Issue 3: Action, That's How! (A Caper in Time Part 2)

by Evan Forman and Michael Robertson - One Chapter a Week Starting 27.11.16


Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - King Zaedar is Introduced, He Learns of Our Hero’s Exploits in Issue #2, and A Mysterious Force Awakens™ From The Depths of The Ancient Past
Chapter 2 - John Boss - Incredibly - Escapes from "The White Palace of Death”, Shoots A BUNCH of Dudes, and Makes His Way to The Relative Safety of Dryadora’s Coal District
Chapter 3 - Dhubagèl Escorts Aerin Through The Sewers of Dryadora, But Maybe Also His Subconscious? What I Mean is We Get to Know More About This Previously Mysterious and At Points Unsettling Character, and The Subterranean Setting is Associated - in Jungian Psychoanalysis - With The Subconscious, So That Works
Chapter 4 - That Relatively Sedate Chapter Was Just a Break from The All-Important Action! As John Boss and Chel Make Their Way Through The Coal District In Their Attempt to Find Safe Refuge, But Not Without The Police Giving Chase
Chapter 5 - John Boss, Aerin Liette, Dhubagèl Shaen, Chel Hagar, and More are Finally United, and Ready to Strike Back Against King Zaedar’s Brutal Regime
Chapter 6 - The Past 30 Years of Aerin's Life Are Unlived for the Sake of the Plot, by Which I Mean Primarily the Plot of This Book, but Also the Plot Which the Red Hand Formulate in This Chapter, Which - If That Wasn't Obvious to You, Reader - Is a Clever Bit of Wordplay on the Similarities between The "Diegetic" Rebellion's Plot Which Requires Sacrifice, in a Very Fatalistic, Heroic Sort of Way, and The "Non-Diegetic" Aristotelian Plot Structure Which Requires Sacrifice in a Very Ritualistic “High-Maintenance Volcano God” Sort of Way
Chapter 7 - In a ‘Baroque Formalism’ Power Move, Four Conversations between John Boss the 34th and the Three Members of the Dryadora Red Hand Cell Are Intercut with a Scene of Domestic Mundanity, and a Scene of Great Heroism Which Is Also a Flashback into the past of John Boss the 41st. For the Purposes of Light Genre Parody, a Minor Character Has a Silly Name; A Minor Character Waits for a Bus, Which Doesn't Actually Move the Plot Forward or Contribute to The Themeing in Any Meaningful Way, And a Minor Character Mentions Things from Wurld’s past but Doesn’t Explain Them, Which Gives You That Kind of High-Fantasy Texture without the Bogged-Downedness That Comes with Fields of Exposition: All the Flavour of Fantasy with None of the Nutrition, and I Think That's Beautiful
Chapter 8 - The Night before the Operation, Aerin — Overcome by Insomnia — Hides Away in His Study and Distracts Himself from His Fear of Tomorrow's Events with the Comforting Familiarity of His Self-Loathing. Kreida Tries to Comfort Him and the Two End up Comparing Notes on a Relationship Forged under the Crucible Pressures of Mental Illness. It's Actually Really Nice.
Chapter 9 - There's a Flashback to an Episode from Chel Hagar's past with Revealing Parallels to Another Episode from Chel Hagar's Past: Chapter 7 of Issue #2. You Might Assume This Is Our Only Reason for Jumping Back a Few Years in Time, but Only If You Pay Attention Will You Notice That We're Subtly Reminding You of and Expanding on the Sub-Sub-Plot of Dryadora and / or the Whole Elvin Empire's failing Electricity System, Because That's Going to Be Important Later. We Then Seamlessly Transition into the Red Hand Cell's Infiltration of the DTV Station Where the Tapes of What Actually Happened in the Arena Are Kept. Being the End of Act II / Beginning of Act III, Things Go a Bit Skiwhiff and the Chapter Ends on a Thrilling Cliffhanger That You'll Have to Wait 'Til next Sunday to See Resolved!
Chapter 10 - Aerin and Krieda Spend Most of the Day in Dryadora's Pearl District, a Nice Day out Which Is Actually a Ruse by Aerin to Get near the Arena Where the Prime Minister Is Making His Speech. Krieda Is Conveniently Scheduled to Visit Her Parents in the Afternoon, so This Gives Aerin the Perfect Opportunity for a Heartbreaking Goodbye Scene before He Goes to Infiltrate the Press Crowd and Place Lockswell's Signal Jammer on the DTV Van's Satellite. Aerin and Dhubagèl Engage in Some Breathtakingly Suspenseful Scenes of Social Deception, but Are They Wily Enough to Avoid Detection by the Already On-Edge Members of the Prime Minister's Elite Guard? Also, How Good Was Doctor Who Last Night?
Chapter 11 - The Red Hand Defend the Control Room as Their Broadcast Goes out to the World. They Flee, and after a High-Octane Chase Scene They Escape into the Forests. All Hope Seems Lost, but Then They Are Saved by a Mysterious Character from an Earlier Point in the Story in a Way That Is Surprising but, Crucially, Still Made Inevitable by the Aristotelian Clockwork We've Established up until This Point. I Liked This Week's Doctor Who a Lot More Than Frank Cottrell-Boyce's Last Episode. It's Good That We're Getting More Fully-Realised Alien Planets In The Show Again
Chapter 12 - The Twelfth One

DNE EHT

.retfa reve ylippah devil ew dnA

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.slewob eht fo recnac a htiw desongaid neeb dah rehtaf reh ,yad txen eht ,nehw demusbus emaceb ehs tub ,lleps dab a neeb evah thgim siht thguoht ehS .emit eht fo sretrauq-eerht tuoba das ylteiuq ,yltnatsid os saw eh yhw deksa ydobon taht saw ti ,egatnavda eno dah dnim a fo kcerw lauteprep sih fI "?uoy era woH .eniF" ,deilper eh nehw seye wolloh sih otni gnikool t'nsaw ehS .mih dnuora flesreh depparw dna elbat eht no gnidaer saw ehs koob revetahw tup ehS .emoh emoc dah etteiL nireA esuaceb gnilims saw daehsiaC adeirK dna gnidne saw dlrow ehT .siht ekil emit a tA .gninnirg saw ehS .dennirg ehS "?ti saw woH !oS" .pots ot emarfrood eht ot gnilc ot dah dna afos eht ffo pu tohs adeirK .eunevA yalidaC 01 fo spets eht debmilc yliraew ,ecnabrutsid siht gniciton ton ,nireA

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L L L L L L o snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco snaeco eniw der krad ot eerht rof evif sdnoces evlewt setunim evlewt sruoh evlewt bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbmemememememememememmemer ereh ckab enog a m'I er'uoy dna ereht er'uoy uoy uoY ONONONON NOW! !WON -won og ot evah ew no emoc on -apmoc eht ot drawrof kool I"

.delzzis ezuf ehT ".reverof uoy tnuah gnikcuf ot gniog ma I ,em sllik siht fI" ,dias lrig eht senot fo suoires tsom -eht dniheb depmuj dna -ssoB nhoJ -ti desrever eh nehw niaga pu gnillif dna gniytpme ssalgruoh -htuoy dnuofwen sih fo ruogiv eht htiw senud dnas gnillor eht otno tuo gnirutnev yltnallag -SIHT TNAW TSUJ I EREH TI POTS TI POTS SDOG ESAELP UOY TON UOY -gniyrc -a fo traeh -detsurcne-lewej a elots -morf aneroduL fo nwot eht devas eh sdnoces ruof dna setunim neetfif ,sruoh thgie ,sraey derdnuh owT -a fo traeh eht elots eh eh ,sruoh xis ,sraey evlewt ,dnoces neves ,raey enO -eht htiw suirebiT ekuD fo truoc eht ni deztlaw dah eh oga sdnoces neves dna ,setunim neetfif ,sruoh owt ,syad ruof ,skeew xis ytriht ,sraey neetrihT .nogard a nials dah ht43 eht ssoB nhoJ ,oga sdnoces xis-ytnewt dna ,setunim neetruof ,sruoh evif ,syad eerht ,skeew neves ,sraey owT

.emit nwo rieht otni kcab meht deluah dna ,seugnot sti fo owt ni nolubolokraX dna nhoJ depparw tI .skcirb eht hguorht gnitsrub ,llaw eht ni pu denepo emit ni latrop a sa dehgual dna dehgual yeht dnA

”.gnilaeppa os dednuos reven sah esrevinu eht fo htaed-taeh eht ,yadot neeb ev’ew secalp eht retfa dnA“

”!emoh og yllanif nac ew won ,enorht sih edam ecno doG erehw ecifiro krad eht knaht dnA“

”!yawa gnidaf si xodarap ehT !ssoB ,ti enod ev’uoY“

”?gnineppah gnihtyna sI“ .elom eht sdrawot º09 ti detator dna ,tellub eht dnuora depparw eh hcihw ,elcillof a tuo dehcaer ylsuoituac eH .sworbeye rewol sih fo eno desiar dna ,elbat ybraen eht no erusolcne sti no gnipeels ,elom eht dettops eH .seidob rieht fo *edistuo* eht no niks rieht erow ylsselemahs yeht yaw eht ,snoitareneg eht nwod dedacsac dah serutaef laicaf citsiretcarahc laicaf emas eht yaw eht ,uaelbat nezorf siht ni neve noitcivnoc dna htgnerts detaidar yeht yaw eht :meht fo thgis eht ta gnillevram ,srotsecna sih neewteb nwod tlenk ht999 eht ssoB nhoJ

”.esrevinu elbbub fo dnik emos ni ydaerla t’nerew ew fi hguone dab eb dluow hcihw ,xodarap a sesuac taht ,ht43 eht ssoB nhoJ stoohs ts14 eht ssoB nhoJ fI“

”?naem uoy od tahW“

.ecnetnes taht gnihsinif retfa ,detalucaje nolubolokraX ”,melborp ruoy s’ereht lleW“

”!tellub taht fo htap eht ni thgiR“ .detniop eH ”!ht43 eht ssoB nhoJ s’erehT !kool dna ,seY“

”?hO“

”!elom taht tohs ts14 eht ssoB nhoJ erehw trap eht si sihT“ .enecs eht tcepsni ot tekcos sti fo tuo rehtils nagro lausiv etarbetrev sih tel ot pu neercs eht gnippilf ,ssoB nhoJ diaS ”!era ew nehw wonk I ,hO“

”.tsol eb yam ew raef I .tonk fo dnik emos ni era senitsetni-emit ehT“ .mih fo tnorf ni dna ,mih dniheb moor eht deretne ohw ,nolubolokraX noinapmoc hctirdle sih dias ”,siht lla htiw gnorw yrev s’gnihtemoS“

”.tohsrevo YLETINIFED ev’ew won ,eeS“ .mih fo tnorf ni thgir saw tahw eciton ot tas ecno eye thgir sih erehw erauqs DEL eht hguorht ni gnimoc smaerts-ofni neetfif eht no dessucof oot ,moor eht otni derednaw ht999 eht ssoB nhoJ

.tohsnuGGunshot.

57 HOURS, 46 MINUTES, AND 15 SECONDS

Two years, five months, one day, three hours, and two minutes ago, Aleister the mole dug his longest tunnel yet. Three days, five hours and seven minutes ago he discovered a burst pipe under- five years, six months, four days, eight hours and three minutes ago he was born, the third in a litter of- worms- wriggled into a- Täikur Soka- cuddled- warmth of his coat- brown brown oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans- oh hey, a worm.

About thirty minutes ago, a gun had gone off by accident. John Boss the 34th now sat at the end of the table fidgeting with a pen, opposite John Boss the 41st. Chel Hagar sat next to him, wearily chugging down antibiotics with a mug of tea. Aerin, Dhubagèl, and Lockswell were dotted around the table's edge, all silent. John Boss the 41st sighed.

"You fucking shot my mole,” Taïkur stated.

"The bullet bounc-"

"THAT DOESN'T-"

"EVERYONE! EVERYONE!" Lockswell had stood up, arms raised, turning to Taïkur and Boss. "Now, listen, we've…you've all said and done things you regret. But I think, in this pressing time, it is more important that we focus on what we are all here to do. A military robot-"

"-a police robot," Chel corrected.

"-a robot of indeterminate occupational persuasion has been destroyed, and it's being blamed on us. Now, since nobody in this room knew about this until half an hour ago-"

John Boss the 34th spoke up. "-Actually-"

"RIGHT, NEW RULE: YOU ALL RAISE YOUR FUCKING HAND TO SPEAK NOW!" John Boss raised his hand. "Yes, Dr. Jingles?"

"Please, call me Jacques. As I was saying, I'm the one who destroyed the…robot. They'd put a shock collar on me, which I was able to remove and throw into the machine's insides. The robot fell, but then went berserk and started killing people in the stands. I managed to take the beast down, piloting it into a wall of spiked crushers which pulverised it into a fiery paste. After my victory, I was captured and taken to a hospital to have a part of my brain removed, but luckily my friend and colleague Che-"

"-code name Stephi!" Aerin blurted, earning a dirty look from Lockswell.

"-took out precious time from her position as a double agent…” John drew out the syllable, looking at Aerin. Aerin nodded very slightly. “…in the Dryadora City Police Department to rescue me, heroically taking a bullet in the process.”

John Boss leaned forward in her chair. "Did you blow your cover?"

Chel shook her head. "I wore a visor and gloves to cover my bionic hand, the only identifying feature."

John Boss put his pen down. "So, does that not prove her to be a valuable ally to our cause? That she risked death and killed one of her own comrades to get me here?"

John Boss was silent for a moment, thumb to her lips in consideration. She turned back to Chel. "How long have you been a mol-" she glanced at Täikur, "…an insider for us in the police force?"

"Oh, almost a decade."

"So why the hell haven't you ever contacted us until now!?"

"And risk detection?" She replied without hesitation. "Bringing down the whole operation so I could pop over for a pizza and a few beers? Fuck off, I don't need a cozy little cryptful of resistance friends to do my job. I only came here tonight because tomorrow's the best opportunity you're ever going to get to do something big."

"Like what?"

Dhubagèl stood up and started wandering around the table. "Actually, she's got a point. Tomorrow is King's Day, national pride at an annual high. Tomorrow is when the Prime Minister will be making a speech about the disaster. Likely near the site."

John got out of her chair. "Do you have-"

"-likely in Naelon Square, give the cameras a good view of the smoking ruins of the place. Remind them of what's at stake."

"Do you have the bastard on speed dial or something?"

Dhubagèl chuckled. "I mean, yes, but he's much too busy in some emergency meeting right now to answer my calls. That's why I hired a guy specifically to phone the guy sitting next to the Prime Minister in those kinds of meetings: Eylon Dunnare, government's senior press manager, lovely guy, does absolutely everything you tell him on the condition you don't make his medical records front page news."

John had her back turned to the rest of the group, silent in thought. "So, you're suggesting we hijack the broadcast. What's their official story, we planted a bomb or something?"

"It's an 'ongoing investigation',” said Dhubagèl. “They're still writing the official story."

She nodded. "They want this robot thing to debut to the people in a good light. So everyone turns on their TV to watch Mr. Priomar make sense of the world for them, and then suddenly the picture changes and their friends and families are being blown apart by a police drone." She spun around excitedly. "I fucking love it!"

Everyone was silent.

"The broadcast.” Her grin faded. “Not the people blowing up. It's a good idea."

Everyone was silent.

"Right, you, Chel." She snapped her fingers and pointed. "You're our woman on the inside, where are those tapes?"

Chel thought for a moment. "DTV Headquarters. The broadcasting station. Everything goes to the archives."

"Maybe." Dhubagèl interjected. "The scrubbers get faster every year, they might have edited the whole film by now."

John Boss the 41st leaned forward, hands on the table. "Which is why I'd suggest we do this as quick as possible, but there's a problem: the second we're holding that reel, we're fucked. Chel and the three of us - Me, Mo and Jacques - can get into the building alright if we get some police uniforms, but we'll almost certainly have to fight our way into the control room, no way to schedule it and get a headstart on the getaway." Her eyes fell down towards the table for a moment. "Which means we're doing it live. Fuck it. We'll need people on location. Dhubagèl, you can slip in backstage and mingle with the press secretaries and public relations doodads, keep us up-to-the-minute on the Prime Minister's movements. There'll be satellite vans there we're going to need to take control of. Aerin, you're the only one of us freely able to walk around in public without getting noticed, so it's yours. Maurice probably has something for the job lying around."

Aerin checked and rechecked the weight in his jacket’s inside pocket. He took a breath and stepped through the large glass doors of Dhubagèl’s building, out onto the cobbled street beneath a gray-purple sky lit by the first gold of dawn. He wandered for hours, clinging to only the vaguest sense of location; half-remembered shop signs and particular buildings.

"So what is that actually going to involve?" He asked.

"There'll be a crowd there to clap on every emotional cue, you can blend in easily,” John replied, her arms folded as she leaned against the wall. “Then you'll have to get into one of the vans, either get it emptied or…talk your way in."

"Talk my way in?"

He pressed a grubby button on a black and yellow box on a street lamp, as he'd seen others do yesterday. As he waited for the cars to stop so he could cross the road without being flattened, a huge truck stopped at the red light. It was less a vehicle than it was a cage on wheels, two layers with thin slits at the sides out of which human hands could reach, and human eyes could blankly stare down at Aerin. As he met the gaze of the silent men and women being taken to who knows where, he felt a faint pang of…guilt? Sympathy? Lucidity? Lucidity, he thought, was a good enough word. Nobody waiting beside Aerin paid attention to the truck. The light turned green, and Aerin walked along with the rest of the elves, blending into the crowd.

John Boss smiled. "I assumed that was your main appeal, do you have any other employable skills to speak of?"

"I'll just talk my way in, thanks."

He anxiously climbed the steps of 10 Cadilay Avenue, pulling up his sleeve and glancing at the little gold clock face worn around his wrist.

"Oh, can you give me your phone number Aerin?" Dhubagèl remembered just as Aerin had been leaving the mess of his apartment.

"What?"

"So I can phone you later with a time and a place, as soon as I know anything."

"When will you know anything?"

"Probably before the Prime Minister. Just don't be late. Even I can barely fathom what's at stake here."

Aerin laughed nervously, his forehead in his hand. "Um…oh, shit, sorry, I can't remember my…phone number."

"That's fine. You probably don't need me to tell you that asking was just a formality." Dhubagèl reached to shut the door. "I'll call you."

The watch had been lying on his bedside table, next to the drawers of his clothes, so he assumed it was his; and he thought it was pretty, so he took it. He shut the door to what he was astonished to call his home.

"Is it dangerous?"

"Most things are, these days," said John Boss as she watched Dhubagèl walk ahead into the sewer tunnels.

"No, but really, in how much immediate danger do you think I'm putting myself in?"

"On a scale of one to ten?"

"Am I going to die? That is what I'm asking you."

Krieda shot up off the sofa and clung to the doorframe to stop. "So! How was it?"

Boss' weak smile faded. "Everyone's going to die, Aerin. It's just a matter of when, and for what."

She put whatever book she was reading on the table, and wrapped herself around him. She wasn't looking into his sullen eyes when he replied, "Fine. You?" It was an advantage, sometimes, that anyone who knew him knew not to ask what was wrong with him. "Aw, you smell like him. Did you have fun, then?" She grinned, straightening his coat by its lapels.

"You seem awfully happy about whatever it is you think I did last night."

"Of course I am. It's good for you to…get out there. Meet new people." She spun around and started walking away.

"Nothing happened last night," Aerin declared bluntly.

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

She sighed with half-joking devastation.

"Why?"

"Oh, no it doesn't. It's just…" She tried to bite her smile shut. "Would you be INCONSOLABLY offended if I told you I'd won a bet?"

Aerin's eyes narrowed. "…On what?"

"Oh, come on Aerin, it's 2214! Everyone's at least a little bit bi! If you've been using me as your image of the average, don't. I've always just been bloody irredeemable, but for most people there's just that one person, that one and only little spark." They walked through to the living room as Aerin tossed his coat to hang on the banister. "And a spark," she continued "is all it takes to start a forest fire." She dropped backwards onto the sofa, smiling.

"Krieda, there is no forest fire here."

"Are you very sure?"

"Yes." He sunk into the cushion next to her. "So, what happened after I left last night?”

"Oh, god." She yawned and plopped her messy head down on his shoulder. "Well, let's see…Oh, remember Jaina, from the book shop?"

"Umm…"

"Short hair, freckles, huge-mongous sapphire eyes?"

"Oh, yeah."

"She has a boyfriend now. Her. A boyfriend. I am shocked and disgusted and I want the world to turn back to the way it was before."

Aerin smiled. "Forest fire?"

“Supernova." She gasped, her eyes lit up and she faced him. "And now that I think about it, did you see the extended eye contact she was giving you when she handed over your change the other day? Well of course you didn't because you can't even look the postie in the eye, but trust me…"

Aerin's cheeks blossomed red and his earlobes burned a little, embarrassed that anyone else in the world knew a thing about him.

She continued "…What I'm proposing is: we kill Kerkosandros- oh, shit! Yeah: his name's fucking Kerkosandros, he works in a microbrewery and he has…THE…most horrendous like, baby's first moustache I've ever seen on another person! He's terrible, Aerin! And he-" she was interrupted by her own spurts of laughter "-so Jaina's introducing me to this guy and she says 'oh, hey Krieda, this is Kerkosandros' and I'm just about to smile and shake his hand, like I would to any other elf, but then he just takes me by, not so much my actual hand as like my fingers, and he takes it up to his droopy octopus moustache and kisses my hand!?"

"Oh, god." Aerin's eyes cringed shut and his palms slapped together with his forehead.

"I know! And I watch them as the night goes on and he does this. To. Every. Single. Other. Woman. He can. That's how plagues spread, Aerin. Who knows what's living in that moustache?"

They were both quiet for a moment, slumped in front of the television. Grainy footage of a very stern painter dressed in black huffing along a riverside, brooding against a bus stop and trudging through a graveyard. "The cemetery is the last real place in the world," a low, rumbling voiceover declared. “It is the one and only patch of world that has not been colonised by advertising, by agriculture, by the machines. Even the forests have had scenic routes cut through them like arterial bypasses. Increasingly, since the industrial revolution two centuries ago, the whole universe has become like this: dragged into an all-consuming economic machine in which each living thing is a cog or a wheel that can serve no other function but its own. Some have called this 'the man-machine matrix', in the faint hope of a distinction.”

Cut to footage of a man learning to walk with metal limbs. Fade to a helicopter shot of towering social housing. "You are born in a specific location; this is the most immediate decider of what school you will go to." Cut to children sitting silently in a classroom, staring at the invisible teacher behind us. "This is where a child picks a career based on which classes they enjoyed, they decide which classes they enjoy based on which teachers they like, which teachers they like are mercy to a chemical brew of attractive or repulsive neurological associations formed before the child had learned to speak."

Cut to time-lapse shot of rush-hour traffic whizzing by in both directions. "This is the final project of the cult of urban planners, and this is your life. You go to the big city and become a blood cell rushing through the tarmac veins of the world. Metal boxes ferry you from your pre-appointed position with your spouse and your children to your pre-appointed position with your boss and your colleagues. 'Destination' becomes 'Destiny', red lights and green lights ensure the steady flow of traffic, indeed, the steady flow of time itself." The deafening symphony of horns, hollers and skidding tires smash-cuts to silence, return to the shot of the artist wandering behind rows of mossy headstones. "And then there is the graveyard, this ancient truth sculpted in decaying stone, where advertisers and politicians fear to tread. The rest of the world is mercy to fashion, to policy. This is the darkness at the end of the tunnel."

A church bell strikes six times, fade to a shot of the St. Kainsach kirk's clock tower, which in turn fades to a painting of almost exactly the same composition.

"My god," said Aerin. "He’s actually worse than me."

"Any more pretentious he'll become a threat. We'll be forced to destroy him." Krieda lay with her head in his lap, looking up at a small cut on her finger next to where she'd been kissed last night. "I've decided men are just terrible," she said. "They're not worth the effort anymore. I'm taking the next flight to Lesbian Island. It's booked. 3AM. I'm off."

"Well, surely they wouldn't all be terrible, you're sitting right here with one."

"Sweetie pie, you are not a man, you are a flower."

"I don't know if that's a compliment or-"

She kissed him quiet. "Yes."

And, for a few long moments, here it was: silence. Warm silence. Not the cold and clawing desperate awful madness silence of the void, but the silence of bodies; two heated biological engines humming away quietly, without failure or complication. For a few moments. Something darker was bubbling up through Aerin, deep below the steady cylinders of his imagination. An initial attempt to drown out the noise: "Did you know there's an actual Lesbian Island?"

"What? Where!?"

"Yeah, that's where the word comes from: 'Lesbos'. It's a mythical island in the Miragea, far to the east of Lautusshire's coastline."

"Where's Lautusshire?" She asked.

Something cold and terrible sank in his chest. "It's…well…before Praeon, before King Praeon colonised the human tribal lands, there was one large settlement called Lautus, right at the easternmost point of the continent. This is, you know, ancient times we're talking about but anyway: the Miragea was this semi-mythical collection of small tropical islands which were said to shimmer - hence, 'mirage'- in and out of reality depending on the time of day or the seasons, the reflection of the sun on the sea. Lesbos was said to be where the gods created and perfected the first women, but basically forgot to carry them over to the world of men. So they developed and evolved entirely separate from male influence until a lost pirate ship ends up on their shore. The pirates think this is just the best place ever, and the Lesbians do entertain them that evening with great feasts. But when the sun comes up, the Lesbians march to the pirate ship with the captain's head in a fishing net and they throw overboard the two men they left behind guarding the ship's most valuable cargo: a group of kidnapped women being taken to Lautusshire as slaves."

"How would they keep going though? Like, with no men wouldn't they die out in a generation?"

"Well in the myth they end up taking the women from the ship into their society, but they elect one, a singer, as their bard. In some kind of religious ceremony they grant her safe passage back to Lautus so she can spread the songs of their conquests as their official bard. As for normal procreation…I think some of them had penises?"

"Really?"

"Yeah, pretty much half the population. It's not terribly unusual. I think I read once that female hyenas actually have bigger dicks than the males."

"Wait, how do the hyenas give birth then?"

"You know when a snake eats something bigger than it and you can see the outline of-"

"NOOOOO!!!" Krieda covered her eyes as if they could ever be shielded from the harrowing mental image that was forever burned beneath them. "You're evil!"

Conversation and the warmth in his chest faded slowly. Bubbling, bubbling, and out come the words.

"I saw a truck full of humans earlier."

"What, like one of those meat trucks with all the pigs you sometimes see?"

"Yeah. It feels so…incriminating?"

"Eh."

"What?"

"I mean, my vegetarianism's entirely a diet thing, so, I don't feel too much either way. It's like…people argue against eating meat because it's killing animals, but the only reason those animals are alive in the first place is for their meat; cows have so many mutations and genetic deficiencies that they literally cannot survive outside of the farms. Same with humans. Either let them live while using what they have to give, or go and commit cow genocide. There's no winning that argument. Our needs are literally the only reason humans are still alive."

Aerin thought about it for a moment. "Should it be, though?"

Krieda's face retracted from the dimply rose it had acquired, into a softened form of shock; quiet behind her kind eyes. "It's questions like that end up getting people killed…did you speak to anyone? You haven't said anything like that out of this house, have you?"

"No, no. Just…philosophising. Huffy Painter on the TV's rubbing off on me."

The painter walked beneath graffiti on the underside of a rail bridge, a black column striding over the long grass and bald patches of an abandoned industrial wasteland, and vanished into the mist that cloaked a Granite District housing estate. Somewhere out in the pale fog, on the edge of an empty street, Chel Hagar's forehead was pressed against the dirty glass of a phone booth. "I-"

The voice on the other end was muffled by miles of flimsy wiring. “…”

"Of course I'm coming home, of course. I just-"

"…"

"Do you know how many people have died, Dhac!? Do you know what kind of absolute shitshow we are living in just now?"

"…"

"Oh for fuck's- THEN WAIT! Keep waiting! Because for the first time in your floaty little glimmer of a life there ARE THINGS MORE IMPORTANT IN THE WORLD THAN YOUR FEELINGS. WE ARE DEALING WITH SOMETHING OUR ENTIRE DEPARTMENT IS NOWHERE NEAR CAPABLE OF HANDLING. THERE ARE SOLDIERS ON THE STREETS YOU SNIVELLING FUCKING-" Her words choked up and she sighed furiously.

Silence on the phone.

Silence in the confessional booth. "Are you still there?"

Silence except for the monotone buzz of a phone off the hook.

"Hello? Baby, I…" Chel's breathing was rickety, her tears about to burst forward. "I hope you'll come to your senses one day and realise I'm no good for you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I-. I did come home, you know. For a few minutes, just before I had to go away again for the crowd control. You'd fallen asleep because you're always asleep when I come home these days and…" She sighed, breathed in, counted to four, and breathed out. "I like your new hair. It's very you, when we were younger…truly fucking adorable." She laughed. "I don't even know if you can hear me. I don't know. If you can hear me…" She thought for a few seconds. "Eight. Eight o'clock. I will move mountains and I will be home at eight o'clock and I will kiss you until your entire face is swollen. I love you. Too much.”

She stood there for a while, and put the phone down and cried. She lit a cigarette. The light above her flickered on and off through the roof of smoke.

Chel made her way up the steps of the police station. Neas Alvus flicked his cigarette butt away on the breeze. "You took your time, where were you?"

"Making a phone call. Nowhere quiet inside."

"Yeah, Atair's fucking lost it. He's screaming at people in the corridor like the world's collapsing."

They walked inside, the wind howling through the cubic towers was shut out by the rotting wooden door. The place seemed barren but for the receptionist and the same mother with the same screaming baby. They hurried down the corridors, stuffy linoleum-and-flimsy-wood tubes, and Alvus held the door open as the last of the black uniforms slipped into the back of the conference room.

Chel and Alvus found white plastic chairs on opposite sides of the crowd. Some of the more high-ranking officers spread out from a cabal around Atair, and folded their arms next to every available exit. This was the secret signal for everyone who valued their lives to sit down and shut up.

Atair stood at the stainless steel lectern, leaning over a pristine white brick of papers. He did not stop to clear his throat. "Every word I'm about to say to you isn't to leave this room. As far as the general public, your friends, your family is concerned, this meeting did not happen. At 9pm last night, an Amphitheatre human known to its owners as 'John Boss' destroyed the first model of our Siran X-01 riot control units, commandeering it and killing enough people that we're still counting bodies. The fugitive was secured and taken to a special unit at St. Kainsach's hospital to be neutralised. At 11:30 that night, this happened."

One of the doormen hit the lights. Now there was only the faint gray glow from the line of windows and the grimy yellow light of the tall, chunky projector at the back of the room. On the screen behind Atair, a corridor, and a timestamp frozen at 11:38PM. When Atair nodded at the man standing at the projector, he flipped a switch; and as the tape ran forward, so did the world. Through the grainy image of a corridor, four black columns - officers - carted the blurred body of John Boss in from the bottom of the screen. A darker side corridor lit up as someone opened the door at the end, and the fugitive's body was carried through. The door shut, and the four split up.

"Right could you just…" Atair stopped mid-sentence as the projectionist fast-forwarded through a couple of minutes. Another figure in black shot up the hall, and the whizzing tape was hauled back into normal speed. The shadow slipped into the side hall, and vanished for a few seconds. The image was silent as some sudden panic came over the officers running into the frame. One buzzed into his radio, and backup soon arrived as they assembled into a firing squad. Another few tense moments, an officer at the back of the formation seemed to be speaking behind his visor. The scene exploded as everyone fired at something that refused to go down; a…surgery table? The squad were bowled over by John Boss, flattened by the steel table he and the rogue officer were running across the bottom of. The rogue shot at some more reinforcements behind a door, the hulking, gorilla-like human slammed the door shut and together they sprinted offstage.

Something acidic rose in Chel's chest as the lights buzzed on again in a seemingly random order.

Atair sighed. "So. Somebody in a police uniform has snuck into a hospital and broken possibly the most dangerous fugitive this city has seen in a decade out of our custody, and murdered one of our youngest recruits along the way. Under less troubling circumstances I would be wondering how someone managed to either fabricate or steal a police uniform. These are not less troubling circumstances. After doing a thorough check of our inventory and CCTV tapes, we know for sure that no uniform was stolen from here either last night, or at any point in which we didn't eventually get the stolen property back. What this means is: I have to seriously consider the possibility that the person on that screen behind me, is also one of the people sitting in this room, right now, next to any one of you."





Which is to say, nothing. Nothing but the seismic tremors of Chel Hagar's heart in the fluid of her ears.

As someone with a scanner started asking for people's right hands, off in the front corner of the room, one officer raised her hand. Atair looked up from his papers. "Yes?"

"With all due respect, sir, if…" she looked at the room behind her "…if the entire station is locked up in here, who's out on the streets looking for this fugitive?"

"The army, Officer Liosta. I got the phone call at about…3 o'clock this morning? Military forces have been called in and have secured a perimeter around the city. Round-the-clock armed patrols will be scouring each district in pursuit of 'John Boss' and its co-conspirators, as well as the maintenance of law and order until the DCPD have found and dealt with our very own rat. Executive orders."

Those two words sent whispers slithering amongst the officers' heads which swivelled from side to side in their seats. "Who's 'executive'? The Prime Minister?"

"That means the bloody king himself thinks this is serious enough to deserve…all of this." One officer muttered under his breath. "Fuck the Prime Minister. I don't think he even has that kind of authority."

Chel tried to remain frozen solid as more scanners combed through the anxious crowd. They started from the front of the three rectangles of warm and terrified people. One by one, the past 48 hours of their lives were scanned and judged - if not 'perfectly sanitary' at least 'not gunning to destroy everything our society values' - and out they went, escorted out of one little door by a corridor of eyes. The herd grew thin and the room closed down as the procession reached the thirteenth seat from the left in the fourth row from the back. The woman didn't look up from her clipboard.

"Name?"

"Chel Hagar."

"Rank?"

"Officer."

She ticked a box. "Where were you between the hours of 10PM and midnight last night?"

"Home. I left the station sometime just after 9PM."

She scribbled into a box, then tucked the clipboard and its dangling pen under her arm. "Hand."

The sweat clung to Chel's glove as she pulled it off. She held her hand out rigid as the cold metal bit into the skin of her palm. A few seconds of buzzing, and the woman let go of her wrist, which she retracted back down into her lap. Her gaze darted down to her hand, whose veins were bulging out of her in a combination of heat and terror. Her eyes were holding back tears of horror, and her throat harboured a pool of burning vomit.

"Okay," said the woman. "Door's on the left, someone will tell you where you should be."

Twenty minutes later, Chel emerged from the bathroom which was empty as her hollow stomach. The colour had been purged from her cheeks, but everyone was too busy to notice the dead person ducking into her office cubicle. She sat down in her squealing chair - "Piggy" - and tried to lose herself in the green lines on the black computer screen. Mentally tracing the borders of each pixel and the void, building little file structures as if everything won't be thrown in the most instantly accessible tip. Paperwork. Administration. Bliss. Paperwork was easy, it didn't look at you and ask questions. You could take your time with paperwork, play with your pen, imagine adventures for the little cartoon animal on your desk.

Beep. An email. Email, too, was fantastic. It was a practise so utterly unlike natural speech as to be a carefully considered art form in itself. Reading and rereading an email before you sent it, combing for mistakes, anything you might have missed out, counting syllables and rephrasing the ends of sentences as a form of administrative zen gardening.

1 NEW

FROM: Dhacadali (d.hagar@nexnet.com)

SUBJECT: WHY THE FUCK IS THERE BLOOD IN THE SINK????

TEXT: [empty]

By the blue light of the television in the corner of the Red Hand crypt, Chel took off the glove on her right hand and unwound the sodden bandage around it. She held up the gaping wound for John Boss the 41st, Lockswell and Täikur to see.

The lens of John's right eye widened along with her left. "You cut that out yourself? That’s fucking hardcore!"

Lockswell leaned closer with beaming, childlike curiosity. "So where is it now?"

"Fixed to our cat's collar,” replied Chel. “There has to be a movement every once in a while. If the chip doesn't pick up any movement at all for two hours, it flags you up on a screen in a control room somewhere."

Täikur spoke up from behind his perpetually folded arms. "Which is very inventive of you, but the army are going to have the whole city locked down within hours. They're already going to be looking for a police officer, and if they ask to scan you, what are you going to do? Bring a doctor's note?"

Boss shot forward on her sovereign spot on the sofa. "Covering up a wound isn't rocket science, I've got everything for the job in my room. It'll have to be here though. I am The Artist, I don't trust anyone else to do it."

Chel looked even more confused in her morphine haze. "But…I still won't have a tag?"

Maurice lit up. "I have a whole bucket of empty ones just waiting to have histories written onto them!"

"…and how the hell did you get your hands on all of those?"

"Well, you see, Chel, in this world, when a homeless person dies-"

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - King Zaedar is Introduced, He Learns of Our Hero’s Exploits in Issue #2, and A Mysterious Force Awakens™ From The Depths of The Ancient Past
Chapter 2 - John Boss - Incredibly - Escapes from "The White Palace of Death”, Shoots A BUNCH of Dudes, and Makes His Way to The Relative Safety of Dryadora’s Coal District
Chapter 3 - Dhubagèl Escorts Aerin Through The Sewers of Dryadora, But Maybe Also His Subconscious? What I Mean is We Get to Know More About This Previously Mysterious and At Points Unsettling Character, and The Subterranean Setting is Associated - in Jungian Psychoanalysis - With The Subconscious, So That Works
Chapter 4 - That Relatively Sedate Chapter Was Just a Break from The All-Important Action! As John Boss and Chel Make Their Way Through The Coal District In Their Attempt to Find Safe Refuge, But Not Without The Police Giving Chase
Chapter 5 - John Boss, Aerin Liette, Dhubagèl Shaen, Chel Hagar, and More are Finally United, and Ready to Strike Back Against King Zaedar’s Brutal Regime
Chapter 6 - The Past 30 Years of Aerin's Life Are Unlived for the Sake of the Plot, by Which I Mean Primarily the Plot of This Book, but Also the Plot Which the Red Hand Formulate in This Chapter, Which - If That Wasn't Obvious to You, Reader - Is a Clever Bit of Wordplay on the Similarities between The "Diegetic" Rebellion's Plot Which Requires Sacrifice, in a Very Fatalistic, Heroic Sort of Way, and The "Non-Diegetic" Aristotelian Plot Structure Which Requires Sacrifice in a Very Ritualistic “High-Maintenance Volcano God” Sort of Way
Chapter 7 - In a ‘Baroque Formalism’ Power Move, Four Conversations between John Boss the 34th and the Three Members of the Dryadora Red Hand Cell Are Intercut with a Scene of Domestic Mundanity, and a Scene of Great Heroism Which Is Also a Flashback into the past of John Boss the 41st. For the Purposes of Light Genre Parody, a Minor Character Has a Silly Name; A Minor Character Waits for a Bus, Which Doesn't Actually Move the Plot Forward or Contribute to The Themeing in Any Meaningful Way, And a Minor Character Mentions Things from Wurld’s past but Doesn’t Explain Them, Which Gives You That Kind of High-Fantasy Texture without the Bogged-Downedness That Comes with Fields of Exposition: All the Flavour of Fantasy with None of the Nutrition, and I Think That's Beautiful
Chapter 8 - The Night before the Operation, Aerin — Overcome by Insomnia — Hides Away in His Study and Distracts Himself from His Fear of Tomorrow's Events with the Comforting Familiarity of His Self-Loathing. Kreida Tries to Comfort Him and the Two End up Comparing Notes on a Relationship Forged under the Crucible Pressures of Mental Illness. It's Actually Really Nice.
Chapter 9 - There's a Flashback to an Episode from Chel Hagar's past with Revealing Parallels to Another Episode from Chel Hagar's Past: Chapter 7 of Issue #2. You Might Assume This Is Our Only Reason for Jumping Back a Few Years in Time, but Only If You Pay Attention Will You Notice That We're Subtly Reminding You of and Expanding on the Sub-Sub-Plot of Dryadora and / or the Whole Elvin Empire's failing Electricity System, Because That's Going to Be Important Later. We Then Seamlessly Transition into the Red Hand Cell's Infiltration of the DTV Station Where the Tapes of What Actually Happened in the Arena Are Kept. Being the End of Act II / Beginning of Act III, Things Go a Bit Skiwhiff and the Chapter Ends on a Thrilling Cliffhanger That You'll Have to Wait 'Til next Sunday to See Resolved!
Chapter 10 - Aerin and Krieda Spend Most of the Day in Dryadora's Pearl District, a Nice Day out Which Is Actually a Ruse by Aerin to Get near the Arena Where the Prime Minister Is Making His Speech. Krieda Is Conveniently Scheduled to Visit Her Parents in the Afternoon, so This Gives Aerin the Perfect Opportunity for a Heartbreaking Goodbye Scene before He Goes to Infiltrate the Press Crowd and Place Lockswell's Signal Jammer on the DTV Van's Satellite. Aerin and Dhubagèl Engage in Some Breathtakingly Suspenseful Scenes of Social Deception, but Are They Wily Enough to Avoid Detection by the Already On-Edge Members of the Prime Minister's Elite Guard? Also, How Good Was Doctor Who Last Night?
Chapter 11 - The Red Hand Defend the Control Room as Their Broadcast Goes out to the World. They Flee, and after a High-Octane Chase Scene They Escape into the Forests. All Hope Seems Lost, but Then They Are Saved by a Mysterious Character from an Earlier Point in the Story in a Way That Is Surprising but, Crucially, Still Made Inevitable by the Aristotelian Clockwork We've Established up until This Point. I Liked This Week's Doctor Who a Lot More Than Frank Cottrell-Boyce's Last Episode. It's Good That We're Getting More Fully-Realised Alien Planets In The Show Again
Chapter 12 - The Twelfth One