Blog

Out Now – City of the Dead

Cover for Bards and Sages Quarterly January 2020

An abandoned city, a discredited physician, and gargoyles sacrificed to household gods, such a weird mix of topics can mean only thing – I have a new story out.

“City of the Dead” is a fantasy tale that explores the limits of obligation. Left behind by a great exodus, Pyrus lives alone in an abandoned city. Every day, he makes sacrifices to his clan’s gods, to ensure his family’s safe passage and assuage the guilt of his tragic past. Can he break free from the bonds of tradition, or will the city of the dead destroy him?

“City of the Dead” is in the January 2020 edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly, available now from all good e-book stores.

Silver Sails – a flash science fiction story

Helena stared open-mouthed at the silver sails drifting across the black of space. They moved like a flock of vast and shining birds, flowing back and forth in V-shaped formations hundreds of kilometres across, blown by the solar winds between the binary stars. As they turned, one face or another would catch the light, their bright tissue rippling and folding in invisible currents.

Space

“How do they even exist?” she whispered.

Johar shrugged and steered their shuttle towards the edge of one of the flocks.

“No-one knows,” he said. “Just be grateful that they do. They’re our way out of this system.”

The nearest sail shone brightly as Johar manoeuvred them in behind it. Tweaks of the thrusters, using up their precious supply of fuel, brought them in line behind that sheet of silver.

“Your turn,” he said.

Helena rubbed her hands against her thighs then wrapped them around the grappler’s controls. Her skin was tingling, her heart beating fast, but she tried to ignore that and focus on the task in hand.

She lined up the target finder on one corner of the sail and pulled the trigger, but a jerk of her hand left the shot misaligned. The grappling cable spooled out across the void, missed its target, and trailed limply like a heavy grey thread.

“Come on Helena, you’re better than this,” Johar said. “I’ve seen you practice.”

“It’s different out here,” she said, setting that grapple to wind back in while she reluctantly lined up another one. “They’re so beautiful, it doesn’t feel right to trap them like this.”

“They’re not people, not even animals, just a strange quirk of the cosmos. They won’t know that they’re trapped.”

“I will.”

Johar sighed, unstrapped himself from his seat, and floated across the cabin to her.

“You can do this,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “I believe in you. And I believe in us. We could never afford the fuel to escape the system with rockets, but with a sail and a couple of cryo cans we can go wherever we want. It’s a whole new life for you and me.”

Helena couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Instead, she focused on the target finder, lining up the grappling shot like she’d practised so many times. Johar was right, this was their dream.

And yet…

“What if it goes wrong?” she asked. “What if the sail tears or we can’t find somewhere to settle or the place we find is dreadful or… or… or anything?”

Johar took a deep breath before he spoke.

“Sure, any of that could happen,” he said. “But if we don’t try, we know what will happen. We’ll live here our whole lives, stuck in dead-end jobs for an uncaring corporation. I’ll live through that for you, if that’s what it takes to be together. But couldn’t we have more?”

Helena looked out across the flocks of silver sails swirling against the black. She had never known such beauty could exist, never mind that it could exist here. Did she embrace that? Or did she leave it all behind, hoping that the universe might hold something more?

“Everyone I’ve ever known lives here,” she said. “Family, friends, all the places we share.”

“If it’s too much, we can stay.” Johar let go of her shoulder and drifted back to his seat. “Sell the ship, buy a little apartment instead, get by with what we have.”

His fingers stabbed at the controls, setting a course back home, then hovered over the thruster switch.

Helena imagined that apartment, the two of them raising kids in one of the city tower blocks. She imagined snatching a few hours of leisure each week with family, treasured moments between the long hours of her job. She could live with that.

The sail they were following turned with the rest of its flock. Like vast silver birds, the sails soared through the void, shining with borrowed light. The wonders of the universe were laid out before Helena.

She stilled her trembling hand and pulled the trigger. The grapple caught a corner of the sail.

Maybe she could live with this place, but she would rather dream of something more.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Live Fast and Leave a Beautiful Story

There’s something of futility in a writer’s work.

We’re always trying to capture a moment, real or imagined, to pin it permanently into place.

But nothing lasts. Your favourite blogging site might close down. Your book might go out of print. Google could refuse access to the ideas you’ve set down in a document because they claim it breaches their terms. And in the end, the terms of all our lives are impermanent. The words we set down will turn to dust, like all of us.

That’s not an argument against trying. Taking those words to a new site, saving your notes where Google can’t steal them, laying down a novel that gives joy long after you’re gone, these are all ways of asserting our own existence, of forcing meaning on the universe, of making ourselves just a little bigger and the world just a little better. You can’t escape death, but everything else is up for grabs.

Stories told around a campfire are as valid as those etched in marble a hundred feet high. It doesn’t have to be permanent to matter, because nothing is forever.

Live fast and leave a beautiful story.

Dread the Dawn – a flash fantasy story

I dreaded the dawn, not because it would change anything, but because it would show me the truth.

Sunrise over the desert.

Night after night we had fled across the desert, straining at every step against the sand that tried to hold us back. My legs ached and my throat rasped from the dry, dusty air. Patches of skin that had been blistered by the midday sun now felt the bitter chill of the cloudless dark.

Every moment was etched with terror as I watched for our pursuers. Sometimes I would see one of them looming out of the moonlight, would raise my hand and summon ancient power. My palm would blaze and the creature would be driven back, teeth gnashing and claws slashing at the air, or it would be exposed as just a figment of my fearful imagination.

When the creature was real we could fight it. My staff and Kotali’s sword swinging in the darkness while the child clung to her back, whimpering in fear. That was the sound driving me to strike harder and faster, to fling my magic around with wild ferocity, to scream and shout and hammer each fallen beast until it was nothing but broken bones and blood seeping into the sand.

When the creature wasn’t real, only my fear and anger lay exposed, a bloody wound on my soul.

For the sake of our innocent burden, I was becoming a monster. The soft, compassionate woman who had left the city was gone, replaced by a ruthless killer. And yet it wasn’t the loss of myself I feared. It was the coming of the sun.

“This is the night,” Kotali said as we strode up a dune, sand sliding down between our feet. “This time we’ll get there.”

“You said that last night,” I said. “And the night before. And the one before that.”

“This time it has to be true. We’ve come so far.”

“Who says it’s far enough?”

“You’ve got to have hope.”

“I can’t.”

Hope had killed Arden, when he walked towards an oasis and straight into the creatures’ claws. Hope had killed Zell, when she tried to make peace with the sorcerers of the old city. Hope wasn’t getting me, and it sure as hell wasn’t getting the child.

But the creatures still might, if we weren’t fast enough.

“What is it like?” Kotali asked.

Dozens of us had dreamed of finding shelter in Elvast, but only I had ever been. Mine were the stories of the shining towers, the kind people, the wise rulers I had seen in my youth. I was the one who had set our course as we fled the sorcerers’ guards and their ravenous beasts. Only I really knew what we were running towards.

I pictured it rising out of the desert, with bright towers and open gates, the city that took in the lost and the broken, that would give a home to all who needed it. A place where the child could grow in safety until he came into his power. A blazing beacon in a world of shadows.

I remembered the first morning in the desert, watching for those towers as the sun came up, so sure that they must be within sight. I remembered my grief at their absence and my horror as I saw the sorcerers’ creatures dogging our trail, waiting for their chance.

Could I even bear to see that again?

The child pointed east, ahead of us. The sky was growing light. The night would soon be over.

I stopped and turned my head, unable to face what was about to be revealed. Parched as I was, tears formed at the corners of my eyes.

“Look for me,” I said, my voice a strained croak. “I have to watch our rear.”

The creatures were closing in, sensing some change within us, a moment of weakness they could exploit. I felt that weakness, a hope broken before it could even become real. I raised my hand and fire danced between my fingertips. If it had just been me, I could have let that power go, let the creatures end my long, drawn-out pain.

But it wasn’t just me.

Kotali gasped. The child giggled. A flash of something bright and earnest rose within me, faltered, and fell.

I held out my hand to the creatures and waited. Better that than face the dawn.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Out Now – Maps of Broken Places

Maps of Broken Places book cover

A clockwork city winding down into entropy. A forest where moving statues stand sentry over the dead. A post-apocalyptic garbage heap. Visit all these places and more in fifty-two short stories set in worlds beyond our own.

Maps of Broken Places is my annual e-book collection of flash fiction, bringing together every story I published on this blog last year. If you missed out on some of the stories or would like them together in one handy place then please consider picking up a copy. It’s a chance to lose yourself in some strange and amazing places and the people who inhabit them.

Little Foot – a flash historical story

Sharru and Little Foot, his trusty mule, had just emerged from the river when the bag fell with a crack against the rocks. Perhaps the current had somehow loosened the straps. Perhaps Sharru hadn’t bound them properly. Whatever the cause, he felt a sense of horror at the sound.

That bag was the most precious thing he carried. More valuable than the supplies for their journey or the token that would see him served at relay stations along Assyria’s great roads. That bag held his duty.

He opened it with trembling hands and looked inside. Sure enough, the clay envelope was cracked. He had broken the message he carried between the Great Ones.

Unable to bear the sight, he closed the bag. In twenty years of service as a courier, he had never once broken a message. What would they do to him?

He tied the bag back into place, pulling each knot so tight that he felt the rope scraping on his hands. Then he climbed onto Little Foot’s back and they continued along the road.

Sharru imagined Tukulti, the man who ran the next relay station, a man with a belly big enough to match the importance of his job. He would be fuming when he found out what had happened. Would he beat Sharru himself, or would he call for soldiers and have him dragged away? The Great Ones’ messages were a sacred trust, a thread holding civilisation together, now broken by Sharru.

“What will we do?” he asked.

Little Foot snorted and shook his head. It seemed to Sharru that the mule understood his distress and was comforting him with the gentle rhythm of his walk. But then, it always seemed to Sharru that Little Foot understood him.

Despite Little Foot’s reassuring snorts and steady pace, Sharru couldn’t keep his mind on the mule or the road ahead. His eyes kept falling to his message bag. It was like a scab over a painful wound – he knew that he should leave it alone, and yet he couldn’t help wanting to pick at it.

He should leave it as it was, get to the relay station and hope for the best.

And yet he found himself opening the bag and drawing out its contents.

The envelope was cracked along one side but had not yet split in two. The tablet within remained concealed.

Sharru had never seen one of the actual tablets, though he had carried thousands back and forth along this road, all wrapped in that outer layer of clay. What might it say? Orders for soldiers at the frontier perhaps, a request for supplies to the capital, maybe even something about how the messengers were to be run. Could it be announcing a royal tour or the start of a war?

His fingertips ran across the surface, nails digging into the crack in the wounded clay. The damage was done already, his career over. Why not go all the way, break the seal on the envelope and see what was inside? After all these years, didn’t he deserve a look?

Little Foot snorted and shook his head. A fly buzzed away.

Sharru sighed and slid the tablet back into his bag.

“You’re right, old friend. I shouldn’t make things worse.”

He leaned forward and rubbed the mule’s head, just behind the ears. Being parted from Little Foot was the worst thing he could imagine. Never hearing that familiar snort again, never knowing the rhythm of those hooves. The mule was getting on now, just as he was. Maybe, if he was very lucky, they would get rid of Little Foot when they sacked him, and the two of them could leave together, go to his brother’s farm and live out their days in peace.

More likely they would be torn apart and he would be beaten for failing the Great Ones.

The relay station was up ahead, a clay brick building by a fork in the road. Sharru wanted to slow down, to put off the inevitable, but he didn’t want to spoil Little Foot’s pace.

As they reached the building, Tukulti came out to greet them.

“Got something for me?” he asked, holding out a hand.

Sharru sighed, took the clay envelope from the bag, and handed it over.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, hanging his head. “I have failed. I dropped it and-”

“Feh.” Tukulti waved a hand dismissively. “It’s just a crack. Happens to everyone from time to time. As long as it’s in one piece, we’ll be fine.”

“But my sacred burden, my duty to the Great Ones…”

“The letter’s in one piece, right? That’s all that counts. Now come on in, we’ll pass this to the next rider and you can put your feet up.”

Sharru felt like he was floating in the air. He turned to Little Foot with a grin.

“Did you hear that? It’s going to be alright.” He patted the mule’s nose. “Let’s go find you some food.”

***

Not for the first time, the inspiration for this week’s story comes from Ben of the Crudely Drawn Swords podcast, who told me about the ancient Assyrian mule mail service. You can check out Crudely Drawn Swords on your favourite podcatcher and find Ben’s tweetings over here.

If you’d like more flash fiction then you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook of steampunk short stories and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

From A Foreign Shore - High Resolution

What if someone had conquered the Vikings, someone claiming to be their gods?

What if King Arthur’s knights met a very different metal-clad warrior?

What if you were ordered to execute a statue, and hanging just didn’t seem to work?

These short stories explore different aspects of history, some of them grounded in reality, some alternative takes on the past as we know it. Stories of daring and defiance; of love and of loss; of noble lords and exasperated peasants.

From a Foreign Shore is available now in all ebook formats.

End of Year Review

It’s the end of the year, a time to review my achievements over this circling of the sun. And while it hasn’t always been easy, it’s been a good year.

And yes, I kept doing my weird dressing up hobbies too – photo by Oliver Facey.

I’ve had five short stories published, and others accepted for publication. I’ve even written a few new ones, mostly for projects I was specifically invited to, which was an honour.

I’ve written and published a flash story every week, which will now become a neat little e-book collection.

I’ve had two comics published, and written several more scripts that will appear in Commando next year.

Russell Phillips and I finished and published our novel, The Bear’s Claws. It’s had the best sales of anything I’ve self-published so far.

I’ve had a fantasy novella accepted for publication next year. More news on that when I have it.

I’ve written the majority of a fantasy novel, which I’m very pleased with so far. Again, more news on that sometime soon.

I’ve kept the freelance work ticking over. Though the latter half of the year wasn’t as profitable as the start, I’m still earning more than enough to get by, while keeping enough time for my own writing. I’ve written a huge mix of things, from history articles to fantasy novels to business content. It’s occasionally been frustrating or boring but is still far more satisfying than any other job I’ve had.

And through it all, I’ve fended off the depression that I struggled with a few years ago. Exercise, mindfulness, and doing a job I enjoy have all contributed to keeping me sane and happy, even in a world gone mad.

Not a bad year, all in all.

Steaming Out to Sea – a flash steampunk story

Haruo stood in his boat, shovelling coal into the boiler. Heat blazed from its open door and the glow illuminated him in the pre-dawn darkness.

“What is this?”

Haruo jumped in alarm at the voice. He looked up to see old Master Zuki standing with his stick on the quay.

“Nothing,” Haruo snapped, shutting the boiler door.

“Is that a steam engine?” Zuki asked, his voice rising in alarm. “On a boat?”

Haruo tugged sharply on the rope binding his boat to the dock. A knot unravelled and the rope fell away, untethering him from the city.

“You can’t do that,” Zuki said. “Steam belongs in the city, not on the water. You know the rules.”

“I’m sick of the rules,” Haruo said as he pushed off.

“The rules keep us safe!”

“The rules keep us trapped. I’m going to be free.”

“Guards!” Zuki shouted. “Guards, Haruo has put an engine on a boat!”

Haruo pulled on a lever, opening a valve in the intricate pipework he had spent months building. A paddle wheel turned and the boat inched away from the docks, gaining speed as it went. He grinned as he looked back to see the city watch arriving too late.

“I’m going!” he shouted. “No-one can stop me now.”

Dawn was creeping over the horizon as he steamed away from the city. Ahead, the waters churned above the Great Reef that surrounded the known world. There lay the limit of all the lives within the city, a barrier no-one had ever crossed and safely returned. But no-one had used steam in the crossing before.

His boat was special. It was no flimsy thing of wood, powered by the whims of wind. It was a vessel of hardened steel driven by the power of the industrial age, and no mere reef was going to stop it.

Still, his heart hammered in his chest and he sweated despite the early morning chill. It took all the will he had to keep his hand steady on the tiller.

This had to work, or he would be stuck in the city forever, his genius constrained by rules and tradition.

There had to be something more.

He hit the foaming water around the reef. There were places where he could see it protruding from the waves, and he steered around those. But the further he went, the more turbulent the waters were and the harder the journey became. The boat bucked and shook, scraped against unseen obstacles, screamed as coral gouged its side.

But it stayed whole and it kept moving.

Dawn had come, but not the sun. It was hidden behind a dark bank of clouds, blown in on a billowing wind. Like the will of his ancestors, they came looming over Haruo, trying to drive him back to the city he knew. The rain lashed down and lightning flashed overhead. Great gusts flung the boat about and rising waves threatened to hurl it over.

Haruo clung on tight as the boat heaved beneath him. His stomach churned and bile burned in his throat.

He mustn’t be afraid. Fear was how they kept you in place. Fear stopped you being free.

Lightning crashed down. There was a flash as it struck the roof of the boiler. Haruo leapt away in alarm, just as another wave lifted the boat. He went tumbling as the whole hull tipped. The top of the rail pressed against his spine and gravity grabbed hold, hauling him over.

He shot out a hand and snatched at the rail, clinging on for all he was worth. He was half in the water now, soaking and freezing, battered against the boat by each passing wave. Wet fingers slid one by one from the rail.

He swung his other hand up and grabbed hold just in time. With all his strength, he dragged himself up, over the rail, and collapsed into the bottom of the boat.

Another boom of thunder. The boat was flung about, crashed against the reef, almost tipped over.

In desperation, Haruo turned the steam dial, letting all the power he could flow through the engine. With a chugging so loud it seemed to drown out the storm, the boat gathered speed. Momentum carried it through the crashing waves, across the ocean, towards who knew what.

Haruo lay in the bottom, shivering and shaken, too scared to approach the rail and look out.

At last, the wind died down and the water grew still. The clouds parted and sunlight shone down on Haruo.

Nervously, he sat up and looked about. Behind him were the churning waters of the Great Reef and the roiling sky. Ahead was a terrible emptiness – no fresh lands, no strange boats, just a vast, watery void.

Haruo swallowed. Should he go back now? He had made it through the reef. He had shown it could be done. But all he had seen so far was danger and misery. Were the elders right to say he should stay in the city?

Sunlight gleamed off the water – not a void, but a world of potential, a vast expanse of the unknown. There could be anything out here, beyond the horizon.

Grinning, Haruo turned back to his boiler and started to shovel coal. He was going to see what this world held.

***

If you’d like more flash fiction then you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook of steampunk short stories and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.

For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.

Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.

Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.

It’s Muppet Time!

Christmas is nearly here, and that means it’s time for one of the important rituals of the year – the annual viewing of Muppets Christmas Carol.

It’s one of the funniest Muppet films.

It’s one of the best Dickens adaptations.

It’s the single best Christmas movie, and I will fling mince pies at anyone who says otherwise.

Sure, everyone has their own rituals, but for me, this is what Christmas is all about.

Happy holidays, everyone – I’ll see you on the other side.

Invisible – A Flash Science Fiction Story

This whole thing started for me when Gazetech brought out their smart glasses. You remember, they were the first with filters to separate out real human faces from the imitations on screens, machines, and billboards. A shortcut for the brain.

Glasses on laptop

Everyone was getting burnt out by then. The internet of things meant an endless succession of appliances trying to engage with us, using fake faces to grab our attention. Just walking down the street became a road to mental fatigue, trying to work out who was human, who wasn’t, what any of them wanted and why. You’d see tired parents and exhausted executives picking fights with holographic bank machines. Our silicon helpers were killing us with friendship.

Then came Gazetech with their solution, because apparently the fix to broken technology was more technology. A pair of glasses that would detect and blank out fake faces.

It worked. The people who bought them reported greater happiness and productivity. Within weeks, more factories were being built. Vandalism against public-facing machines plummeted.

And people started ignoring me.

I didn’t realise at first. We’ve all had people who jump ahead of us in queues or try to barge past in the street. When it happened with acquaintances, I started to think I’d done something wrong, even became a bit depressed. Then a colleague bought his first Gazetech and stopped responding to me around the coffee machine. Finally, I worked it out. I had the wrong sort of face.

Gazetech uses a variety of filters to detect fake faces – excessive symmetry, surprising stillness, average features for your gender and skin tone, stuff like that. One of them alone won’t trigger the glasses, but hit all those buttons and it’ll think you’re just another device or an advertising board.

I’d never been exceptional looking. Good enough to get dates, not so handsome that I drew admiring crowds at parties. Now I knew why – I was the definition of average.

At first, it was amusing, a novelty to tell people about, but as the glasses became ubiquitous, it became a pain. I had to keep reminding everyone that I was in the room, or I’d be entirely ignored. It was as frustrating as being a teenager.

Then came the revelation.

We’d just finished a team meeting and I was sitting alone in the conference room, feeling sorry for myself. The others had walked out, all wearing their Gazetech, gossipping away, forgetting about me. Then a couple of the company’s directors walked in for a meeting of their own, both wearing Gazetech. They closed the door, sat down, and started talking like I wasn’t even there. To them, I wasn’t.

Oh boy, the things I heard. Projects and investments that no-one else knew about. Details of a planned restructuring. Who was sleeping with whose secretary. I kept quiet and took notes.

That evening, I bought shares in one of the companies they were planning to take over. Within weeks, those had soared in value.

After that, I did it on purpose. People had got used to not seeing me, so they didn’t notice that I wasn’t at my desk. I spent my days in the corners of meeting rooms, hoovering up the company’s secrets. Most of it was useless for anything other than blackmail, and I didn’t have the streak of cruelty it took to go down that route, even against people who had stopped seeing me as a person. But there were gems amid the muck.

It took me a while to foster a contact at a rival firm. I had to prove that my information was good, without giving away how I’d acquired it. I built trust slowly, giving away crumbs so I could sell them the whole loaf.

At last they were convinced and the work started in earnest. Every month, I received a substantial transfer from an anonymous bank account. Every month, I sent an encrypted email from a secret address. Every month, our rivals made a move just in time to thwart my firm.

Eventually, management realised that they had a mole. A witch hunt started. I had one day of roiling, gut-churning panic before I realised that I didn’t need to worry. No-one was going to blame me. They had forgotten I was there.

Over the next year, the company’s fortunes plummeted while mine soared. I made canny investments based on their planned next moves, doubling what I earned from my other employers. I didn’t even have to hide my grin, because no-one saw it.

Then came the fateful day. I was sitting in the corner of a board meeting, learning about their desperate, last-gasp plans to turn things around.

The chief executive let out a deep sigh and admitted that it wasn’t going to work. She was exhausted, battered by the winds of fortune, barely holding herself together. She took off her glasses, rubbed her eyes, and looked straight up at me.

Nobody called the police. Instead, security guards brought me down here, to a quiet, windowless room in a corner of HR, for a discreet little chat. And I can be discreet. I think I’ve proved that by now.

So here’s the thing. You could finish firing me and hand me over to the police. Or you could go grab my laptop. I’ve been working on a job application for a rival firm. I can get through the doors there. I can find my way onto the inside. And then…

***

This story was inspired by a friend of mine who works in academic psychology. She went to a talk on how processing the presence of other people, trying to work out their thoughts, feelings, and intentions use up our brainpower, even when those people are actually just objects that look like people. She wondered, in a grand way, about its sci-fi potential.

Then I took the idea and made something seedy out of it.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.