Way Out

Mission log: October 9th 2052, Captain David Borden recording. 

The rest of the crew are down in their bunks and NASA has asked me to record a final message to anyone back home. 

Home. When I left I felt like I didn’t really have one. The whole Earth was my home, which is to say nowhere was. I’m sure by now you’ve been given the salient details of my current situation, but the way the mission has gone… I think the technical term is fubar. We over-shot the point at which we were supposed to have main engine shutdown, burned through more fuel than we were supposed to, then through the reserve tank as we brought ourselves back under control. 

And now we’re here. We don’t even have a name for the planet we’ve arrived at, just a designation number. S/2043 S921. If you want to imagine it, it’s something like Saturn. It has two sets of rings, not as flat and neat as Saturn’s but from our point of view they form an X shape around the planet itself, which is predominantly dark yellow, with streaks of brown and gold. It doesn’t have any moons, and the star of this system is, for all it matters to you, the same as our sun.

Aside from that, everything is black. The planet is bright enough right now that we can’t even see any stars out of the front windows of the command capsule. But it is a beautiful sight. I’m sitting here looking at a view that only three human beings have ever seen, and all I can think about is how empty the experience is without someone to share it with. The black isn’t just the absence of colour, it’s the absence of light, and more than anything I’m feeling the absence of you. 

So this is my apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being so detached. I thought I had to be to be able to take this mission and be everything everyone down there needed me to be. I should have told you every day that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. All the awards and accolades and notoriety of being a pilot and an astronaut, isn’t really worth very much without someone to come home to. And now I never can come home, to you or anyone. 

I wanted to be a hero. The next Neil Armstrong. We’d never say it outside the crew but the weight of the world on our shoulders was more of a burden than we admit. If I’m remembered for nothing else from this failed mission it’s that you can’t fake it forever. You can’t carry on just saying the things you know you’re supposed to forever, at some point you have to reckon with the fact that inside your instincts can’t be ignored and they’re usually right. There’s a truth in them that can’t be denied. As much as I wanted to be the hero up here, there’s so much I still wanted to do down there. 

But don’t cry for me. I knew there were risks, I guess. You never think it’s going to happen to you. Even if something went wrong in the mission, chances are either NASA would be able to fix it, or we’d be killed instantly. No point sugar-coating that… It’s no fun knowing the end is coming, and you can’t do anything but make it sooner… 

We were issued with suicide pills. They may not even let me tell you this, relaying the transmission to you. We have a pill each, we swallow it, we go to sleep and never wake up. For this eventuality, I suppose, and others. We were all in favour of crashing the ship into the planet and going out in a blaze of glory, but NASA thinks we should leave ourselves in orbit, just in case anybody ever finds the ship, they can see where it came from and why. We only have sub-light propulsion systems now, can’t even make another jump to a planet that might be more hospitable. Not that we can find one from here either. 

It sounds like a great life, exploring the galaxy, visiting new worlds and far-off planets. And maybe had the mission been a success I’d think so too. But I sit here and think about all of the trips we took to Europe, and all the places on Earth we hadn’t been yet. I’d have like to see the Taj Mahal in person. Sydney Opera House. Turns out you can’t actually see the Great Wall of China from space, so you should add that one to the list too. You should go. But find someone to take with you, please. Isolation isn’t good for the soul. Believe me, there’s only four of us within five lightyears.

The pill is starting to take effect now. I can feel my eyelids getting heavy. But I want you to know, that when I drift off for this permanent sleep, I hope I dream of you. I’m not in pain. I mean, I am. I have been this whole week since I realised we’re not coming back to you. But you can lie, right? Tell everyone I was tough and joking around. 

I love you Jenn. Goodnight.


The Man Who Lived By The River

The news report couldn’t have been more explicit. A storm was imminent. Hardly unexpected, in this part of America, but there was something especially vicious about this particular storm. Even the name, Hurricane Maura, implied a greater impact than usual. Thomas always wondered why the worst hurricanes seemed to always be named after women, but put it down to the natural condition, reinforced by his two unhappy marriages.

He watched the report with his usual brand of skepticism. He’d survived five decades of these kinds of warnings and they’d only ever become more hysterical as the ever-increasing number of news channels competed for attention. In his view a storm was a storm. Some may have hit worse than others, but at this point every time it rained it felt like there was a storm warning, and in his day they used to call it simply “hard rain”. The reporter read from a statement from the government, in as dramatic a performance as he could muster, that people should evacuate their homes and stay with relatives until the storm had passed.

“What a load of horse-shit.” Thomas said out loud to his empty house.

He turned the television off with a roll of the eyes. He walked to the window and looked out over the river that stretched and snaked alongside his house. In his view, the most reliable forecast was his own two eyes and years of experience. It didn’t look too bad so far. Besides, he was a good Christian man, more reliably in church on Sunday mornings than communion wafers. God would look out for him, as he always had. 

– – 

The following morning, the rain had started. The river had risen up almost to the very top of its banks. Thomas looked out from his bedroom window as he sipped his coffee. From the horizon line he watched a coastguard boat approach and slow as it drew level with his house. A man standing on the front of the boat waved and Thomas opened the window to hear him better over the sound of the driving rain.

“Hey you in there” the man began “what are you doing still in there?”

“This is my house” Thomas replied gruffly.

“The river is about to burst, the town is going to flood, you gotta get out while you can.” the man yelled, bemused at Thomas’s obtuse reaction.

“I’ve lived here all my life, this happens all the time.” Thomas shouted back.

“Man, seriously, this isn’t the worst of the weather, there’s more rain coming. Come on out and we can take you some place safer” the man continued.

“No way. I’m not leaving. I’m religious, God loves me, nothing’s going to happen, God will keep me safe.”

The conversation reached it’s natural impasse as a second man on the boat appeared and said something inaudible from the rear of the vessel. The first man looked back at Thomas and tried once more.

“This is nuts, you gotta come with us.”

Thomas closed the window and waved them off. The boat carried on down the river as the man threw his arms out in exasperation. 

– –

The day wore on and the banks of the river did indeed break. The first floor of the house swam with water. Thomas realised this was happening of course, and moved his most valued possessions up to the second floor. But even as the water reached the level of the windows downstairs, he had no fear for his safety. 

The power cut from the house as he began to hear the chugging of helicopter blades above the house, and as he stepped onto the balcony of his room he heard a woman’s voice on a megaphone that cut through the din;

“You down there, get up to the roof and we can drop the cradle and take you to safety.” 

Thomas yelled at the helicopter in reply; “No, I go to church every Sunday, God loves me, God will save me – if I need saving at all.”

The woman repeated her offer, with the added cheek (Thomas thought) of questioning his state of mind in the process.

“Are you crazy? The whole town is evacuated, the flood water is still rising, let us help you!”

Thomas went back inside and took the shotgun from his wardrobe. He took it back to the balcony and fired a shot into the air. The helicopter peeled off, and even though it was not through the megaphone, Thomas felt like he could hear the woman’s cursing as it did so.

– –

That night Thomas put himself to bed, confident in his assessment that the rain was easing up and everything would be fine in the morning. Or at least making strides in that general direction.

He awoke with the water lapping against his bed, and rising more rapidly than before. He was a confident swimmer in his youth but that was now some time ago, and he quickly tired. Finally he could kick and push against the water no longer and he was enveloped by the waves around him.

– –

Suddenly the black in front of his eyes was replaced with light, and a human-looking figure stood before him, next to a set of pearly gates which Thomas could barely discern against the light itself.

“Thomas Byres.” the voice began, and seemed to suddenly stop. “You’re not expected…”

“Is this?”


“Why are you…”

“I appear in this form to make the transition easier to accept.”

“You said I was…”

“Not expected. Not for several years yet.”

“I’m dead?”


“And this is…”

“Heaven, yes, well done.”

“But… I’m not supposed to be here… I mean… I was at home, I’m healthy…”

“Perhaps we should sit.”

“This is outrageous, I want to speak to God.”

The voice laughed “Who do you think I am?”

“You’re God?” Thomas asked, feeling that his mouth was making sounds entirely independently of his brain. “Don’t you have better things to do than to welcome every person individually?”

“The benefits of existing outside of your concept of time…”

“You’re speaking American…”

“Technically, no, we’re not speaking at all – it’s a little hard to grasp at first. You can’t think of yourself as a person here, you don’t have a body, time is meaningless… This is all supposed to come more gradually… You’re merely a spirit now – pure energy.”

“Wait… I’m dead… How did this happen?”

“I’m afraid you drowned. You didn’t feel any pain, it was like someone turning out the lights before falling asleep.”

Thomas stared at the figure for what he felt was a moment, if moments had existed in the state he found himself in.

“God – I thought you loved me. I went to church every Sunday, I treated people well, I was devoted, why didn’t you save me?”

“Thomas – I sent you a news report, a coastguard boat and a Marine helicopter… What are you doing here?”


The inky canopy of the night sky was augmented by almost invisible specks of light, which did nothing to illuminate the streets of the city below. The city seemed to groan with the dull sound of the population, drowning in alcohol to stave off the realization of the hopelessness of their existences. Nobody made anything of themselves here, the most they could hope for was one escape or another.

It was into this cesspool of chaos and petty conflict that Stephen Beckett stepped, from the relative comfort of his hotel, to survey the wreckage of humanity before him. He wore a leather jacket and jeans, with slicked back hair and the walk only someone with more confidence than was appropriate for any human being. He stalked through the city, past bars, clubs and take away shops, watching the people leaving in their stupors, in groups and alone.

Eventually he spotted a woman saying goodbye to her friends outside a bar, as the cover band playing within brutally murdered Radiohead’s “Creep” to completely unjustifiable cheering and singing along from the audience. The woman split away from her friends and walked in the opposite direction of the center of the town. Stephen felt himself salivating as he watched her walk. She had blonde hair which looked like it had probably been pinned in place early in the evening, but was now flowing about half way down her back. Her black dress was apparently designed to be as revealing as humanly possible, and the physics involved in her managing to not fall out of it baffled Stephen. He supposed that was the point. It wasn’t a dress one would wear in order to go unnoticed.

As he followed her she turned a corner and Stephen caught a better look at her face. Her lips were full and painted the bright red usually found adorning Italian sports cars. Stephen smiled as she exhaled a long breath of steam into the cold night. He thought to himself how cold she must be, wearing so little, and recalled wrapping his arms around his ex-wife to keep her warm years ago. They were a good match for each other, Amy and this unknown woman. About the same height, with a similarly curvy figure. He had loved that about Amy, and couldn’t stand the idea of a woman who was little more than skin and bones, liable to be snapped like a twig if the evening became too violent.

Stephen’s pace quickened silently as they reached the edge of the park. He could hardly believe his luck that this woman was putting herself in such a vulnerable position. He had seen no one else since they had left the main part of the town and crossed the inner ring road. Still, he thought, best not to attract attention just in case.

He pulled a slightly damp cloth from his jacket pocket, put it over the woman’s mouth from behind and dragged her into the tree line beside them. He heard some muffled screaming but the chloroform made her groggy immediately. He pulled her hair aside and sank his sharp teeth into her neck. They pierced the skin and the blood rushed into his mouth like juice out of a tomato. Time seemed to stand still as he swallowed a mouthful of the red nectar and he felt the power of life and death fill him. He wanted to drain her completely, then return to his hotel room fully nourished for the week to continue his marathon binge-watch of the comedy “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Netflix. Movies and tv shows always got vampires wrong. Vampires living in crypts and graveyards, put off by garlic and crucifixes. Laughable. Just because they weren’t human didn’t mean they didn’t enjoy the feel of quality Egyptian cotton quilts on their skin and a well equipped room to return to. Netflix must have been designed by a vampire, Stephen thought, you never missed the sunlight with all that entertainment designed to keep you from even leaving your bed.

But this feed was not his “one for the week”. He had a more significant purpose. He pulled himself away from her neck as she clung to consciousness, a streak of red running down her front. Stephen shook his leather jacket away, held his shirt aside to reveal his shoulder, then grabbed the woman’s head and maneuvered her mouth to his neck. As she instinctively bit down on his shoulder he felt an ecstasy fill him in a way he hadn’t experienced in years, maybe decades. Time was more and more difficult to keep track of. He closed his eyes and tried to absorb the whole experience. The feel of the woman’s hair in his hand, her scent even brought his wife’s memory back to the front of his mind. As he held her close, Stephen remembered the feel of Amy’s arms around him and all the nights they spent together, dreaming of bright futures and the ways they’d find to get out of this dead-end town. He remembered her smile and the glint in her eyes as she pinned him down on their bed, and how that light had disappeared from her as she died in his arms.

Stephen’s attention snapped back from his memory as the woman kept taking blood from him, sinking her teeth more confidently into him, until finally he threw her to the ground. She looked similar enough, he thought, enough to help him fall into his delusion each morning. She snarled at him.

“Relax.” Stephen instructed. “You may find the change… is a lot to process… How do you feel?”

She stood up and stretched the muscles in her neck, the wound already healing.

“Empowered” she replied.

“Welcome to your second life.” He grinned, as he told her what all his puppets wanted to believe. “You’re free.”

Welcome to the Machine

“A time machine, seriously?” Natalie looked at Thomas with a mix of scepticism and exasperation as they stood in the middle of his garage, next to a refrigerator adorned with wires and magnets. Cables ran to the device from each corner of the garage, which was lit by a single work lamp hanging on the wall beside a work bench. 

“What else should I call it? It makes things travel through time.” 

“I just mean, it sounds like science fiction.“ 

“So would an iPhone, if you talked to someone in the 60’s.” 

“How does it work?” 

“Really well.” Thomas smirked. 

“Don’t be a dick.” Natalie shot back, instantly. 

“It creates a miniature wormhole whilst balancing the gravity well by reversing the polarity on the magnets on the outside.” 

She walked around the machine, curious. 

“Do you know what any of that means?” She said, teasing him the way friends do. 

“Not really, no.” He grinned. “I mean, I only have the two PhDs…” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible.“ 

“Thank you.“ 

“Do you realise how much this is worth?” 

“More money than God.” 

“How much money do you imagine God has? Or needs?” 

Tom took a deep breath in and out, which Natalie recognised immediately. 

“A sigh that big is never the start of something good.” She offered, accurately. “This is me, Tom, I’m not other people. What’s going on?” 

“I want you to come with me to 2015.” 

“You’re crazy.” 

“That’s never bothered you before.” 

“Have you any idea what will happen if we use this thing?” 

“I’ve tested it Nat, come on, I wouldn’t ask you to do something dangerous. I mean, except that one time in Paris, but that was for a good cause.” 

“Impressing a girl does not count as a good cause Tom.” 

Tom grinned, and thought to himself that not only was it fact a very good cause (and on that occasion worked out very well), but come to think of it, was pretty much the only reason he did anything. 

“Okay, listen, the way it works is this…” he said as he walked to a white board and started drawing on it, remembering the scene from Back To The Future where Doc explains the timeline to Marty. 

“I sent my watch backwards and forwards to see what would happen. When I sent my watch forward, it arrived at the point in the future I sent it to without any time passing for it, but it also left a copy of itself in place. I just had to remove the first watch before the second arrived in the same space.” 

“And when you sent it backwards?” 

“All I could see from my point of view was the copy of the watch that stayed in the machine, but it stands to reason that the copy went backwards and that strand of time was so altered that we would be unaware of it.” 

“That’s a pretty big leap.” 

“Not really, the machine works sending an object forwards, that proves that my theory of how time works is accurate, it’s basically a function of gravity, and time is compressed with gravity’s pull. With time a constant moving through from a to b, the future is being created constantly, like we’re sitting on a beam of light and all in front of us is black, until we get there. It exists in a state of flux and doesn’t solidify until we observe it. We can send things to the future and have them appear for us because what’s actually happening is that we’re just delaying the arrival from the present, into the future of this bunch of atoms and energy. When we send something to the past, we’re accelerating it backwards and then when it arrives in the past, it’s writing a new timeline from that point, essentially creating a multiverse. I mean, it’s possible that the multiverse already exists and we’re moving things between the multiverses. I haven’t entirely figured that part out yet.” 

Natalie stood looking at the whiteboard, now adorned with dots, lines and arrows. She sighed. 

“You haven’t entirely figured it out yet?” 

“Yeah. But it’ll be an adventure.” Tom replied with as much enthusiasm and charm as he could muster. 

“An adventure…” Natalie repeated, thoughts swirling in her mind. “Tom this is totally crazy, we have lives here. I have Chris, you have a job you love, we have friends, they’d miss us…” 

“Actually from their point of view nothing would have happened. The amount of energy in the universe has to be constant, that’s why the watch didn’t disappear when I sent it either direction through time. We’d be copying ourselves, effectively. We’d keep living our lives here, and we’d also be living our lives, y’know, somewhere else… Sometime else.”

“Why 2015?”

“Because 2016 onwards was awful, and we might be able to do something about that. At the very least we know the result of the EU referendum and the US Presidential election, so we can make more than enough money on those to never need to work ever again.” 

“What about the grandfather paradox?” 

“Once we go back it’s not our universe anymore, so the existing timeline is maintained.” 

Natalie widened her eyes and sighed, trying to buy a moment to collect her thoughts and focus on the most pressing and practical questions. “Why do you want me to go with you? Surely if you’re only going back a short time, you’d just find me again and it’d be like nothing had happened…” 

“I can’t be in the same place as my copy, it’d be too complicated. I’d have to go somewhere else, live a separate life, none of the same friends, none of the same places. What would be the point in that? And what right would I have to disrupt my existing life like that, and do what, split our time half an half? Alternate the times we saw my friends?”

“But why me too?”

“You’re my best friend. You’re the one person I really couldn’t live without.” 

“Tom, this machine might kill us.” 

“It won’t.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I know.” 

“That’s a child’s answer… It’s too big a risk… Surely you see that… I finally have a life I love and I can’t take a risk like that anymore. If you go back and change things can you even be sure you’ll be happy? Where does the meddling end? How can you be sure you’d change anything significantly? How can you tell what the consequences of your actions will be at all?” 

“I can’t promise anything except this; Maybe we can’t change the world. I think we can, but maybe we can’t. We could be entirely different people if we wanted to be – a truly fresh start. How many people get that chance?” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible. But I don’t need a fresh start. And I didn’t think you did either. You don’t need a time machine to go and make a fresh start to make yourself happy, you can be happy here.” 

“You keep saying ‘if it works’, as if doesn’t. It works, I promise you.”

“That isn’t even the point Tom, I’m saying you’re asking me to do something monumentally huge, and it’s a lot to process. We’ve known each other for a long time, but I did not see this coming.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I usually am.”

“Yeah, all the time.”

“Look, I have to get back home. Let’s have lunch in a couple of days and we’ll both have had a chance to think about it. There’s no rush right. You quite literally have all the time in the world.”


“And I’m serious. If you’re that unhappy, please talk to me about it, I can help.” 


Natalie walked over to Tom and gave him a hug. “I’ll text you.”

She walked out and Tom stood still until he heard her car pull away. He turned to the door and his other self walked in. Tom2, from the future, noticeably older than Tom.  

“What did she say?” Tom2 asked. 

“She’s not coming.” Tom replied. 

“You knew it was a long shot… Did you tell her about my jump? What we said to each other?” 

“What would be the point?” 

“You shouldn’t lie to your friends.” 

“Even if the truth would make us both miserable?” 

The question hung in the air, neither version of the man able to provide a satisfactory answer. Tom2 tried to offer a sympathetic coda.

“It’s just bad timing. Ironically. Should have asked her when you were both young and still had nothing to lose.”

“I can go back in time, but I can’t make myself any younger. Maybe I’ll work on that next.” Tom joked as he walked to the machine and opened the door, revealing the iPad control panel inside. He set the destination time for 2015 and looked back at Tom2. 

“Does it hurt?” 

“You get over it. In time.” 

Tom closed the door, took a deep breath and engaged the machine. 

Indiana Jones and the King’s Sword

Shrewsbury, England, 1941 

Indiana Jones drove the army Jeep he’d been provided with into the middle of the town, over the Severn river to the marketplace where he’d been sent to meet George McHale. Captain Ross of US Army Intelligence had warned Indy that if was late to the meeting, he’d find the Brit in the nearest bar, or being kicked out of it. Indy checked his watch – right on time. As he pulled to a stop and killed the grumbling engine, he heard shouts and turned to see two men in army uniforms fall through the door of the White Lion pub. A third man appeared at the door and scolded the two men. 

“If you two fought the Germans as well as you fight each other, we’d be in Berlin by now!” 

The first man jumped to his feet, flipped the bird at the man Indy assumed to be the landlord, and ran off. The other man, overweight and with a slim moustache, lay groaning as the landlord returned inside. Indy cocked a half-smile, put on his fedora and messenger bag, and jumped out of the car. He walked over to the man and extended a hand. 

“So much for British hospitality, I guess…” he offered. 

“Ah, these Northerners can’t take a bloody joke.” The man replied in a cockney accent. “George McHale.” 

“Indiana Jones. What was that all about?“ Indy replied as he helped McHale to his feet.

“Oh, I thought his sister was his wife.” 

“And he hit you?” 

“Not for that, he hit me for what she called me!” McHale winked and slapped Indy’s arm. Indy’s smile faded. He hoped McHale wouldn’t be this insufferable all trip. 

“I was sent to meet you.” 

“Oh yeah, you’re the Yank that’s going to find the Holy Grail!” 

“Excalibur, actually…” 

“What difference does it make, they’re both fairy stories. We’ve got the best job in the whole bloody war.” 

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that…” Indy replied. 

“Well Jonesy, you can call me Mac. This your car?” McHale jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine as Indy nodded an affirmative and climbed in beside him. “The place we’re going is a series of caves about half an hour from here, on the Welsh border. The Army was doing a live ammo test in one of the caves and blew their way into a cavern that has some writing and drawings on the wall, showing Arthur and the round table.” 

Indy scoffed “There’s no evidence to suggest that anyone who might have inspired the Arthur legend ever had a round table of his closest confidants.” 

“Yeah, total bollocks, that’s what I said. But old Winston’s got a soft spot hasn’t he. You ask me, it’s not Arthur he thinks he is, but Jesus Christ Himself.” 

Indy smiled as he thought of his father’s voice saying “Blasphemy!” in his head, but said nothing. 

They travelled mostly in silence, the usual pleasantries and personal histories exchanged. McHale seemed to be expecting to die at any moment, an attitude Indy thought would probably see him either survive the whole war out of irony, or get them both killed in the next day or two. “Mac” didn’t give much away when they turned to the topic of why he was given this mission, but the way that he deflected any serious inquiry with a joke, suggested to Indy that this was someone’s way of keeping McHale out of the way for a while, but he suspected McHale was aware of that. 

They reached the cave in the mid afternoon, and ventured inside, the network of caverns and tunnels twisting and turning, quickly making any natural light useless. They proceeded with the aid of their torches, saying barely a word to each other.

After about ten minutes of walking, the men heard a sound similar to machine gun fire, but more consistent and sustained from deep within the cave.  

“What is that?” McHale mused.

The sound grew in volume, the source still unseen by either man.  

“Whatever it is, it ain’t good.” Indy grumbled. 

Suddenly a flock of bats was upon them, surrounding them with shrieks and the beating of wings. McHale screamed and flailed his arms. Indy dropped to the ground. 

“Quit screaming Mac, you’re only gonna confuse them.” Indy shouted at him, to no avail. 

Finally the bats passed and McHale stopped screaming. He shook his body as if to make sure no bats had attached themselves to him. 

“Dirty flying rodents.” McHale offered by way of explanation. 

“It’s their home, not ours.” Indy replied, lacking sympathy. McHale grumbled something incomprehensible, and they continued to walk deeper into the cavern. 

Their torches scanned over the walls of the passageway, which dripped water as they passed. Enough to make the ground slippery, but not sufficient to form a stream to avoid. Finally they reached an opening which led them to the larger cavern McHale had talked about, with images of the Arthur legend around the walls. 

“Here we are then…” McHale offered. “Time for you to work your magic.” 

“Archeology isn’t magic, it’s the discovery of facts. All I see here are stories.” Indy replied as he examined the walls. “And stories can be pretty liberal with facts…” 

McHale followed Indy, inspecting the drawings as if he were searching for the same meaning as Indy. He hoped Indy wouldn’t notice that he had no idea what he was looking for at all. 

“These drawings are most likely from the 10th century…” Indy explained. “You can tell from the rudimentary tools and limited colours they’re drawn from.” 

“Right, I thought the same.” 

“Then how do you explain this?” Indy asked, shining his torch onto a figure instantly recognisable as Arthur, pulling a sword from a lake. His clothes shimmered in the torchlight, gold leaf reflecting the light back at the two men. 

“I thought he pulled the sword from a stone?” said McHale. 

“Stories differ on the point…” Indy said, a glimmer in his eye and a grin appearing on his face. “But why would this drawing be so ornate?” 

“I don’t know.” 

Indy reached into his bag and pulled a pick axe from it. He tapped the walls either side of the drawing, a solid thud echoing in the chamber each time. Finally he tapped the image of the lake and a thinner tick rang out. Indy looked at McHale and smiled. 

“Hidden chamber.” The two men said in unison.  

“I have some dynamite, we can blow a hole in the wall.” McHale offered. 

“We don’t know how far it goes behind, it might do more harm than good. We can use this.” Indy held up the pick axe. “Sorry, Art.” Indy swung and hammered the image of the king.  

The wall was thicker than he anticipated and digging through took the best part of half an hour between them. Finally McHale had made the hole big enough to look through. They shined the light of their torches inside and illuminated the hilt of a sword. The blade was flawless, and the hilt a simple white with writing engraved along it. 

“You do the honours…” Indy offered.

“Don’t mind if I do, Jonesy.” McHale’s eyes were wide as he reached, grasping the sword with his right hand and pulling, but not dislodging the sword.

Indy laughed, “Very funny Mac, now let’s go.”

“I can’t move it Jonesy… It won’t budge.” McHale didn’t sound like he was joking. “You try it…”

Indy reached in to the gap and pulled the sword with all his strength. It came away from the wall instantly and Indy fell to the floor. McHale didn’t laugh. “Thanks” Indy shot at him.

“I’m not joking mate, it wouldn’t move for me… It was lodged in there. Maybe the sword in the stone myth is true.”

“It’s been sitting there hundreds of years, it probably just got caught, wrapped up in moss and weeds.”

“Either way, we got what we came for, let’s get back to town. I know someone who can tell us if we’ve got the real thing.”

They walked back along the passages they recognised before, following the smell of clean air. As they came to see natural light again, three figures stood silhouetted at the cave entrance. One spoke as they approached, Indy’s eyes not yet adjusted to the sunlight.

The man’s accent was instantly recognisable as German.

“We have to thank you Doctor Jones. You’ve saved the Führer a great deal of effort.”

The other two men cocked their machine guns

“Put your hands above your heads… We will take the sword now.”

“Nazis…” Indy muttered. “I hate these guys.”

Please allow me to introduce myself…

🎶 Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste… 🎶

Who am I kidding, I’m a creative person, wealth is a distant dream for me!

I’m Richard, and I’m not really a writer. I’m a rewriter. Which is to say I’m an editor. Not of words, in point of fact, but of films. What I’m saying is that my day-to-day life is nothing to do with writing.

So what am I doing here? Well I was part of the first year of Novel Dreamers and had a great time. It got my creative brain firing in a different way than just rearranging footage that’s already been shot. But honestly? I just want to have fun. And maybe I’ll accidentally fumble into a gem of an idea that can grow into something even grander.

Amelia Munroe and the Starry Night

Amelia Munroe pulled her long dark blue coat close to her as the cool autumn wind drifted off the Seine and whirled around her. The smell of freshly baked bread called to her from each boulengerie she passed like a siren song, but she resisted each of them. Her morning routine was sacred to her – an early morning run around Le Jardin De Luxembourg, shower, coffee and catching up on news in her apartment, all before her short walk to work, stopping for breakfast (and another coffee) at the cafe closest to it.

She sat outside, despite the breeze, looking up the building which housed her office – the Musée D’Orsay. She loved the building itself, almost as much as the art it contained. The converted train station was more a home to her than any of the houses or apartments she’d ever inhabited, and it gave her butterflies every day she walked through the door to start her day. It had a buzz whenever it was open to the public – a quiet buzz, of course, but she could feel the awe experienced by everyone gazing at some of the finest art ever produced. It was tangible to her, a layer of group consciousness and connectedness.

As she made her way through the employee entrance and into the main hall of the museum, she heard the familiar sound of Professor Carabin’s wheelchair approaching from behind.

“Bonjour Professor.” Amelia offered without turning, before he reached her.

“Bonjour Amelia, how are you this morning?” Came the reply, through the Professor’s thick French accent and weathered voice.

She turned to face her mentor; “Monet’s Poppies,” she pronounced cheerfully, “and you?”

“Boudin’s Port of Camaret. There’s someone here to see you.”

“A friend of yours?”

“I know him.”

“Not a friend then…”

“We used to be. I haven’t seen him for years.”

“What does he want?”

“He wouldn’t tell me, just that he needs to see you. He works for the British government Amelia.”

Amelia removed her coat and hat, and made sure her hair wasn’t about to embarrass her. “I suppose I shouldn’t keep him waiting then… My office?”

“No, I had him wait in your favourite spot.”

Amelia leaned down and gave the Professor a kiss on the cheek. “What would I do without you René?”

He smiled and let the rhetorical question float by him.

Amelia made her way upstairs to the North-East corner of the fifth floor, where she found a man in jeans and a leather jacket, staring out through the clock face which offered a view of the Jardin des Tuileries, and Sacré Coeur in the distance.

“What kind of government official wears jeans and a leather jacket?” She asked.

“The kind staying under the radar.” The man replied as he turned and offered a handshake.

“Amelia Munroe” she announced as she shook his hand.

“Richard Westbrook,” he replied, “I represent Her Majesty’s government.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise – we’ve been following your career with great interest.”

“Why does that always sound ominous?”

“It isn’t meant to. We simply keep an eye on persons of interest to us.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make it better.”

“I know. But you needn’t worry, I’m merely here to offer you an opportunity… You have skills that are, how would you say, useful to my government. You graduated from Harvard and then Cambridge, worked at the Met for three years before leaving America – now unable to return, the reasons given by your CIA are typically vague. We lose track of you for a couple of years and then you turn up working here at the Musée D’Orsay under your former tutor at Cambridge, our mutual friend Professor Carabin, as an expert in impressionist art, and… how does one say it? And obtainer of pieces of interest.”

“Do you need me here for this conversation or should I get another cup of coffee?”

“Forgive me, I only meant to ask if you could fill in the gap for me – what did you do for those two years?”

“None of your business.”

“Amelia, I’m not here to dig into your past…”

“All evidence to the contrary.”

“Her Majesty’s government would like for you to perform a service for us.”

“Mr Westbrook…”

“Richard, please.”

“Richard, I’m an American. We’re not really accustomed to doing favours for Her Majesty’s government. Unless it’s bailing you out of a war of course.”

“I said a service, not a favour.”

Amelia paused and looked out through the clock face to the city spread out below them.

“What do you want, Mr Westbrook?” She asked, pointedly using his surname, which was not lost on him.

“We’d like for you to go to India for us, inspect a piece of art, verify its authenticity and if it is genuine, recover it for us.”

“And for this service, what do I get?”

“The thanks of a grateful government.”

“I hope that was your attempt at a joke.”

“What do you want?”

“My usual fee, all costs covered… René can give you the details.”

“This might exceed the bounds of your usual recoveries.”

“What haven’t you told me?”

“This piece isn’t… available. It’s in a private collection, and it’s meant to stay that way. It’s not available at any price.”

“Go on?”

“The piece is the property of Sanchit Singh, the business man. Do you know him?”

“I know of him.”

“He’s going to run for President of India next year. The British government can’t get involved with him, on any level. This piece of art was stolen from the Prado in Madrid a decade ago, taken to India, and Singh now hangs it in his main office, the penthouse suite of his flagship hotel in Mumbai.”

“You want me to steal from a man who might be the next President of India.”

“Given your attitudes towards your own Presidents in the past, I would have thought that would be no problem.”

“We have an expression where I come from; Take a hike. You came here to ask me to do something illegal for you, and I really don’t need that kind of trouble right now, so what are we talking about?”

“I can help you with the Americans.”

For all her headstrong attitude, and all her love of Paris, the smallest hint of being able to return home stopped Amelia in her tracks. “And I’m supposed to just trust you?”

“I realise it’s a stretch.”

She ran her hand through her hair to cover her face for a moment, buying herself a few seconds to compose her thoughts.

“If I do this, I’m not doing it for you, your government, or for the promise of whatever carrot you have to dangle in front of me. If I do this, the museum gets the piece when we’re done.”

“I can agree to that – but if you do this, there is no ‘we’ – you and I haven’t met, and you won’t see me again unless you’re successful.”

“I can live with the disappointment.”

He pulled a card from his inside coat pocket, “Call this number, whenever you’re in France, and someone will get a message to me securely. In India, you’re on your own. You’ll find your usual fee has already been transferred to your account.”

“You were sure I’d say yes?”

Richard started walking away as he responded; “No, but my guys have been listening in this whole time and they’ll have it done faster than you can check it.”

– –

“Comms check?” Amelia asked, holding her finger close to her ear, ready to adjust the position of the earpiece. She felt like a secret service woman, in her suit and sunglasses, but with none of the actual authority of those agents.

“Loud and clear Madam, no problems.” Bhavin replied. Nominally, Bhavin was her driver, but in reality he was more akin to a “fixer”. René had put them in touch after Westbrook’s visit, knowing anything Amelia needed, she could get from him. He had been a student of René’s at Cambridge a few years after Amelia had departed, and she was reliably informed that his various interests in Mumbai made him a considerable income each month, as well as possessing many useful contacts. He insisted on calling Amelia “Madam” regardless of the fact that he earned more than she did – Amelia assumed it was because he struggled to pronounce her name well. She didn’t care about that, but Bhavin’s insisted.

She looked up at the hotel. It had been built only a few years ago and named Singh’s Mumbai Grand Hotel. Nobody needed it explaining to whom it referred. However there was work constantly taking place in and around the structure, on scaffolding made of bamboo and strung together with rope. None of the angles seemed right to Amelia, the entire structure seemed to lean this way and that, but somehow it remained standing, even with the workers moving casually around it.

She glanced back to Bhavin, who had parked their car outside the main gate, pointing towards the expressway. Something in her gaze must have seemed uncertain as Bhavin’s voice came through their radio-link almost instantly.

“Good luck Madam, I’ll be here for you.”

“Thank you Bhavin. Keep the chatter to a minimum, okay?”

“Okay Madam, no problems.”

She walked forward and entered the building via the kitchen door. The staff glanced up, but only briefly. Amelia wondered if they spoke English, but kept her focus solely on making her way across the room and into the restaurant beyond. She avoided eye contact and as she reached the door on the far side of the kitchen, removed her glasses and let her hair out of the bun she had tied it in. She was less Secret Service now as just a business woman in a very westernised hotel. “Just blend in” she told herself. “Confidence is all it takes.”

At the last second, she spotted a Lazy Susan near the door and started wheeling it along herself.

“What are you doing?” a voice enquired.

“Taking this to Mr Singh’s suite.” she barked back. That seemed to settle all debate. It was a good lie, Amelia thought, since it was all true. She was taking it to Mr Singh’s suite. The fact that he was in Delhi for the weekend didn’t need to be a part of their discussion.

She crossed the restaurant and headed to the private elevator opposite. This would be more tricky. The kitchen staff wouldn’t keep such a close track of Singh’s movements, but the security guard at the top of his private elevator would know that he was not in residence. She proceeded regardless, pressing the button and entering the elevator when it arrived. She felt her throat tighten as she rode it to the penthouse suite, an invisible hand wrapped around it and slowly closing off her airway. The door opened and before her stood a man several inches taller than her, dressed in a dark suit with two obvious, awkward bulges – one over his left breast and the other on his right hip – both concealed weapons.

“What are you doing here?” he began, as Amelia wheeled the Lazy Susan from the lift. “This is Mr Singh’s private floor, how did you get up here?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Amelia stalled for a second. “I was just told to bring this food up…”

She waited for the man’s eyes to drop to the tray before suddenly ramming it into his knees. She jumped forward and thrust the palm of her hand up into his nose, causing it to bleed instantly and the man to yell out in pain.

She spun and kicked him in the head as it dropped to his hands, knocking him out. The thud he made as he hit the ground had an oddly satisfying sound to it, like dropping a sack of potatoes.

Such satisfaction however, could not be dwelled upon – Amelia moved quickly to the door of the office, locked with a combination. This was the first part of the operation that she and Bhavin had not been able to plan for. She took a blacklight from her pocket and shone it on the numbers. She could see which had been used and read them to Bhavin.

“Okay Bhavin, it’s a combination lock, numbers 0-1-4-5-7-8-9. There’s only five digits, it must be a six-digit code.”

Back in the car Bhavin sat waiting with an iPad. He typed the numbers as she spoke them.

“Give me a moment.”

Amelia looked around, noting the security cameras that Bhavin was supposed to have bypassed.

“You looped the security cameras, right Bhavin?”

“Oh yes Madam, everything’s tickity-boo.”

“Bhavin you went to Cambridge, you do realise nobody says that, don’t you?”

“Yes Madam. Can you read the numbers again?”


“Try 15-08-19-47”

“How did the iPad come up with that?”

“Not the iPad Madam, its my idea. That date is independence day. Singh is obsessed with politics.”

Amelia smiled, entered the number and the lock released. She walked calmly though the door.

“Bhavin, you’re a genius.”

“Thank you Madam.”

“When I get back, I owe you a… Holy shit.”

Amelia stopped in her tracks, seeing the piece of art that Richard Westbrook had told her about. Her heart seemed to slow down but beat harder, elongating the moment, as Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone hung before her.

“Are you alright Madam?” Bhavin asked.

“I’m fine.” Amelia stuttered. “I’m in the office. The piece of art is Starry Night Over the Rhone.”

“I thought it was already in your museum?”

Amelia found her feet again and moved to it. “It is. That’s the point. One of them is a forgery.”

She examined the painting up close.

“Which one is… Hold on…” Bhavin’s voice suddenly had an edge and urgency that was not present until now.

“It’s this one. This one is real.” Amelia confirmed, oblivious to the change in his voice.

“Madam, there are men on their way.” Bhavin continued with ever-increasing sharpness. “You have to take the painting.”


Amelia looked around the room and saw a wardrobe in the far corner of the room. She rushed to it and flung the door open, finding a suitcase. In it she quickly stuffed a couple of suits to add padding, then returned to the painting.

“One minute Madam” Bhavin informed her “I can see them on the monitors – coming up the stairs”.

Amelia cringed, her stomach doing backflips and the lump in her throat growing by the second.

“Vincent Van Gogh, please forgive me…” she muttered as she took the painting from the wall and closed it into the suitcase. She then sprinted for the other room of the office, carrying the suitcase. She opened the door to the second room, and saw the terrifying task which was now before her. The window was open, leading to the bamboo scaffolding, which she would have to climb down.

The workers on the scaffold looked stunned, but apathetic, as Amelia climbed out through the window and onto the scaffold. Wind that had been non-existent on the ground now blew her hair around her face, obscuring her view for a second. When her vision returned she looked out from the tenth floor scaffold and saw nothing but the potential fall below her. The only crumb of comfort was seeing Bhavin’s car the other side of the wall at the bottom of the scaffold. She didn’t give herself time to dwell on the height, instead immediately lowering herself awkwardly from level to level within the frames. She felt her heart beating like a bass drum against her ribcage and sweat flowing from her forehead and hands as she moved. Carrying the suitcase with her slowed her considerably, and for a moment she weighed the risk of throwing it down before her, but decided against it.

She heard a shout from above her, quickly followed by a gunshot.

“Not the painting!” she found herself shout involuntarily from six floors below, before regaining a pinch of composure and wondering why she was more concerned with the painting than herself.

“Bhavin I’m at the fourth floor, start the car.”

“Already started Madam.”

She swung herself down another level, clattering the suitcase against the upright of the scaffold.

“I’m going to jump onto the wall.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea Madam…” Bhavin managed to get out half of his sentence before she jumped. He heard a thud and a groan through the radio, leaned out of the car and saw the suitcase and an arm, hanging over the wall. He deduced that Amelia was dangling from the other side moments before seeing her pull herself onto the two-storey-high wall. He heard two more gunshots as Amelia turned around and lowered herself as far down the wall as possible before letting go and falling to the ground and yelling in pain over the radio.

Bhavin flinched, then lurched the car forward to her and swung open the door.

“Come on Madam.”

Amelia threw in the suitcase and then lifted herself gingerly into the back of the car and closed the door.

“Just drive.”

Bhavin did – immediately blending in to the traffic heading towards and onto the expressway.

– –

Paris shimmered in the evening sun as Amelia looked out from her favourite window in the Musée D’Orsay, the quiet buzz of the museum comforting and consoling her while she felt her right ankle twinge as she put a little more weight onto it.

“That can’t feel right.” Richard Westbrook’s voice cut through the hum. “I hope it was worth it.”

“You should have told me.”

“What the piece was?”


“Would you have still done it if you’d know?”


“Easy to say now… Regardless, we appreciate your efforts.”

Amelia examined Richard’s face, finding no discernible expression to clue her in to his sincerity.

“I am curious about one thing.” he continued. “You wanted the museum to have the piece if you happened to recover it, before you knew it was one you already displayed.”

Thought we displayed.”

“Well, indeed. But given that you didn’t know yours was a forgery, what difference does it make?”

“It makes a big difference. Contrary to what you might think, it matters a great deal whether one it dealing with the genuine article. The original piece is the truth of what Van Gogh wanted to express, and he did it without the expectation of it being seen by very many people. Even the very slightest brush-stroke difference changes that truth. Art is our means of understanding our past, for better or worse, and if we disguise or distort that past, we don’t learn from it. Art has to belong to the people, not the select few who can afford to buy up our cultural history simply because it looks good on their office wall, or to show off their wealth.”

Westbrook half-smiled.

“I agree.” he said simply. “Why do you think we got in touch with you?”

“I honestly haven’t a clue.” Amelia replied. “Have you been to see the painting?”

“That’s my next stop.”

Amelia grinned the look of someone who knows what a treat their friend is about to experience. “It’s quite something.” She stated, mysteriously.

“I believe you.” Westbrook replied, with a voice that sounded kind for the first time. “We’ll be in touch, Miss Munroe.”

Amelia smiled and replied with a question; “Richard Westbrook? That isn’t your real name is it?”

“No it’s not.” He replied, turned and began to leave.

She laughed to herself. Spies would be spies, she supposed, wondering if her latest adventure made her one of them. She called after him, and was oblivious to his smile at her reference.

“Richard, I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

A Serious Situation

Now I know what you’re thinking, performing a vasectomy on a Badger using your wife’s shoes with a gun to your head sounds like a serious situation. And you’d be absolutely right. In fact, as serious situations go, it’s right up there. And in such situations, there’s really only one thing to do; defuse the tension with comedy.

“At least we’re not trying to do this with a pair of flip-flops” I quipped, glancing at the man holding the gun and wondering how exactly he’d got hold of a  Colt “357” Magnum in the middle of the Isle of Mann.

When I say “man holding the gun” I might be over-stating his age a touch. He looked like he could easily be best mates with Justin Bieber, and had a hairstyle that only a teenager would seriously appear in public with. In fact, come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure that he wasn’t Justin Bieber, except that I imagine the pop star to come with an entourage that threatens timid veterinarians on his behalf.

I tried to focus on the vasectomy, when it suddenly occurred to me that if I’d learnt anything from Clint Eastwood, it’s that you have to be a grade-A level stone-cold badass to fire a 357 Magnum one-handed and not have it do more damage to you than your intended victim. Particularly from across the room, the chances are that you’d probably miss and the recoil would knock the gun from your hand. Do I feel lucky?

This is what counted as a comfort in this time of insanity.

My wife meanwhile, was taking this all in her stride, surprisingly. Perhaps it was shock that was keeping her quiet, but she was sat very still in the far corner of the operating room, clutching her handbag.

Fuck it. This badger’s just going to have to make do without the vasectomy.

I turned and in one motion threw both shoes at Justin Bieber’s mate. He looked as surprised as a meerkat that just discovered LSD, and instinctively fired the gun before the shoes hit him, throwing him backwards into a cabinet of books and knocking a stone carving of a trout onto his head, rendering him unconscious, possibly dead. I wasn’t sure. I’m only a vet after all.

Unfortunately for me, I was in fact, not lucky. The bullet hit me right in the heart and I was dead in under a minute.

Two hours later, I woke up, propped up against a bar, with a bottle of tequila next to me, bearing a post-it note with the writing “George says hi”. I inferred a reference to the great George Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, and general horror legend. I also deduced that I was therefore what you would call “a zombie” but given that I was able to make such a deduction, I realised that Romero hadn’t got everything right when it came to my new brethren.

The writing on my post-it note was my wife’s. I didn’t blame her for leaving – it can’t be easy to watch your husband get shot at the very best of times. I wondered how long it had been before she realised I had reanimated (or whatever you call it) and why I didn’t remember that part, yet at the same time remembering the lyrics to her favourite song, “Call Me Maybe”. Quite why anyone would want them to call them “Maybe” had always escaped me, it’s a terrible name. I’d quite like people to call me “Maverick” but the suggestion was laughed down at my bachelor party.

It hadn’t been a particularly good day (what with dying and all), so I was about to take myself home, when the stripper made her nightly appearance. She was announced as “the Princess of Lichtenstein”, with an image of her riding a tongue (an idea lovingly ripped off from a Rolling Stones album cover) behind her, with “Lichtenstein” scribbled out and replaced in a scrawl with “lick-ten-times”. Her connection to the royal family of Lichtenstein was never proven, partly because by the middle of the routine anybody who doubted the veracity of her claim to royalty had been distracted somehow.

She performed her usual routine, which I’d never really paid any attention to before, but she certainly knew what she was doing on the pole and showed a great deal of flexibility, along with a surprising amount of grace. She got dressed and came to the bar, sitting next to me. She looked across at me and grinned a mischievous grin of which the Cheshire cat would have been proud.

I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too. This was not lost on her. She took a shot of my tequila (without asking, I might add, not that I was complaining) then poured two for me, telling me to “keep up” without any apparent recognition of the double entendre. Within minutes, we were in the (disgustingly dirty) toilet cubicle and she had my trousers around my ankles, attempting to prove whether or not I was still “fully functional”.

I was. It was glorious. Really brightened up my day.

We returned to the bar and had some more tequila to wash our mouths out, before checking into the motel next door. She paid in cash. Show-off.

The next thing I knew, the sun was shining on my face and some flies were hovering above my head, which ached as if someone had done exploratory surgery on it in the middle of the night. I looked over to the other side of the bed, expecting a naked woman and finding only her head and the empty bottle of tequila.

At the foot of the bed was an extremely muscular man, with plenty of tattoos, who did not look best pleased with the situation he found himself presented with. I sympathised. You know it’s not going to be a great day when you wake up dead, and you can be fairly sure it’ll be a bad day when you wake up dead with a hangover, an empty bottle of tequila, and the head of the princess of Lichtenstein…

Questy McQuestface

Chapter 1: The Draw

The old town hall of the village of Huron sat proudly over the village square, its thatched roof glowing golden in the light of the evening sun. On a stage in front of the wooden building, the town council had gathered behind the Mayor as he hushed the assembled townsfolk. He was a stocky man, but despite his position of authority he did without the grandeur usually associated with heads of governments.

“We come together on this solstice night, to draw from amongst you a champion. For too long has this wretched dragon decimated our livestock and scorched our crops.”

The crowd cheered in unanimous agreement.

“As was prophesied years ago, one amongst us will one day rid us of this foul beast, to bring freedom and security to our lands!”

More cheering. Mayor Torgorson was popular, and an anti-dragon speech was always a crowd pleaser.

“In this cauldron are the names of all the eligible warriors of the village – and Elder Sonnesyn, writer of the prophecy, High Priest of Huron, will draw the name.”

The priest stepped forward in traditional robes with silk embroidery and a pointed hat. He reached into the cauldron and pulled out a piece of parchment. Without waiting, he shouted the name he had drawn.

“Kate Torgorson”!

The crowd cheered, not realising the awkwardness of the situation. The Mayor urged quiet, as his daughter made her way to the stage. She was a diminutive presence, but in athletic shape.

“There must be a mistake” the Mayor said to the Priest, away from the crowd, “you drew the wrong name”!

“I did advise that adding girls to the draw might result in this happening.” The Priest protested.

“I had to keep the feminist lobby happy” the Mayor explained, bypassing for the moment his familial connection.

“The feminist lobby? Who’s that?”

“My wife, mostly” replied the Mayor, realising that as well as losing his daughter to death-by-dragon, this turn of events probably also meant his imminent divorce.


Chapter 2: The Council

“You can’t demand special treatment just because she’s your daughter!” one of the council members barked.

“We can’t just keep doing it over again until we get to the right result, it’s not a referendum!” another chimed in.

“But she’ll be killed” Mayor Torgorson protested.

“Father I want to do it – I want to prove myself.” Kate interjected.

“Quiet girl, you don’t know what you’re talking about” her father said, regretting it as soon as he’d spoken and seeing rage build in his daughter’s eyes.

“See, she wants to fight” the first council member declared “its always somebody’s son Torgorson. It’s just bad luck for you that she’s the first girl.”

“Fine…” the Mayor conceded as his daughter beamed a smile at him. “Sonneyson will train her as he does all the champions.”

“Thank you father”

“Don’t thank me yet, I still have to face your mother… Goodness only knows how I’ll survive that conversation.”


Chapter 3: Training

Kate knocked on the door of the circular building on the edge of the town where the old Priest Sonneyson lived alone. He answered the door and ushered her quickly inside. Kate was surprised to see a series of boxes on the floor, containing the Priest’s few belongings and ceremonial garb.

“What are you doing?” Kate asked, somewhat rhetorically.

“Packing. Leaving.” replied Sonneyson, hurriedly scooping the last of his mugs into a box.

“But you have to train me…” Kate protested “That’s your job – you’ve done it for every champion we’ve ever had!”

“Different now. Never a girl before.”

Kate, viewing this comment with the same sympathy as a bull seeing a red rag waved in front of them, was about to launch into her usual tirade, but Sonneyson cut her off.

“You might as well know – the whole prophecy is a fraud. I’m a fraud. The town council came up with the idea of a prophecy years ago as a means of making it seem like they’re dealing with the dragon problem without having to assume any actual responsibility themselves. I haven’t been training the champions – when we told the town we were going to train away from everyone, we actually just went to Mandalas and I treated them to a night of heavy drinking to celebrate their imminent death.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not… Look… I have armour, a sword, and a bow, they’re over there somewhere – take them, they’re yours.”

“What if I just tell everyone what you’ve told me?”

“I’ll just deny it and accuse you of being a coward. And everyone will believe me because I’m ‘High Priest’ and you’re a woman.”

“Really taking the moral high-road here aren’t you?” Kate’s tone was a mix of defeat and resentment.

“I’m not going to be a part of getting anyone else killed. Goodbye.”

Sonneyson jumped through the doorway and was half way down the road before Kate could formulate a reply. She looked over to the suit of armour, sword and bow, and walked to them. She held out her hand and felt the cold steel on her fingertips. She pulled the sword from its scabbard and saw her green eyes reflected on the shining blade.

“Never send a woman to do a man’s job? Well… let’s test that theory…”


Chapter 4: Confrontation

The dragon’s lair was deep within mountains, a day’s ride from the village. Kate rode alone, but behind her came the village council, at a distance far enough to be hidden from her, but close enough to observe her progress.

Kate had tied her long blonde hair back out of her eyes and had crudely drawn the family crest onto the shield. She reached the point in the valley where the river was widest and the dragon usually drank – according to one of the elders who was vague when asked how he knew this.

The dragon was awe-inspiringly huge, with teeth that out-shined her sword (and she assumed, correctly, were also sharper than her own blade). The dragon’s red skin blazed in the evening sun but for the moment its wings remained dormant.

Kate dismounted her horse and walked loudly alongside the river, stomping loudly on the gravel and stones, occasionally splashing a foot into the stream. The village council watched.

“What is she doing?” one whispered.

“Stupid girl’s going to get herself killed faster than that asthmatic boy we sent a couple of years ago” another answered.

Kate banged her sword against her shield as she paced further towards the dragon, who had now turned his head to look at the source of the noise, which had disturbed what until that point had been a very relaxing Saturday afternoon.


The council held their heads in their hands. This was a waste of some very finely crafted armour. The dragon stood motionless, apparently unthreatened.

“AND I AM HERE TO MAKE PEACE WITH YOU!” Kate bellowed, to the surprise of the council and the dragon equally.

She threw down her sword and shield, and followed them with her bow.

“The girl’s insane” the first councilman stated, incredulous.

“Maybe it’s a trick… Lull the dragon into a false sense of security…” the other offered, not genuinely believing it, but not coming up with any other explanation for her behaviour.

“False sense of security? It’s a dragon you fool, it can kill her with a swat of its tail!”

Kate continued to stride towards the beast. The dragon spread his wings wide and roared, showing his full set of teeth. Kate lowered herself into a kind of reverential bow.

“Peace?” the dragon spoke, in a booming Shakespearian voice. “Every year you send a man to kill me and now you talk of peace? I have no need to make peace with you!”

Kate finally came to a stop, well within striking distance of the dragon’s wings. “I am Kate, daughter of the Mayor, and I am no man.”

The dragon pulled his wings back to his body and cocked his head to the side in surprise. Kate continued;

“We have lived as enemies for many years, but it doesn’t have to be this way – I’m prepared to negotiate a truce between us. One that will benefit us both.”

“I could incinerate you where you stand, girl.”

“I have no doubt, but one day one of our champions will kill you – and if not one of ours, the next village, or the one after that. Or we could live together, under each other’s protection.”

“Tell me what you propose.”

“We will breed some livestock and grow crops each year exclusively for you – you can come and eat whenever you like. In return, we stop trying to kill you, and get the other villages to do the same. If the time comes that other villages attack us, you defend us.”

“How will you get the other villages to agree to stop attacking me?”

“Simple – they won’t have any reason to want you dead. And to prove that you’re not ill-willed towards them, you’ll let me ride you from village to village to explain our arrangement.”

The dragon roared angrily and reared up, spreading his wings threateningly. “Nobody rides me.”

Kate took a few steps back and her foot landed on her shield. She wondered briefly if she should pick it up, but decided against it. Instead she repeated her demand;

“You will let me ride you – as a passenger, not a master.”

The town council, from behind a rock, nocked arrows in their bows. This had been one of the more interesting encounters, but they always ended the same way. Angry dragon, charred corpse.

But the dragon calmed, and took steps forward until his face was inches away from Kate’s, searching it for signs of treachery. Finding none, he stepped back.

“I agree to your proposal.”

“Bloody hell” the first councilman exclaimed.

“What do we do now?” the second asked.

“Same thing we always do – go back to the town and explain what’s happened, take all the credit and throw ourselves a big parade.”

“What about the girl?”

“Give her a job that sounds impressive but is ultimately powerless?”

“Prime Minister?”



Chapter 5: Back At Home

“That’s it?” asked the Mayor, as Kate finished recounting her tale around the dinner-table. “That’s all that happened?”

“That’s all – the dragon is flying down next week for the ceremony making me Prime Minister.”

“So let me get this straight; Your name got picked from the cauldron, it took all of one sentence to convince the council to let you go, Sonneyson refused to mentor you, but it didn’t matter because you didn’t manage to get into an actual fight anyway, you made friends with the big bad dragon instead, and the council made you Prime Minister…”


“What kind of a hero’s journey do you call that?”

“Pretty successful one I guess.”

Five Year Mission

I’ve made a huge mistake. 

It was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. Of several lifetimes. The first mission of its kind, exploring the unknown in a self sustaining starship. They had an entire world on one vessel, everything they could possibly need to live their lives as frontiersmen and women, in search of a suitable location for the first off-world colony. And when they found that location, they would begin the process of establishing the foundations of that colony, whilst they waited for the first team of colonists to arrive.

Mark Wilson’s role was two-fold. First, his previous employment as an actor made him part of the entertainment team on board the ship, performing plays, music, telling stories and keeping the crew in good spirits on the long voyage. Secondly, and more importantly, he had volunteered to be one of the “founding fathers” of the new colony. For substantial remuneration, his job once they arrived, was to get as many women as possible pregnant, to begin populating the new world, whilst they waited for the colonial ship, which was still under construction back on Earth and due to be completed at the end of their ship’s five year voyage.

He brought his mind back to the present moment, the feeling of apprehension tightening his throat as he was rocked back and forth by his companion gyrating on top of him.

Fuck what’s her name?

He briefly panicked. It didn’t really matter what her name was, but it was definitely rude not to know. The arrangement was that he was available to any woman on the crew who wanted to be a mother, no discussion necessary. There were “founding mothers” amongst them who had agreed to perform that role, but everyone had a second function.

Emily. Emily something. 

It popped back into his head, but by this point he was already distracted. This was the fourth time today and he hadn’t had lunch yet. 

Maybe the galley could put together a quick BLT for me. Or a bit of pasta… Fuck, concentrate.

Emily kissed him and ran her tongue over his lips. He ran his hands up from her legs to her back and pulled her close to him. She ran a hand over his short hair and he relaxed.

Okay, this is fine… Fine? A gorgeous woman is screwing you and you say “fine”? What is wrong with you?

He’d signed up as a joke. The chances of finding a suitable world within the five year mission were remote, and even if they did find somewhere, were he to be selected, the money was too good to turn down. 

Some joke…

None of the crew anticipated that the first planet they visited would prove to be their new home. Mark had barely unpacked into his few quarters before they had arrived. That was a month ago. Since then he’d become a glorified sex toy and not much else. Everyone else looked useful. He was still performing the plays he and the other actors had prepared before the trip, but the whole crew had seen the entire repertoire by this point and regardless were much more excited by the process of setting up the first new city. They’d have to come up with some new material – perhaps something original, even though they had thousands of plays available to them in the memory banks of the computer. 

Maybe something new and something old as a double bill? We should do some Shakespeare. Best steer clear of The Tempest though.

“Do you like that?” Emily whispered in a low, sultry voice.

Mark wasn’t sure what she was doing that was any different than a minute ago, his mind was working through the back catalogue of plays he’d performed back on Earth.

“Mmmm yeah” he lied, unconvincingly. Emily continued regardless.

This is stupid. She’s a perfectly attractive woman, just find the things you like about her and focus on them.

Emily was not one of the founding mothers, Mark recalled, she had just shown up in the bar one evening after a performance, and they’d been introduced. As far as Mark could remember, their conversation was nothing more than the usual small talk. Obviously they’d spoken about their roles on the ship. Hers was something to do with engineering.

She’s too hot to be an engineer… I must be remembering that wrong.

Her blonde hair tickled his face as she kissed his chest and rib cage. She pulled it back over her shoulder as she sat up and looked into Mark’s eyes with a cheeky smile.

“I like how your dick feels inside me”.

What can you even say to that? “Thank you”, I guess? Shut up, brain, get out of the way.

He tried and failed to maintain eye contact with her, as she ran her hands through her hair, accentuating the prominence of her breasts. 

“You like these?” She asked, entirely rhetorically. 

Mark sat up and put an arm around her back so that their chests met.

“Of course I do”.

She grabbed his head and pressed it between her breasts.

“I want you to fuck me from behind.” 

Mark’s reply was muffled and inaudible. Emily was in charge anyway, he had to do whatever she wanted.

The month since they’d landed on the new planet had been busy, but he’d still had time to consider the reality that now faced him. The colony ship would not be arriving for at least five years – quite probably more. By the time it did, he might have fathered a hundred kids or more. The thought crept back into his head…

A hundred kids… I mean, I know I don’t have any legal responsibilities to them, but someone has to be a father to them.

Emily had got up off him now and had leaned up against the wall. Somehow Mark had picked himself up and was standing too, but despite Emily’s attractiveness, it was obvious to both of them that his erection was fading.

“What are you waiting for?” Emily asked, a very slight hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. “Get over here and fuck me, daddy.”

Why did she have to say that? I hate it, I don’t care that that’s what I’m here to become, I don’t need that in my head while we’re trying to do this.

He took a couple of steps over to her and spun her around so her hands were on the wall and his were around her midriff. Emily let out a little encouraging gasp as she felt a swell of energy.

Fine, you want me to just fuck you, I’ll fuck you.

He grabbed his penis and tried to shake it into action, rubbing it against her ass. 

“Come on, just do it. Stick it in me.” 

Oh really, is that what I’m supposed to do? I had no idea… This is some plan, populate the colony by having the entire crew screw each other.

The reality of the situation was driven by economics more than science. The ship could only support a few hundred people for five years, and nobody knew how long it would take to find a new home, so storing fertilised eggs was also not practical. That was why the founding mothers and fathers were chosen – for their genetic predisposition to intelligence and strength. The group was weighted heavily with women, the theory being that one man can impregnate a hundred women, but a hundred women can only carry a hundred babies. Yes, for the first generation many would be related, but over time that problem would be diluted and the gene pool diversified.

But it only works if I can get it up… God, this is so not the time for an existential crisis…

“I can’t do this.” 

“What do you mean?” Emily turned around and kissed him. “Sure you can…”

She reached down as he tried to pull away and felt his penis, no longer erect. Her hand was no more effective an encouragement than his own…

“Seriously? This is the only reason you’re here.” 

The aggravation in her voice was no longer masked.

“I can’t be a dad to hundreds of kids.” He continued.

“Literally nobody wants that. You’re a donor, nothing more. You’re here for your genetics. You’re an actor for crying out loud, it’s not like you’re much use doing anything else.”

“We can try again another time.” He offered, unenthusiastically.

“I’m on a schedule – and there’s plenty of other guys who can do a man’s job, since you’re apparently incapable.”

Ouch… I can hardly believe I’m thinking it, but I need something more than this. 

He was about to explain this argument when the door chimed. Emily pushed the button to open it, revealing another woman, surprised to be presented with two naked people in front of her.

“Oh if you’re busy, I can come back.”

Mark sighed.

Why couldn’t we have just sent some robots?