The Short Story Project

Presented by Campus and QUT

SSP

Campus  Magazine  is  creating  what  could  be  a  first-­of-­its-kind  experiment  in  creative  writing,  bringing  together  creative  writing  students  in  Australia  and  Singapore  for  the  Short  Story  Project  (or  SSP), working with Campus Magazine’s pool of contributors in collaboration with 5 students from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. The  story  will  be  written  in  alternating  paragraphs,  with  Australia  and  Singapore  each  contributing  one  paragraph  per  day  to  the  story,  building  on  the  previous  one.

The story begins here…

It  had  just  been  one  of  those  days,  and  Bruce  couldn’t  stop  fixating  on  that  piece  of  meat  stuck  in  between  his molars…

Chinook salmon, freshly imported from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Wrapped in 24-carat gold leaves. Topped with 0.20-carat African diamonds. Bruce had been in no position to say no. He’d taken the piece of sushi and popped it casually into his mouth, all too aware that the hors d’oeuvres cost more than his life savings. Now he plucked a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and gargled discretely. He wasn’t himself.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

“You know why I called you here.”

Bruce switched the personal dental display on his left cornea off, and turned to look at Planetary Elector Wai, who had taken a seat at the next table. She slid a photograph out of a binder, glanced around the restaurant, and got up, leaving the photograph on the table.

Bruce could see that it was an ancient daguerreotype of a very familiar face…

(Teng Jing Xuan, Singapore)

He observed it hesitantly at first, then leant in for a closer look. The old copper plate had weathered, but the image of the black-eyed soldier was still clear enough for Bruce to identify the supraorbital instalment scar. There was no question as to who it was—impossible though it seemed.

‘Nice picture,’ remarked a waitress as she reached for Bruce’s empty sushi plate. ‘You haven’t aged a day.’

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

Sliding the photograph into his pocket, Bruce navigated through the well-dressed crowd, carefully avoiding some precariously arranged chocolate dodecahedrons on a table near the door.

The company transporter was waiting outside. Bruce stepped in and greeted his three colleagues, who were already strapped into their seats.

There was a moment of silence as the four men looked out the diamond windscreen. Four identical reflections stared back at them.

(Penthesilea Chua, Singapore)

Bruce coughed, disguising what was actually a burp. That damned salmon, he thought, kicking the XS7 into gear. As the machine slipped through the city, Bruce’s partners grew uneasy—they didn’t like waiting for orders. Jeep, the fat one, snatched the photograph from Bruce’s pocket. He smiled slowly, chortled. Steel and Poe nodded. But Bruce drove calmly onwards—only two kilometres to the palace. His insides turned.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

He was chased out of the transporter and the heavy metal transformed into a gigantic full-fledged robot which looked like it came from another planet. Jeep forcefully dragged him towards the deserted palace with the other hand tightly holding onto the tattered picture. Bruce had no idea what was about to happen. As one of his colleagues reached for the entrance, Bruce heard the sudden shriek of a woman from the dilapidated place.

(Yoon Ji Seon, Singapore)

Bruce hadn’t been here since the last days of his childhood. He’d expected it to be run down, but not like this. Where his grandfather’s universal time chamber had once stood, in the centre of this entrance hall, there was a pile of electrical waste and discarded battery engines. A sliver of moonlight shone through an opening in the roof.

The woman shrieked again. “Traitor!”

Bruce was in a sweat.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“Grab the transistor!” Poe hissed in his ear.

The woman’s shrieking had turned into growling. It seemed to originate from within the entrance hall but aside from the four men there was no-one in sight.

“God, what’s the matter with you?” complained either Steel or Poe – Bruce couldn’t tell in the dim light. Jeep was moving about the hall, tagging cables with his handheld CatView.

Suddenly, the growling stopped.

(Teng Jing Xuan, Singapore)

The only indication was a slight quake, but it was enough to send each man sprawling for cover. Pup dove through the steel roof like it was water and stuck a heavy landing. Its feet bored into the ground, the stabilizing drills whining while Pup’s full armament unwrapped. Pup scanned the hall, and the witch descended. Machinegun fire punctured her neck and torso. Black smoke billowed from each wound.

(Harlan Ambrose, Australia)

An all too familiar scream from an all too familiar voice. And then, there was silence. A ricocheting shrapnel wormed its way into Steel’s midriff, gnawing at his flesh. A shot to the upper torso – setting off intermittent flashes of “Warning!’ which was now clouding his thoughts.He’d be here before. In another light, in another time. The vociferous crackling of concrete under metal did nothing to resuscitate his conscious self. His ammo pack was a finger’s grasp away, rendering him as useless as a fork in a kitchen of soup.

He knew the Witch was near. He could feel her.
Tonight felt like a good night to die.

(Prabhu Silvam, Singapore)

Bruce watched as Steel luminously convulsed, then folded into rigid death. The acrid dust of the witch circled his crumpled body like a scavenging animal. Then, as if through dead will, his jaw opened, drawing in a speeding stream of blackness. A low rumble, then a twitch until the flaming witch gushed from Steel’s mouth in a pitch stream of ash.

‘Give it back!’ she screamed, pointing at Bruce.

(Rebecca Kahler,  Australia)

A squalid opening to the right revealed the exuberance of the galactic sky, comets and all.
Shooting stars were a commonplace this time of the year.
Then again, so were the night watch patrol ships ever since the invasion.

“Poe! Cover at 8!” Bruce roared, as he enveloped himself under a dilapidated
pillar, firing rounds as he did.

Still visibly displaced from the aftershock, Poe reached into his utility pack and fished out
his thermal viewfinder. Vengeance is underrated. A fellow comrade had been slain.
It was mere obligation that blood be spilled in the name of a fallen friend.

(Alexander the Great, Singapore)

Bruce had never questioned the intentions of Poe, his closest comrade. He was a good man, resilient and honest. Bruce lay waiting behind the pillar for the enemy’s next move, his chest panting, his hands swollen. Inspiration struck.

Bruce scrambled through the rubble to reach Poe. Their identical appearance was not a coincidence after all, he thought. It was the reason why one of them would die here tonight

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“Friends for life…” he mumbled dumbstruck, barely hearing himself speak the words. It had always sounded trite when someone else had said it. “Friends for life, eh?”

Bruce took a breath so deep, it seemed his lungs would never fill. Raised his gun and said “Goodbye Poe.” The shot rang in his ears as Poe slumped to the ground. The shooting stopped. Someone started slowly clapping. “Well done, Bruce…”

(Lucius Tan, Singapore)

It was Planetary Elector Wai. Jeep stood vigilantly to her right; the witch fluttered cool blue flames to her left. “Well done,” Wai calmly repeated. She served a hand across the room, showcasing the damage to Bruce.

Steel: dead. Poe: dead. One of them was the insider. Fifty-fifty. Heads or tails.

With both men down, the mission was over.

But Wai smiled gravely. She seemed to think otherwise.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

The asteroid-caked floors shivered a little under Bruce’s feet, as it broke open to reveal a capsule bathed in eye-blinding magenta light. Wai walks assuredly towards the rising pod.

“Earth domination is just a breath away…”

In a far off corner, a staccato growl echoes through the darkness, and a faint figure galumphs across the cracked floors. Creeping up behind Bruce, another adumbral figure lumbers towards the light.

Jeep lets out a throaty howl, “ZOMBIES!”

(Anne D’cruz, Singapore)

Bruce doesn’t flinch. He glances knowingly at Wai who quickens to his side. She slips her hand into his vest, retrieves two 0.20-carat African diamonds, then pushes one into Bruce’s carotid inoculation receptor with a glossy talon. She repeats the same for herself. A blue glow emits as they both exhale, now impervious to attack.

‘Just a breath away…’ repeats Bruce, watching Jeep yield to a violent scrum of the undead.

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

A rush of adrenaline scours through Bruce, his pupils widening with
each exhalation. An unfounded sense of energy and might burgeons through his veins. For a millisecond, nothing seems to matter.

Every life he’d ever taken had finally lead him up to this point.

He looks intently into Wai, who is now trying to make out the words from his quivering lips. Without blinking he thrusts his crescent-shaped kris into her abdomen, still looking into her eyes as he turns it clockwise to ensure her demise.

(Prabhu Silvam, Singapore)

Victory tastes better than gold encrusted sushi, Bruce thought. It was as if the blood in his mouth had turned into a sweet vintage wine.

He continued turning until the diamonds locked into place. A brilliant white light emits from Wai’s chest and gush of wind blows through the chamber.

Finally, Bruce is alone. He looks around the palace. The remains of his childhood. So many years of suffering.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

Bruce inhales a lungful of cold air.

From the frosty corner, a warm magenta glow crawls out of the woodwork and sneaks into Bruce’s peripheral vision. He turns his head in a gawky manner, now eyeing the pod that is oddly surrounded by stalagmite-like spikes.

He bites his shrivelled lower lip, and hesitantly walks towards the luminous light.

“What in God’s name do I now do with this useless bunch?”

(Sam Anne, Singapore)

As he nears the pod Bruce notices that the spikes bear symbols relieved into each base. Ancient, yet familiar enough. Bruce remembers once seeing them as he probed through the studies of his Grandfather’s library.

He touches one. It hums, but then he feels something arrive like the rumbling breath of time. Bruce quickly turns to see a tall man cloaked in black, sabre raised to strike.

“My grandson, a disgrace,” growls the man.

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

“You’ve lost the mission. I’m cutting this short…” as the sabre falls, Bruce winces. Everything goes black as if he’d died…

Opening his eyes, he blinks in the harsh, blueish simulator light, with General Tiberius Bruce staring at him. “You’re a disgrace Sgt. Bruce. Whatever strength I passed to your father has diluted to you. You’re dismissed.” Suddenly everyone in the room was extremely busy not watching Bruce march out.

(Jennifer Loh, Singapore)

Keeping his disappointment in check, Bruce exited the underground military compound, which happened to be directly below his favourite sushi stand. He ordered the usual—two seafood rolls, $4.90—and sat down in a park to write.

The city was futuristic around him. Not with robots or zombies or the magenta-like colours. But with possibility. He could write his own story.

Negotiating a mouthful of salmon, he got to work. He didn’t feel a total failure.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

Where did it go wrong? Not just today, this mission. The entire lot. He liked parks and sushi and quietly recollecting his thoughts. Soldiering was misery… Zombies, seriously?

Just then, a standard-issue military transporter glided up, stopping at the bunker entrance. He watched Wai exit the vehicle with a purposeful stride. Recollecting the simulator and killing her, he smirked as some rice fell from his mouth.

(Gan Phua Beng, Singapore)

What a waste it had all been. A beautiful, delicious waste. Sushi was all he had really wished for in this life.

Bruce was a silly man. Brilliant, but ridiculously silly. He had learnt a lesson or two today, he supposed. Never trust an old friend. Never rely on your instincts. Certainly, never trust a witch.

A gentle breeze blew through his hair. Freedom, he thought. This was the life.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“And… Cut!”

That was the last scene of the day. Bruce, aka Johnny Thunder, stood up and walked towards his trailer. “That scene was epic… People’s Choice Award is mine!” as he absentmindedly flexes his biceps in an oversized mirror. There was a knock on the door.

“Here’s your divorce papers,” said Wai, aka soon-to-be ex-wife. Johnny yanked the envelope and slammed the door. Hollywood marriages never last, he mused.

(Angeline Silva, Singapore)

“And… Cut!”

That was the last scene of the day. Bruce, aka Johnny Thunder, stood up and walked towards his trailer. “That scene was epic… People’s Choice Award is mine!” as he absentmindedly flexes his biceps in an oversized mirror. There was a knock on the door.

“Here’s your divorce papers,” said Wai, aka soon-to-be ex-wife. Johnny yanked the envelope and slammed the door. Hollywood marriages never last, he mused.

Suddenly, somewhere a bell rang. Bruce’s arm flops involuntarily across his chest. He opens his eyes. It’s Monday, 545am according to the chirpy DJ. Nick Bruce, disillusioned, 3rd generation owner of Bruce & Son’s Sons Auto Repair hated cars. He hated grease that never left his fingernails. He hated… “Bruce, get up.” It was Wai staring at him from across the bed. “I am dear. By the way, shall we have sushi again tonight?”

What a waste it had all been. A beautiful, delicious waste. Sushi was all he had really wished for in this life.

Bruce was a silly man. Brilliant, but ridiculously silly. He had learnt a lesson or two today, he supposed. Never trust an old friend. Never rely on your instincts. Certainly, never trust a witch.

A gentle breeze blew through his hair. Freedom, he thought. This was the life.

Where did it go wrong? Not just today, this mission. The entire lot. He liked parks and sushi and quietly recollecting his thoughts. Soldiering was misery… Zombies, seriously?

Just then, a standard-issue military transporter glided up, stopping at the bunker entrance. He watched Wai exit the vehicle with a purposeful stride. Recollecting the simulator and killing her, he smirked as some rice fell from his mouth.

Keeping his disappointment in check, Bruce exited the underground military compound, which happened to be directly below his favourite sushi stand. He ordered the usual—two seafood rolls, $4.90—and sat down in a park to write.

The city was futuristic around him. Not with robots or zombies or the magenta-like colours. But with possibility. He could write his own story.

Negotiating a mouthful of salmon, he got to work. He didn’t feel a total failure.

In his mind he’d won. In his mind the plan had worked perfectly. He’d played them all—Wai, Jeep, Poe—each oblivious to the ultimate plot. But hadn’t they all wanted the victory he got—to be the last man standing?

Tiberius should stay in the past, Bruce thought. Why impose my future?

He felt his anger rising like the suns now glowing on the daybreak horizon.

Two of them. One too many, he thought…

“You’ve lost the mission. I’m cutting this short…” as the sabre falls, Bruce winces. Everything goes black as if he’d died…

Opening his eyes, he blinks in the harsh, blueish simulator light, with General Tiberius Bruce staring at him. “You’re a disgrace Sgt. Bruce. Whatever strength I passed to your father has diluted to you. You’re dismissed.” Suddenly everyone in the room was extremely busy not watching Bruce march out.

As he nears the pod Bruce notices that the spikes bear symbols relieved into each base. Ancient, yet familiar enough. Bruce remembers once seeing them as he probed through the studies of his Grandfather’s library.

He touches one. It hums, but then he feels something arrive like the rumbling breath of time. Bruce quickly turns to see a tall man cloaked in black, sabre raised to strike.

“My grandson, a disgrace,” growls the man.

Bruce inhales a lungful of cold air.

From the frosty corner, a warm magenta glow crawls out of the woodwork and sneaks into Bruce’s peripheral vision. He turns his head in a gawky manner, now eyeing the pod that is oddly surrounded by stalagmite-like spikes.

He bites his shrivelled lower lip, and hesitantly walks towards the luminous light.

“What in God’s name do I now do with this useless bunch?”

Victory tastes better than gold encrusted sushi, Bruce thought. It was as if the blood in his mouth had turned into a sweet vintage wine.

He continued turning until the diamonds locked into place. A brilliant white light emits from Wai’s chest and gush of wind blows through the chamber.

Finally, Bruce is alone. He looks around the palace. The remains of his childhood. So many years of suffering.

Wai fell slowly. She doubled over. And then—PING—she vanished to a point. Bruce, feeling dizzy now (which sometimes happens when you switch from past tense to present tense and back again), was quick to pocket the evidence. Wai’s diamond.

He surveyed the hall; Jeep had slain the zombies, and perished; Bruce was the last man standing; it was time to take control of the future.

“Ahem.”

Bruce turned, saw the witch’s flames die down. Now he was looking at Wai. The real Wai.

Duh, he thought.

A rush of adrenaline scours through Bruce, his pupils widening with
each exhalation. An unfounded sense of energy and might burgeons through his veins. For a millisecond, nothing seems to matter.

Every life he’d ever taken had finally lead him up to this point.

He looks intently into Wai, who is now trying to make out the words from his quivering lips. Without blinking he thrusts his crescent-shaped kris into her abdomen, still looking into her eyes as he turns it clockwise to ensure her demise.

Bruce doesn’t flinch. He glances knowingly at Wai who quickens to his side. She slips her hand into his vest, retrieves two 0.20-carat African diamonds, then pushes one into Bruce’s carotid inoculation receptor with a glossy talon. She repeats the same for herself. A blue glow emits as they both exhale, now impervious to attack.

‘Just a breath away…’ repeats Bruce, watching Jeep yield to a violent scrum of the undead.

“Silence!” the witch yelled. “Jeep, I’ve had enough of your antics.”

The dark figure stepped into the moonlight. Senator Wai stood watching from the pod, his hands behind his back.

“Poor baby,” crooned the witch. Her husband, Warlock Tye, came to stand beside her. He was a great giant of a man, wearing long dark robes.

Warlock Tye placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. He turned to Bruce.

“Oh.”

Not even the Witch sees this coming. She flies Brucewards, huddling him under a wing of fire as more shadows emerge. The zombies make short work of Poe and Steel. Jeep is next, and he goes with a crunch, Wai’s icy countenance the last thing he sees.

The Witch flickers, alights, and a moment later there’s a hole in the wall. An escape. “We have to go now.”

Bruce nods. “Yes, mother.”

The asteroid-caked floors shivered a little under Bruce’s feet, as it broke open to reveal a capsule bathed in eye-blinding magenta light. Wai walks assuredly towards the rising pod.

“Earth domination is just a breath away…”

In a far off corner, a staccato growl echoes through the darkness, and a faint figure galumphs across the cracked floors. Creeping up behind Bruce, another adumbral figure lumbers towards the light.

Jeep lets out a throaty howl, “ZOMBIES!”

The casual applause echoed in surreal contrast to the lurid chaos of what had been the witch. All was suddenly silent. The enemies had vanished. It was as if a page had been turned and the blade edge of a terminal story had inexplicably broken into some kind of quiet, starlit, slow-motion moment. Bruce’s trigger instincts were spot on. He stared at Jeep, then grinned big.

‘We’re in the finals!’

The witch appeared out of the wreckage in her human form. She was a slender woman with a high peaked forehead and dazzling power-rings on each of her long fingers.

“You’re not as useless as the squadron said you’d be”. She slowly circled Bruce, taking in his blood-spattered clothes. “And now that you’ve completed my task, there’s just one thing left to do.”

A bell sounded. The Universal Time Chamber.

It was Planetary Elector Wai. Jeep stood vigilantly to her right; the witch fluttered cool blue flames to her left. “Well done,” Wai calmly repeated. She served a hand across the room, showcasing the damage to Bruce.

Steel: dead. Poe: dead. One of them was the insider. Fifty-fifty. Heads or tails.

With both men down, the mission was over.

But Wai smiled gravely. She seemed to think otherwise.

“Friends for life…” he mumbled dumbstruck, barely hearing himself speak the words. It had always sounded trite when someone else had said it. “Friends for life, eh?”

Bruce took a breath so deep, it seemed his lungs would never fill. Raised his gun and said “Goodbye Poe.” The shot rang in his ears as Poe slumped to the ground. The shooting stopped. Someone started slowly clapping. “Well done, Bruce…”

But friend, or betrayer? Bruce was the unwitting mark in this set up—a pawn of the ancestral palace. As his arms bounced with the staccato pump of gunfire, he spotted Jeep and Poe skittle towards the entrance, out of sight.

The witch, hovering like an ebony tempest, shot a jet from her pulsating neck. It snaked Bruce’s chest, tightening until he lost trigger.

“Give me the Chambergem!” she demanded.

Bruce had never questioned the intentions of Poe, his closest comrade. He was a good man, resilient and honest. Bruce lay waiting behind the pillar for the enemy’s next move, his chest panting, his hands swollen. Inspiration struck.

Bruce scrambled through the rubble to reach Poe. Their identical appearance was not a coincidence after all, he thought. It was the reason why one of them would die here tonight.

A squalid opening to the right revealed the exuberance of the galactic sky, comets and all.
Shooting stars were a commonplace this time of the year.
Then again, so were the night watch patrol ships ever since the invasion.

“Poe! Cover at 8!” Bruce roared, as he enveloped himself under a dilapidated
pillar, firing rounds as he did.

Still visibly displaced from the aftershock, Poe reached into his utility pack and fished out
his thermal viewfinder. Vengeance is underrated. A fellow comrade had been slain.
It was mere obligation that blood be spilled in the name of a fallen friend.

Bruce watched as Steel luminously convulsed, then folded into rigid death. The acrid dust of the witch circled his crumpled body like a scavenging animal. Then, as if through dead will, his jaw opened, drawing in a speeding stream of blackness. A low rumble, then a twitch until the flaming witch gushed from Steel’s mouth in a pitch stream of ash.

‘Give it back!’ she screamed, pointing at Bruce.

But what night didn’t? Bruce dealt in death, after all. He’d sacrificed the good life for duty, for a dream, and his family’s name — all that royal weight — had sagged, buckled, dispersed. A dynasty broken. Under fire, the palace continued to fragment around him. Marble reduced to marbles. Lifeless jewels spilling from cracked cabinets. This would all have been his. His dream had turned nightmarish, and he wanted it all back.

Through the hole in Steel’s stomach, the witch wormed her way in. She spread through his blood like bile. Steel had always been a strong man. The gym records at the academy were all his. But here, with the demon inside him, he stood, ran to the immovable structure that was Pup, and lifted the robot from its deadly nest.
Bruce unclipped the sticky plasma and threw it at Steel’s back.

He’d known the witch would be impervious to the shots. That’s how Bruce’s grandfather, the great Counselor Wo, had created her. More slippery than a bullet. Feisty and fearless. Technology from the past.

She laughed. The sound of her voice ricocheted down the walls and into Bruce’s memory.

A mirror, he thought. That’s what he needed. That’s how he could reveal the witch, how the other men might finally understand.

An all too familiar scream from an all too familiar voice. And then, there was silence. A ricocheting shrapnel wormed its way into Steel’s midriff, gnawing
at his flesh and his now punctured ego. A shot to the upper torso was always en celebre for his vital stats meter – setting off intermittent flashes of “Warning!” which was now clouding his thoughts.

He’d be here before.
In another light, in another time. The vociferous crackling of concrete under metal did nothing to resuscitate his conscious self. His ammo pack was a finger’s grasp away, rendering him as useless as a fork in a kitchen of soup.

He knew the Witch was near. He could feel her.
Tonight felt like a good night to die.

Bruce caught a glimpse of light slice through and dissolve in the muted space above the debris—a broken image of someone running, and another sound, laughter this time.

Then he remembered: the Crossovers.

“They’re mighty restless tonight,” said Jeep, chuckling as he dragged the cables towards an old in-phase box on the far wall.

“Not for long,” replied Poe. “They’re gonna hitch the jump with you, aren’t they, Bruce?”

The only indication was a slight quake, but it was enough to send each man sprawling for cover. Pup dove through the steel roof like it was water and stuck a heavy landing. Its feet bored into the ground, the stabilizing drills whining while Pup’s full armament unwrapped. Pup scanned the hall, and the witch descended. Machinegun fire punctured her neck and torso. Black smoke billowed from each wound.

Silence, then: all air was sucked out of the hall. Poe and the twins flew backwards; Bruce kneeled solidly. Free from Poe’s grip, he sprang into action, detaching the still-glowing Time Heart from the coils of his grandfather’s broken machine. He ran. The architecture responded to his movements, still in sync with his royal DNA, however disgraced. Doors opened. Candles flamed to life. He lodged himself deep within the palace.

“Grab the transistor!” Poe hissed in his ear.

The woman’s shrieking had turned into growling. It seemed to originate from within the entrance hall but aside from the four men there was no-one in sight.

“God, what’s the matter with you?” complained either Steel or Poe – Bruce couldn’t tell in the dim light. Jeep was moving about the hall, tagging cables with his handheld CatView.

Suddenly, the growling stopped.

They entered the dim atrium where she lingered in holographic form; ghost-like in historic pearl satin. She was whipping the chain tethered around her waist against the littered floor.

‘Scram!’ she screeched. A hissing cat bolted.

‘Kitty hasn’t got your tongue yet?’ quipped Jeep, strolling. She glared in reply, but then stilled in disbelief as Bruce shadowed in. Wide-eyed silence passed, then she spoke, light surging through her skin: ‘Father?’

Bruce hadn’t been here since the last days of his childhood. He’d expected it to be run down, but not like this. Where his grandfather’s universal time chamber had once stood, in the centre of this entrance hall, there was a pile of electrical waste and discarded battery engines. A sliver of moonlight shone through an opening in the roof.

The woman shrieked again. “Traitor!”

Bruce was in a sweat.

She came running through the marble arch, a veil over her face like she’d been at a funeral. “Silence!” Jeep ordered, enjoying his new authority. The old woman fell silent, and Jeep threw Bruce down onto the hard landing, Steel and Poe and the XS7 looming. “Well?” Jeep demanded.

Bruce was not in the business of lying. But he lied now. “No. I don’t know this woman.”

His mother howled.

Bruce was chased out of the transporter and the heavy metal transformed into a gigantic full-fledged robot which looked like it came from another planet. Jeep forcefully dragged him to the deserted palace with the other hand tightly holding onto the tattered picture. Bruce had no idea what was about to happen. As one of his colleagues reached for the entrance, Bruce heard the sudden shriek of a woman from the dilapidated place.

They sat in silence, listening to the gentle rumble of the transporter’s engine as it glided through the dimly lit streets. Bruce hadn’t expected to be leaving the party so soon. That ridiculously delicious piece of sushi had hardly been filling and he wasn’t going to count on a hospitable welcome from wherever he was now heading.

The transporter slowed as they turned down a back alley.

“Get out!”

Bruce turned away, he’d seen enough of his own face to understand it was now a target for the pre-2millennia Itinerants. As for the other three, he knew at least one of them had to be in on the interference that had erased his memory of how and why—a sleeper in the midst. Bruce checked his watch: 33:02hrs. Next scheduled portal departure: 01.00hrs. Not much time to find out…

Bruce coughed, disguising what was actually a burp. That damned salmon, he thought, kicking the XS7 into gear. As the machine slipped through the city, Bruce’s partners grew uneasy—they didn’t like waiting for orders. Jeep, the fat one, snatched the photograph from Bruce’s pocket. He smiled slowly, chortled. Steel and Poe nodded. But Bruce drove calmly onwards—only two kilometres to the palace. His insides turned.

‘What’s that in your pocket?’ one man asked.
‘Oh,’ Bruce said. ‘The letter D.’
The other men looked at each other.
Bruce removed the ripped-out pages and flattened them on his knee. ‘My doctor said I wasn’t getting enough Vitamin D.’
He let his finger drop like it was weighted.
‘Disorder: a state of confusion.’ Bruce closed his eyes and breathed deeply. ‘That should get me through the day.’

Sliding the photograph into his pocket, Bruce navigated through the well-dressed crowd, carefully avoiding some precariously arranged chocolate dodecahedrons on a table near the door.

The company transporter was waiting outside. Bruce stepped in and greeted his three colleagues, who were already strapped into their seats.

There was a moment of silence as the four men looked out the diamond windscreen. Four identical reflections stared back at them.

Marvin Martin, the planet’s most famous game-show host. He was instantly recognisable by his protruding front teeth, slick hair and, of course, that charming, devilish grin. The lights from the chandeliers danced across Marvin’s photo. Bruce quietly cleared his throat and cracked his knuckles. From the tabloids, Bruce knew that around a month ago Marvin had finished shooting the final episode of ‘Space-time Bomb’ and hadn’t been offered another contract.

He observed it hesitantly at first, then leant in for a closer look. The old copper plate had weathered, but the image of the black-eyed soldier was still clear enough for Bruce to identify the supraorbital instalment scar. There was no question as to who it was—impossible though it seemed.

‘Nice picture,’ remarked a waitress as she reached for Bruce’s empty sushi plate. ‘You haven’t aged a day.’

Before entering the ballroom, Wai whispered something to a man in a tar-coloured suit, who repeated the message into his lapel. Wai turned, giving Bruce a final, world-depending look. He nodded seriously. He the photograph. He studied it the way he would a wine list. Inconspicuously. Naturally. But the world was a question mark. When he’d fallen asleep last night, he’d looked like this man.

“You know why I called you here.”

Bruce switched the personal dental display on his left cornea off, and turned to look at Planetary Elector Wai, who had taken a seat at the next table. She slid a photograph out of a binder, glanced around the restaurant, and got up, leaving the photograph on the table.

Bruce could see that it was an ancient daguerreotype of a very familiar face…