I love a good B-Movie.
I’m talking about something lightweight and fun, something best enjoyed when you’re a little drunk, surrounded by friends and Nachos. Something that wouldn’t be out of place on a VHS tape, gathering dust in the video store while the flashier, better known movies are plucked off the shelf for sober viewing. Something starring John Saxon, or Cameron Mitchell, or Sybil Danning. Movies like Starcrash, or Zone Troopers, or Message From Space, or Godzilla Vs King Kong, or Eliminators. I could go on (and some would argue that I already have) but the point is that what these movies lack in technical proficiency or script or … y’know, actual acting, they often make up for in enthusiasm and a wild, enviable energy. The best ones are like listening to ‘Ace Of Spades’ while being punched repeatedly in the face.
With the following story, I wanted to at least touch the surface of that kind of pulp filmmaking. As with the movies I’ve mentioned, you’ll recognise some of the props from other, better media (Phantom Empire, I think, features a car from Logan’s Run, though I’m prepared to be called out on this – you take my point, though). There’s no CGI, all the special FX are taped together with back projection and animatronics. The dialogue is written with scenery chewing in mind. I’ve even left deliberate plot holes. No, honestly, I did it on purpose.
So, break open the beer, grab the Nachos and dive in. Those of you with any respect for quality, or the rules of good taste, or indeed the laws of Physics, might want to look away now …
It might have been funnier, Gabriel reflected, if the
existence of Humanity hadn’t been at stake.
The hatchway to the monitoring suite at Temporal Control
irised open and he entered with as much nonchalance as the bulky combat suit
would allow. It was one of the older models, all that the armoury could provide
at such short notice – all of the newer stuff had been requisitioned by the
military for that big H-Quadrant offensive – and as such the suit probably
hadn’t seen action since the Vampire War ended in 2095, but it was more than
adequate for a simple terminate and retrieve mission like this one. The right
gauntlet was equipped with a machine pistol, the left with a focussed UV
projector that Gabriel thought looked suspiciously new and, deployed at the
flick of the wrist, ladies and gentlemen, a twelve-inch steel gutting blade.
Gabriel Vawn, it said on his interquadrant passport,
underneath the holoimage of the handsome black devil with the cobalt blue eyes.
Temporal Crisis Operative.
The monitoring suite was in chaos. That was what was making
him smile and yet feel, as they said in the trashy foilbooks he was so fond of,
the icy fingers of dread scratching at his heart. Techkids in red velvet, none
of them more than eighteen, were rushing from terminal to terminal, accessing,
downloading, bumping into each other. That was the joke, all of those flashy
young things with their intelligence quotients way up there with the orbital
traffic, going apeshit-loco because someone had stolen one of their little
toys, invaded the temporal matrix and was threatening to fuck up History As We
But Gabriel guessed that the real punchline to all this was
seeing Cameca LeGault panicking right along with them. Cameca LeGault,
respected Supervisor of A-Quadrant’s Temporal Control Division: half-Aztec,
half-New French, all power crazed ice maiden. Gabriel could feel the
surrounding unease infecting him like a flu virus, but it was fun seeing
LeGault melt a little just the same.
He half-expected the frantic crossfire of reports and
warnings to dwindle into an awed hush as soon as he entered the room – he was,
after all, the best – but of course it didn’t. All that happened was that some
Techkid with a pretty bad case of acne had looked up and said, ‘He’s here,
LeGault glanced across at Gabriel, impolitely failing to
disengage the data relay monocle over her left eye. ‘About time.’ she scowled.
‘Time is my business, Cameca.’ Gabriel responded smartly,
and immediately felt like a prick. ‘Lovely to be here.’ he added coolly, as if
that would help.
LeGault turned back to her console. ‘Somebody get the damn
helmet on him!’ she shouted. Two Techkids ran across to Gabriel and began
fitting the angular black headgear over his angular black features. As they did
so, the Supervisor began giving him the story so far.
‘Your target is Julius Lindstrom.’ she said. ‘A terrorist,
former infiltrative nanotechnology expert for the Black Crescent Triumvirate.’
Gabriel heard LeGault’s voice alter as the helmet’s audio-sensors activated.
Unbelievably, she sounded even more soulless and machine-like. ‘He escaped from
the D-Quadrant Imprisonment Compound during the riots there last month. We
traced his penetration into the matrix nine minutes ago, heading for Zero
‘Anybody know how he got hold of a Timepod?’ Gabriel asked,
his own voice sounding strangely filtered and distant.
‘Who gives a fuck?’ LeGault snapped, turning on him. Her
data monocle flashed amber, barcodes of information streaming vertically past
her eye. ‘All that matters is that he’s probably pissing into the primordial
pool by now.’
‘Negative on that, Supervisor.’ One of the Techkids called
tonelessly from her console. ‘T-pod still in temporal transit.’
‘Any way in particular you’d like him terminated?’ smiled
Gabriel through the helmet’s tinted faceplate.
LeGault’s eyes narrowed. ‘You might find your options a
little limited in that respect, Vawn.’
‘He’s a Vamp, isn’t he?’ Gabriel asked her. ‘Something one of those damned Frankensteins
at the Tech Service cooked up. That’s why they gave me the UV unit.’
LeGault nodded. ‘Apparently not all the Vampire DNA was
destroyed in the War.’ she informed him gravely, as though that explained
everything. ‘The military managed to recover some from those corpses they found
in the Arctic. Lindstrom was one of
several state captives deemed as acceptable subjects for … experimentation.’
Gabriel could hear the disgust in LeGault’s voice as she
revealed this, and for the first and last time in his life, he liked her. Just
for a moment, but even so it was a weirdly pleasant experience.
One of the Techkids was struggling with the locking
mechanism that sealed the helmet to the combat suit’s collar. Gabriel waved him
away and did it himself. ‘I presume you
have a pod ready for me?’
LeGault nodded again.
On the other side of the monitoring suite, the hatchway to the temporal
transit chamber dilated smoothly.
Another Techkid, the one with the pustules, mounted the little ramp that
led into its gleaming white confines a few steps ahead of Gabriel and opened up
the black bubble of the Timepod. He
stepped back respectfully as Gabriel climbed in, then ran back into the
monitoring suite moments before the hatchway closed again.
Gabriel sealed the pod, strapping himself in and rebooting
the Transtemporal communications link; now he would be able to shoot annoying
little quips at LeGault from across the millennia, at least until he got out of
the pod. As yet, no one had perfected a
portable translink for travellers to carry around with them in their selected
time zone, though Gabriel suspected that the Tech Service had a twelve year old
working on it somewhere.
‘I’m locked down.’ he reported to the monitoring suite. ‘Initiate transit protocols when ready.’
He looked at the pod’s brightly-lit control panel – it
registered the invisible shroud coalescing around the little black bubble, the
force field necessary to prevent objects disintegrating the nanosecond they
entered the turbulence of the temporal matrix.
Some Techkid had once tried to explain the workings of time-travel to
him – something about tachyons interacting with the Sterling/Gorski theory of
fusion accelerated quantum reality curves, or something – but Gabriel wasn’t
that interested. He didn’t much care how
his aircar or his coffee percolator worked either.
‘Remember,’ he heard LeGault saying through the
translink. ‘Minimal timeline disruption
is your main priority. Just -‘
‘I know, I know.’ Gabriel sliced off her warning. He’d heard it a thousand times before. ‘Don’t
step on any butterflies. Don’t fret,
Cameca. I’ll be back with Count Dracula’s carcass before I’ve even left.’
He smiled, imagining LeGault’s expression as she started to
worry about the paradoxical repercussions if he did just that. The last thing he heard before Temporal
Control plunged him into the matrix was one of the Techkids muttering to
another over the translink: ‘Count Who?’
* * * * *
‘Groovy.’ Gabriel said. ‘Special FX.’
Above him, the sky boiled.
The black clouds were stitched together with flashes of lightning,
illuminating the rocky desolation that stretched as far as the horizon in every
direction. Erupting volcanoes thrust up
into the turbulent heavens, vomiting smoke and lava that drizzled down to earth
that was like blackened glass, zigzagged with fractures. The wind screamed. There were no butterflies, no buildings. No vehicles, no people. This was Zero Point, and people hadn’t been
He left his own T-Pod parked in the blasted hollow of black
rock that it had landed in, and went looking for Lindstrom’s craft. It was exactly where the short-range scan had
promised, lying intact at the very edge of a high cliff that plunged down into
a molten sea.
Gabriel scanned the pod for booby-traps, found none and
sprung the lock. The pod’s interior was
much the same as his own craft, he saw, a single high-backed seat and a panel
of touch-sensitive controls, currently in unlit standby mode. A closer look brought a grimace to his
features, and he wondered disgustedly if vampires were prey to the common
cold. It certainly looked as though
Lindstrom had gotten off a couple of good sneezes while inside the pod – the
control panel glistened with a covering of some watery greenish gel that made
Gabriel’s innards lurch unpleasantly. He
scanned it, and the combat suit’s computer sent back the revelation that the
ichor was in all probability the protective mucus that vampires secreted
naturally to shield them against ambient solar radiation. The thought didn’t faze Gabriel, though:
sunblock factor 1000 or not, the focussed emission of the UV projector at his
wrist would fry Julius Lindstrom like a strip of synthetic pig-meat.
He reached inside the pod, jabbing experimentally at the
panel and the display illuminated, showing him that the craft had exited the
temporal matrix less than two minutes ago.
That meant that Lindstrom couldn’t have got far. Good.
He slid his fingers down and activated the pod’s targeter,
inlaying the co-ords that would send it back to Temporal Control and finishing
off with a ten-second countdown command.
He snatched his hand back as the pod began to close, feeling a little
flash of satisfaction that LeGault would be as revolted by that greenish muck
as he had been, hopefully more so. Ten
seconds later, the pod vanished.
He scrambled to the top of a rocky outcrop, looking over the
landscape like a general surveying conquered territory. From here on in, Gabriel knew, he was relying
on visual tracking and instinct – no point in looking for a lifesign when your
target was undead. Overhead,
purple-white lightning streaked through the clouds, showing him a dark shape,
navigating the fractured plateau below him with heavy, awkward strides, heading
for the shadowed maw of a cave.
Gabriel leaped. He
hit the quivering ground and ran, the fog of smoke and fiery embers swirling
around him – at one point, a long, narrow fissure opened up before him and he
sprang across it, his heart fluttering like a frightened bird. He reached the cave in less than two minutes,
his mouth coppery and too wet with the adrenaline rush. He told the combat suit to prime the UV
gauntlet, offered a quick prayer, and went inside.
A few metres in, he found what he was looking for, and
something else besides. A wide, shallow
well in the fractured ground, filled with some bubbling colourless soup and
steaming like a cauldron full of witch’s brew.
He scanned it and frowned, recognising his computer’s analysis with an
unexpected reverence. It was the great
amino acid meet and greet in that gunk, it seemed, the fusion into proteins
that were the building blocks of what humans called life. The primordial pool.
Standing over the pool, though thankfully not urinating into
it as LeGault had feared, was Julius Lindstrom.
He was a monster, plain and simple, parsecs removed from the
romanticised Vamps of foilbooks and holomovies and VR sims, the elegantly
wasted wraiths that were pale and slender and immaculately dressed. His genes were the genuine article, reaching
back to touch the carrion-breathed bloodsuckers of Ancient Romania. His torso was bloated, leech-like, perched on
legs as thick as tree stumps and sprouting arms layered with coiled
muscle. Above the tattered collar of his
tunic, his smooth head was a livid crimson, the shade of a man choking on his
tongue. When he saw Gabriel and smiled,
it was with a mouth full of barbed, metallic teeth.
‘I knew they would send someone.’ He chuckled. Even through
the audio sensors of Gabriel’s helmet, the chuckle sounded like it came from a
throatful of blood. ‘But I didn’t think
they’d send someone so little.’
‘Fuck you.’ Gabriel snapped back. As cavalier quips went, it was the best his
brain could offer. He raised the UV
gauntlet. ‘I’m taking you back,
maggotdick. Dead or Undead.’
‘You, little man?’ Lindstrom took a step forward, his
towering bulk shuddering. ‘I don’t think so.
Before this day is over, I’ll be dining on your intestines.’
Gabriel fired. He
closed his eyes, aware that the reflex was redundant; his faceplate was wired
to polarise as soon as he hit the trigger.
He waited for the pleasant chime that would tell him that his target had
been barbequed. It never came.
He opened his eyes.
Lindstrom’s wide, lipless grin had broadened considerably. ‘Oh, your little toy is broken, little man.’
The ground cracked as he advanced.
‘Never mind, let me give you a squeeeeze.’
The UV gauntlet had failed, Gabriel realised with a dreamily
untethered terror. He made a mental note
to kill whoever invented them, if he ever got back. It hadn’t fired, and the faceplate hadn’t
turned opaque. He knew that, because
when Lindstrom had whispered squeeeeze, the tinted glass in front of his eyes
had steamed suddenly with the monster’s graveyard breath.
‘My nanites have invaded your little toy,’ the beast
whispered. ‘I knew you’d met them, your
gloves are covered with them.’
The mucus, Gabriel realised dismally. He put them in the fucking –
Before he could move, Lindstrom’s corpulent arms were
enfolding him, lifting him from the ground.
As good as his word, the vampire tightened his hold; the combat suit
took most of the pressure, but Gabriel still felt a couple of ribs give way
with sickening snaps that lanced agonisingly through his chest.
His arms were pinned to his sides as surely as if he’d been
straight jacketed; Lindstrom was laughing and snapping at the faceplate with
steely teeth. Gabriel saw clots of
somebody’s blood fly from them and spatter against the faceplate like summer
raindrops. The monster squeezed. His crimson moon-face filled Gabriel’s
vision, the yellow irises bright with homicidal joy. Another rib snapped and Gabriel cried out,
his finger tightening spasmodically on the trigger of the machine pistol
implanted into his right gauntlet. He
expected the shots to go wild, ricocheting off the blasted stone metres beneath
his kicking boots. Instead, they blew
Lindstrom’s toes off.
The vampire roared, and threw Gabriel away from him. Gabriel crashed and rolled, the impact
shunting the breath from his lungs as he brought the pistol up to snap off
another shot, and Lindstrom fell on him, his thick fingers seizing the gun and
ripping it from its mountings. The
combat suit’s computer helpfully informed Gabriel of its removal, but it
needn’t have bothered. His eyes were
wide as he watched Lindstrom crush the weapon in his palm and toss it away like
an empty drinks can.
He squirmed like an insect beneath the monster’s elephantine
weight, feeling its ragged nails tear at the combat suit’s rubberised collar,
long and razorlike and silted with filth, tearing, tearing, tearing. In moments, they were tearing at Gabriel’s
They pierced the stubbled skin, sinking into the soft meat
beneath, and Gabriel felt a cold grip enfolding his windpipe – he had the happy
thought that the vampire might simply tear the organ free and be done with it,
but no such good fortune; he meant to make his victim suffer, it seemed.
Gabriel choked, his legs kicking uselessly and his own
fingers clawing at Lindstrom’s wrists.
He tried to take hold of them, praying that he could pull them away from
his throat with some miraculous display of adrenaline-fuelled strength that
would give this adventure extra frisson when he related it to his fellow
Operatives back at Temporal Control. But
unfortunately, as Gabriel knew all too well, such things only happened in
The world beyond his faceplate began to dim around the
edges, and he realised what a joke it was to send such a little man as himself
after a giant like Lindstrom. Gabriel
had inherited his mother’s hands, the wide palms and long fingers of a born
pianist, but his suddenly strengthless grip didn’t even come close to
encircling Lindstrom’s wrists.
It might even be funnier, he reflected in what he knew were
his last moments, If the existence of … Humanity … wasn’t at … wasn’t at …
‘Stake!’ he tried to shout, though nothing came out of his
throat but a breathless whisper. He
worked his left hand between their bodies and, with a flick of the wrist,
ladies and gentlemen, extended twelve inches of serrated steel from its metal
The blade pierced Lindstrom’s belly an inch above the navel;
his yellow eyes widened in sudden, comical surprise. As best he could under the monster’s bulk,
Gabriel twisted the knife, feeling it snag against loops of gut and stomach
lining and then slice through them. When
he sawed into Lindstrom’s aorta, he felt a rush of steaming black gore spill
over his gauntlet and still he pushed upwards, until he felt the blade lodge
solidly in one of the vampire’s ribs.
Lindstrom fell back, the saw-toothed steel pulling free with
a ghastly grating sound that made Gabriel feel simultaneously sickened and
exultant. He scrambled backwards, away
from the beast. His breath whistled
jaggedly between his clenched teeth, the song of a punctured lung. Strings of Lindstrom’s pipework swung from
the blade like rotten party favours.
Gabriel could see the vampire sprawled on the ground several feet away
now, distractedly trying to jam the rest of it back into his stomach cavity.
He could see into the wound, see Lindstrom’s rent tissues
knitting themselves back together with invisible stitches. Already the flow of vampiric blood had slowed
to a trickle, although Lindstrom seemed to have lost gallons of the stuff. He sat in a black slick of it; rivulets ran
along the cracks in the earth like tar.
Gabriel rolled over on to his belly, crying out inside his
helmet as his own broken ribs tore up his innards. He crawled spider-like
across the ground –
And Lindstrom’s thick fingers wrapped around his ankle.
‘Do you know nothing of my kind, little man?’ he asked
Gabriel evenly, flipping his prey on to his back. Gabriel screamed in agony and
terror. He saw that the gut wound had
healed flawlessly, a smooth patch of crimson flesh visible through the rip in
the monster’s tunic, and some circuit in his mind blew without fuss.
‘Spontaneous regeneration!’ Lindstrom cried, dragging the
human by his ankle deeper into the cave.
Gabriel’s head went bumping painfully against the rocks as they went,
but he found that he no longer cared. A
warm, pleasant feeling was creeping into his mind, like drifting off to sleep
in a warm bed. ‘The implement has to be
wooden to do any lasting damage,’ the vampire continued cheerfully. ‘And thrust
directly into the heart, never to be removed.’
With a swing of his massive arm, he hurled Gabriel over his
head like a rag doll and into the dark.
He splashed down in the filthy mess of Lindstrom’s blood. The impact broke his right arm and legs like
twigs, but he hardly noticed. He lay in
the shadows, staring with too-wide pupils at the black liquid he lay in,
watching the rivulets of it zigzag through the cracks in the earth, trickling
unstoppably towards –
NO! his dying sanity screamed.
‘Why do you think I came back, little man?’ Lindstrom was
saying from a thousand miles away. ‘To
see the sights? To witness the insignificant genesis of the human cattle?’ He
squatted down beside Gabriel, laying a vast, gentle hand upon his
shoulder. It felt like the touch of
God. ‘No … when we return to our time,
little man,’ Lindstrom whispered. ‘You
and I shall be brothers.’
The primordial pool turned black.
Instantly Gabriel felt himself changing, felt his DNA
weaving itself into new and wondrous patterns.
His wounds, his broken bones, all healed in moments. Spontaneous regeneration, he thought
dreamily. Quite suddenly, he pictured what his interquadrant passport might
look like when he got back. Gabriel
Vawn, it would say, underneath the holoimage of the handsome black devil with
the yellow eyes and the smile full of barbed, metallic teeth.