Stars Trilogy


This is the page where I list excerpts from the Stars trilogy with a brief overview of each volume. Please note; these excerpts are for publicity purposes only. All work on these pages is copyright Martyn Kinsella-Jones, and no cutting, pasting, and passing it off as your own please. Plagiarism devalues both the works copied, and any work derived from the copying.

The Sky full of Stars, by Martyn Jones:

Excerpt. From part One

This sequence is from the end of the first Omega proving mission, about page 27, where an unknown power attempts to shoot down the returning Omega Drive experimental Star Ship.

“Omega ground control to Omega. What are you doing?” Piotr almost shouted across the comms link.
“Omega to ground control, it’s called a rescue. Engaging drive in five. We have long range visual on bogey. It’s a military missile configuration. Possible nuclear payload. Second stage burn observed.”
“Omega, get out of there…Omega?” Abruptly there was no carrier signal. Piotr stared at each of his team members in turn, a sudden echoing hole in his gut.
“Omega Launch from ground control, respond please.” There was silence for four long minutes. A stifled sob was heard. No one was sure from whom.
“What’s happening?”
“Oh God.”
“What?”
“Detonation. I’ve hacked into the visual feed from a civilian Weathersat. A massive EMP just blacked out two satellites in that orbital path. We have a confirmed nuclear detonation in orbit.” Disbelieving faces exchanged horrified stares for a moment before the control room speaker boomed clearly;
“This is Omega to Omega ground control. Respond please.”
“Omega, what’s happened? Respond please Omega.” For ten long seconds there was silence.
Then the control room speaker came to life. “Excuse a six second delay control, we’re about one and a half million kilometres from Earth out towards Lunar Lagrange point two. We have Omega Orbiter and crew safe. Okay, we have a visual on the bogey detonation. Fuel at ten percent.” Corwen’s voice boomed into the air.
“Omega control, status report on Omega and Orbital Launch station.” Piotr counted off twelve seconds in his head before the speaker boomed again.
“Omega control, this is Omega. Launch Orbiter is safe and sound. All systems operative. We are currently transferring fuel for light speed plus hop to orbit. Will require second Orbiter for complete crew transport to ground.”
“Affirmative. Switch telemetry to encoded channels.” Again, the Mission controller counted off the seconds. He looked across the semicircle of desks in the control room. From the end, Ishmael nodded his balding head at his boss. Piotr felt an intense surge of relief and spoke. “Omega ground control to Orbiter and Omega. Glad you’re safe. Stay where you are for three hours, repeat three hours before returning to the orbit I’m sending you as an encrypted file. Keep radio silence until then. Can you do that?” He keyed off a small file containing the orbital insertion figures. The silence between answers frustrated him, but there was nothing to be done except wait.
“Affirmative Omega control.” Then the speaker went silent.
“What in the narrow pits of hell is going on?” A voice, muffled by safety glass boomed. A white haired ruddy faced man, bulky in his business suit, was staring outrage into the control room.
“Oh Jesus, who let that congressman in?”
“Did I see someone try to kill the Omega crew?”
“Will somebody clear the gallery please? I want a security lockdown, now!”
“That is a hostile act against the Union of North America!”
“Will somebody lock that crazy man up?”
“Unhand me boy!”
“Come with me congressman.” A security guard pleaded.
“What are you going to do about that act of war!?”
“Now please. We have a security lockdown.”
“You can’t hold me! I’m a member of the North American Congress!”
“Sir, please leave the gallery. Now.”
“Put that Tazer away son.”
“Come with me congressman.”
“I will not be held against my will!”
“Sir, please. I really don’t want to have to use this.” The guards voice was achingly polite, almost pleading. There was half-second pause as the congressman seemed to reconsider.
“All right. I’m coming with you, but under duress.”
“Yes sir.” The security guard’s voice was full of relief. Tazering a senior politician would not look good on his résumé. Piotr’s shoulders sagged in relief as the complaining politician was led away. “Can someone get me the military?” He asked.
“I’ve got a General Roberts on line.” Christine replied from her desk.
“Put him on my private screen.”
“With you now.”
“General?” Piotr said.
“Mission Director? I hear someone tried to shoot your spacecraft down.” Said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“They almost succeeded. Do we have any clues?”
“Not yet. The President was watching your feed live. As of now, the Union of North America is going to DefCon two. All our anti missile defences are now live. I am also authorised to invoke the States and Provinces Mutual defence act, which means no one is going home until we have some answers. You will transfer your staff to our secure facilities immediately. Mission control will be possible from there.” General Roberts professionally impassive features gave nothing away, neither did the body language from his wide shoulders and bull neck that rose treelike from the collar of his Army uniform.
“Yes sir.” The Mission Director acquiesced wearily. He hated the military, but if someone was shooting at them, then they needed any help they could get.
“Don’t look so worried Mister Weissman. We’ll help get your people home safe.” Was that a smile?
“Thank you General.” Piotr keyed the screen off, ending the call. As he did so, several soldiers in body armour and dark combat fatigues entered the control room, nervously toting assault weapons. One, a slightly built figure a head shorter than the lanky mission Director approached him, weapon held at high port. “Mission Director, will you accompany us please?” He was slightly startled that the voice emanating from the combat fatigues and body armour was female. “I’m Lieutenant Mayberry. My men will escort you and your people to our transport outside.”
Nervous security staff cleared the way as the ten strong mission control team were walked briskly down blank beige painted corridors to the back exit, where in the shade of thirty five Celsius desert heat stood four large military personnel carriers in olive drab paint and no other markings.
“You guys are fast.” The Mission Director remarked dryly as he was ushered through the days heat to the air-conditioned rear compartment. His shirt felt suddenly light and hot, and sweat luxuriated from his skin like in a sauna.
“Standard procedure sir.”
“Where are we going?”
“The secure facility sir. My job is to get you there safe and sound.” The door slammed behind him and with another slam she took up her position next to the driver. Twisting around, he saw the rest of his team briskly embarked as their four-vehicle convoy sped off across the vast concrete expanse that was once the old Edwards Air Force base. The air conditioning came on full blast, leaving the Mission Director to shiver.
He stared ahead moodily, then allowed himself a brief smile. they should be celebrating a successful mission right now. No, more than that, a superbly successful mission with the added jubilation of a dramatic rescue in Earth orbit. He peered ahead to where a large plainly marked Olive drab painted executive jet sat on the apron, no doubt with the engines warming up. Up beyond Lunar Orbit, the Omega crew would be busily recording, recalculating and monitoring. All he could do right now was worry. He clenched fingers into cushioned seat armrests.
Thirty seconds later, he and his team were being decanted rapidly up the Executive Jets spotless access steps into a plain but comfortable fourteen-seat interior. Two military flight attendants ushered them efficiently into their seats, with two of their Marine ‘protection’ detail boarding behind them. Less than one minute later he felt the customary lightening of weight as the aircraft’s wheels left the tarmac. The whole routine felt slick and had the air of being endlessly rehearsed. He glanced at his watch noticing less than four minutes had elapsed since leaving Mission Ground Control.
“What about that congressman?” He spoke aloud for the first time since boarding.
“Congressman Mitchell is in the shelter at Mission control under security lockdown.” Lieutenant Mayberry spoke briefly from the seat across the table. Despite having boarded the aircraft, she had not doffed her helmet, and her assault weapon was on the table in front of her with both its magazines removed for safety.
“Ah, thank you.”
“My pleasure sir. Had he not complied when he did, we would have been forced to shoot him.” She said, a little too matter-of-factly for his liking.
“You would have shot a congressman?” The Mission Director said carefully.
“Yes sir.” Was there a hint of irony in her voice?
“Really have shot a congressman?”
“Yes sir.” Was she smiling?
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“Only if my orders so specify, sir.” She turned away and looked out of the window.
“Ah.”

End of excerpt.

Excerpt from the beginning of Part two.

New planet, just another day at the Office, until a newbie Xenobiology Technician refuses to obey a direct order.

Part Two

“Well, are you ready?” The pale blue sky looked a lot like Earth.
“You first.”
“Oh I will be, I will be.” Paul Stovek cracked his dark red environment suits visor and sniffed cautiously. “Smells a little like pine resin and dry leaves. Cool too, there’s some wet weather coming in.”
“Wet weather?”
“If it doesn’t rain in the next hour you can name this world.” Paul grinned. “My orders were to name this world New Virginia if it turns out not to have any sentient life.”
“Then what?”
“We work out what the natives are saying and use their name for it.”
“If they can talk to us.”
“We’ll see.”
“There was little electromagnetic energy output detected on our orbital approach. No artificial constructs in planetary orbit that we could see. No land based infra red sources bigger than three metres long. The fish on the other hand, are huge. We are talking Blue Whale and bigger.”
“Impressive.”
“Those trees look like a cross between primitive palms and pine trees. No grass of any form. We have several types of analogous moss species.”
“Earth era analogue?”
“Late Devonian, early Carboniferous. Maybe.”
“So no sentient species?”
“Nothing to indicate tool use, building, or coherent thought.”
“New Virginia it is then.” The first spatter of drizzle bounced off his raised visor. He stuck his tongue out and tasted the cleanliness of the warm precipitation. Behind him, the white painted thirty metre bulk of Survey One gleamed in the damp air and weak sunlight.
“How many of these planets have you surveyed now?”
“Eight. Look at my grey hair.”
“Weren’t you on the first Omega proving flight six years ago? The one that ended that Gaian invasion attempt?”
“I was on the first successful test flight, but I missed the crash landing.”
“That was before the engineers came up with the balanced coil solution allowing manoeuvring within a gravity well.”
“Mm.” Paul took off his environment suit helmet, enjoying the sensation of light rain falling upon his uncovered head. “Some guy shot me in the leg during a kidnap attempt, so I missed seeing Omega make it’s final approach. Must have been quite something.”
“It was.”
“You were there?”
“I was a Sergeant in the Signals Corps near Virginia Beach. When the Omega dumped it’s big long EMP it stopped all the Assault Cyborgs in their tracks. Looked like a massive orange comet with a big tail of smoke and sheet lightning following it. Air stank of Ozone, even from five kilometres away. Had ourselves a field day wrecking the disabled ‘borgs, blowing them away with double-ought buckshot.” The technician shrugged. “Got invalided out of the army with PTSD and took two masters degrees in zoology and biology at NYC. Put my name down for the planetary surveying programme and found myself doing this.” He gestured at the broad view to a sea visible through a gap in a range of low hills. “First wave surveys on new and uncharted worlds. Ain’t life crazy?” He undid his suit helmet.
“Yeah. At least from here.”
“Could have been worse, I could have stayed in the Army.”
“True.”
“Where you from, Colonel?”
“Oh, Manitoba originally.”
“Hey, I got a sister in Winnipeg. Three kids. Makes me feel old every time I visit. You got family?”
“Not living, no.”
“When I finish my six year tour, I’m going to go settle down in some University town and lecture kids on Xenobiology. Maybe marry, start my own brood. How about you?”
“I’m a pilot. Expedition commander. It’s what I do.”
“Way we’re expanding now we’ve got a cheap way of getting around, you’ll never be out of a job. Hello, little feller.” Clive Driscoll picked up a five centimetre long eight legged pseudo-ant with a pair of soft tweezers and dropped it into his portable sample scanner. “This machine takes half the fun out of life. Scans, uses a computerised taxonomy programme to classify the species, and doesn’t hurt anything.” He chuckled quietly to himself.
Down amongst the low fern growth, something rustled as it approached. “Perimeter alert, zero six five degrees.” The auto defence system reported to their headsets. The eight strong landing survey team paused what they were doing and waited nervously, wondering what was coming.
“IR signature indicates six legged creature. Possibly warm blooded. Stand by.” The carefully modulated voice of the system warned.
“Let’s back off a little, folks.” Paul advised, watching for the first appearance of whatever it was. “These things don’t know about people, and we don’t know about them.”
While the rest of the landing team moved back towards the reassuring bulk of the Survey one. “I’d like to get a closer look.” Indira Singh paused.
“Indira, this is your first mission. Don’t make it your last.” Paul warned.
“But it’s only half a metre long.” She protested. “How much harm can it do?”
“First contact protocols.” Paul reminded her. “We are strangers in a strange land, this is their planet. Let’s respect that, eh?”
“All the same..”
“Indira, get back here. Now.”
“No need to shout.” She made a show of packing up slowly. A blunt snout covered in a slick layer of something similar to brown and green fur stared at her. Three eyes gazed lazily out from the greenery, nictitating membranes lubricating each crystal striated eyeball in turn. “Indira!”
“There’s no harm in it.” She protested, her deep hazel eyes glowing with the inner joy of discovery.
“Indira.” Paul called again.
“Oh, don’t be stupid.”
“Back away. Now.” The creatures twenty centimetre wide head weaved from side to side, bony prominences hinting at reptilian evolution. Indira knelt down and put out her hand. “Come on little guy, I won’t hurt you.” She crooned. The animal slowly moved out of cover from under the ferns, head still weaving side to side in a curiously comical way. “See.” She turned and smiled smugly.
No one really registered what happened next. There was a greenish brown blur as the creature literally sprang forward and suddenly half Indira Singh’s arm was gone, the ragged stump spraying blood all over bare rock. Then the creature was gone and she was left staring at her missing limb in terrified disbelief. “Shit!” Paul swore. As he ran to help he caught a glimpse of the animal in the undergrowth spitting out the remains of Indira’s shattered limb, seemingly in disgust. Spread the word fella, we taste bad. He thought, nightmare images from Gliese 581C threatening to crowd his upper thoughts.
Clive Driscoll was ahead of him and had already applied direct pressure to her pulsing brachial artery, shutting off the flow of blood. Indira stared wide eyed at her missing arm and screamed violently, kicking and struggling, ululating her agony until a quickly applied sedative hypo silenced her pain.
“Multiple IR sources incoming.” Warned the auto alert scanner.
“Back in the Lander. Everyone!” Paul barked. “Move!” Clive and three of their stronger team members picked Indira up and quickly carried her up the steps of the Lander to safety. As they prepared to raise the ladder, three other creatures of the same species eased out of the undergrowth, staring at the big metal invader and it’s parasite bipeds. The crew struggled inside through the suddenly too small hatch which was quickly shut behind them.
“Hatch secure. Ladder up.” Reported the crewman by the inside hatch.
“Give us a few minutes to stabilise Indira and get her into the medi-module.” Clive and two other survey members busied themselves inserting IV lines and securing the sedated Xenologist into the single clear plastic topped medical bay at the cabin’s rear.
“How is she?” Paul asked, at the same time running through pre takeoff flight checks.
“Lost a lot of blood quickly. Need to get her to a surgical facility fast.” Clive reported, not taking his eyes off the medical monitors.
Something bounced off the outer hatch, hard.
“Hungry little bastards.” Paul’s co-pilot, a Chinese complexioned woman named Lan Yue commented sardonically. “We ought to have some kind of weaponry to fight them off.”
“Wait until the drive field initiates.”
“Okay, medical module set to quarantine mode. She’s secure.”
“Scratch 51 Pegasi D.”
“One casualty does not call off a survey, but we have to get Indira back to a decent hospital facility. The mission protocols are quite explicit. We’ll be back.” Paul said sharply.
“At least we know the natives aren’t friendly.”
“Hope it bloody chokes them.”
“Everyone ready?” Lan Yue wasted no time on niceties.
“All secure.” Called the door crewman.
“Ready to go.”
“Lifting.” The curious stillness inside the windowless hull was not reflected by the image in the front wide screen of a tilting and rolling horizon.
“Just like in a video game.” Commented one of the other survey team from behind.
“Landing legs up, but we have a little visitor in the nacelle.”
“He’s dead the moment we hit vacuum.”
“Nicely sterilised too. Serve it right.”
“Rate of climb, three hundred per second.”
“Hull shielding nominal.”
“Engaging drive in three minutes and counting.”
“Affirmative. Auto initiate set.”
“Sequence programmed. Course set. Okay people, home in time for afternoon tea.”
“You know that’s something I’ve never gotten used to.”
“What?”
“The fact that it takes less real time to travel fifty light years than it takes to fuel and prep one of these birds for flight.”
“That’s the wonder of non-Einsteinian space travel.”
“There’ll be hell to pay about Indira.”
“She disobeyed a direct order, not to mention ignored first contact protocol.”
“Which is?”
“Always treat all fauna as potential predators. We learned that on Gliese 581C. Three of the survey team were overwhelmed and killed by local wildlife.” Paul said, unable to hide his bitterness at another aborted survey.
“I blame the urban upbringing of these kids.” Lan Yue shrugged in her harness. “They need to get out in the wild on earth before we let them loose on other planets. Someone in HR needs a reality check.”
“How many survey missions have you done?”
“Four. Glad I wasn’t on the early trips.” She said.
“I’m packing an old fashioned shotgun on my next mission.” Paul said conversationally, eyes flicking over the screen display.
“Mission wouldn’t let me pack a handgun on my last trip.” She curled her upper lip.
“How come?”
“Safety, usual excuses. I think they consider anyone who knows how to use a firearm a little unstable.”
“Rather unstable than eaten alive.” Clive said sourly from behind them.
“Can’t we get some kind of armed security?”
“Politics. The various nations all think that someone else will try a military takeover of a new world.”
“What of?”
“Oh, they seem to think some kind of military claim to a planet will be made. That sort of thing. Me, I think they spend their whole lives with their heads up their asses.” Clive remarked, idly checking his seat belt. The rest of the survey crew were doing the same.
“They’re just scared.”
“They’re scared. They should have something to be really scared about.” Clive indicated Indira’s sedated form, the ragged horror that had been her right forearm hidden by the medical module’s padded grey body web.
“Okay, clear of atmosphere. Firing manoeuvring thrusters.”
“Course check confirms arrival time.”
“What are you doing after debrief?”
“Are you asking me something?”
“Well, kind of. I was going to try and get all the off mission pilots together.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Not a date.”
“I’m married anyway.”
“We need to revisit the first contact protocols without civilian committee members present.”
“With you so far.”
“We need some sort of defence rather than just an audible warning system.”
“Okay. We’re going back three days early. The other three survey crews should still be off rotation.”
“I know this really good coffee house off Ascension base.”
“All right.”
“We’ll have a union meeting.”
“Fine. One minute to auto initiate.”
“All systems ready. Reactor at full power.”
“Deflection shielding full power.”
“Lot of micrometeorite activity. That’s new.”
“We have a large single object incoming. Extreme range.”
“Cancel initiate. I want to see this.”
“Large body incoming. Relative velocity twenty six kilometres a second. Mass around…. Oh my, this doesn’t look good.”
“A planetary impact? We have to get this data.”
“I have an initial reading of…. Oh. You’re right. Doppler indicates asteroid size of about fifteen kilometres. Ah, I see, it’s tumbling. Still heading for New Virginia. Vectors indicate that it will intersect the planets orbit shortly.”
“How long?”
“Two planetary days. Maybe a little more. It might even miss.”
“Let’s get Indira home. Deploy one of the remote observation satellites at one million kilometres, north polar.”
“Confirm. Programmed and ready to deploy.”
“Can we deploy any more?”
“We’ve only got two packages left.”
“You don’t see asteroid collisions every day of the week.”
“Agreed. We can come back and scoop ‘em up later. Or someone else can do it.”
“Programming equatorial surveillance package for launch.”
“Wow, an extinction level event and we have to go home?”
“Look on the bright side, we could have been down there when it hit.”
“Agreed. Course set for first deployment.”
“Engaging.”
“Deploying now.”
“Second and third satellite packages programmed and ready.”
“Vectors checked. Engaging.”
“Package two deploying – now.”
“Package three ready. Deploying.”
“New course for home calculated. One minute to initiate.”
“Pity we’ll miss it.”
“You’ll just have to be happy with the movies.”
“Shame we can’t leave someone on that moon to observe.”
“We don’t have the gear to leave a manned presence in hard vacuum for longer than thirty minutes.”
“It’s the chance of a lifetime.”
“Mission protocols dictate we return injured crewmembers home immediately.”
“Aw, crap.”
“See if mission scheduling will allow you to go out on an emergency observation mission when we get home.”
“I’m due to rotate off schedule for three months after this trip. It’s mandatory.”
“Let’s go home. We can see the re-runs later.”
“All systems ready for engaging. Reactor at full, fuel sixty percent.”
“Enga……ge.” Without a shimmer, the thirty metre long cylindrical form of the survey craft disappeared from the Pegasi 51 star system.

End of Excerpt.

Excerpt: From Falling through the Stars by Martyn Jones

This section covers the early stages of breakdown of control by Gaian Authorities. A young woman, Rene Auberjois, aide to a senior Gaian minister, finds herself alive and in the middle of a wrecked train, inexplicably in the middle of a stripped field in northern France.

Renée Auberjois raised her head slightly and softly groaned. Every inch of her ached terribly and even her bruises seemed to be bruised. She spat dust from her mouth. She moaned again and some light debris clattered off her back onto what was left of the railway carriage floor.
The floor sparkled with shattered safety glass and a ten centimetre thick layer of dust. Outside the shattered remains of the super fast ministerial train she had been travelling on it was dark as midwinter, and quiet. Very quiet. Her ears almost rang with the silence. The air was dusty and thick with the odour of hot metal overlying another, heavy, slightly fatty, smell like burned meat gone off.
She blinked and pushed to her feet, despite the creaks and aches in her abused body, pulling the tangled rags of her headscarf off the dusty curls of her naturally wavy light brown hair and coughed, brushing grainy grey miasma from encrusted eyelashes. “God, I must look a mess.” She unconsciously spoke in English, her voice sounding very loud and harsh, almost like a croak.
Dust and debris sloughed aside as she sat up. Three metres away the carriage abruptly ended in a tangle of shattered composite and torn metal. That was where the ministerial delegation had been drinking champagne a few moments ago. When had that been? Her ePC would not connect with the Euronet and its battery was down to ten percent. The little devices internal clock showed forty-eight hours had passed since their boarding time. Whatever happened must have occurred when the train was over twenty kilometres away from Brussels. She shivered with a ghastly feeling of prescience.
Renée rewound the events in her cotton wool fogged head as she scrabbled around the remains of the onboard drinks cabinet for the supply of bottled water she knew was onboard. Her brief search was rewarded with three unbroken litre bottles of Perrier. Taking a careful swig she rinsed out her parched mouth and spat, then took a long slow chug of the gaseous liquid. “Shit.” She hated Perrier for it’s slightly acrid aftertaste and silently wished the Commissioner had ordered her to stock up on Evian instead.
Her underwear felt crusted and she was sure she stank like the gutters in a Parisian banlieue. A few short scrabbling seconds later located her overnight bag, and after a short visit to the mercifully intact onboard lavatory at the less damaged front of the carriage, Renée felt almost refreshed. The onboard galley kitchen had been fully stocked, and she found edible cheese and some dry Saucisson sec with two bottles of reasonable red wine in a still sealed storage locker. The body of a young bodyguard, found crumpled and broken necked at the very far end of the carriage yielded a fully charged mini flashlight, a five millimetre automatic handgun and two spare clips of ammunition. Renée, as an official Aide to the Commissioner, had hazy memories of some cursory post induction firearms training. She had no idea if she could ever use a gun in anger, and secretly hoped she wouldn’t have to. All the same, she took the weapon.
She shook her head to clear it. A flash of memory reeled back almost eighteen years to a plane crash. Stinking grey / brown water, the stench of burned composite, aviation fuel and stinking black mud all crowded through her senses, overwhelming the nausea she had felt when confronted with the bodyguard’s strangely unbloodied corpse. A feeling of loss, an emotionally ripping sensation, like Velcro of the soul as someone dear to her disappeared into the fog of suppressed memory. “Okay Tiggy.” She called herself by her childhood nickname and mentally straightened up. “Let’s see what’s going on.”
The sun was a foggy orange dot in a thick grey haze outside the remains of the carriage, which sat perfectly upright in the middle of a large flat field whose edges could not be seen through billowing clouds of fine grey dust. Once she had awkwardly clambered to the ground, Renée looked about, shielding her face from the dust with a fresh headscarf wrapped Tuareg style. When she stood back she could see the shattered half carriage standing alone in the middle of a stripped field without benefit of tracks. “What?” The expostulation was dragged from her still dazed senses. Just over half a shattered railway carriage sat upright in front of her, defying all logic, dust drifting snow-like up against naked steel bogies amongst the outrage of a stripped crop of indeterminate stalks.
For want of any better decision, Renée decided that perhaps heading for the nearest city would not be such a good idea, and taking a wild guess at direction, headed roughly away from the blurred orange disk in the sky.
Half a kilometre over rough ground in unsuitable indoor shoes she came to a low fence and swung across it, ripping the back of her long body-concealing dress on a ragged strand of single strand barbed wire as she did so. “Merde!” She swore loudly, then stared alarmed at a single dark figure that seemed to have materialised in the swirling grey.
“Regardez la fosse!” Called a woman’s voice. “Defense de tomber. Il pue.” The following hollow laugh suggested that she herself had fallen into the ditch not long ago.
“Ou ette nous?” Called Renée.
“Ouest de Hennuyères.” Came the reply. Renée approached the woman, picking her way timidly across the shallow stinking ditch.
“Ce qui est cela?” Renée asked, waving at the grey choking miasma.
“Le gris? Je ne sais.” Responded the shape. “Les greywhere sont vous de la fille?”
“Le chemin. TGV.” Renée waved vaguely towards the east.
“Non, vous etes Belge? Oui?”
“Mais non, ma famille sont Francaise. A la Normandie.”
“Vous ne me sonnez pas Normandie ma fille.” The woman sounded sceptical about Renée’s claim of French upbringing or place of birth. “Vous etes Anglais, n’est que pas?”
“Non.” Renée protested.
“Mais oui. Reposez-vous, je ne suis pas un EuroPol. Vous parlez Anglais?”
“Er, yes.”
“That’s better, I was running out of French myself. Don’t even ask me to try Wallonian or Flemish.” The woman approached and the tension eased out of her voice.
“How did you know?”
“Your accent. Not Belgian enough, not French enough. Not enough stress on the right syllables.” The woman walked to within two metres and stuck out a gloved hand. “Rosalind Carter.”
“Renée Auberjois.” Renée shook the woman’s hand with as firm a grip as she could manage.
“That’s not an average English name.” Commented her new friend.
“We’re not an average English family.” Conceded Renée.
“Touché.” Behind the face covering headscarf, Renée thought she saw the ghost of a smile.
“I was on my way to a conference.” Renée said carefully.
”On the train? The TGV?”
“Yes.”
“Uh-huh. Not the one that’s scattered all over the tracks. I thought that was comprehensively looted yesterday.” Rosalind’s voice was loaded with scepticism.
“I don’t know. All I know is that the carriage I was in is sitting in the middle of the field behind me.” Renée gestured back over her shoulder.
“Show me.”
“This way.”
Clouds of grey dust were finally beginning to thin out as they crossed the field full of denuded stalks, retracing Renée’s footprints in the all-covering miasma. Renée kept her eyes on the tracks she had left, already softened by fresh falls of grey until the shape of the half carriage loomed out of the dusty fog. “Fuck a duck!” Rosalind said with a sharp intake of breath. “You were in that?”
“Yes.”
“It’s a Commissioners carriage. Anything good left?” Avarice dripped from the older woman’s voice.
“Don’t know. Might be some Perrier.”
“Perrier eh? Anything else?”
“Maybe some cheese and dry sausage.”
“It’ll do.” Rosalind avidly scrambled up into the remains of the carriage and quickly found the remains of the galley. A few minutes later she emerged with a bag full of provisions. “Real coffee!” She proclaimed triumphantly. “Jesus! Real meat and cheese!” Rosalind passed the bag down to Renée. “I haven’t seen this kind of stuff for years.” There were tears in her eyes as she ravenously chewed off a mouthful of garlic sausage and sat down, feet dangling over the shattered end of the carriage, childishly kicking up her long skirts in sheer delight. Renée couldn’t help but smile at the simple enthusiasm of her older companion. Now that the face covering had fallen away, Renée could see her new friend’s features. Wispy straight blonde hair streaked with grey, framed pale and angular careworn features, currently reset to bliss with her first taste of real food in years. “I got the chocolate.” Rosalind smirked happily, then her face darkened as she saw vague shapes materialising from the fog. “Time to go.” She jumped down from her perch, and both women hurried away, following their own footsteps back the way they had come, across the field and back to the road. Angry voices sounded behind them and then there was a loud bang! Accompanied by an orange flare and a zipping sound.
“Fuck off and die you bastards!” Snarled Rosalind, and swung around to face the direction of the gunshot with an angry upraised middle finger. “My competitors.” She said by way of explanation. “Fellow looters.” She enlarged.
“Not friends then?” Asked Renée.
“Not as such. Probably my brother in law and his flic cronies.” Came the reply. “We need to get away from here. Twenty klicks would be good. You said your family was from Normandy?”
“Kind of.” Renée hedged.
“Brittany?”
“Just outside of Vire. Small town about halfway between Caen and Rennes.”
“Anywhere but here.”
“Any transport?” Renée asked with a sidelong glance after they had picked their way over the stinking ditch and onto cracked and frost buckled asphalt. Another bang came from further away.
“Bicycles. Best we can do.”
“Yours?”
“They will be.” Smirked Rosalind. Out of a pocket in her long dress she brought a pair of forearm length cable cutters. “We’ll cycle down the road to Mons until we get to the old highway south, then we can head towards Cambrai, then Amiens and Caen. How’s that sound?” She tucked the cable cutters away again with a smug look. “We’ve got food, and we can watch each others backs.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I was taking a break during a family visit when there was a huge rumbling boom and this huge cloud rolled over everything and laid half the houses flat. Been scavenging for food for the last two days. Stores are all looted, nothing’s working.”
“What about you? Don’t you want to get back home?”
“Not bloody likely. Across the channel is a lunatic asylum. Lots of little fiefdoms all stuck in their own little poverty traps. Godawful place.” Rosalind’s cheery expression darkened. “Got out first chance I could. Married a Frenchman. Even if Marcel did turn out to be a right pig. Before he died last year.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not.”
“Oh.”
“Miserable prick he was.”
“Yet your surname’s English.” Renee tried to steer the subject away from husbands.
“Marcel’s grandparents were English who chose to settle over here.”
“Oh.” Renée coughed and spat.
“This dust’s pretty awful. Any idea what caused it?”
“No.”
“Seemed to come from the north. Not as bad as it was.”
Two and a half hours stumbling through dust-drifted roads led them to the small town of Soignies where two bicycles were ‘liberated’ with the aid of Rosalind’s cable cutters. Ten kilometres south west along broad, deserted highways the dust suddenly cleared, and they found themselves washed by a sudden downpour of warm torrential rain which for reasons unknown, made Rosalind shriek with laughter as it formed a fine mist almost a metre above the asphalt. Soaked to the skin, heavy dark clothing plastered to their bodies, they simply carried on pedalling and let the rain wash the dust out of their clothes and hair. Renee noted how terribly thin her new friend looked. She abruptly felt guilty about her own slender but relatively well-fleshed build.
Traffic along the pothole strewn streets of Mons was almost non-existent, and most of the population seemed to have gone to ground. Few stores were open, and only Renee had a change of clothing in her scavenged luggage. They found shelter just before nightfall in the small French town of Bavay, dodging feral gangs of scavenging children. An Auberge with a lobby richly populated by dusty potted palms and waxy foliage on the western side of town reluctantly took Renee’s Red Government Privilege ID card to guarantee payment for a double room and food, even though the monetary data transfer system appeared to be down. The clerk at the desk seemed not to care. It wasn’t her Hotel. She didn’t even look twice at Renée and Rosalind’s bedraggled appearance.
“Glad I met you.” Said Rosalind after a short shower to clear the rest of the dust from her body and clothing. “A real hotel room.” She said smugly as she snuggled under the duvet. “Clean sheets and real food.”
Renee said nothing, but just lay staring at the ceiling after they had turned out the lights. The Euronet terminal in their room didn’t display any content but a blank screen and the girl on reception had no idea what was going on. All she could tell them was that a complaint had been registered, and that a service engineer should be checking the local transmitter, sometime. “Soon, soon.” She had insisted offhandedly.
When Renee and Rosalind came down for breakfast the following morning, one of the local Gendarmes was in the lobby, looking slightly perplexed. He had come to check the old-fashioned hotel register book because all the local data systems were inoperative. Not even the old fashioned telephones were working properly. Rosalind looked furtively at her forearm where her subcutaneous citizens RFID chip was embedded after the Gendarme passed them by in the restaurant come lobby. Renee caught the brief glance and caught her meaning; the whole system that tracked each citizen from cradle to grave was down. Perhaps, she wondered abstractedly, now might be a good time to remove the widely resented monitoring device. Neither of them had any real plan apart from getting to Vire and surviving to the next meal, but not being able to be tracked by the flics seemed advantageous.
The black uniformed flic left the aspidistra cluttered lobby, muttering complaints about all the extra work these ‘glitches’ were causing him, and both women breathed a little easier. While the Europe wide surveillance net was down, they could move around without demands being made upon their whereabouts. Renee wondered about her friend, Marie-Louise, currently under house arrest in the small Breton village of Lehon. A vague scheme began to percolate within her subconscious. As they pedalled down the smooth asphalted road to Valenciennes, a loose plan of campaign began to take form in her mind.
Spending the next night at another small family run hotel, again happy to take sight of Renée’s Red Privilege card as guarantee of payment, they breakfasted and gossiped like old friends until Rosalind grew serious and whispered. “Renée?” Rosalind sipped her café au lait thoughtfully.
“Mmm?” Renée flicked a glance through the restaurant window at the retreating back of a local Gendarme.
“Why do we have these things in us?”
“What things?” Renée said blandly, watching the uniform disappear across the square.
“The tracking things.”
“I don’t know.” Renée said, trying not to listen to her new friend’s heresy.
“You know, the chip thingies. In your forearm. They put one in when you’re born.”
“The citizenship chip?” Renée looked up, slightly alarmed. Suddenly guilty that the thought had thought had recently occurred to her. “You have to have one. It’s the law. You can be executed on the spot as a spy if you haven’t got one. It’s an act of treason.” She listened to the words coming out of her own mouth. Is that me talking?
“I don’t like people knowing where I am all the time.” Rosalind wrinkled her lips, showing the lines of strain and age in her face. “Just for once I’d like to bunk off without having to ask permission. Is that so bad? It’s not like I want to bring the whole system down or anything.”
“But then you’d be a terrorist.” Whispered Renée, shocked that any citizen of the great Gaian State should contemplate such a thing. Another part of her was even more shocked that she would condone the summary slaying of anyone for not having a tracking chip.
“No I wouldn’t. I’d be me.” Rosalind grumbled quietly.
“But then how would you eat? How would you buy food?” Renée countered.
“Doing all right so far aren’t we?”
“Yes, but…” The words trailed away. Renée realised where she was and what she was doing. She was completely off the map of her previously cosy and ordered existence and in completely strange territory. She, Renée Auberjois, Secretary to the Commissioner for Internal Security, was running away. She was a fugitive from the state. She had stolen the wine, sausage and cheese from the wrecked carriage. She was a, a looter. A sudden prescient fear ran through her like an electric shock, as the veil would be ripped from her head before the executioner….Oh no. She felt suddenly sick, and held her hand to her mouth.
“We have to leave.” She said urgently.
“I haven’t finished my coffee.” Rosalind saw the look on her face. “Are you all right?”
“I have to get back.”
“Back to where?”
“I don’t know.” Tears blurred her vision and Renée put her face in her hands.
“Renée. You’re not making any sense.” Rosalind gripped her arm, forcing her to stay seated. “Girlfriend, what is the matter with you?”
“They’ll catch us.” Renée whispered. “They’ll catch us and punish us.”
“What for? We haven’t done anything.”
“For disobedience to the state.” Renée hissed urgently.
A woman on the other side of the Restaurant raised her head to the tone of panic in Renée’s voice. Rosalind’s lips compressed into a fine tight line of annoyance. “Get a grip girl, we’re not fugitives. We’re refugees.” Rosalind pulled her hands down to the tablecloth. “We are seeking sanctuary.” She reiterated. “And if the sodding holier than thou Gaian State can’t make that distinction it doesn’t deserve to exist.”
“Sorry.” The panic-flutter in Renée’s chest still refused to go away.
“Let’s get out of here.” Rosalind pulled Renée to her feet and grimaced an apology to the curious woman. “Elle sont malade.” She said to their observer in clumsy French.
“C’est rien.” Conceded the elderly woman, dabbing carefully at pale lips with a napkin. “Vous etes anglais?”
“Oui.”
“Avec moi.”
The older woman stood up and led the panic stricken Renée and the puzzled Rosalind out of the Restaurant. They followed her down a dusty side street over archaic cobbles, her composite heels making a curious half thumping and clicking noise as they followed the diminutive black clad form without understanding why they were doing so. A man wheeled his bicycle past them, acknowledging the older woman’s presence with a perfunctory nod of recognition. “Ici.”
The woman led them around the corner to a dusty fronted store. She knocked peremptorily on the poorly fitting door, which jingled softly. “Nous sommes fermé.” Came a gruff heavily accented voice.
“Georges. Ouvre t’il. Et maintenant.” The older woman demanded in imperious tones.
“Ou est que ce Helené?” Georges, whoever he was, obviously knew her voice well.
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ” Helené startled both Renée and Rosalind when she suddenly spoke in fluent English. They were equally alarmed to hear Georges reply; also in curiously unaccented English. “You don’t need to quote St Francis of Assisi to me you old battleaxe. I always help don’t I?”
“Vrai.” Helené said before turning on her heel and clump clicking off down the cobbled street as though nothing had happened.
“Come for a tattoo eh girls?” The door creaked unevenly open and a fleshy walrus moustachioed face with lively pale brown eyes leered out at them.

End of excerpt.

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