A while back, I wrote a novel. Which happens, I suppose. I didn’t do a lot with it, because I had other things going on. And short stories turned out to be more fun. So it’s under the table somewhere. It wasn’t Edwardian – it was a tale of dystopian Britain, wrecked by civil war, and a world generally coming apart at the seams.
If you need a place for it, you might call it Dark Young Adult, though I’m not sure that helps. It was called Strange Weapons. It had some nasty bits, some gentle bits, and a lot of worried people in it. Here’s a sample, because – well, why not….
A Taste of Other Weapons
“…Power failing here. We can’t evacuate, repeat, we can’t evacuate. The lifts are dead, the stairs blockaded. Another transport has arrived, with Department troops, heavily armed. A Dog is shielding them. Neil and I won’t be taken. If I have to, I’ll burn and take them all with us… Jesus, look out, Neil…”
Last message received, Gail Koenig, Weapons unit, Government-occupied Derby
I didn’t have it together when I tramped back down the iron stairs. Too much going on in my head. What had been the point of going to Mr Kwan? I’d learned nothing. I kicked up dust along the corridors, and felt well pissed off. It was only when I was passing the abandoned offices that I realised what was different.
Light. Very bright light outside, in what had been a moonlit evening.
I crept to the door. There was a window, a cobwebbed single pane the size of a bus-shelter, next to the door, and I peered over the sill. Figures were moving about out there, on the other side of the yard. Silhouettes and shadows. I couldn’t work out where the light was coming from. Maybe it was a late delivery, truck headlights lined up at the front. So I opened the door a few centimetres…
The year before, I had been on the edge of what they liked to call an incident in the City. Internees had burst out of the Canary Wharf Holding Facility (the Birdcage, as we all called it), and were being flushed into dead-ends so they could be put back. From what Jay and I could see through the gas clouds, no-one cared what sort of shape the internees were in when they were returned.
That was what I could smell now. Riot gas.
These dark figures weren’t part of the safe-house network. They were black-clads, armoured bodies trotting from corner to corner of the storage buildings, hand signals flashing between them. Their helmets were sealed, and their weapons were up.
Our dorm was twenty metres away from where I was standing, so I did the only thing I could.
“Trouble!” I yelled at the top of my voice. “Get down!”
What anyone would make of that, I had no idea, but at least I’d given some sort of warning. Where were the lookouts? Surely someone was watching out for trouble?
A heavily-armed figure turned in my direction, and signalled the others. Now I saw that they had arc-lights, mounted on some sort of vehicle at the front of the plant. I was standing half in the open, in the wrong place…
Before I could move, chips of concrete were flying all around me. A bullet screamed off the metal door frame, and then a gas grenade shot across the doorway and rolled on, almost hitting me. I dropped to my knees behind the door, wondering if I should play dead. I couldn’t outrun bullets.
They were heading straight for me, three or more of them. Oh, frak, frak. A coldness was growing inside me, the feeling I’d had when Mr Kwan had gripped my hand. For a heart-beat I thought that the world blurred…
And then something else happened. Something very different.
It welled up from deep in night, and it came with a heavy, booming sound which almost deafened me to the gunfire. I felt it pass by me, brushing my face and moving on, felt the energy surging towards the combat police, and I saw what it did. There was a lot of screaming, some of it probably mine…
Twenty metres away. Three combat police behind full-length shields. The energy found them, and drove the metal and plastic shields into their bodies in jagged shards. They died kicking and flailing, a knot of torn flesh.
Twenty five metres away. A half-armoured woman reloading a grenade launcher. The launcher folded in on itself, the metal crumpling as I watched. She shrieked and tore her helmet off. Blood, a deep crimson colour, spurted from her ears, her nostrils. Blood turned the shriek into a wet, choking sound that brought up my last meal.
Thirty metres away, next to the refectory building. The officer next in line, ready with more gas rounds. I saw him ripping frantically at his body-armour, breaking his fingernails, trying to tear it off him, and then…
I looked away. Part of his head landed in the yard a second later, smearing the tarmac. The two black-clads behind him went the same way.
The painfully bright arc-lights silhouetted a few more armoured figures out there. A second pulse of energy found them before they could move. The arc lights shone red briefly through the swirling gas, then burst with an ear-splitting crash.
The light had died, the firing had stopped. It was that quick. Three, maybe four seconds had passed since I’d fallen to my knees. I wiped my sleeve across my face to get rid of most of the vomit, and tried not to see the body parts. Trembling, I clung to the door frame and looked towards the dorms. A man with long white hair was walking slowly between the buildings, his figure becoming more and more distinct as the gas and smoke began to settle. He showed no apparent caution.
Bodies and equipment littered the yard. Two bursts of that energy, that was all it had taken. There were no moans or cries for help as he walked past the bodies, and I vomited again, empty and hoarse this time.
He glanced at me.
“Come here.” An accent, almost American but not quite.
I staggered to my feet, my eyes watering. He didn’t seem bothered by any of it. New lights were flickering on now, small halogens mounted on the plant walls. They only showed some of the scene, but it was enough.
“Peter Carveni, isn’t it?” He had a smooth, confident tone, as if nothing much had happened. I was surveyed by sharp eyes set in a sunburned face.
“You… you did all this? On your own…”
“They were armed, and threatening the safe-house. I pointed out the mistake they’d made.” he said calmly.
There were more people coming, and footsteps from somewhere behind me as well. Presumably there were other Weapons around the place. Voices from every side, some calm, some clearly agitated. He looked down at the remains on the ground. I didn’t want to see that again.
“I was eating.” he said, pulling at his grey-white beard. “Beef, I think. Definitely potatoes, underdone as usual. Then one of my team ran in to say that she thought there were intruders. And so there were…”
He walked on, out of the pools of light and into the wreckage of people and equipment.
I twisted round, making myself dizzy, to see Mr Kwan behind me in the side entrance, flanked by two men I didn’t recognise.
“I’m not… not hurt.”
“I know that,” he said with a flash of irritation. “I want you to take a message.”
“Yes, Mr Kwan,” I managed to say.
“Good.” He muttered something to the younger man next to him. “Tell Mr Slater that there are survivors out there, stunned, not dangerous. I can feel one woman in particular. She has a head wound, and needs to be brought to me. She can be saved. I shall contact Mr Cardew.”
He and the others turned, went back into the building. I made my way as best I could into the moonlight, avoiding bodies and parts of bodies, keeping my eyes on the shadowy figure of what must be Mr Slater. I tripped over a broken gun at one point, but righted myself.
I caught up with Slater by the wrecked arc-lights, their huge lenses shattered, sprayed with blood. They‘d been mounted on a buggy with large rubber wheels. There were more bodies.
The air outside was cool and fresh, and it must have been raining not long ago. The white-haired man was bending over the broken lights.
“Electric motor and sound baffles. Hardly audible. Got them quite close, really.” He looked over his shoulder.
“Ah, you again. They must have thought that gas and bright lights would be a surprise, don’t you?”
They’d surprised me well enough.
“I… uh, I have a message, Mr Slater. Mr Kwan says that there’s a woman out here, wounded. He says to bring her to the Hearts. And there may be others alive.”
Slater stood up, nodding slowly. “Then help me find her and we’ll do what Mr Kwan says. I will restrain myself, if you thought I was going to go around slitting throats.” He chuckled. It didn’t cheer me up.
With only the moon illuminating the wreckage now, it was easier not to see exactly what had been done. I swallowed down bile, and started to search, looking for an intact body. An intact female body with blood on her head, presumably.
“Yes?” I had to stop myself from adding ‘Sir’.
He let go a limp arm that hung from the other side of the buggy. Most of the body was somewhere else.
“Did Mr Kwan say anything else?” He rubbed his hands on his jacket, leaving a dark stain behind.
“He said, uh, he said that Mr Cardew will be called.”
Slater opened his mouth to speak, then closed his lips tightly. He didn’t approve of Cardew – or didn’t like him, I could see that much. I didn’t like either of them. I went over beyond the buggy to help search for survivors. There weren’t many, and I saw things I can never unsee. I suppose I learned something, though. It all boiled down to Slater’s last words to me, that night.
“I saw your face back there, Carveni. You may have to get used to this.” He waved one hand casually at the carnage in the yard. “Strange wars demand strange weapons.”
Next time – back to weird books, lurchers, and whatever…