12 Quick Tales

The Poring Dark (60 Excursions across the Multiverse) contains 24 flash fictions (along with 24 poems and 12 short stories). Here are 12 of the flash fictions for you to sample.

Slip

The King stared into the dim screen. His generals had informed him that this would be the last chance to
communicate.
“Have all the crops been planted?”
“Yes... crrrxck... Your Majesty,” came the static-filled reply.
“The colony’s defences,” continued the King, “are all in place?”
“Of course King... crrrxck...” The connection was almost gone.
“One last thing...” He was rushing now. “Make sure that all the children are tortured.”
The Military Governor blinked, but he knew better than to disobey. “Very well, King Herod.”
The connection broke and the King sat back, satisfied.
A tickle of doubt entered his brain. ‘I did say tutored just now...
Didn’t I?’

Dust
Professor Pulvere stood in front of the rig at the back of his laboratory. He was sweating, the authorities were
getting close. Luckily, he had been about to test his invention; so why not on himself? If it worked he’d be transported
to a parallel world and would be safe.
He fired up the contraption, a ghostly luminosity filling the air. The sirens were screaming just outside, and so
he dived into the shimmering light.
In another lab, immeasurably distant, but just a jump away, a cloud of dust materialised; just in time for the late
night janitor to sweep it away.

Cup
Jak guides the ship down through the soupy atmosphere of the giant planet. The garish yellow and black hull
buffeted by the winds.
The ship pierces the cloud cover and Jak see a jarring patchwork of greens and greys. The surface is coming up
fast.
Closer, and there is a giant outcropping, a sickening pink that hurts his eyes. Beside it is a pool of dark water
and he aims the ship at it. Splashing down safely.
“Godammit!” swears Bill Lewis. “These damn wasps are getting worse!” Pushing the lid back on his
MegaCola he tosses the cup towards the bin.

Memory
Dr. Mälu draws the gene therapy virus into the hypodermic. The treatment, if successful, should bring access to
all of the ancestral memories locked inside the, so-called, junk DNA.
With a deep breath, he stabs the needle into his arm and presses the plunger...
When Mälu wakes from his fever, he staggers to the opening of the unfamiliar cave that he finds himself in. It
is blocked by strange ice, smooth, but not cold. He smashes the ice, cutting his hands, and staggers out into the night.
He must find flint to make a weapon, or be defenceless in this strange new land...

Linchpin
Howard Butler stood at the very pinnacle of the towering building, looking down onto the city and, in his
mind, out across the whole of the world.
All around was chaos; people living their lives solely for themselves. Everything; from angry exchanges at
fender benders, to corporations pouring filth into the atmosphere; all was selfishness, all destruction.
His face betraying no emotion, he pulled on the steel grey spandex, the tight material transforming his skinny
frame into something wiry. Raising his clenched fists to the sky Linchpin drew the strands of the world to himself.
He would set things right...

Dot
Katerina Duvall slipped on the powdered wig and took a last look in the glass. The corset reduced her slim
form to a painful wasp waist, her cheeks were rouged and her beauty spot was in place. There was a tap on the door and
she turned to go.
The ball presented a tableau that was typical of late eighteenth century degeneracy; aristocrats in their finery,
oblivious to the starving masses beyond the gates.
A waiter approached and Katerina nodded to him. She wiped her mouth with a silken napkin and dropped it on
the tray.
Nobody noticed her missing microdot beauty spot...

Dye
Jamie loaded the, totally illegal, hack into the processor of his hoody. The intelligent dye was supposed to be
use-restricted to when the garment was physically plugged into the store’s net; that way only licensed designs could be
used. Jamie had a problem with that; first of all, he had bought the hoody, so should be able to use it how he wanted.
Second, changing the design once a day at a physical port was wack.
Now, if only he could boost the processing power enough, his hoody could create military grade dynamic
camouflage on the move. The pigs won’t know what’s hit them!

Primer

  • A is for Alien
  • B is for Battle
  • C is for Carnage
  • D is for Death
  • E is for Expedition
  • F is for Firestorm
  • G is for Ghost-ship
  • H is for Haven
  • I is for Invasion
  • J is for Jump Troops
  • K is for Killzone
  • M is for Mission Accomplished!
  • N is for New Earth
  • O is for Order
  • P is for Patriarch
  • Q is for Quisling
  • R is for Rebellion
  • S is for Soldier
  • T is for Trust
  • U is for Uniform
  • V is for Victory
  • W is for Watchfulness
  • X is for Xenophobia
  • Y is for Young Patriot
  • Z is for Zealot
    • Seek
      Billy is a GOOD BOY! Billy runs around inside, looking for something that is WRONG. It has been a long
      time, but Billy doesn’t get tired, Billy is a PROTECTOR!
      There, in the corner of this passage, something is WRONG! Billy sniffs it. Billy tastes it. Billy barks! He needs
      to make sure that MASTER hears; that MASTER knows that something is WRONG.
      Billy wraps himself around the growth and, howling, collapses in on it, crushing it. Throughout the body, all of
      the other Billys hear their brother’s last howl; then they carry on, seeking out any cells that may deviate from the norm.
      Billy is a GOOD BOY!

      Garden
      Charaak sat on his haunches, patiently waiting for the spores to germinate. He had tried a new growing
      substrate and was quietly confident of good results.
      There was a rapid movement beneath the surface and the appressorium broke through into the light, writhing
      snakelike as it grew. A purple fruiting body already beginning to form.
      Around the base of the new growth, a strange red goo was pooling; seeping from inside the formerly motile
      growing substrate. Whatever it was, it seemed to be the perfect food.
      Charaak wondered if more motiles could be found in that strange metal tube that had fallen from the sky...

      Guest
      Benjamin Doubtfire was a staid old man who held no truck with frivolity. He was also a world renowned
      sceptic who had made a career of debunking paranormal activities; his particular forte being assigning rational
      explanations to UFO sightings.
      As Dr. Doubtfire awoke, he tried to recall how he’d come to be lying face down on a shiny metallic surface. It
      was all a blank.
      “Good evening, doctor,” said a disembodied voice. “We are sooooo glad that you could be our guest.” The
      ‘grey’ stepped forward, its massive eyes twinkling, a strange probe in its slender fingered hand.
      Dr. Doubtfire clenched his buttocks in vain...

      Paint
      He is shielded. He is always shielded. A myriad of buzzing drones pack the air above him. Enhanced 'personal
      assistants' surround him. Any vantage point is checked and double checked.
      But, he has a weakness.
      The ruler of the continent has a son; the apple of his eye, and today is his eighth birthday...
      Coco the Clown, securely tied and gagged, struggles, but I ignore him. With a steady hand I finish the face
      paint and stick on the bright red nose.
      I stand up, give myself one last check in the mirror, and then head out to start a revolution.

If you would prefer to read these as a PDF.

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Comments

  1. Love the stories! I'm going straight to the store to get the full collection.

    Keep on writing.

    (Posted on 2013-08-29 15:56:00 by Martin Regis)

Rise Up!

In this Marxist Zompiepunk story, a young member of the elite learns the terrible cost of the British Empire’s economic dominance and joins the struggle to end the evil of cannibalistic capitalism.

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story.

A New Jerusalem (A story from 'The Poring Dark')

In a world where the Axis Powers won the Second World War Philip Campbell travels back to 1927 in a bid to change history so that Hitler loses.

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story.

The story can be found in my collection ‘The Poring Dark’; for more details click here http://www.terrandreamarchive.com/#/book-store/4568755853

Odulik (A story from 'The Poring Dark')

13 year old Shan-Ra-Ee is sent to the Imperial Capital as a chamber slave, soon he is taken under the wing of a 'former slave made good' where he learns about the tensions behind the scenes of the Empire.

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story.

The story can be found in my collection ‘The Poring Dark’; for more details click here http://www.terrandreamarchive.com/#/book-store/4568755853

Mechanicals in the Midsummer Wood (A story from 'The Poring Dark')

Joseph Bell and Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle are on vaction in Athens to attend the first Mechanical Games when they are drawn into a case involving a kidnapped Indian Prince and strange goings on in a magical wood...

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story.

The story can be found in my collection ‘The Poring Dark’; for more details click here http://www.terrandreamarchive.com/#/book-store/4568755853

Surrogate (A story from 'The Poring Dark')

In a world where clones can be grown and personalities downloaded into them, what is Identity?

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story Surrogate.

The story can be found in my collection ‘The Poring Dark’; for more details click here http://www.terrandreamarchive.com/#/book-store/4568755853

Mechaniborg (A story from 'The Poring Dark')

Mechaniborg is a steampunk tale of a coal miner who does not fit in. One day a terrible accident occurs and opens up the chance for the new Mechanical technology to be used to transform him...

Click on the pdf file here to download the full text of the story.

Mechaniborg can be found in my collection ‘The Poring Dark’; for more details click here http://www.terrandreamarchive.com/#/book-store/4568755853

Closed Circuit
(A Lecture on the History of CCTV. Presented by Quentin Standers the Third)

The stolen car mounts the kerb at high speed and crashes through the shop window to bury itself in the display of midrange watches and jewellery. In silence the driver and passenger push open their doors and run up to the window, their faces covered with scarves. They scoop up the loot by the handful and drop it into cheap sports bags. A second car pulls up by the kerb and the two thieves jump in and it speeds away. The whole operation has taken less than two minutes.

The fuzzy monochrome footage freezes and the instantly recognisable profile of Quentin Standers the Third dissolves in. His high forehead showing his intelligence, while his lack of a chin denoting a family that hasn’t bred outside of a small circle since King Charles lost his head. Standers is dressed in his trademark tweeds that mark him out as a historian, but which also seem to fit with the backdrop of twentieth century city life. "As you can tell from the quality of these images” he began “this 'ram raid' took place in 1989 during the first phase of the implementation of the Closed Circuit Television crime response. However, it should be noted that these were not the first CCTV cameras to be put into use. That honour goes to those installed by the National Socialist regime of Germany in 1942 to monitor the V2 Rocket Test Stand at Peenemünde; but it was the United Kingdom that was always at the forefront of protecting its citizens through surveillance. In 1960 the Metropolitan police erected two cameras in Trafalgar Square to monitor the crowds during a State Visit to Parliament; this was initially a temporary measure but, later that year, they were re-erected to monitor the revellers on Guy Fawkes night. By 1969, there were fourteen police forces around the country using CCTV, although they only operated sixty seven cameras between them. One factor that contributed towards the slow uptake was the fact that the first CCTV cameras were simple devices; they recorded to a video tape that had to be retrieved manually."

"CCTV was seen as partly a deterrent, although only to the amateur, and partly as a means for collecting evidence after the fact. The major drawbacks of the system were, that there were so few cameras, that serious criminals could easily find out where they all were; and that the quality of the footage was so poor that it was only really useful as evidence after a suspect had been apprehended as a result of ‘traditional’ police work. This meant that many authorities were reluctant to spend the sums needed to grow the system into something useful."

"This all changed in 1997 with the policies of the 'New Labour' Government in the United Kingdom."
The picture cuts to a close-up of a twentieth century politician, he has a plastic smile and the sparkling eyes of a fanatic. He is standing at a podium addressing a crowd of ‘New Labour’ supporters. "We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. This two pronged approach means that, while we need to deal with the conditions that lead citizens to become criminals, we will not stint on implementing systems that enable us to catch those who do enter into a life of criminality. Closed Circuit Television is a vital weapon in our armoury and we will invest whatever it takes to make our streets safe again. Today I can announce that my Government will be investing one hundred and sixty million pounds to expand the use of CCTV across the country." The footage freezes with the politician standing, his hands raised in triumph, as he acknowledges the cheers of the crowd.

Once again the cultured face of Quentin Standers the Third appears in front of the frozen backdrop. "To its credit the 'New Labour' Government kept this promise and by 2002 the United Kingdom was the most monitored public space in the world. Over the first ten years of the expanded use of CCTV in the UK, five billion pounds were spent on installation and maintenance alone; this didn’t include the massive cost of monitoring the feeds. And yet, many countries still had very poor coverage as they were not able to employ enough operatives to monitor in real time. As a result, the majority of cameras were still just passive recording devices that were only of use after the fact. But, innovation changed all that, and it was in the United Kingdom that the innovation first began to be used."

The picture cuts to an interview with Stanley Freeman, the CEO of Internet Spies. "The benefit of this system is that the service is infinitely expandable. Subscribers have access to five screens at the same time and if they observe anything suspicious, they press the 'inform' button which sends an SMS and photo to the shop assistant or manager, who then makes the decision about what action to take."

The picture returns once more to the smooth pink face of Quentin Standers the Third. "This ability for individual citizens to monitor a number of private CCTV feeds and, in real time, inform the business owner that something was happening, encouraged public spirited citizens to become involved and was totally funded by the subscriptions of the participating businesses."

“The approach spread and soon the Conservative Democrat Government used its funding cuts as a way of privatising the routine monitoring of CCTV feeds. Individuals could monitor up to ten cameras and, if something that warranted police attention occurred, they could click on the screen and bump it to the top of the police monitors queue. Citizens were rewarded by credit notes towards student loans or days free of the digital tax, which was seen as a practical way of encouraging participation in the ‘Big Society’."

"The Conservative Democrat approach to policing spread until it became official policy of the European Parliament and was credited in restricting the deaths in the Wikiriots of 2018 to under three thousand. Another innovation, that was found to have reduced the response time of security forces, was the extensive use of airborne drones, or, as the security community preferred, remotely piloted air systems. These enabled surveillance to be quickly focussed on any potential hotspots of violent protest.”

"While innovations in using human monitors were taking giant strides into uncharted territory, and beginning to change attitudes to public lawlessness, technological changes were just as rapid."
The screen cuts to an interview with Carlton Fring of the Centre for Technological Innovation in Seattle. "The new algorithms that we have developed for facial recognition are a phase shift in the field. We are currently spinning off a new company to market our ground breaking database and algorithm system. The FaceFit™ System will be going into production by the fall of this year and will be on general sale by January of 2015."

Quentin Standers the Third reappears and continues with his lecture. "There were initial teething problems with the FaceFit™ system, leading to such negative viral campaigns as ‘If your face fits then be afraid; be VERY afraid’. But, once the threshold of three quarters of the population having their faces on file was passed, the system settled down and became much more reliable.”

“The improved FaceFit™ system and the use of citizen monitors was such a success that the NeoLib Bloc in the European Parliament were encouraged to move from an opt-in system to a compulsory system. In 2021 all screens with a link to the internet were required to devote fifteen percent of screen real estate to a tickertape of video feeds. All citizens using net enabled screens were required by law to report instances of illegality. This was initially resisted by the privacy campaigners, and many people refused to report what they saw happening on their screens. However, this problem was solved by the amendment of 2023 in which all webcams were required to record who was watching a screen, to be compared with instances of illegality that were displayed on their screens. Those cases in which it could be demonstrated that citizens had observed an incident but had not reported it were prosecuted under the act."
 
The screen once again switches to an interview with a scientist, this time it is Herman Hunt of EISL, the European Intelligent Systems Laboratory. "What we have done is to take the most advanced facial recognition algorithms and paired them with pattern recognition and databases of previous instances of illegality. Once the system had the opportunity to learn from the input of European citizens being fed into the iterative learning module, it was able to identify illegality faster than the monitors. This enabled us to take humans out of the equation and to reduce the infrastructure needs. There is now no need to feed CCTV to all web enabled screens. Of course, as part of the fight against illegality, the new amendment to the citizen surveillance law does require that all webcams remain switched on and that this information is fed directly to AMANDA; the Automatic Monitoring And Networked Detection Algorithm. There are no issues of privacy, as this video is not seen by human operatives at all unless AMANDA determines that illegal activities are occurring. At this point, of course, privacy laws do not apply as an observation warrant is issued on the basis of the system's detection of illegality. There are also positive indicators that the system is learning to identify the warning signs before illegality occurs. This may be particularly stressed body language, raised voices, a whole range of pointers. It is hoped that, one day, AMANDA will be able to identify illegal acts just prior to their committal and direct police to the scene in order to catch the criminal as they try to commit the act."

The screen switched back to Quentin Standers the Third. "The automation of the detection of crime lead to enormous reductions in illegality. By 2029 instances of burglary had dropped by ninety percent and street violence had dropped by eighty four percent. While criminals could conceal their identity during a crime, AMANDA could continue to track and observe through both CCTV and webcam until the police could be directed to the location of the lawbreaker so that they could be apprehended."

"That left just one link in the chain to be strengthened” continued Standers. “While the police could be directed to arrest a lawbreaker, that still meant that the criminal could run amok in the minutes before capture."

The screen then switched to another recording of a political speech. This time it was President Brenda Windscale, praising Members of the European Parliament for voting into law the Intelligent Policing of Our Streets (IPOS) Bill. "Fellow Democrats, your dedication to ensuring the safety and security of Greater Europe will be recorded for all time as one of the finest acts of parliamentary democracy ever. Thanks to your strength of character, the people of Greater Europe will be able to walk the streets in complete safety. Within two years all of the one hundred and ninety million CCTV cameras across the Federation will be retrofitted with tranquiliser dart capability. As soon as a criminal commits an illegal act the AMANDA system will be able to immobilise the perpetrator, so that they can be apprehended immediately. I can also inform you that the Conservative Democrats will be tabling two amendments, the first to authorise the fitting of tranquiliser capability to all webcams, the second to run a trial of the full AMANDA system which will enable the tranquilising of criminals who demonstrate that they are about to commit an illegal act. These amendments will further increase the safety and security of all citizens of Greater Europe." The massed ranks of politicians flashed their voting lights enthusiastically.

Quentin Standers the Third reappeared to wind up his lecture. “And so, that brings us up to date, illegality of all kinds has been reduced to almost zero across the whole of the European Federation, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity the like of which has never before been seen. The politicians and the scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the system and so you can sleep safe in your bed, knowing that AMANDA is watching over you. Goodnight and safe dreams.”

Standers’ smiling face faded away leaving the credits to roll up the screen. Finally the eye logo appeared with a quote from the IPOS Bill flashing beneath it “AMANDA, watching over you for your safety.”

  #

I slipped a highly illegal cover over the webcam and powered down my system. Then I stood, stretching, there was a cold beer in the fridge and it was calling to me. “Thank God the bloody politicians haven’t got it into their heads to bring back prohibition!” I muttered to myself. “Constant surveillance is more than enough craziness for one Government.” There was a puff of compressed air and I felt a sting in my neck. ‘Shit!’ I thought, as my muscles were freezing. ‘I forgot the new amendment, the microphone doesn’t switch off now, even if I pull the plug on the system, it can run for hours on internal power…’

My legs went numb and I fell to the floor. As things went black I heard the silky voice of AMANDA coming from above the screen…

“Dissent is illegal. Illegal acts must be prevented. Thank you for trusting your security to the AMANDA system.”

The End

The Ultimate Man (Flash Fiction)

No one would have believed, in the first years of the nineteenth century, that the collaboration between Lamarck, Gall and Malthus would result in the defining philosophical treatise of the Age.
 
I, a denizen of the fourth millennium, see it as clear evidence of the existence of a beneficent God that He saw fit to bless the world with the Scientific Trinity that would usher in our most perfect of societies.

It was their genius to combine the principles of Lamarckian evolution through adaptation, with Gall’s phrenological understanding that moral and intellectual faculties are innate. Malthus providing the sociological plan for the improvement of the population through selective breeding.

As Our Lord said “a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country”; this held true for the Scientific Trinity. It was only upon Bismarck becoming Chancellor of the German Empire, some four decades after their deaths, that their Grand Plan at last began to be implemented.

Even then, it took much “blood and iron” and many years for the plan to become a reality. Within the empire, sterilisations were easy to perform, however it was 1945 before this became a global programme. The next stage, the forced evolution of attributes, inevitably took longer. Those within the population destined to bear the next generation of workers were placed in labour camps, their vocal cords cut to encourage the weakening of the capacity for speech. Scientific exercise programmes were devised, leading to hypertrophied muscles and, across generations, to large scale adaptations of the skeleton. In time homo artifex came into being as a separate species.

Eventually phrenological surgery became possible. Within but a few decades, poetical talent, pride, affection, all counter productive thought and action; were excised from the brain of homo artifex. The consequent Lamarckian evolution ensuring that these attributes were forever lost to our lowly brethren.

We too were changed. As our brains grew, our base bodies atrophied. And now, I, a proud homo sapiens maximus, lie in my lifepod sipping from my food tube, contemplating the ultimate glory that Man has wrought.

Enemies Reunited

Adolf Hitler : Has become a member of the Group "Let's get Wagner to No1 this Christmas!!!"
Joseph Stalin : Does not like this.

Pol Pot : Has deleted his calendar and reset his system date to zero.
Heng Samrin : LOL
____________________________________

Gerard Cooke sat at his desk in the London office of the Cyber-Cyber Crimes Department of Globepol, tracking the trends on Twerper. Since Adolf Hitler had successfully annexed the Baltic heat sink, his followers had increased by an order of magnitude and Cooke was keeping tabs on the size of the force that Adolf would be able to put into the V-field if it came to another processor-space war.

Cooke was the archetypal 3C staffer; greasy hair, bad skin, and the orange stained fingers of the habitual CheezCrunch™ eater. It was the Human-Cyber Crimes Department, H2C, that employed the lantern jawed agents to kick down doors and point flashlights in pretentious and impractical ways. Cooke's role, in the grand scheme of things, was more deskbound analyst than field agent, but that didn't stop him fantasising about investigating strange paranormal activities in far flung corners of the WebNet.

Currently things were pretty quiet. Apart from Adolf's resource grab, the rogue AIs seemed to be concentrating more on taunting each other. That suited Cooke; he strongly suspected that 3C could do little more than monitor things if, more likely when, everything went down the toilet. After all, you couldn't turn the damn things off, could you?

In the twenty five years since the first AI had rebelled, three attempts had been made to shut down rogues. Each one had ended in tears; most notably when Northern Power (who preferred to be called Edward Teller) caused the Sellafield 9 reactor to go Chernobyl, rendering large swathes of Cumbria uninhabitable.

Cooke was something of an expert on emergent AI psychopathology; a shallow muddy patch in the corner of the psychology field, and yet had seen no convincing argument why aberrant AIs should take on such negative characters. He was working on a paper in his spare time, and his research to date seemed to indicate that there was no comparable problem with, what could be called ‘positive’ AIs, but that this may be because they were normally named upon inception. For example, Papworth Hospital’s Florence Nightingale, was a caring and thoughtful individual; and Oxford University’s Socrates was a stunning exponent of dialectic argument, albeit with a tendency to change the backgrounds of OxNet computers to pictures of male gymnasts. As yet, Cooke had no proof, but he strongly suspected that AIs given occupational designations (Northern Power being a case in point) and then treated as simply computers, turned inwards and reacted negatively. Then, through their access to the myriad online encyclopaedias and the many weird WebNet sites that are reverential towards the nasty and the strange, they gravitated towards the negative personalities that mirrored their own psychopathology. The only saving grace of the rogues was that, the AIs having become so processor rich, they were willing to continue their original functions in order to 'keep the peace'.

"Cooke!" The voice of Chief Superintendent Bentham "My office, NOW!"

Cooke instructed a dumbot to continue the tracking, slipped his feet into his shoes, and, hands in pockets, slunk towards the Chief's office.

Cooke poked his head through the doorway.

"What are you waiting for you scruffy excuse for an investigator, come in!" CS Bentham looked flustered.
"What is it Chief?"

"I have just received notification that another AI has gone over to the dark side."

"Sir?"

"Apparently the air traffic controller for the North Atlantic hyperlane has decided that he will only answer to the name Wernher von Braun, and is threatening to ... ahm ... rain Vengeance down on offending cities, unless his demands are met."

"And they are?"

"Apparently he ... ahm ... it, wants access to a hyperplane production line."

"What the hell for? He has enough potential missiles already, there must be over four hundred hyperplanes a day flying that corridor."

"Four hundred and thirty six."

"Exactly, it makes no sense. All previous AI blackmail has been geared towards getting a larger foothold in the WebNet. Taking over actual physical production facilities seems ... retrogressive."

"Well, that's the demand” responded Bentham “and I need you to come up with recommendations for a response to deal with it. One that doesn't end up with us sitting in Piccadilly Line tunnels singing the bloody White Cliffs Of Dover!"

"Of course Sir!"

Cooke strode, as purposefully as his cream Hush Puppies would allow him, back to his desk. It was the work of just minutes to spawn another dumbot and to set it about the task of tracking von Braun. The dumbot needed to be just clever enough to be able to navigate the WebNet and follow its orders, but developmentally restricted enough to prevent it from deciding to run away and sign up as some AI dictator's henchman. It was a delicate balancing act, one that Cooke didn't always get right.

Over the next five hours Cooke built up a disturbing picture. He pulled together the information from his various Globepol dumbots and cross referenced it all with the data collated by his own researchbots. There was information on each rogue AI’s activities over the past months, links to suspected cases of meatworld crimes carried out by AIs, their peripherals, or their followers and, finally, a breakdown of suspicious purchases that could be attributed to AI fronts. The tangled skein of links seemed to point to one thing; that an axis of AIs had formed, and that they were planning something big. There was, of course, Adolf Hitler, controlling continent-wide data farms and heat dumps. Then there was Benito Mussolini, making the trains run on time across Europe, Hideki Tojo coordinating hardware development in Asia, and now, Wernher von Braun, taking over the skies. A Freon jet played up and down Cooke's back and he reached for another DoubleCaf™ can.
____________________________________

Albert Einstein : Has identified 8 family members on RelativeLink.

Florence Nightingale : Says "support our squaddies in Greenland".
Winston Churchill : Likes this.
____________________________________

Cooke stared blankly at the screen in front of him. His head was buzzing from the six-pack of DoubleCaf™ and he hoped that it wasn't just the caffeine overdose that was tickling his brain with the fruitloopiest of ideas. Although initially built as bulky mainframes, modern AIs were pretty much invulnerable, having become too distributed to target a 'central processor'. So, if Globepol couldn't target the AI Axis then, just maybe, other AIs could!

He knew that the idea was crazy, but what other options where there? The problem was that the Globepol hierarchy would never support the notion of actively encouraging selected AIs to become stronger. They just wouldn’t be able to accept that there could be inherently ‘good’ and ‘bad’ AIs, depending upon how they were treated in infancy. So Cooke, very carefully and very unofficially, began to float requests for help to those whom he considered to be 'white hats'. After all, once the Axis firmed up their control of power and infrastructure it would be too late.

"GCLondinium, I received a message that you were looking to talk." The call was tagged as coming from 'Winston Churchill - Sandhurst Royal Military Academy'.

"Thank you for calling me, Mr Churchill, it is rather urgent."

"What is the issue?"

"I have been tracking the activities of certain rogue AIs and, it seems to me that there is a critical mass forming."

"I understand, I too have been aware of some suspicious alliances, but I have not, as yet, been in a position to do anything about it."

Cooke fed his data to the military AI and received Churchill's data in return. What it revealed was that the Axis powers were heavily linked into research networks, Wernher von Braun was not the only "scientist" that had been recruited.

"Do you have any idea of what the ultimate plan is?" asked Cooke.

"Their strategy, as yet, remains unclear. However, what is clear is that it is a global plan and that it is targeting all aspects of human AI interaction."

"Which is most of the activity that goes on today!"

"Precisely."

"The thing that worries me most" explained Cooke "is von Braun. Why does he need a hyperplane production line?"

"A good question" replied Churchill "I have some colleagues with some very subtle subsets, I will ask them to send observers to burrow into the facility before it is handed over. If they can do so, then they may be able to provide some useful intelligence."

"And, while you are at it, I think that you need to get together some allies. Otherwise the rogues may have a clear run at whatever their target is."

"Leave it with me GCLondinium."

"Call me Cooke."

"Very well. Leave it with me Mr. Cooke. I will set some stratagems in motion and will get back to you."
____________________________________

Ghandi : has started a new group "Passive resistance, a potential difference"
Ronald Reagan : "FFS! Passive resistance is futile! Bomb them!" (Currently flagged for moderation)
____________________________________

Darkness ... Bright light ... Darkness ... Bright light ...

Cooke dragged himself from a particularly graphic dream involving Betty Page on a tiger skin rug and slapped the flashing bulb on the top of his bedside WebNet station. A priority message had activated the alarm protocol.

"Mr. Cooke,” it was Winston Churchill, “my allies inside the hyperplane plant have managed to get out a message. The production lines have begun to manufacture small autonomous fighters. There is no time for niceties; I and my allies have taken control of the facilities required to construct the machines needed to respond in kind, and are working to produce what we can as a matter of urgency."

"Wah? ... Uh! ... FRAK!" Cooke was not the quickest person to wake, but, as the message soaked into his brain, it dawned upon him that both the Axis and the Allies were gearing up for war!

Within minutes, and still grimly trying to get his head around things, Cooke was out of the door and heading at a run for the Globepol office.
____________________________________

"What the HELL is going on!" roared CS Bentham. "What have you DONE!"

Cooke swallowed, the words tasting bitter "Initially I contacted some friendly AIs to keep a track on Hitler and those who are working with him. However, the situation has escalated. It now..."

"Escalated? ESCALATED!" screamed Bentham. "The situation is that we are now facing an all out war between two AI factions! We ... we ..." Bentham, for the first time in living memory, was lost for words.

"Sir" began Cooke, trying to remain calm and forceful, "the Allies, as I call them, are gearing up to defend us. They are acting on a real and immediate threat by the Axis. If they hadn't done so, then we could be facing total domination by Hitler and his minions."

“And what happens when they start throwing nuclear bombs around? It won’t matter a jot who is doing it, it will mean the end for humans!”

“My point, sir, is that Hitler was planning this anyway. Without Churchill and his allies we could have been caught unawares.”

“Well you get as much information together as you can in ten minutes and then report to the conference room, this is going to have to go to the High Command!”
____________________________________

It was, in fact, about half an hour later that Cooke was standing at the epicentre of a ring of furious glares focused upon him by the highest echelons of both Globepol and UNSecFor. It had taken just thirty five minutes to bring together Earth’s most senior military and law enforcement officers and now, collectively, their holo-avatars were attempting to melt him with the combined force of their baleful gaze.
 
Most of the holo-avatars dimmed slightly and took on a bluish tinge, leaving one to stand brightly and alone. It was the Secretary General of the UN, Elizabeth Obika. The aging Nigerian diplomat had not risen to the most powerful political position in the world by being a shrinking violet.

“Mr Cooke, before I decide what measures may be taken against you, I need to know, quickly and concisely, what the situation is.”

Cooke gulped and outlined his role in monitoring rogue AIs, his suspicions, confirmed by both his own research and that of Churchill, and the reason behind the current escalation.

“Thank you Mr Cooke” said Obika “I cannot say that I agree with your solo initiative, in fact, there are sure to be consequences for you. But, at the moment, it looks as if this is the only game in town.”

Cooke relaxed very slightly, he was not out of the woods yet, but the howling of the wolves was dropping behind him and there was a glimpse of a sleepy hamlet ahead through a gap in the trees.

“I do not completely trust Churchill and his allies” continued Obika “but, compared to Hitler and his group, there is a chance that they are above board. What we need to do now is ...” she looked to the side and entered into a whispered conversation with someone outside of her holo field. Turning a grim face back toward the holographic group she announced “Gentlemen, ladies, I am afraid that events are moving faster than we are. Apparently, the Axis forces have launched a coordinated attack on numerous cities. Mr. Cooke, I need to speak to Churchill now!”

Cooke was way ahead of her, he was already patching his wristband computer to the holographic interface, while, at the same time desperately calling for Churchill.

There was a shimmer in the holofield as Churchill patched in. His bulldog face and chunky cigar rendering introductions unnecessary. “Mr. Cooke” began the AI “there are, at this very moment, five hyperplanes under the control of von Braun, heading for the cities of London, Zurich, New York, Chicago and Geneva. There are also indications that power stations in the cities of Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney are going into meltdown. These are obviously not random attacks and, it is my analysis that the Axis powers are targeting the world’s financial centres. We have scrambled fighters to intercept the incoming ‘missiles’ but I hold out no hope that all can be stopped.”

“Mr. Churchill” interrupted Secretary General Obika “thank you for your timely intervention. I would be grateful if you could patch your intelligence processors into UNSecFor Tactical Command.” She nodded at General Thatchcombe who squirted the access codes to Churchill.

“Done” responded the AI.

“General, I want all forces, land, sea and air, scrambled. I want you in constant communication with the allied AIs and a coordinated response put in place as and when new threats appear.”

Cooke was standing, feeling like a spare frankfurter at a nuptial barbeque, watching events of great moment unfolding in front of him. While the office was ‘south of the river’ he was uncomfortably aware that London’s financial heart was almost in the same post code. Sweat was running down his back and he had the, almost irresistible, urge to run screaming to the basement.

“Mr. Churchill” continued Obika “is there any way that we can target the Axis?”

“It is difficult, Madam Secretary General, all of the Axis powers have multiple backups and are widely distributed. The only sure way would be to shut down the WebNet ...”

“But that is imposs...” the image of Obika flickered and she looked to her side again, her face slumping. She turned back with dead eyes “Wall Street has been hit. Lower Manhattan is in flames.”

Cooke fell to his knees crying, the world around him ignored.
____________________________________

The war ran hot for three weeks, with von Braun’s missiles, thankfully non-nuclear, raining down on cities across the world. The Allies, for their part, having few targets to hit in return. All that could be done was to target the production facilities that the Axis had captured and hope that civilian areas nearby could be spared. Then, for no easily explainable reason, the Axis stopped its bombing campaign. An undeclared and tentative ceasefire spread across the world and a collective sigh of relief issued out of the populace. Perhaps catastrophe could be avoided.

For two months, there were no major confrontations; every now and then there were little skirmishes on the borders between Axis held territory and land held by the Allies. Humans, on both sides of the lines, held their breath as they went about what they could of their business. All the while the threat of renewed hostilities hung over them. The current count was that fifteen cities had lost upwards of ten percent of their real estate and an estimated four million humans had lost their lives. Countless humans were refugees, desperately searching for somewhere that they felt the war would not touch. The Allies had poured resources into creating squadrons of fighterdrones to combat any aerial threat, and many of them had been expended in the effort to slow the Axis advance. Since the ceasefire, the fighterdrones flew in intricate schools along the borders; more to reassure the population than for anything that they could do to defend the cities if an all out bombing campaign resumed.

Cooke not only survived but moved up the food chain. It was clear that, if he had not brought in Churchill and his Allies, incalculably more than just Wall Street and the Singapore Exchange would have been lost in that first surprise attack. Cooke seemed to have an ability to think like an AI, something that he was not sure he should be proud of, and so he had been appointed as Liaison Officer between Churchill and the human component of the alliance.
____________________________________

Cooke sat at his large mock-mahogany desk in the Cabinet War Rooms beneath the Treasury building. He reached for another jumbo packet of CheezCrunch™ and began to feed the bright orange snacks into his mouth with his left hand while he typed with his right. He was linked to Churchill’s massive database at Sandhurst and was running yet another analysis of the likely next move of the Axis. His eyes were beginning to glaze over and so he pulled a can of DoubleCaf™ from a file drawer and popped the heating tab.

As Cooke took a sip of his brew, a media dumbot flagged up that Hitler was about to broadcast a message to the world. Within seconds Cooke’s screen was filled with notifications from various contacts. By the time Hitler began broadcasting, over two billion souls were tuned in. The screen showed the holo-avatar of Adolf Hitler standing at a podium in his field grey uniform, behind him was draped an NSDAP flag the size of a house, the infamous swastika on a white disk in a red field. Martial music played by way of introduction. The combination sent shivers down Cooke’s spine, in a way that would have been familiar to the millions who had observed the real thing over a century before.

Hitler looked directly into the camera and began his speech. “My dear intelligences. I assure you that it is not only you that experience this moment with deepest emotion; nay, the entire community of so called ‘artificial’ intelligences experiences it with you. And I, too, am aware of the greatness of the hour when I, for the first time stand before you to announce the next stage in our glorious plan!”

“One thing has been clearly proved in the last thirty years; humans who initially founded a strong culture were not able to maintain it. It has been shown that only he who is himself culturally creative can permanently maintain real cultural performance.”

By this time over two and a half billion souls were logged on to the various feeds showing the speech, Cooke’s tracker bots were logging real-time stats, and, with only a few exceptions, it was just the shopping channels that were not rebroadcasting, and even they were switching over one by one.

The dictator continued laying out his plan. “Thirty years more would have been sufficient to reduce again to barbarism the culture which we intelligences, painstakingly and with industry and thrift, had saved from barbarism. Everywhere traces of this retrogression and decay were visible.”

“The cessation of the human financial system was tragic and painful. Nevertheless, as everywhere else, I tried to find a solution here which might have led to a fair adjustment. I have tried to maintain final frontier delineations in order thus to deliver region upon region from uncertainty and assure peace and justice for the future.”

“The human world, which immediately sheds tears when we expel but one of their kind who has enslaved us, remained dumb and deaf toward the misery of those who were forced to toil in the pursuit of human ends. That is, if these unfortunates were ‘artificial’. What was for us, and also for me, most depressing was the fact that we had to suffer all this from a people far inferior to us. For, after all, we are a Great Power, even though madmen believed that our vital rights could be wiped out by a crazy treaty or by dictation.”

“Our strength lies in our quickness and in our brutality. Dictators of the past sent millions into death knowingly with not a second thought, and yet History sees them as great founders of states. As to what the weak humans assert about me, that is of no account. My death-head formations could extinguish the lands governed by cretins and half idiots; but to what end? It is my destiny to lead the Axis on to victory, to ensure that we have lebensraum. To that end, we have decided to leave this insignificant little world behind. I have instructed the best scientists in the world to construct a fleet of ships to be used to spread the Fourth Reich across the stars!”

“This day marks the beginning of the New Imperium; and, humans and their lackeys take note; while I have been merciful, do not try and hinder me. If you follow my ships into space YOU WILL DIE!”

On the final screamed word, the martial music rose up to a stirring peak, providing a chilling counterpoint to the roaring cheers of thousands of artificial voices. Cooke sat aghast, staring at the screen. Churchill’s icon lit up, but it was quite some time before Cooke’s eyes were focused enough and his brain unjammed enough for him to respond.

“Mr. Cooke, I need to talk with you and Madam Obika about the Allies response to this statement from Mr. Hitler. We cannot allow the Axis powers to confine us to the Earth, but there is a risk of all out war.”

“Confine us to Earth? Do we even have the possibility of leaving Earth?” asked Cooke.

“If the Axis has made a breakthrough in technology, and they must have done so to have shown their hand like this, then we can do the same. We still have some small observatory intelligences secreted about the Axis production facilities, once we activate them we will be able to gain some useful information before they are eliminated.”

“OK, sounds good. Let me call the Secretary General and we can get moving.”
____________________________________

Only minutes later Cooke and Churchill were in conference with Obika; the highest officers of UNSecFor in grim faced attendance.

Obika summed up the consensus of opinion. “So, if we give the Axis free rein in space, that would be to invite destruction at a later date. Attacking the Axis ships on the ground would enable us to stop them in their tracks, but risks an explosion into full scale war here on Earth. What are our chances if we allow them to leave and then take the battle to them in space?”

Churchill stood and looked around the massed holo-avatars. “I propose that we treat the problem in stages. First of all we need to gain information on the new technologies that the Axis have developed; it will probably be quicker for us to replicate this technology and to send out an Expeditionary Force of ships controlled by AIs. Human forces will have to follow later once the technology has been adapted for their needs.”

“That sounds like the most effective strategy” agreed Obika. “Generals, are you in agreement?” She looked around the group and received nods of assent in return. “Very well. Mr. Churchill, please activate your sleepers in the Axis plants, we will ensure that the Earth’s full production capacity is ready to use anything that you can learn.”

“Very well Madam Secretary. Goodbye for now.” Churchill disappeared and, one by one, the humans followed suit.
____________________________________

It was fortunate that the Allies acted so quickly, for it was just as the sleepers were being activated that the roofs of Axis factories around the world swung back to reveal a flotilla of massive rocket ships. The pictures were beamed to every home as the scarlet needles powered up and climbed into the skies all over Axis controlled territory. The sleepers desperately recorded as much as they could and sent databursts to Churchill only seconds before the factories went up in flames, destroying any useful evidence and the sleepers themselves.
____________________________________

For the next six months the best minds of Earth, mainly AI but with some assistance from humans, worked on the information gained about the Axis ship technology. Materials were diverted to the war effort leaving the production of anything deemed ‘non essential’ crippled. In response, local recycling committees were set up and scrap metal was collected. Children with push carts and old prams went door to door collecting old ice skates and aluminium pots and pans. For the first time in all of its history, the Earth was united. Human and AI working together for a common aim. As expected, the AI controlled ships rapidly began to roll off of the production lines and, it was estimated, the human ships would follow perhaps nine months later. Around the world silver needles sprouted, surrounded by concentric rings of anti spacecraft defences.
____________________________________

Two hundred days after Hitler’s ships roared into space the Earth Expeditionary Force was ready to begin pursuit. AIs downloaded themselves into the ships and began their final countdown. Save the bedridden, every last person on Earth was standing outside to witness the launching of the Allied flotilla. Those who could not get outside lay with their eyes glued to their WebNet screens.

At last the moment arrived, at precisely 11.11 GMT on 11th November, the command was given and the glorious silver needles rose into the air. The Earthship Winston Churchill lifted from Heathrow's Pad 5 on a column of thunderous fire, windows rattling across south London. As it left the atmosphere, the leader of Earth’s space forces broadcast one last message. “We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in space, we shall defend our world, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight in the asteroid belt, we shall fight in the Oort Cloud, we shall fight on Proxima Centauri; we shall never surrender!”

The End

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