” I anticipated the creative litany of threats: pulled apart by revving motorboats, perhaps, or fed piece by quivering piece to the fishes.

“Simple. Your sick people die. We shoot you.”

Ah, that golden oldie: a bullet through the frontal lobe.

“I have an alternate proposal.” Reaching out very carefully, I took the pen and lifted it so Teague could see the hinge beneath the clip. “How about your men drive those trucks over to our side of the bridge while I go on my merry way?”

I pressed the hinge, flipping it open to reveal a bright red button.

Teague chuckled, his eyes wary. “What’s that, some kind of toy?”

“It’s a bomb,” I said. “Six ounces of C-4, enough to turn both you and me into a red jelly with bone bits mixed in.” Walter may have pickled his brains in single malt, but I suspect you never really forget how to rig ways to vaporize people.

To his infinite credit, Teague managed some outward cool. “Liar, there’s no bomb on you,” he said slowly. His knees cracked again as he leaned backward. “You always were a bad bluff.”

“Plastic capsule, filled with explosive.” I lifted my left leg, making what my younger brother once called the Universal Fart Gesture. “Too bad you were never a prison guard. You would’ve remembered to check me in that one very special place. Hurt shoving it up there, but it was so very worth it to see the look on your face.”

I tried not to laugh, waggling that pen back and forth like an old-style hypnotist with a pendulum—and for the first time since you left on that business trip to the Great White North, I felt a little bit good. Nothing beats sticking it to a longtime rival, especially in the name of sick kids.

Teague’s eyes darted from mine to the pen. I struggled not to blink. My scalp itched with sweat, my stomach sizzling with acid. I was not ready to die. But if I learned anything in my years on Wall Street, it’s that you sell your story to the bitter end.

“Three trucks,” Teague licked his dry lips. “And I let you live.”

I shook my head. “No. All.”

“Ten. And you bring your own drivers here. We’re not doing it.”

I placed my thumb on the red button.

“We’re going to kill you,” Teague growled, very low. “Maybe not now, maybe not next week. Someday, we’re coming across this bridge.”

“Too bad you won’t see it,” I said, totally calm. We could have been negotiating over deal points, before taking our respective teams to dinner at a walnut-paneled steakhouse.

Teague blinked. I had him then. He knew it, and he knew I knew it. You can take away a man’s Kobe beef and in-office foot massages, but his outsized ego will still demand he pays any price—surrender principle, toss a baby to the alligators—so his precious self can survive to hump another day.

“Your funeral,” he said, raising a fist above his head. The first truck rumbled to life, spewing gritty black smoke, and the guard atop its roof leapt to the pavement. The second truck added its own roar, followed by the third and the fourth. The convoy inched forward, tires crunching gravel and glass, gaining speed as it climbed the grade toward Brooklyn.

I took a burning lungful of air, held it, and stumbled upright on quaking legs. The world reeled and tilted, its edges graying. You will not vomit, my inner drill sergeant yelled deep in my brain. You will not vomit, and you will not die. Take another breath.

I did, and my vision cleared. “You’re coming with me,” I told Teague, raising the pen, “as our very special guest. Or our future bargaining chip. Whichever term suits you best.”

He paled. “You’re sorely mistaken.”

“No, I’m not. You’re my hostage now, buddy.”

He gestured over his shoulder, toward the guards beginning to realize something was seriously amiss: questioning cries, stamping feet, the dry snap of a clip into a rifle. “What makes you think these men won’t just attack?” he asked. “Kill me along with you?”

“Maybe the fact The Big Guy’s your loving uncle, for starters.”

Teague said nothing. I took a slow step, and he matched it. We retreated across the Bridge—lagging too far behind the convoy for my taste—as Manhattan’s warriors circled behind us, wary as hyenas. The shoreline passed beneath our feet, the span sloping into the shadowy canyon of riverfront condos. Our own people had advanced to the exit lanes and pedestrian ramp, their rifles and blades at the ready, closing ranks in the wake of the last truck. My spine tingled, right where I expected the first spear tip or bullet to hit.

“Back in the day, we weren’t good people,” I told Teague. The words rolled out nice and strong, despite the deep throbbing in my chest. “But we were better than this. Call them off.”

Teague had no interest in dying in a crossfire hurricane, either. Turning in mid-stride, he raised his hands to his people, palms outward. They stopped; a few yelled incoherent threats in my direction. If you closed your eyes, they sounded like dogs. “Tell me something,” he said. “Were you bluffing?”

I stared at the exit ramp at the bottom of the Bridge (Welcome to Brooklyn, proclaimed the rusty sign above the turnoff to Middagh Street. How Sweet It Is!), and what seemed like half of Brooklyn swarming the stopped trucks: boxes torn apart, food and bottles disappearing among a forest of hands and heads.

“You’ll never know.” I smiled with bloody teeth.

I could only hope the medicine really made it to those kids.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

That night, they came for Teague. Say what you will about The Big Guy, he obviously cared about his family. We knew something was wrong when the sentries on the bridge failed to radio their usual check-ins. By that point, of course, it was far too late. The only reason I’m alive to write this stupid letter (which, let’s admit it, you’ll likely never read) is because of Maxine.

If I’d been smart, I would have returned to my flooded abode immediately after saving the convoy. Instead, I stuck around for a drink—or five, if I’m being honest—with Walter and some other folks. I’d decided to give sociability a try. Not my smartest move.

Walter lived in this little hut in the shadow of the marble monstrosity that had once housed the Kings County Supreme Court. It was little more than four walls made of aluminum siding and pink-foam insulation, topped with a solar-panel roof, but it was warm and had electric light. Walter had invited the Stray brothers, a pair of twins you could tell apart only by their fading tattoos. We drained one bottle of only-mildly-awful plonk, and Walter was opening another when a peculiar sound came from outside, in the shanty that filled the higher elevations of downtown Brooklyn.

It sounded like a loud, metallic sneeze.

Walter sobered up. Leaping from the table, he tore away a ratty blanket from a battered steel chest in one corner, which he opened to reveal an old-style assault weapon, bolted together from chipped metal and 3D-printed polymer. “Come on,” he said, snapping a magazine into the weapon, and disappeared through the door.

The Stray brothers nodded and, in perfect sync, drew wicked knives from their jackets. They ducked after Walter, leaving me alone at the table with four empty glasses and an unopened bottle. As the shack seemed to lack any other weaponry, I took the bottle with me. Maybe I could confuse an enemy by offering him a drink.

I stepped outside in time to see the first warning flares rocketing into the sky, from the shanties closest to the bridge. The dead buildings around us flickered white and red. I heard that metallic sneeze again, followed by the harsh chatter of automatic rifles. Our friends from Manhattan weren’t even trying for stealth.

The Stray brothers had disappeared, but Walter had taken a position behind a lamppost that someone had refashioned as an art piece, its steel sprayed in bright whorls of neon, topped with a thicket of colored wires and springs. “Look sharp,” he growled. “The ruffians are upon us.”

Indeed they were. As I crouched, holding the bottle like a club and feeling thoroughly absurd, I saw The Big Guy’s men break through the closest line of shanty. It must have been a special team: They wore bulky armor studded with blunt stumps, built from material designed to thwart all kinds of detection gear down to infrared. It was expensive stuff and made them look like porcupines. Their eyes were glowing red circles, courtesy of their night-vision helmets.

They raised their battle rifles, and I cringed back, ready for oblivion.

Then one of the soldiers dropped his weapon, slapped his hands against the sides of his helmet, and screamed. The others turned to watch as he hopped from foot to foot in a madcap jig. One of them cursed—muffled by layers of armor and electronics—before his own rifle fell from his loose hands, and he launched into the same weird dance. The rest turned to run, only to be seized by the same compulsion: the world’s most heavily armed chorus line, jerking and leaping in front of the shanty.

Walter looked at me and shrugged, as if this sort of thing happened every night.

Before I could say anything, the soldiers joined in a collective shriek that rose higher and higher, like dogs on helium, before they collapsed in a still heap. I could sense people in the shanty around us, watching from their peepholes and cracks, waiting to see what happened next.

A woman stepped from the darkness to our right.

She was old, her face etched with wrinkles and battle scars, her left eye covered with a black patch. As she paused to examine the fallen soldiers, I saw the faint light glint off the plastic and steel encasing her left arm. No, it wasn’t armor: It was a prosthetic, a high-tech one that nobody around here could afford. The glow illuminated a faint pattern of purple lines along the top of her brow, which disappeared beneath her chopped gray hair. A small bud in her right ear blinked blue.

“Denied my chance to die in battle,” Walter said, lowering his weapon.

“Trust us, that’s just stupid,” the old woman called out, turning to us. “Who are you?”

Walter swept into an old buccaneer’s bow. “At your service.”

The woman snorted and turned to me. “And who are you?”

“Someone who wants to get out of here,” I said.

“You know this area?” She strode toward us, and I fell back a few steps. I wondered what she had done to the soldiers. If I gave her the wrong answer, she might afflict me in the same way.

“A bit,” I said. Why lie?

“Good.” She tapped her ear. “We are Maxine. We’re here to help. But in order for us to do that, you’re going to have to tell us the best way to get into Manhattan.”

We? Us? I looked around for some companion, but the only figures emerging from the shanty were the local residents, who began stripping armor and weapons from the soldiers. No, she meant whoever was on the other side of her earbud, no doubt feeding her intel.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

This woman and the Pig are going to liberate us all.

 

[END FILE]

 

Description

The United States has collapsed. Bandits stalk the highways, preying on the weak and unaware.

In order to transport goods between heavily fortified cities, companies hire convoy escorts. Maxine is the best of these new road warriors: tough, smart, and unbelievably fast. But she also has a secret: She’s the niece of New York’s most notorious outlaw, a man hunted by what’s left of the nation’s law enforcement.

Maxine wants to live a normal, upstanding life. But a bad incident on the road leaves her mauled, penniless…and fired. If she wants to survive, she’s going to need to embrace her outlaw roots—and carry off the biggest heist that the post-apocalypse has ever seen. It’s a journey that will take her through obstacle after obstacle to the edge of death itself—and beyond.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday smashes the gritty frenzy of Mad Max: Fury Road with the top-notch suspense of a crime saga like Heat. It’s a brutal thriller that offers a terrifying glimpse of our future.

Praise for MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY:

“Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” —Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse and New Yorked

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday rolls in with bang-up premise and keeps on punching. This is a trip into the far future and then the near future, where the oceans have swallowed up the coasts, the United States has fractured, and people like Maxine are left in the dust. But Maxine is tough and she’s got no patience for any crap and she will survive…one way or another. Filled with a terrific carnival cast of characters, cracker-jack scenes, and Kolakowski’s witty prose, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a fantastic read and definitely well worth your time.” —Jen Conley, author of Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry and Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens

“Loaded with savvy world-building, memorable characters and precise, sharp plotting, I devoured Nick Kolakowski’s latest. The post-apocalyptic and wonderfully bonkers Maxine Unleashes Doomsday will keep you turning pages at a breakneck pace.” —Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“I don’t know which is more terrifying: how wildly inventive this book is, or how close this fractured world is to ours. In Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, Kolakowski gives us the hero we need for the apocalypse we deserve.” —Nik Korpon, author of Wear Your Home Like a Scar and Old Ghosts

maxine unleashes doomsday.png

A short history of a universe in fold theory by James Walton

Cater is sixth generation.  The first messages took six months. It is now two hours. They are close. All droning work was finished, the machinery locked away in the preservation bay. The maintenance schedule has its own pace, a litany of processes now closer to manual control. The most interesting event is the daily air reading, closer to life than ever. Not that she has been outside.

The library dome has been completely restored. It was fractured in generation three, before the atmosphere was thick enough to absorb the debris of the outer ring. Cater too has absorbed it all, the writings and stories of her once world. Her ancestors are shuffled in the dock behind, a keepsake for when the arrival occurs. Everything known, will be known again.

She is the last of the keepers. It is knowledge which neither scares or excites. It is the way, and the generations have worked their time, unpacking the first modules, the reappraisal of various sites, the preparation of each location, construction and repair. In decreasing numbers, each century reached the target stages, mapped and terra formed, built cities and gardens. They prepared basins for oceans, raised mountains, and seeded landscapes.

Now oxygen is outside as well as within. She is sometimes drawn to the labyrinth.

Stacked in the honeycomb are the first and the last of before. The hexagons rise and spread in an inverted pyramid of captured moments. Within each carapace a slow beat is monitored, measured, charged, regulated while decades irresistibly pass.

It is one second to alarm. The two suns have nuanced shades. The fleet hang glides through the final year, propulsion and speed handed over to a calculated gravity.  The geometry of descent marked through each intercession and passing through of pulsing circumferences.

Cater is unsurprised to see herself and feel her hand salute itself in the upper forearm grip. Except for the smile, which repeats on her face as well.

You are Cater, the Caretaker.

You are Ari, the Arrival.

Cater is neither scared or excited. She is the preparation and the waiting.

Ari is neither scared or excited. She is the journey and the beginning.

Bio: James Walton was a librarian, a farm labourer, a cattle breeder, and mostly a public sector union official. He is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He has been shortlisted for the ACU National Literature Prize, the MPU International Prize, and the James Tate Prize.

His poetry collections include The Leviathan’s Apprentice, Walking Through Fences, and Unstill Mosaics (forthcoming). He is now old enough to be almost invisible.  He lives in the old coal mining town of Wonthaggi, Australia.

james walton

 

Fiction: Conscience, Inc. by Richard Prosch

rpThe Montrose advertised itself as the Lake’s finest dining experience: smoke-free, fat-free, carb-free, noise-free, gluten-free, sodium-free, and mostly flavor-free, though there were a few minerals in the water.

But everybody said its appetizers were to die for.

Andy  held up a sample—a hand-crafted, adobe-crock boiled cheese curd.

“Jeez, Andy. Don’t put that stuff in your mouth,” said Jorinda-12.

“I’m with her,” said Mark-137. “It’s your funeral.”

Andy, with both elbows on the linen cloth covered table, in defiance of his third grade teacher (now forty years dead) showed a middle finger to the microscopic Whitebird recorder drone hovering invisibly over his right shoulder.

The drone’s miniscule rotors whirred, compensating for the perfumed breeze of a woman walking briskly past toward the restrooms.

“Hairy old bag,” said Andy, just for fun.

“It’s really hard being your friend,” said Jorinda-12 through the wireless construct just under the skin at his  right earlobe.

“I’m not your friend,” Andy told the assembled 1,456 spectators whose collective attention currently monitored his every action and thought through the Conscience, Inc. drone.

“That old bag, as you called her, is somebody’s mother,” said Henry-43.

“Actually,” chimed in Jenny-69, “she’s my mother. You’ll be hearing from our lawyer within the hour.”

“Screw you,” said Andy. Jenny’d been trolling him for the past couple years, rising to the surface of the interface every week or two.

Like pond scum, he thought.

“Just for that, I’m buzzing you,” said Jenny-69.

“Buzz away.”

Andy took a bite of the cheese

“Tastes like shit, doesn’t it?” said Rondo-10.

“Language parameter, asshole,” said Xerxes-4.

Andy smiled, ready to lob off the perfect bon mot when the interface pinged and the melodious voice of Conscience, Inc. announced, “Rondo-10 and Xerxes-4 have been segregated for language.”

“Ah, hell,” said Andy.

He had the perfect reply for those two idiots, but now the monitor had blocked them.

“Do you have to censor everything all the time?” he said.

Language leads to coercion. Coercion is force. Force is–”

“Not to be tolerated,” said Andy, repeating the drone’s familiar mantra.

“Told you not to eat the cheese,” said Mark-137.

“It’s not as bad as your underwear,” said Andy.

“Crudity parameter.”

Andy just smiled, and signaled his waiter.

As if he was subject to any parameters.

He didn’t think anybody at Conscience, Inc. knew it yet, but as of that morning, only his Spectators had rules.

He was no longer one of them.

He’d been pushing the language parameters all morning, just sorta checking things out.

So far, so good.

After spending his entire life’s savings, and breaking more laws than he even knew were in existence, Andy was free of the angel on his shoulder.

He celebrated with lunch out at the Montrose.

When he signaled the waitress a second time, she made a quick U-turn, nearly upsetting the thistle salad she carried on a round glass tray.

Her plastic shoes clicked quickly across the tile floor.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “I didn’t see you there. It’s my first week. I’m doing my best.”

There was just the faintest evidence of a breeze through the hair at her right shoulder—her own Conscience, Inc. drone.

“I hope you’re not angry with me.” She continued to bow for the benefit of her invisibly tethered audience of thousands.

“I’ll have the manicotti,” said Andy. “Extra cheese sauce.”

“Not healthy,” said Edward-799.

“Buzz me,” said Andy.

“I just might.”

Andy smiled. I wouldn’t even feel it, he thought.

Not anymore.

“I’ll be right out with that,” said the waitress.

“Isn’t that my order?” said the hairy woman on her way back to her table.

Caught off-guard, the waitress’ eyes momentarily glazed.

Somebody, somewhere on the interface was jumping at the chance to chastise her.

For her ears only, Andy thought, wishing he could cut into her channel.

But Andy wasn’t a spectator anymore.

He’d opted out, nullifying the germ-sized conscience implant under his ear.

It had taken many months, and a lot of money.

It wasn’t as easy.

Or legal.

“Shiela-45 is right, dear,” the indignant woman told the waiter. “You might be new to the job, but that’s no excuse not to deliver my order before taking the next one.”

So said the collective ethics of the spectators.

“I’m so sorry,” said the girl, “It’s just that I’m unsure…”

“Listen to Larry-56,” said the woman. “You can hear Larry-56 can’t you? Or does your conscience need maintenance? There’s no excuse for an improperly maintained conscience.”

“I can’t…that is…I…”

The girl deliberately dropped the tray with a resounding crash and ran toward the kitchen.

“Here, now! You can’t get away with that,” said the woman.

“Leave her alone,” said Andy,

The old woman glazed over for a second, then recoiled with an expression of horror.

“Such impertinence,” she said. “I must have an apology.”

“Andy, you’re cold,” said Jorinda-12. “On the verge of illegal. In fact…hey, didn’t I buzz you earlier?”

Multiple buzzings lead to censure. Censure leads to segregation. Segregation leads to death.

The memorized lesson ran through his thoughts.

The woman stood waiting with a sneer on her face and hands on her hips. “I’m demanding an apology,” she demanded.

The spectators could buzz him all day long and it wouldn’t be recorded by the Conscience, Inc. Whitebird at his right shoulder.

Not with his new, obscenely expensive, equally microscopic Advocate Blackbird drone at his left shoulder, blocking communications.

“GoToHell-899” he said, pronouncing the correct password to activate the Blackbird’s maximum block.

“Whatever has become of your conscience?” said the woman. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”

And for the first time in his life, the Whitebird voices in his head were silent, replaced by one, deep, echoing directive from the opposite drone.

Do what thou wilt.

Andy grabbed his fork in a clenched fist, looked gleefully at the hairy bag, and said.

“From now on, I’ve got plenty to say.”

Find out about Richard Prosch here.

Fiction: Rebellious Jukebox by Graham Wynd

satan sHe took the bus because the cacophony was minutely less than on the underground, where the tinny tannoy kept up its assault with nonsense messages meant only to confuse. Not that you could make out what was being said. Anyone who tried was daft. You could read the boards though the times listed were often suspect and changed without warning.

But you couldn’t escape the din.

On the bus there were fewer screens and half the time the speakers were stuttering or mute. The barrage of noise within seemed quiet compared to the cacophony outside. The whole city pulsated. Stepping onto the bus was like stepping into the loo at a concert. The beat still echoed through your bones but your ears got a break for a mo.

He got off at the Southbank. It was a trick he’d learned: by the river at low tide you could find just about the quietest place in the city. The high walls against the tide held the sound at bay somewhat. There were the boats that ran up and down the waves and the voice of the old river itself, but that didn’t compare to the ringing streets above.

Sometimes as he wandered along the water’s edge Martin found things: old things, strange things. Little pieces of pottery from old dishes mixed with weathered bones or smooth bits of glass polished by the waves. He stuck them in his pocket for later. Sometimes they lost their magic by the time he got back to his room, looking ordinary and sad. The rest he arranged and rearranged on his trunk like some kind of altar to gods now lost.

There was also the book seller under the bridge. Martin wasn’t quite sure how they continued to operate. People didn’t much read and anyway they downloaded stuff online. Who wanted to pay for words? Information yearns to be free, they said. Who were they? Dunno. The same people who said if you want someone to hear you, you got to shout to get their attention. Earplugs were contraband due to the Order, but he had heard of rich people who had undetectable ones installed that they could turn on and off for when they wanted to talk to each other.

Money changes everything when you have enough of it.

Martin tripped down the last step from the bridge, looking ahead to the tables instead of at his feet. The neat rows of books filled him with a strange pleasure. His mother always told him there were worlds inside books if you knew how to unlock them. School mates rolled their eyes at him. So retro. He couldn’t remember her face too well anymore, but he still had that stupid book about dogs in cars with her words to him: Happy Xmas, Martin xxx Yor Mum.

She couldn’t spell all that well, but she could read fast. In the evening she soaked her feet with a stack of books beside her, picking up one or another, changing at will whenever she had the urge to follow another story. ‘Good-bye Blue Monday,’ she would say to him no matter what day it was. He laid his head in her lap and listened to her read from the books. They were mostly things he didn’t understand because he was little, but her excitement was contagious. The long days on her feet were forgotten with her nose in a book.

‘Looking for the real thing?’ The painted legend painted in green greeted those who passed under the bridge, though most went on their way heedless of the book stall’s lure. Noise resounded, the traffic thrummed hollow under the bricks: the hum of the city, the ceaseless drone of the speakers scattered at the regulated distances across the streets of the town. There was no escaping it; you just learned to tune it out even as your body vibrated to its pulse. They said the stress drove some mad. They said.

Martin strolled along the first table. The layout was different each week. History here: a pointless topic as no one learned from it as far as he could tell. He found some spec fic: that was more like it. Monsters were always good. Even bad monsters were good.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a girl about his own age who looked cool. She was picking up a crime book with a lurid sort of cover with cleavage and a knife. He wouldn’t have thought it would appeal to the fairer sex, as his old head master had always called the girls. For years he thought it meant that girls unlike boys treated you fairly. Aoife had cured him of that notion.

This one looked serious or maybe grim. It was probably the black leather jacket that looked real, not petroleather. She wore a black DIY shirt that had words painted on it but he couldn’t immediately make out what it said because he looked away when she looked up. Martin picked up the first book his hand landed on, which turned out to be some stupid space hero nonsense by an author he had liked when he was about ten. Naff stuff. His cheeks must have glowed as he put it down. Maybe she didn’t see.

Martin let his gaze flick across the tables. She was busy looking at a true crime book on the Moors murders. Maybe she hoped for a how-to guide. There was a scar on her cheek like a V that made him think of a kid’s drawing of birds in the sky. He tried to decipher the words on her tee shirt but with the book in the way it was even more of a challenge.

She put the book down and he let his eyes fall back to the table. He spotted a book he’d been seeking for months, the second part of a trilogy. The red knife on its cover had tantalized his thoughts for so long Martin found it difficult to believe he’d actually stumbled upon the treasure. He grabbed it. The book was well-worn. Several pages were dog-eared. Someone had scrawled in the margins, but he didn’t mind that usually—unless they were really stupid. He found it was like having a secret conversion with someone you’d never met, someone dead, someone missing, someone disappeared.

Like his mum.

A desperate part of himself always held out for the hope that she might be out there somewhere. His council processor had suggested that she had been deported or what was the other thing? Transported, that was it. Undesirables sent off to work in the colonies. Undesirability determined by darkness of skin in most cases. ‘You’re not to worry. We should have a placement for you soon,’ the processor had reassured him again this week.

Two years on and still nothing. When he turned eighteen, transporting would be more likely. It was an unpleasant thought.

Sometimes he dreamed of going to Scotland where it was supposed to be quiet and still green. Probably just a myth, but it was more believable than unicorns, dragons and elves.

‘You going to buy that?’

Her voice startled him out of his funk. He gaped at the girl for a tick, then realised his mouth was open and shut it. ‘Yeah, think so.’

‘Any good?’ Up close her face seemed more angular, her gaze startlingly direct.

‘Yeah, I read the other two. Good stuff.’ Jabbering like an eejit now, Martin berated himself. ‘Scary but adventurous. Lots of philosophy in it, too, if you’re that way inclined.’ He glanced down at the books in her hand. ‘Or maybe murder is more your style.’

She laughed. ‘Who doesn’t want to kill someone?’

‘What’s your shirt say?’

The girl gave him an appraising look. ‘Why?’

Martin shrugged. ‘You make it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Cool.’

Martin waited as if it didn’t mean anything to him what she might say or what it was about or what she was about and he didn’t know the words to ask. For once he wished the constant din of life could just shut up for a minute so they didn’t have to bellow at one another.

‘It says “Rebellious Jukebox”,’ she said finally.

He nodded and tried to conceal the keenness of his curiosity. ‘What’s that all about then?’

She grinned at him and suddenly looked like a little kid. ‘It’s a secret.’

‘Ah. Wanna see my secret?’

Laughter convulsed her face. ‘Is it a big one? Nah, don’t get embarrassed, mate. I’m just funning with you. Show me.’

They paid for their books and Martin led her to the steps. ‘Just over here.’

‘Ugh, you’re not going to kill me and throw me in the river?’ The girl made a face at the dirty water.

‘No, just—c’mon.’ Martin descended without looking back, sure she would follow as long as he didn’t falter. The edge was sandy here not shingle like down east of here. Some other people were wandering around so he led her away towards the wood structure that held up a walkway where people could look down on the river.

Martin tried to hide his excitement. She looked around curiously. ‘What’s all this then?’

‘Close your eyes.’

‘Nah,’ she said, looking at him with sudden attention.

Martin smiled. He put his hands in his pockets. Maybe that would make her feel safer. ‘Close your eyes and listen.’ He went first. After a minute he lifted one eye lid just a little. She had her eyes closed, too.

‘Do you hear it?’

‘I hear the water. The boats. The hum, it’s not so loud down here. I can’t hear a tannoy.’

They opened their eyes. Martin smiled. She smiled back.

‘Martin.’

‘Melka.’

He showed her everything he had learned, like how to keep on eye on the water line to gauge when the tide was rising. They searched along the edge of the river for hag stones and bits of porcelain. They looked at the skeleton of the old bridge and listened to the river’s echo under the bricks that held it up. It was magic.

Best of all it was quiet—relatively quiet, but that was the most you could hope for in the unrelenting din of the capital.

‘So what’s it all about?’ Martin asked Melka when they emerged to the surface once more. She bought them sandwiches from a cart and they sat on a bench by a statue of some old dude with a sword.

‘The jukebox?’ Melka looked off into the distance. ‘You might like it.’

‘But what is it?’ Martin had the same kind of excitement he had when he’d spotted the book today. When you wish for something so long and almost don’t quite believe in it and then it’s there. His fingers touched the shape of the book inside his bag, as if it might disappear without warning.

Would Melka disappear, too?

‘I have to ask the gang,’ she said finally, her mouth full of the last bit of sandwich. ‘They don’t let just anyone in.’

‘Sure,’ he said, but his heart sang with the possibilities.

‘Meet you here. By the statue.’ Melka waved a hand at the sword guy.

‘Tomorrow?’

She shook her head. ‘Thursday. Can’t get away until then.’

It seemed a lifetime away. He hated to watch her walking away, afraid he would never see her again. Martin wandered the streets until late, unable to be still. He was itching to start reading the book, but he wanted to leave it for tomorrow, to make that day pass faster. Every time he looked up from his book he saw her face. That scar. The smile. The look when she was listening.

Looking for the real thing. He ignored the book stall and went right to the statue on Thursday. She hadn’t said a time, so he went there about midday. The benches around the bronze figure were occupied with people, some sleeping, some just looking lost. There was a blue haze over the city today again. Some said it was pollution. Some said it was a meteorological phenomenon. Either way it wasn’t healthy. Everyone was coughing and sniffling. People said November used to be a cold month. Martin couldn’t really imagine it.

He looked up at the statue. The man had a sword like he was fighting but he had a cape like Batman, too, and no armour. What was he supposed to be? He decided if Melka didn’t show up in the next half hour he would read the plaque at the base of the statue, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Just when Martin was about to give in he saw Melka coming down the steps from the bridge. His heart leaped. It took a force of will to stuff it back down. Wouldn’t do to look too eager. ‘Hey,’ he said with as much of a casual air as he could muster.

‘Doing anything tonight?’

Martin smiled. ‘Maybe I am now.’

Melka grinned. ‘If you’re up for it.’

The plan was very cloak and dagger. He had to meet her at Elephant & Castle at 20:00 and let her blindfold him. ‘I can’t take you right there. Too much at risk.’

‘So what is it really?’ He suspected it was just an underground club, but if she was keen on it he would be, too.

‘Something you’d never expect.’

The hours dragged until he could reasonably expect to show up. Martin was on his second read-through of the new book. He liked the Finnish witch better this time though she still scared him a bit. Yet he couldn’t help looking up from the book and wondering what Melka would show him. He tried not to let his hopes rise. It seemed like darkness would never fall. Walking the whole way helped fill the time, though he still had to wait a good while for Melka to show at last.

‘Here, put these on.’ She gave him eyeshades that looked like something a doctor might give you, black circles that cupped his eyes, held on by stems like glasses. They walked away from the station’s doors and she turned him around and around. Martin thought he could still tell which direction was which because of the traffic noise and the loudness of the tannoys on the station announcing inanities.

As she took him down streets and around corners, he began to lose his sense of direction in the omnipresent hum of the city. He trusted Melka to lead him. She was careful that he not step off the kerb or hit a wall.

Melka knocked on something that sounded like hollow metal. A door creaked open. Cooler air flowed over Martin. ‘It’s a step down,’ Melka said, taking his arm in hers. Cautiously he stepped down. The door closed behind them. She took off his eyeshades.

Martin blinked. There was a single bulb lighting the dark stairs. Someone walked ahead of them down the steps. They turned another corner where another dim bulb flickered, then a third turning where a torch fixed to the bricks with putty lit the way. It was a long way down. The air was dank and smelled of the river, as any space below the water level in the city did, but they were lower than the river now.

There was more light ahead. Martin could feel his heart begin to hammer a little faster. They stepped up to another metal door. The person ahead of Melka—he wasn’t sure if it was a boy or a girl—knocked three times slowly, then opened the door. They walked in.

Martin’s first feeling was disappointment. The strange brick room had dark pillars in the middle, huge cement slabs that must bear the weight of all the building above it. A few candles gave the room a flickering light. Ranged around the rectangular space were broken furniture and mattresses, and on them kids of about his age—some maybe younger, a few older—lolled idly, most with eyes shut, a couple looking up at him. Was it just drugs then? Sniffing the dust or shooting the shot? He had tried drugs. They were a disappointment. Books were better magic and needed no recovery time.

His scorn must have been visible. ‘It’s not what you think,’ Melka whispered and led him to a sofa with no legs.

‘What then?’ he asked, unconsciously whispering, too. The other kids ignored him, put their heads back, eyes closed. Melka pushed him back into the dank cushions and leaned against him. She closed her eyes and leaned back. ‘Listen.’

After a moment, Martin did the same. At first he couldn’t tell what he was listening for. His tinnitus—now the number one physical malady in the nation—distracted him. He did his best to concentrate. He could hear Melka breathing. He could hear someone snoring softly.

Then it hit him. He stiffened. Melka put a hand on his leg, patting it softly. Martin leaned back again and let himself go.

It was quiet—truly quiet.

Martin could not remember ever experiencing quiet. Sometimes late at night, the roar of the traffic was lower and the blare of the tannoy more intermittent, yet the hum was always there. Machines, appliances, other people might be less but they were never gone. The echoing vibrations of the city, of the vehicles, of the people—all still there. Not here. You had to listen hard to hear anything outside the room. Here each inadvertent sound—someone coughing, a shoe tapping the concrete floor, a sniffle—resounded with a newness that made it distinct.

The world shook him daily, distracted him. For the first time Martin felt as if he were himself. It was bliss.

Then he started to shake.

Panic filled him. He was going to be ill.

Melka put an arm over his shoulders. ‘It’s all right. It happens to everyone the first time. It happens to me sometimes and I’ve been coming for ages.’ Her whispered words shocked his ears like car horns. Martin tried not to fear the panic and gradually the shaking dissipated. Melka put her head on his chest and his heart swelled with another emotion. A distracting one. He had an urge to kiss her but thought it would be disruptive to try.

His heart slowed, but the urge to panic rose again. He concentrated on the weight of Melka’s head over his heart. Her breathing was soft. Maybe she was sleeping. All at once he was asleep.

Martin awoke disoriented. The silence was deafening. Panic hammered through his body again. ‘Shhh.’ Melka raised herself from his chest, her hand flat against his shirt. Her eyes glistened in the candlelight. She stood up and reached for his hand.

Together they walked to the door. Melka eased it open and they went up all the steps to the first door. She opened it slowly. It creaked its displeasure. Outside the cacophony had continued without them. ‘Elephant & Castle is just up that way,’ she pointed.

Martin smiled. ‘You trust me now?’

Melka nodded. ‘You’re a member now.’

‘I need to make my own tee shirt.’

He did finally, though it was not as good as Melka’s. She had a better eye or hand or whatever. Martin went for just the initial letters overlapping. It was more abstract, but he liked it anyway.

The silence was like a drug. It buoyed his spirits through the chaotic din of the city. He found his mind crisper, quicker. In time he learned to invoke the silence in the safety of his room. It flowed over him like a cool mist. In the silence, Martin discovered he could talk to Melka with his thoughts and she heard him clearly as if they were in the same room. When he awoke each day Martin felt lighter.

Over the weeks he got to know the other kids by sight, but they all tended to disappear when they left the Jukebox, scattering like pigeons. ‘It’s hard to keep secrets, you know,’ Melka said as they wandered along the river’s bank one cloudy day.

‘You couldn’t,’ Martin said, then immediately felt bad about saying it. ‘I can, but only because I don’t know any one I could tell. My council processor? Nah, don’t think so.’ He laughed. Melka had a family. She didn’t really talk about them—or why they weren’t bothered when she didn’t come home at night. Many times the two of them stayed in the Jukebox from dusk to dawn. No one was waiting up for him.

‘Do you suppose it really is illegal?’ They had gone back and forth on the question for days.

‘The Code,’ Melka insisted, always her point of view. ‘If it’s illegal to wear earplugs, it’s got to be illegal to make a building into a giant earplug.’

Martin considered this. ‘I think a lawyer could get us off on that technicality.’

The Jukebox changed his brain. Martin was sure of it. His council processor even noticed it. ‘Have you considered taking the advanced placement? You might get out of the manual labour rank,’ she said with unaccustomed brightness one morning.

He laughed as he told Melka, but she wasn’t amused. ‘That’s not much of an improvement.’

‘Speak for yourself. I had no hope of anything better than a spade or cleaning windows. Now she’s all like—I dunno. Like I’m educated or something.’

Melka’s brow wrinkled at him. ‘You are educated though.’

Martin laughed. ‘I left school at the first opportunity.’

‘You don’t sound like it.’

‘That’s because I read.’ The one time he lured Melka back to his room she was astonished to see the walls were lined with books. ‘This room would be twice the size if not for my habits,’ he said with pride.

Martin took to bringing her books when they met up at the Jukebox, trying to find stories that got past her reluctance to branch out from murder. ‘There’s all kinds of stories.’ For the first time since he could remember, he was happy. He had something to look forward to each day and he had hopes with Melka. They kissed good night when they left the Jukebox and he woke her with whispers every morning whether they were together or apart.

He carried the silence with him.

Yet there was no comparison to the experience of being deep in the bowels of the rock and brick and dirt. Impossible silence, the echoes of footsteps on the stair, and the soft murmurs as people settled. Sometimes even breath seemed too loud, but Martin loved it anyway.

The explosion was so loud it hit them like shrapnel, though there was none down in the Jukebox. It blew the bloody door off. The clattering heels on the stair assaulted their dazed ears. The physical blows only added to their distress in the lounge. The service personnel took vicious glee in beating the kids as they dragged them up to the surface, shouting at them, too, as if they feared the silence and wanted to fill it in like a hole with their own dirty noise. Some of the kids started screaming. The pain, physical and aural, was excruciating. Martin went limp as they grabbed him, holding onto silence as the officers dragged him upstairs.

On the street there was tape and flashing lights and more people, cameras, media—a circus. They must have known and planned for some time. Martin looked for Melka. The girls were all squished together, getting huddled into a van. Another van gaped for the boys. For his silence Martin received a cosh to the head. Unconscious, the sounds penetrated his head.

He woke in a cell, his skull splitting with an ache. Martin willed himself to sit up, then allowed his head to spin until it stopped. There were four in the cell, guys he knew by sight. They sat dejected, silent. Martin reached for the silence in his head. It took a while to find between the throbbing pain and the unaccustomed clangs and chatter of the lock up.

And then all at once it was there—fading in and out, but there. He held onto it for his life.

He reached out to Melka. Her fear pulsated. With gentle strokes he did his best to soothe her mind. At last she reached back to him. The girls were in a cell not far away. They were scared, too. Melka shared silence with him. It helped.

One by one, their parents came. Charges were laid, arguments reckoned—most were allowed into their guardians’ custody to await trial. Not Martin. No one stepped forward to claim him. Melka tried to get her parents to intervene. They refused.

The work was short. The powers that be wanted to make an example of someone. The Order must be maintained. Most of the kids had respectable parents, willing to make a fuss to get them out, willing also to force compliance. The Rebellion was over.

Martin was alone.

The verdict was transportation. His appointed counsel did her best but she was clearly up against a considerable effort by the powers that be. Woe betide the fly when the spider takes notice, his mother used to say to him. Her mother had said it to her as a child, too. It might be his only tradition, apart from the books.

For loss of his books, he sorrowed. Yet he carried many of them within him like the silence, a power he could tap into that gave him strength through the slow grind of the trial and the sentencing. He told Melka the verdict when it was handed down, though doubtless she had heard on the omnipresent news blaring through the tannoys.

Martin imagined himself on the deck of a ship, sailing away from the tiny land. The reality proved harsher. The prison ship was little different from the detention cells in the city. But he stayed hopeful. Who knew what the colonies would be like? Maybe he would find his mother or hear some word of her. Maybe there would be more space. On the maps the prison colonies looked huge. They couldn’t be locked up all the time, could they?

Maybe he could find some quiet place to hide.

Martin reached into the silence to tell Melka good-bye. Perhaps it would hurt less to speak to her in time. ‘Read a book,’ he told her with a chuckle. ‘Dream me into freedom.’ He pulled the silence around him like a cowl as the ship rocked on.

In memory of MES

Find out more about GRAHAM WYND here.