Black, White & Red All Over by Rob Sharp

EXTRACT FOR
Black, White & Red All Over

(Rob Sharp)


Epitaph

November 18th 2012
The Tourists liked London.
As with most of the major cities scattered around the Looking-Glass Earth, it had its fair share of secret streets, impossible rooms linked to other realities via wormholes, and moving buildings with a spiteful will of their own. Such an invisible spider’s web of fickle things allowed the orange-suited time-travellers to set up their power bases freely and without prejudice.
Saint Alice in the Fields, a perfect example of a square-towered Norman church, caught between busy modern streets and blighted by air pollution, loomed over the far end of that most secretive of places, Methuselah Square. It was Summer Breeze’s first mission into the past and she was understandably rather nervous.
Crouching down, Polaris re-buttoned the nine year old’s coat correctly, checked she’d got a bottle of drinking water with her and some candy in case her blood sugar dropped.
“Now, you are sure you’re alright with this?” said the stunning young goddess kindly.
“It needs to be done,” chirped the girl with white-blonde hair. “John Savage has got himself lost inside the Ouroboros. Someone has to jaunt inside the belly of the beast and lead him back out.”
“It should be me…” began Polaris.
Almost maternally, Summer Breeze placed one hand on her friend’s shoulder. “We don’t know how Ouroboros would react to you doing your thing inside of it. That’s why I’m going. I’m smaller… I’ll create less fictional back-wash.”
“Heather could go, or Zen, if we can sober him up for long enough.”
“There are only five of us in the Looking-Glass Earth who can naturally travel through Time at the moment, who understand what the Void is saying and who can answer back. But mum says the Enemy has been doing this for 200 years and is trying to erase her rivals. I’m too small to register in her black mirror thingies!”
“When did you grow up and get so clever?” asked Polaris with a smile.
As the two conversed, literally within their own spatial-bubble, the world moved around them as if they weren’t there, while Polaris tightened the straps on Summer Breeze’s backpack.
“I’ll be fine,” the girl repeated. “Besides, you’ve forgotten, I’ve got a special friend.”
Slipping off her pack, Summer unzipped it and delved inside. With a flourish, she pulled a raggedy blue object, which promptly let out a violent sneeze. It looked like a well-loved toy rabbit, until it objected rudely to being hidden in the backpack.
“You try being folded in freaking half!” complained Mr Snuggles, Summer Breeze’s constant companion since being small. “It smells of freaking cheese and old peoples’ socks… and I can’t stand cheese!”
“This is why I hid you, Snuggles,” said Polaris. “That mouth of yours! We’re still not sure where you came from, but in this Reality and the ones surrounding it, toys can’t move and talk!”
“That’s your loss, sister,” grumped the bunny, staring far too long at Polaris’ fabulous cleavage. “Anyhoo, what the kid says goes for me. We’re a team. When the chips are down, I can deal the rough stuff, sweet-cheeks.”
“Being a pervert doesn’t make me warm to you one iota.”
“Well you shouldn’t be built like a Victoria’s Secret model of steroids! I yam what I yam, to quote a famous sailor – end of story.”
“This isn’t helping John Savage one little bit!” shouted Summer Breeze.
Polaris closed her eyes and counted to 10. Never work with children and animals – even toy stuffed ones.
She summoned up Power 3 from her arsenal of 99 super-human abilities, total global wisdom, then she opened her eyes again. “Go. Get gone, now, before I change my mind. If your mother trusts you to do this, who am I to doubt you?”
Cuddling Mr Snuggles close, Summer Breeze waved a cheery bye-bye, and with hardly a sound, vanished.
Polaris stood up, praying to all the gods that she’d done the right thing.
This was a Game of two halves, with two star players. John Savage, aka The Sentinel, re-tooled for the 21st Century as a feisty fighting-machine only to be gunned down before his time. Then after three years in a morgue draw, along with four team-mates, he’d come back from the dead.
Now E=mc2 had hired a paranormal detective to track Savage down. Anthony Leibowitz, known to the precious few as, Leibowitz the Younger (on account of his dad did this gig before him – long before him), was an obsessive collector of the strange. Aged about 128, and he kept exotic wildlife in his pockets.
Especially very smart mice.
In the Grand Scheme of Things, both men were as important as each other. Both had individual paths to blaze from the moment Savage smashed his way out of that morgue draw. Right from this precise second, as Polaris stood alone in Methuselah Square, through to the Time Wars of 2022 and into the blind-beyond.
People like her and the mysterious Tourists, those orange-suited Chrononauts that were beginning to make a nuisance of themselves, were stood behind these two players, cheering them on.
But the moment was rapidly approaching when Polaris no longer needed to hide and could be her true self. Hell, she was the woman of the stars after all. The girl with 99 powers, and counting.
Standing tall, the secret heroine shot up into the sky at Mach 1, breaking the sound barrier as she reached escape velocity. Then she took a left turn and jaunted back to the year 2003, when all the fun had begun.
she ‘pathed into the void.


Chapter 1 - White Light

September 3rd 2003
The President visiting Dallas was turning into a whole PR nightmare.
These were the boom times in the United States of Amerika, no matter which way you spelled it, but as the mid-terms were coming around and Arnie had his eye on a third stint in the Whitehouse, it had been decided to make a grand show of things to erase bad memories from the past. Losing one good President to the gun in Dealey Plaza had left a scar across the heart of the nation. It was time to erase that mark.
Litta Graff had been assigned to the on-air team at CBS, as a program researcher. She was to be based in a downtown office in contact with the live crew, to feed them facts and figures about the Kennedy’s and every minutia that happened on November the 22nd 1963, as and when gaps appeared in the live broadcast.
“Christ, the eyes and ears of the world are on this thing today and I’m shuffling papers in the research team like a fucking intern!” she groused to her co-worker, Arlene as they logged in to their individual work stations.
“Watch your mouth, Litta,” hissed Arlene, a thirty-something bottle-blonde who was looking forward to becoming a Cougar in the very near future, what with all these young stud executives filling up the company. “You nearly got the axe over that crap with Senator Greystoke. Think yourself lucky you’ve still got a job!”
Litta bit her bottom lip and nodded. She’d gone up against the might of international corporation, E=mc2 on the trail of corruption, and lost, big time. On reduced pay and her career in tatters, she still sensed Greystoke’s eyes on her, all of the time. Those odd clicks on her home phone when she picked it up and a series of dark cars sitting outside her apartment were beginning to freak her out.
“I just wish we were out in the open, where we could see the cavalcade live, rather than stuck in this pokey office, that’s all,” she said bitterly.
Arlene squeezed her arm. “Never mind, honey. You’ll catch yerself a real cute guy someday soon with a fat pay check, and then you can kiss this crappy job goodbye. With those sassy Chinese eyes and your tanned complexion, you tick all the right boxes!”
Litta nodded, tying to ignore the slightly racist comment. I don’t want to give up the job… I want my old life back, she thought bitterly, logging on through the infranet to the live crew.
The hour of the parade grew nearer. President Schwarzenegger’s Show-biz chums had done him proud as dozens of interviews were being held in the strobes of the paparazzo’s cameras. The latest estimate said there were 317 individual camera crews from TV companies all around the world. It was the largest live televised event of the decade. Just the time and place to make a statement.
Since her obsession with bringing Senator John Clayton Greystoke to some sort of justice had only been aborted by her fall from grace, Litta had not slowed down in her quest for knowledge one jot. In fact she had blown a large part of her personal savings on various bits of hi-tech kit. The irony of it being, most of it was from the One Stop Science Shop, E=mc2, of which the Senator was CEO.
In the bag between her feet as she tapped away at her keyboard, trying not to lose the will to live, was an Ultrawave Tracer. She had paid a fortune for the illegal parts of this device and was still struggling with the science behind it.
Not working on any normal satellite phone network, this seemed to be a private wavelength of communication for various secret law enforcement agencies and VIPs such as Greystoke. She had first seen the CEO use one of these whilst spying on him the previous summer. It was normally a TV phone as small as a wristwatch, but Litta’s contraband unit was a hand-held set as big as a games console. She had it scanning the strange airwaves permanently on days like this, trying desperately to hack into something important.
The device picked that day to suddenly burst into life.
“Samaritan 5, this is 17. We have the green light for the Terminator. He’s on the move…” crackled a clear voice suddenly from under the table.
“What the hell…?” Litta’s friend gasped, as the diminutive reporter grabbed for her bag and stumbled to her feet. “Cover for me, Arlene. Something I’ve got to do!” Then she was away through the fire door and heading up towards the roof via the stairs.
“Honey, you’ll lose your job!” the blonde shouted after her, but it was too late, Litta Graff was already becoming part of history.
The sun up on the roof of the office block was blisteringly hot as she burst out of the fire escape door, her custom-made machine in hand. By the sound of things, she had picked up a waveband being used by the President’s secret service, although she’d never heard of Samaritan agents before. Leaning over the parapet, Litta had a perfect view down onto the route for the cavalcade. Crowds already lined both sides of the road, waving their stars and stripes and blowing plastic horns like it was a public holiday.
She grinned at her illegal device, as coded messages moved backwards and forwards. “You beauty!” she laughed. But boy was it hot up there.
She shielded her eyes from the sun and blinked up into the clear sky through her dark fringe. Was it her imagination, but was there a dark spot hiding in that solar disk? Eyes streaming, she had to look away, as the convoy of cars had begun to ease its way down Dealey Plaza. Switching the camera on her device to magnify, she zoomed in on that familiar craggy face, as Arnie sat in the back of an open topped limo, performing to the crowd.
The first gunshots came from a building directly opposite from where Litta was watching. She actually saw the flash before she heard the sounds. Three swift shots in close succession. The bodyguards instinctively hauled the President down to safety, as his driver slumped forward over the steering wheel. Then the armoured fold-back roof began to rapidly close over the president’s car.
The Police escort moved in, but even as they did so, a second maniac appeared out of the crowd with an automatic machinegun opening fire on the line of VIPs. He was joined by a third, then a fourth from further behind the convoy, catching the Police out, at least one officer going down and not moving.
Then more terrorists opened up from shop-front positions, because that was what this was; a terrorist attack and it was turning into a bloodbath.
Breathless with shock, Litta Graff had already hit ‘record’ on her device. All she could do was watch with the detached eagle-eye of a reporter.
Then he came out of the sun, gliding on the rays of light.
A man standing in the air as if it was a natural thing to do, clothed all in white with an impossibly long, folded metallic cloak slung over the right shoulder and a massive solar ray shield holding it in place, glinting like the sun herself. Swinging down over the city, the man-with-a-purpose passed right by where Litta Graff was hiding.
She looked into the face of one of the secret world’s most powerful posthumans. His black muscular face, head totally shaven, was ringed with a golden mirror visor. The way he looked down over the thousands of faces lining the roads below him, was unfathomable. As if they were just ants beneath him, was what flashed through Litta’s mind.
Standing on light, he soaked it all in, picking up wavelengths the reporter couldn’t even imagine. Then, in a flurry of movement, adjusting the golden visor, he began to fire tight laser beams into the crowd, cauterising the gunmen like the cancers they were.
Touching down right next to the President’s car, he bent over a wounded policeman as another hail of bullets rattled off the roadway. Several must have hit him as he protected the man, but they seemed to make no impression on the stranger. It was only now he was in scale with the rest of the world that everyone could see how tall he was – well over six foot eight, probably heading towards seven foot when he stood tall and proud.
There was a flash of light from one open hand and a ball of fire rolled across the road and engulfed that particular gunman. Then he went in search of the rest of the group; 13 terrorists in all, taking them out one by one.
Job done, caught by the world’s cameras, he rose majestically back into the air, flicking that insane cape behind him. As he retraced his steps and flew right over Litta, she suddenly found the courage to cry out to this man in white.
“Hey! Big guy! What’s your name?”
He looked down at her as he drifted by. It was as if he could see right through her flesh and bones and into her very soul.
“You can call me, Corona. Or maybe, the Solarnaut is better… How’s that sound, Ms Graff?” Then he was away back into the blinding sun, already a living legend.
With a trembling finger she clicked an open channel on her homemade device. “This is Litta Graff reporting for… well, just reporting. If you can hear this, if anyone can hear this, the mystery-man in white’s name is, the Solarnaut, and he just saved the President’s life, right here in Dallas, Texas. We’ve waited a long time for a hero like him, and as an Amerikan citizen of mixed race, I am proud to tell the world… the Solarnaut is black!”
She joined in the cheering and the waving from the insane crowds below as her hero vanished back into the solar glare. Then the Ultrawave crackled in her hand and sprang into life again.
“Miss Graff? Well done, Miss Graff… We got your report, short and sweet though it was, loud and clear. My name is Aaron Baxter… I own a little outfit named, Global News. Do you fancy a new job?”
And the Looking-Glass Earth would never be the same again.

Chapter 2 - Tighty Whities

Still September 3rd 2003
It’s one of those solid facts of history that when the Solarnaut drifted out of that clear blue Dallas sky and saved the President’s ass, everyone knows where they were and what they were doing at that precise moment when the news broke.
Anthony Leibowitz, very uncharacteristically, had taken a day off from his busy life’s calling to potter around his father’s House. That would have sounded quite a normal thing to do, if; a) Anthony hadn’t been the self-styled, self-employed curator of all things strange on the Looking-Glass Earth, and b) His father’s House hadn’t have been a semi-sentient entity that could move at will around the secret world, and all points west.
He had been rummaging about looking for several things that he hadn’t seen for some while. You know how it is, you put something down and a short while later it seems to have moved all by itself.
The books in question, Volumes 3 and 4 of Troughton’s Essays on Parallel Species had so far eluded his search in the meandering four-storey house. Volumes 1 and 2 he had found behind the cistern in one of the WCs on the third floor and surprisingly, they were in almost pristine condition. Volume 5 had not fared so well, sitting too long in one of the side ovens of an old auger cooker in the back kitchen. It was a little crispy around the edges, but still readable.
But volumes 3 and 4? Who knew?
Then it had been over 90 years since a young Leibowitz had put them down in the overspill library kept in the attic.
When the first pictures of the Solarnaut came on the TV, the black hero drifting through the air majestically dressed in white with that impossibly long metallic cape flapping out behind him, Anthony was just indulging in a Pot Noodle for lunch. Still standing, those reconstituted dried noodles almost to his mouth, he had frozen, entranced.
It was the end of an era. No more secret heroes. But, far more importantly, it was the beginning of a new age. Now the extraordinary people of the world; those with special abilities and extended lives would have to learn to play nice with the mortals of the planet.
Anthony Leibowitz was amongst their introverted ranks.
Later, when Shi-Kane joined him for their usual round of TV, heated conversation and the odd video game, the two of them camped out in the Parlour to watch the circus. Clearing some space amongst the textbooks, scrolls, copious note pads and general ephemera, to sit on that massive horsehair couch and clutch cushions to their chests, watching the endless coverage of Man’s first official superhero revealing his whole genre to the world-at-large on an old portable set.
They looked like a married couple on a Saturday night, TV magazine front and centre to plan their evening’s entertainment. The obviously Jewish Leibowitz, his short curly hair a little in disarray, dressed in a sleeveless khaki shirt and wide Bermuda shorts, and short white socks. The obviously Korean Shi-Kane, her hair its usual curtain of ironed-straight black, in an old blue cardigan over a pale grey T, denim short-shorts and long white socks with old black sneakers, which she had kicked off the moment she entered the Parlour.
“I just can’t take it in,” the Seer repeated yet again as that now historical footage was streamed a tenth time in all its stark glory.
“So you keep saying. And no one in your professional circle had any inkling that this was going to happen?” asked Leibowitz, helping himself to another slice of cold pizza.
“No! Fucking nothing! A blank slate! That just doesn’t happen, Tony. The future is our book… although it’s slightly blurred at times and still needs a copyreader. But we see all. No one around the world predicted this happening. No one!” She pushed her long dark hair angrily behind each ear, glued to the screen.
“Interesting,” the curator mused, chewing another mouthful of gluey cheese and anchovies. “Hey. You said on the phone earlier before all this insanity kicked off that you wanted to discuss a proposition with me?”
The skinny Korean woman looked a touch embarrassed. “It’ll keep.”
Leibowitz glanced across the wasteland of the couch at her. “No it won’t. You know I hate secrets. Spit it out, Shi.”
She put her head in her hands and ruffled her hair, madly. “Oh… This seemed so logical this morning when the idea came to me in the shower. I’d rather discuss it another time with all this crap changing our lives!”
“Oy-yoy-yoy! Spit it out, Shi!”
“Listen… Right. This is my great idea. We both live very busy, sometimes extremely dangerous lives. Forming relationships of any depth is kind of hard – shit, it’s totally impossible. The last long-term boyfriend I had was a super-soldier and he’s been dead for three years. You do the math!” She looked at Anthony, hoping he was beginning to guess where this was going. He hadn’t a clue.
“God – Jesusss, this is so embarrassing! I think I saw beer coming into this conversation this morning. Beer iron’s out the kinks. Beer is good at a time like this!”
She looked at him again, hands wide with anticipation, waiting for the penny to drop. It didn’t.
“Shit, shit, shit. Let’s try this from another angle. Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘friends with benefits’?”
“No,” he answered woodenly, not a clue what she was aspiring to.
“This is why we sit here, or at my place once a fortnight, and only play crappy shoot-em-up games and discuss medieval politics! Jesus, Tony! Neither of us has a sex life beyond the odd fumble in the dark now and again. Why don’t I stay tonight, of all memorable nights? Stay with you. Sleep with you.”
“But there are plenty of spare beds…”
She let out a little squeal of frustration and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him hard, making him drop his slice of pizza. “I want us to have sex! Become fuck-buddies! Do the horizontal mamba! Is that totally clear now?”
Leibowitz did his slow blink. “Totally. And… no, Shi. You’re my friend. It would be so… confusing!”
“No?” Shi-Kane sat back and looked gob-smacked. “No?” She shook her head and sat further back into the monster couch.
At that perfect moment, Keighley wandered in, looking like a battered crash-test dummy, wearing only black boxer shorts.
“Is this shite still on?” he groused, referring to the Solarnaut doing his debut to the world.
Plonking himself down between the two stunned, silent figures, the Yorkshire soldier-for-hire captured the TV remote and started to channel-surf. On auto-feeding-pilot, he also picked the slice of pizza his friend had just dropped off the floor, and began to devour it.
“I’m going to get some beer. Lots of beer. You want some, Yory?” snapped the Seer, glaring at Leibowitz. ‘No?’ she mouthed at the befuddled curator of the strange and stalked off in a huff.
“Beer – grand idea, lass. Beer for me, please.”
On every channel they were showing the Dallas Event, as it was now being dubbed. Or they were discussing the Dallas Event, or trying to get an interview with some C-list hero to comment on the new way of the world. Or they were announcing a press conference by the eminent Doctor Kristine Sun to reveal more about the posthuman community that had just been outed to the world.
“What you done now, Tony,” said Keighley, cracking a smile.
“What? Me? Nothing!”
“Bollocks. Shi-Kane looked as if you’d just squeezed her boobs… you didn’t grope her, did you?”
“No!! Why is everyone obsessed with sex and… sexual things at the moment?”
“Because it’s fun and it makes t’world go round. If old Mordecai Leibowitz hadn’t got jiggy with your mum – whoever she was – you wouldn’t be sat there looking like a bolloxed rabbit.”
“Shi asked me to sleep with her, and I said no.”
“Tit.”
“Pardon?”
“I said, tit, Tony. As in the bit fat one that you are!”
“That makes no sense at all, you illiterate bugger.”
Keighley shook his head in frustration, scowling at his life-long friend. “You turned down a hot Japanese lass who wants your skinny, underdeveloped body, genius. Proper sex. Proper, proper sex. Consequently, you are a tit.”
“But I’ve this thing going with Lucille Tarot… I told you that in confidence. Even though I think Shi is very attractive and everything, it would feel wrong, it would be a betrayal of Lucille’s trust in me!”
Keighley grabbed the last slice of pizza from the box balanced on the couch’s arm and crammed in another mouthful, spluttering something incomprehensible at the same time, spraying Leibowitz with crumbs. Shi-Kane made her reappearance with fists full of bottled beer and a face like thunder, followed closely by a short blonde girl still shrugging herself into a skin-tight grey Lycra body suit.
“Is he using that one-off bonk on the beach with that witch as a bloody excuse not to sleep with me?” snarled Shi.
“Oh, aye,” Keighley laughed, rescuing two beers and popping the caps off with his teeth.
“How does she–?” Anthony suddenly became very Jewishly animated. “You told her about Lucille?” He turned on Keighley.
“Didn’t know it were a secret. Now, us for example; the whole frigging secret community, we were a proper secret until that tit in the white outfit went and blew it all out of the water on live international TV!”
“You told her… And what’s with the ‘tits’ all of a sudden? Are you obsessed with tits?”
“He is a bit,” chimed in the blonde, still struggling to get into her uniform. “Any pizza going, I’m starving!”
“No. Tit-man here just woofed back the last slice – as per usual,” scowled Leibowitz.
“I’ll nuke some more in the microwave. The others will have to surface soon,” said Shi-Kane. “You are a piece of work, Tony! A one-off shag on some exotic beach does not constitute a relationship. Fair enough, you did it with the witch… then she buggered off on some witchy-quest or something. I’m offering you regular – well you know what I’m offering you, and you turn me down?” She half-stormed off again. “Oh, Yorkie,” she suddenly came back with. “How long have you known me?”
“Too long…” muttered Keighley, spraying Leibowitz again with particles of food.
“I’m from Korea, not bloody Japan!”
“Sorry, lass.” He pulled a funny face as she left the room. The blonde tried not to giggle.
“Hey, I’m outta here. Doc Sun’s called this press conference thingy in 20 minutes, and she wants all active members of LifeForce to attend. We’re going to be outed, Yorkie! I finally get to have my own collectable figurine – Earthgirl, mistress of the mysterious X-Cube!” She mused over that tagline for a moment. “I’ll get some advertising guy to write something better than that.”
She leaned over and gave the mercenary a deep, smoochie kiss, pizza and all.
“See you, lover. It was great, as usual, you big Yorkshire shag-monster, you!” she said. Keighley grinned, mouth still full of half-chewed food, like a five-year old who was very pleased with himself.
“Bye, Tony. Thanks for the use of the room. Hey, and give Shi a break. I think you two guys would look cute together!”
Fluffing up her hair, an ornate pattern of grey face-paint suddenly appeared over Earthgirl’s features. From somewhere she produced a small grey box the size of a dice. The X-Cube, an unfathomable multi-tasking living computer immediately expanded until it became a great, grey, box-chair that hovered over the carpet. The slim blonde wriggled into its seat and ran her long fingers over the keyboards set into each arm.
“Ta-ta!” she cried, and in a blur of motion, the cube shot straight up through the ceiling like a ghost and was gone.
Silence ensued as the soldier continued to channel-surf and Leibowitz moped and looked all fed up.
Another woman entered, quite tall and slender with a perfectly toned figure. Today she had long auburn locks that shone like a Hair and Shoulder’s advert, her sharp features taking everything about the room in. Everything. She wore tight black slacks, no shoes and a black crop-top showing off her muscular abs. She was doing something odd with her right hand.
“Earthgirl gone?” she asked either of the men on the couch.
“Just now. Whoosh, through the ceiling.”
“Flashy bitch. Either of you two fleshies come to terms with this Dallas thing? Worked out what you’re going to do with your lives yet?” She sat between them, still messing with her hand. A short alien Grey came in through the backdoor dressed in a light brown suit tailor made to fit. He began to rummage through a pile of junk in one corner of the room.
“What’s to do? It’s business as usual for action-man and me. We execute our best work in the dark, hidden corners of the secret world. That won’t change. It’s not like we’re going to don spandex like Jenny – Earthgirl, and parade ourselves in front of the world’s press,” replied a bitter Leibowitz.
“I’m not wearing me undercackers outside me pants for nobody,” Keighley quipped, looking around for something else to eat.
Angela Steel, one of the world’s first humanoid robots, cracked back her wrist at a nasty angle and began to fiddle with minute pistons and circuitry. “Red can be so damn rough sometimes,” she gave away too much information. “I think he’s split a carbon fibre tendon somewhere.”
“Anyone seem my briefcase? Aluminium… initials on it? I left it right her yesterday,” said the Grey from the back of the room, with a strong British accent.
“It’s the House. It likes everyone to stay as long as they can, so it’s started to hide things,” explained Leibowitz. “I’ve been looking for two books off and on for a week now.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Mr Small. “I need to be at the UN for LifeForce’s press conference. I hate being late!”
Suddenly a small aluminium briefcase tumbled off a pile of dusty old periodicals from the 1950’s and landed at the Grey’s feet.
“Thank you,” the little alien said to the House. “Anthony, if you see your sister today, tell her I’ll meet her in the Top Hat, Little Transylvania about six. A few of us exotic types are having a last hurrah before someone tries to put us in a cage. I’ve done that before, it’s no damn fun!” Then Mr Small left.
“You and he okay?” Leibowitz whispered to Keighley. “You know, after you tried to assassinate him back in WW2?”
“Aye, we’re sound… sort of. I try not to mention it. Those were strange days,” replied Keighley, looking a little embarrassed about his past sins.
Angela reattached her hand, Shi-Kane came back with two fresh, steaming hot pizzas and a massive red, horned daemon entered the room in just his shorts. Scratching two fresh grooves in the door-surround with his horns, he sat on the end of the couch and helped himself to food.
Shi-Kane slapped his arm as the daemon tried to take a whole half in one go.
“Greedy! It’s bad enough feeding Keighley without you starting!” said Shi.
“You okay, Greg?” asked the robot.
“I’m well okay, Angela. You okay? Sorry about the hand, babe… you know me when I’ve got my love-on!”
“Hand’s fine. It was a simple fix. I probably won’t sit down for a week without…”
“Please!” shouted Leibowitz. “Please… I’m trying to watch this. Doc Sun will be on in ten minutes and you are all being far too personal.”
The room went rather quiet.
“It’s called, being human, Tony,” said Shi-Kane softly.
“Human?” Leibowitz rose to his feet. “Human? We’ve a posthuman bimbo – no offense to Earthgirl, but she is a bit thick – having it away with a Long-life soldier. Then there’s a robot screwing a Daemon, for Krom’s sake! I’ve Earth-aliens using the place like a coffee shop and my elder sister who appears only biologically 13, who drifts in and out just when the comedy moment is right! What’s so bloody human about all that?”
When did my life turn into an episode of ‘Friends’, he screamed inside his head.
“Sit thee down, Tony. Have a beer. Rest your brains. It’s been a weird, weird day,” said Keighley, being used to his best friend going off on one when things grew a little tense.
“Right,” agreed Leibowitz, stunned by his own level of crassness. “I’ll have a beer. Sorry about that.”
These strange people were his friends. All of them came to the House for sanctuary, free food and his company.
“Sorry. Sorry everyone, I’m just being an arse. Its…” he gestured at the TV as the Solarnaut came on to save the day - again.
“I’ll do my running repairs in the Little Girl’s Room in future, Tony. I forget it freaks you fleshies out,” said Angela Steel gruffly.
“Just forget what I just said, Tony… about us. Bad idea. It would ruin our friendship and you obviously aren’t up to any sort of permanent relationship in any sort of adult way,” said Shi-Kane.
“That was workin’ right up to t’part about Tony being an adult,” said Keighley. “Anyone else want some pizza before I be me usual greedy self?”
“I’ll get a Gnome in to repair the grooves in the tops of your doors, Anthony,” said the Daemon, eyeing up the last of the pizza just as Angela swiped it. “And the holes in the wall… and the ceiling…”
“Cheers, guys. You know you’re all welcome here whenever,” sighed Leibowitz, taking a long pull on his bottle of Bud.
Just then a young teenage girl wearing rather old-fashioned clothes walked in through the door. Rachael Leibowitz, the older, born-again half-sister to frazzled Anthony, stared open mouthed as the Solarnaut did his thing for the 13th time on TV.
“Who the fuck is he and what the fuck is he doing?” she rather caught the gestalt of the moment, the zeitgeist of the whole, historical drama.
It was Day One of a grave new world. The secret people of the Looking-Glass Earth had just been outed.
Let the madness commence.



Black, White & Red All Over by Rob Sharp

EXTRACT FOR
Black, White & Red All Over

(Rob Sharp)


Epitaph

November 18th 2012
The Tourists liked London.
As with most of the major cities scattered around the Looking-Glass Earth, it had its fair share of secret streets, impossible rooms linked to other realities via wormholes, and moving buildings with a spiteful will of their own. Such an invisible spider’s web of fickle things allowed the orange-suited time-travellers to set up their power bases freely and without prejudice.
Saint Alice in the Fields, a perfect example of a square-towered Norman church, caught between busy modern streets and blighted by air pollution, loomed over the far end of that most secretive of places, Methuselah Square. It was Summer Breeze’s first mission into the past and she was understandably rather nervous.
Crouching down, Polaris re-buttoned the nine year old’s coat correctly, checked she’d got a bottle of drinking water with her and some candy in case her blood sugar dropped.
“Now, you are sure you’re alright with this?” said the stunning young goddess kindly.
“It needs to be done,” chirped the girl with white-blonde hair. “John Savage has got himself lost inside the Ouroboros. Someone has to jaunt inside the belly of the beast and lead him back out.”
“It should be me…” began Polaris.
Almost maternally, Summer Breeze placed one hand on her friend’s shoulder. “We don’t know how Ouroboros would react to you doing your thing inside of it. That’s why I’m going. I’m smaller… I’ll create less fictional back-wash.”
“Heather could go, or Zen, if we can sober him up for long enough.”
“There are only five of us in the Looking-Glass Earth who can naturally travel through Time at the moment, who understand what the Void is saying and who can answer back. But mum says the Enemy has been doing this for 200 years and is trying to erase her rivals. I’m too small to register in her black mirror thingies!”
“When did you grow up and get so clever?” asked Polaris with a smile.
As the two conversed, literally within their own spatial-bubble, the world moved around them as if they weren’t there, while Polaris tightened the straps on Summer Breeze’s backpack.
“I’ll be fine,” the girl repeated. “Besides, you’ve forgotten, I’ve got a special friend.”
Slipping off her pack, Summer unzipped it and delved inside. With a flourish, she pulled a raggedy blue object, which promptly let out a violent sneeze. It looked like a well-loved toy rabbit, until it objected rudely to being hidden in the backpack.
“You try being folded in freaking half!” complained Mr Snuggles, Summer Breeze’s constant companion since being small. “It smells of freaking cheese and old peoples’ socks… and I can’t stand cheese!”
“This is why I hid you, Snuggles,” said Polaris. “That mouth of yours! We’re still not sure where you came from, but in this Reality and the ones surrounding it, toys can’t move and talk!”
“That’s your loss, sister,” grumped the bunny, staring far too long at Polaris’ fabulous cleavage. “Anyhoo, what the kid says goes for me. We’re a team. When the chips are down, I can deal the rough stuff, sweet-cheeks.”
“Being a pervert doesn’t make me warm to you one iota.”
“Well you shouldn’t be built like a Victoria’s Secret model of steroids! I yam what I yam, to quote a famous sailor – end of story.”
“This isn’t helping John Savage one little bit!” shouted Summer Breeze.
Polaris closed her eyes and counted to 10. Never work with children and animals – even toy stuffed ones.
She summoned up Power 3 from her arsenal of 99 super-human abilities, total global wisdom, then she opened her eyes again. “Go. Get gone, now, before I change my mind. If your mother trusts you to do this, who am I to doubt you?”
Cuddling Mr Snuggles close, Summer Breeze waved a cheery bye-bye, and with hardly a sound, vanished.
Polaris stood up, praying to all the gods that she’d done the right thing.
This was a Game of two halves, with two star players. John Savage, aka The Sentinel, re-tooled for the 21st Century as a feisty fighting-machine only to be gunned down before his time. Then after three years in a morgue draw, along with four team-mates, he’d come back from the dead.
Now E=mc2 had hired a paranormal detective to track Savage down. Anthony Leibowitz, known to the precious few as, Leibowitz the Younger (on account of his dad did this gig before him – long before him), was an obsessive collector of the strange. Aged about 128, and he kept exotic wildlife in his pockets.
Especially very smart mice.
In the Grand Scheme of Things, both men were as important as each other. Both had individual paths to blaze from the moment Savage smashed his way out of that morgue draw. Right from this precise second, as Polaris stood alone in Methuselah Square, through to the Time Wars of 2022 and into the blind-beyond.
People like her and the mysterious Tourists, those orange-suited Chrononauts that were beginning to make a nuisance of themselves, were stood behind these two players, cheering them on.
But the moment was rapidly approaching when Polaris no longer needed to hide and could be her true self. Hell, she was the woman of the stars after all. The girl with 99 powers, and counting.
Standing tall, the secret heroine shot up into the sky at Mach 1, breaking the sound barrier as she reached escape velocity. Then she took a left turn and jaunted back to the year 2003, when all the fun had begun.
she ‘pathed into the void.


Chapter 1 - White Light

September 3rd 2003
The President visiting Dallas was turning into a whole PR nightmare.
These were the boom times in the United States of Amerika, no matter which way you spelled it, but as the mid-terms were coming around and Arnie had his eye on a third stint in the Whitehouse, it had been decided to make a grand show of things to erase bad memories from the past. Losing one good President to the gun in Dealey Plaza had left a scar across the heart of the nation. It was time to erase that mark.
Litta Graff had been assigned to the on-air team at CBS, as a program researcher. She was to be based in a downtown office in contact with the live crew, to feed them facts and figures about the Kennedy’s and every minutia that happened on November the 22nd 1963, as and when gaps appeared in the live broadcast.
“Christ, the eyes and ears of the world are on this thing today and I’m shuffling papers in the research team like a fucking intern!” she groused to her co-worker, Arlene as they logged in to their individual work stations.
“Watch your mouth, Litta,” hissed Arlene, a thirty-something bottle-blonde who was looking forward to becoming a Cougar in the very near future, what with all these young stud executives filling up the company. “You nearly got the axe over that crap with Senator Greystoke. Think yourself lucky you’ve still got a job!”
Litta bit her bottom lip and nodded. She’d gone up against the might of international corporation, E=mc2 on the trail of corruption, and lost, big time. On reduced pay and her career in tatters, she still sensed Greystoke’s eyes on her, all of the time. Those odd clicks on her home phone when she picked it up and a series of dark cars sitting outside her apartment were beginning to freak her out.
“I just wish we were out in the open, where we could see the cavalcade live, rather than stuck in this pokey office, that’s all,” she said bitterly.
Arlene squeezed her arm. “Never mind, honey. You’ll catch yerself a real cute guy someday soon with a fat pay check, and then you can kiss this crappy job goodbye. With those sassy Chinese eyes and your tanned complexion, you tick all the right boxes!”
Litta nodded, tying to ignore the slightly racist comment. I don’t want to give up the job… I want my old life back, she thought bitterly, logging on through the infranet to the live crew.
The hour of the parade grew nearer. President Schwarzenegger’s Show-biz chums had done him proud as dozens of interviews were being held in the strobes of the paparazzo’s cameras. The latest estimate said there were 317 individual camera crews from TV companies all around the world. It was the largest live televised event of the decade. Just the time and place to make a statement.
Since her obsession with bringing Senator John Clayton Greystoke to some sort of justice had only been aborted by her fall from grace, Litta had not slowed down in her quest for knowledge one jot. In fact she had blown a large part of her personal savings on various bits of hi-tech kit. The irony of it being, most of it was from the One Stop Science Shop, E=mc2, of which the Senator was CEO.
In the bag between her feet as she tapped away at her keyboard, trying not to lose the will to live, was an Ultrawave Tracer. She had paid a fortune for the illegal parts of this device and was still struggling with the science behind it.
Not working on any normal satellite phone network, this seemed to be a private wavelength of communication for various secret law enforcement agencies and VIPs such as Greystoke. She had first seen the CEO use one of these whilst spying on him the previous summer. It was normally a TV phone as small as a wristwatch, but Litta’s contraband unit was a hand-held set as big as a games console. She had it scanning the strange airwaves permanently on days like this, trying desperately to hack into something important.
The device picked that day to suddenly burst into life.
“Samaritan 5, this is 17. We have the green light for the Terminator. He’s on the move…” crackled a clear voice suddenly from under the table.
“What the hell…?” Litta’s friend gasped, as the diminutive reporter grabbed for her bag and stumbled to her feet. “Cover for me, Arlene. Something I’ve got to do!” Then she was away through the fire door and heading up towards the roof via the stairs.
“Honey, you’ll lose your job!” the blonde shouted after her, but it was too late, Litta Graff was already becoming part of history.
The sun up on the roof of the office block was blisteringly hot as she burst out of the fire escape door, her custom-made machine in hand. By the sound of things, she had picked up a waveband being used by the President’s secret service, although she’d never heard of Samaritan agents before. Leaning over the parapet, Litta had a perfect view down onto the route for the cavalcade. Crowds already lined both sides of the road, waving their stars and stripes and blowing plastic horns like it was a public holiday.
She grinned at her illegal device, as coded messages moved backwards and forwards. “You beauty!” she laughed. But boy was it hot up there.
She shielded her eyes from the sun and blinked up into the clear sky through her dark fringe. Was it her imagination, but was there a dark spot hiding in that solar disk? Eyes streaming, she had to look away, as the convoy of cars had begun to ease its way down Dealey Plaza. Switching the camera on her device to magnify, she zoomed in on that familiar craggy face, as Arnie sat in the back of an open topped limo, performing to the crowd.
The first gunshots came from a building directly opposite from where Litta was watching. She actually saw the flash before she heard the sounds. Three swift shots in close succession. The bodyguards instinctively hauled the President down to safety, as his driver slumped forward over the steering wheel. Then the armoured fold-back roof began to rapidly close over the president’s car.
The Police escort moved in, but even as they did so, a second maniac appeared out of the crowd with an automatic machinegun opening fire on the line of VIPs. He was joined by a third, then a fourth from further behind the convoy, catching the Police out, at least one officer going down and not moving.
Then more terrorists opened up from shop-front positions, because that was what this was; a terrorist attack and it was turning into a bloodbath.
Breathless with shock, Litta Graff had already hit ‘record’ on her device. All she could do was watch with the detached eagle-eye of a reporter.
Then he came out of the sun, gliding on the rays of light.
A man standing in the air as if it was a natural thing to do, clothed all in white with an impossibly long, folded metallic cloak slung over the right shoulder and a massive solar ray shield holding it in place, glinting like the sun herself. Swinging down over the city, the man-with-a-purpose passed right by where Litta Graff was hiding.
She looked into the face of one of the secret world’s most powerful posthumans. His black muscular face, head totally shaven, was ringed with a golden mirror visor. The way he looked down over the thousands of faces lining the roads below him, was unfathomable. As if they were just ants beneath him, was what flashed through Litta’s mind.
Standing on light, he soaked it all in, picking up wavelengths the reporter couldn’t even imagine. Then, in a flurry of movement, adjusting the golden visor, he began to fire tight laser beams into the crowd, cauterising the gunmen like the cancers they were.
Touching down right next to the President’s car, he bent over a wounded policeman as another hail of bullets rattled off the roadway. Several must have hit him as he protected the man, but they seemed to make no impression on the stranger. It was only now he was in scale with the rest of the world that everyone could see how tall he was – well over six foot eight, probably heading towards seven foot when he stood tall and proud.
There was a flash of light from one open hand and a ball of fire rolled across the road and engulfed that particular gunman. Then he went in search of the rest of the group; 13 terrorists in all, taking them out one by one.
Job done, caught by the world’s cameras, he rose majestically back into the air, flicking that insane cape behind him. As he retraced his steps and flew right over Litta, she suddenly found the courage to cry out to this man in white.
“Hey! Big guy! What’s your name?”
He looked down at her as he drifted by. It was as if he could see right through her flesh and bones and into her very soul.
“You can call me, Corona. Or maybe, the Solarnaut is better… How’s that sound, Ms Graff?” Then he was away back into the blinding sun, already a living legend.
With a trembling finger she clicked an open channel on her homemade device. “This is Litta Graff reporting for… well, just reporting. If you can hear this, if anyone can hear this, the mystery-man in white’s name is, the Solarnaut, and he just saved the President’s life, right here in Dallas, Texas. We’ve waited a long time for a hero like him, and as an Amerikan citizen of mixed race, I am proud to tell the world… the Solarnaut is black!”
She joined in the cheering and the waving from the insane crowds below as her hero vanished back into the solar glare. Then the Ultrawave crackled in her hand and sprang into life again.
“Miss Graff? Well done, Miss Graff… We got your report, short and sweet though it was, loud and clear. My name is Aaron Baxter… I own a little outfit named, Global News. Do you fancy a new job?”
And the Looking-Glass Earth would never be the same again.

Chapter 2 - Tighty Whities

Still September 3rd 2003
It’s one of those solid facts of history that when the Solarnaut drifted out of that clear blue Dallas sky and saved the President’s ass, everyone knows where they were and what they were doing at that precise moment when the news broke.
Anthony Leibowitz, very uncharacteristically, had taken a day off from his busy life’s calling to potter around his father’s House. That would have sounded quite a normal thing to do, if; a) Anthony hadn’t been the self-styled, self-employed curator of all things strange on the Looking-Glass Earth, and b) His father’s House hadn’t have been a semi-sentient entity that could move at will around the secret world, and all points west.
He had been rummaging about looking for several things that he hadn’t seen for some while. You know how it is, you put something down and a short while later it seems to have moved all by itself.
The books in question, Volumes 3 and 4 of Troughton’s Essays on Parallel Species had so far eluded his search in the meandering four-storey house. Volumes 1 and 2 he had found behind the cistern in one of the WCs on the third floor and surprisingly, they were in almost pristine condition. Volume 5 had not fared so well, sitting too long in one of the side ovens of an old auger cooker in the back kitchen. It was a little crispy around the edges, but still readable.
But volumes 3 and 4? Who knew?
Then it had been over 90 years since a young Leibowitz had put them down in the overspill library kept in the attic.
When the first pictures of the Solarnaut came on the TV, the black hero drifting through the air majestically dressed in white with that impossibly long metallic cape flapping out behind him, Anthony was just indulging in a Pot Noodle for lunch. Still standing, those reconstituted dried noodles almost to his mouth, he had frozen, entranced.
It was the end of an era. No more secret heroes. But, far more importantly, it was the beginning of a new age. Now the extraordinary people of the world; those with special abilities and extended lives would have to learn to play nice with the mortals of the planet.
Anthony Leibowitz was amongst their introverted ranks.
Later, when Shi-Kane joined him for their usual round of TV, heated conversation and the odd video game, the two of them camped out in the Parlour to watch the circus. Clearing some space amongst the textbooks, scrolls, copious note pads and general ephemera, to sit on that massive horsehair couch and clutch cushions to their chests, watching the endless coverage of Man’s first official superhero revealing his whole genre to the world-at-large on an old portable set.
They looked like a married couple on a Saturday night, TV magazine front and centre to plan their evening’s entertainment. The obviously Jewish Leibowitz, his short curly hair a little in disarray, dressed in a sleeveless khaki shirt and wide Bermuda shorts, and short white socks. The obviously Korean Shi-Kane, her hair its usual curtain of ironed-straight black, in an old blue cardigan over a pale grey T, denim short-shorts and long white socks with old black sneakers, which she had kicked off the moment she entered the Parlour.
“I just can’t take it in,” the Seer repeated yet again as that now historical footage was streamed a tenth time in all its stark glory.
“So you keep saying. And no one in your professional circle had any inkling that this was going to happen?” asked Leibowitz, helping himself to another slice of cold pizza.
“No! Fucking nothing! A blank slate! That just doesn’t happen, Tony. The future is our book… although it’s slightly blurred at times and still needs a copyreader. But we see all. No one around the world predicted this happening. No one!” She pushed her long dark hair angrily behind each ear, glued to the screen.
“Interesting,” the curator mused, chewing another mouthful of gluey cheese and anchovies. “Hey. You said on the phone earlier before all this insanity kicked off that you wanted to discuss a proposition with me?”
The skinny Korean woman looked a touch embarrassed. “It’ll keep.”
Leibowitz glanced across the wasteland of the couch at her. “No it won’t. You know I hate secrets. Spit it out, Shi.”
She put her head in her hands and ruffled her hair, madly. “Oh… This seemed so logical this morning when the idea came to me in the shower. I’d rather discuss it another time with all this crap changing our lives!”
“Oy-yoy-yoy! Spit it out, Shi!”
“Listen… Right. This is my great idea. We both live very busy, sometimes extremely dangerous lives. Forming relationships of any depth is kind of hard – shit, it’s totally impossible. The last long-term boyfriend I had was a super-soldier and he’s been dead for three years. You do the math!” She looked at Anthony, hoping he was beginning to guess where this was going. He hadn’t a clue.
“God – Jesusss, this is so embarrassing! I think I saw beer coming into this conversation this morning. Beer iron’s out the kinks. Beer is good at a time like this!”
She looked at him again, hands wide with anticipation, waiting for the penny to drop. It didn’t.
“Shit, shit, shit. Let’s try this from another angle. Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘friends with benefits’?”
“No,” he answered woodenly, not a clue what she was aspiring to.
“This is why we sit here, or at my place once a fortnight, and only play crappy shoot-em-up games and discuss medieval politics! Jesus, Tony! Neither of us has a sex life beyond the odd fumble in the dark now and again. Why don’t I stay tonight, of all memorable nights? Stay with you. Sleep with you.”
“But there are plenty of spare beds…”
She let out a little squeal of frustration and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him hard, making him drop his slice of pizza. “I want us to have sex! Become fuck-buddies! Do the horizontal mamba! Is that totally clear now?”
Leibowitz did his slow blink. “Totally. And… no, Shi. You’re my friend. It would be so… confusing!”
“No?” Shi-Kane sat back and looked gob-smacked. “No?” She shook her head and sat further back into the monster couch.
At that perfect moment, Keighley wandered in, looking like a battered crash-test dummy, wearing only black boxer shorts.
“Is this shite still on?” he groused, referring to the Solarnaut doing his debut to the world.
Plonking himself down between the two stunned, silent figures, the Yorkshire soldier-for-hire captured the TV remote and started to channel-surf. On auto-feeding-pilot, he also picked the slice of pizza his friend had just dropped off the floor, and began to devour it.
“I’m going to get some beer. Lots of beer. You want some, Yory?” snapped the Seer, glaring at Leibowitz. ‘No?’ she mouthed at the befuddled curator of the strange and stalked off in a huff.
“Beer – grand idea, lass. Beer for me, please.”
On every channel they were showing the Dallas Event, as it was now being dubbed. Or they were discussing the Dallas Event, or trying to get an interview with some C-list hero to comment on the new way of the world. Or they were announcing a press conference by the eminent Doctor Kristine Sun to reveal more about the posthuman community that had just been outed to the world.
“What you done now, Tony,” said Keighley, cracking a smile.
“What? Me? Nothing!”
“Bollocks. Shi-Kane looked as if you’d just squeezed her boobs… you didn’t grope her, did you?”
“No!! Why is everyone obsessed with sex and… sexual things at the moment?”
“Because it’s fun and it makes t’world go round. If old Mordecai Leibowitz hadn’t got jiggy with your mum – whoever she was – you wouldn’t be sat there looking like a bolloxed rabbit.”
“Shi asked me to sleep with her, and I said no.”
“Tit.”
“Pardon?”
“I said, tit, Tony. As in the bit fat one that you are!”
“That makes no sense at all, you illiterate bugger.”
Keighley shook his head in frustration, scowling at his life-long friend. “You turned down a hot Japanese lass who wants your skinny, underdeveloped body, genius. Proper sex. Proper, proper sex. Consequently, you are a tit.”
“But I’ve this thing going with Lucille Tarot… I told you that in confidence. Even though I think Shi is very attractive and everything, it would feel wrong, it would be a betrayal of Lucille’s trust in me!”
Keighley grabbed the last slice of pizza from the box balanced on the couch’s arm and crammed in another mouthful, spluttering something incomprehensible at the same time, spraying Leibowitz with crumbs. Shi-Kane made her reappearance with fists full of bottled beer and a face like thunder, followed closely by a short blonde girl still shrugging herself into a skin-tight grey Lycra body suit.
“Is he using that one-off bonk on the beach with that witch as a bloody excuse not to sleep with me?” snarled Shi.
“Oh, aye,” Keighley laughed, rescuing two beers and popping the caps off with his teeth.
“How does she–?” Anthony suddenly became very Jewishly animated. “You told her about Lucille?” He turned on Keighley.
“Didn’t know it were a secret. Now, us for example; the whole frigging secret community, we were a proper secret until that tit in the white outfit went and blew it all out of the water on live international TV!”
“You told her… And what’s with the ‘tits’ all of a sudden? Are you obsessed with tits?”
“He is a bit,” chimed in the blonde, still struggling to get into her uniform. “Any pizza going, I’m starving!”
“No. Tit-man here just woofed back the last slice – as per usual,” scowled Leibowitz.
“I’ll nuke some more in the microwave. The others will have to surface soon,” said Shi-Kane. “You are a piece of work, Tony! A one-off shag on some exotic beach does not constitute a relationship. Fair enough, you did it with the witch… then she buggered off on some witchy-quest or something. I’m offering you regular – well you know what I’m offering you, and you turn me down?” She half-stormed off again. “Oh, Yorkie,” she suddenly came back with. “How long have you known me?”
“Too long…” muttered Keighley, spraying Leibowitz again with particles of food.
“I’m from Korea, not bloody Japan!”
“Sorry, lass.” He pulled a funny face as she left the room. The blonde tried not to giggle.
“Hey, I’m outta here. Doc Sun’s called this press conference thingy in 20 minutes, and she wants all active members of LifeForce to attend. We’re going to be outed, Yorkie! I finally get to have my own collectable figurine – Earthgirl, mistress of the mysterious X-Cube!” She mused over that tagline for a moment. “I’ll get some advertising guy to write something better than that.”
She leaned over and gave the mercenary a deep, smoochie kiss, pizza and all.
“See you, lover. It was great, as usual, you big Yorkshire shag-monster, you!” she said. Keighley grinned, mouth still full of half-chewed food, like a five-year old who was very pleased with himself.
“Bye, Tony. Thanks for the use of the room. Hey, and give Shi a break. I think you two guys would look cute together!”
Fluffing up her hair, an ornate pattern of grey face-paint suddenly appeared over Earthgirl’s features. From somewhere she produced a small grey box the size of a dice. The X-Cube, an unfathomable multi-tasking living computer immediately expanded until it became a great, grey, box-chair that hovered over the carpet. The slim blonde wriggled into its seat and ran her long fingers over the keyboards set into each arm.
“Ta-ta!” she cried, and in a blur of motion, the cube shot straight up through the ceiling like a ghost and was gone.
Silence ensued as the soldier continued to channel-surf and Leibowitz moped and looked all fed up.
Another woman entered, quite tall and slender with a perfectly toned figure. Today she had long auburn locks that shone like a Hair and Shoulder’s advert, her sharp features taking everything about the room in. Everything. She wore tight black slacks, no shoes and a black crop-top showing off her muscular abs. She was doing something odd with her right hand.
“Earthgirl gone?” she asked either of the men on the couch.
“Just now. Whoosh, through the ceiling.”
“Flashy bitch. Either of you two fleshies come to terms with this Dallas thing? Worked out what you’re going to do with your lives yet?” She sat between them, still messing with her hand. A short alien Grey came in through the backdoor dressed in a light brown suit tailor made to fit. He began to rummage through a pile of junk in one corner of the room.
“What’s to do? It’s business as usual for action-man and me. We execute our best work in the dark, hidden corners of the secret world. That won’t change. It’s not like we’re going to don spandex like Jenny – Earthgirl, and parade ourselves in front of the world’s press,” replied a bitter Leibowitz.
“I’m not wearing me undercackers outside me pants for nobody,” Keighley quipped, looking around for something else to eat.
Angela Steel, one of the world’s first humanoid robots, cracked back her wrist at a nasty angle and began to fiddle with minute pistons and circuitry. “Red can be so damn rough sometimes,” she gave away too much information. “I think he’s split a carbon fibre tendon somewhere.”
“Anyone seem my briefcase? Aluminium… initials on it? I left it right her yesterday,” said the Grey from the back of the room, with a strong British accent.
“It’s the House. It likes everyone to stay as long as they can, so it’s started to hide things,” explained Leibowitz. “I’ve been looking for two books off and on for a week now.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Mr Small. “I need to be at the UN for LifeForce’s press conference. I hate being late!”
Suddenly a small aluminium briefcase tumbled off a pile of dusty old periodicals from the 1950’s and landed at the Grey’s feet.
“Thank you,” the little alien said to the House. “Anthony, if you see your sister today, tell her I’ll meet her in the Top Hat, Little Transylvania about six. A few of us exotic types are having a last hurrah before someone tries to put us in a cage. I’ve done that before, it’s no damn fun!” Then Mr Small left.
“You and he okay?” Leibowitz whispered to Keighley. “You know, after you tried to assassinate him back in WW2?”
“Aye, we’re sound… sort of. I try not to mention it. Those were strange days,” replied Keighley, looking a little embarrassed about his past sins.
Angela reattached her hand, Shi-Kane came back with two fresh, steaming hot pizzas and a massive red, horned daemon entered the room in just his shorts. Scratching two fresh grooves in the door-surround with his horns, he sat on the end of the couch and helped himself to food.
Shi-Kane slapped his arm as the daemon tried to take a whole half in one go.
“Greedy! It’s bad enough feeding Keighley without you starting!” said Shi.
“You okay, Greg?” asked the robot.
“I’m well okay, Angela. You okay? Sorry about the hand, babe… you know me when I’ve got my love-on!”
“Hand’s fine. It was a simple fix. I probably won’t sit down for a week without…”
“Please!” shouted Leibowitz. “Please… I’m trying to watch this. Doc Sun will be on in ten minutes and you are all being far too personal.”
The room went rather quiet.
“It’s called, being human, Tony,” said Shi-Kane softly.
“Human?” Leibowitz rose to his feet. “Human? We’ve a posthuman bimbo – no offense to Earthgirl, but she is a bit thick – having it away with a Long-life soldier. Then there’s a robot screwing a Daemon, for Krom’s sake! I’ve Earth-aliens using the place like a coffee shop and my elder sister who appears only biologically 13, who drifts in and out just when the comedy moment is right! What’s so bloody human about all that?”
When did my life turn into an episode of ‘Friends’, he screamed inside his head.
“Sit thee down, Tony. Have a beer. Rest your brains. It’s been a weird, weird day,” said Keighley, being used to his best friend going off on one when things grew a little tense.
“Right,” agreed Leibowitz, stunned by his own level of crassness. “I’ll have a beer. Sorry about that.”
These strange people were his friends. All of them came to the House for sanctuary, free food and his company.
“Sorry. Sorry everyone, I’m just being an arse. Its…” he gestured at the TV as the Solarnaut came on to save the day - again.
“I’ll do my running repairs in the Little Girl’s Room in future, Tony. I forget it freaks you fleshies out,” said Angela Steel gruffly.
“Just forget what I just said, Tony… about us. Bad idea. It would ruin our friendship and you obviously aren’t up to any sort of permanent relationship in any sort of adult way,” said Shi-Kane.
“That was workin’ right up to t’part about Tony being an adult,” said Keighley. “Anyone else want some pizza before I be me usual greedy self?”
“I’ll get a Gnome in to repair the grooves in the tops of your doors, Anthony,” said the Daemon, eyeing up the last of the pizza just as Angela swiped it. “And the holes in the wall… and the ceiling…”
“Cheers, guys. You know you’re all welcome here whenever,” sighed Leibowitz, taking a long pull on his bottle of Bud.
Just then a young teenage girl wearing rather old-fashioned clothes walked in through the door. Rachael Leibowitz, the older, born-again half-sister to frazzled Anthony, stared open mouthed as the Solarnaut did his thing for the 13th time on TV.
“Who the fuck is he and what the fuck is he doing?” she rather caught the gestalt of the moment, the zeitgeist of the whole, historical drama.
It was Day One of a grave new world. The secret people of the Looking-Glass Earth had just been outed.
Let the madness commence.



EXTRACT FOR
Black, White & Red All Over

(Rob Sharp)


Epitaph

November 18th 2012
The Tourists liked London.
As with most of the major cities scattered around the Looking-Glass Earth, it had its fair share of secret streets, impossible rooms linked to other realities via wormholes, and moving buildings with a spiteful will of their own. Such an invisible spider’s web of fickle things allowed the orange-suited time-travellers to set up their power bases freely and without prejudice.
Saint Alice in the Fields, a perfect example of a square-towered Norman church, caught between busy modern streets and blighted by air pollution, loomed over the far end of that most secretive of places, Methuselah Square. It was Summer Breeze’s first mission into the past and she was understandably rather nervous.
Crouching down, Polaris re-buttoned the nine year old’s coat correctly, checked she’d got a bottle of drinking water with her and some candy in case her blood sugar dropped.
“Now, you are sure you’re alright with this?” said the stunning young goddess kindly.
“It needs to be done,” chirped the girl with white-blonde hair. “John Savage has got himself lost inside the Ouroboros. Someone has to jaunt inside the belly of the beast and lead him back out.”
“It should be me…” began Polaris.
Almost maternally, Summer Breeze placed one hand on her friend’s shoulder. “We don’t know how Ouroboros would react to you doing your thing inside of it. That’s why I’m going. I’m smaller… I’ll create less fictional back-wash.”
“Heather could go, or Zen, if we can sober him up for long enough.”
“There are only five of us in the Looking-Glass Earth who can naturally travel through Time at the moment, who understand what the Void is saying and who can answer back. But mum says the Enemy has been doing this for 200 years and is trying to erase her rivals. I’m too small to register in her black mirror thingies!”
“When did you grow up and get so clever?” asked Polaris with a smile.
As the two conversed, literally within their own spatial-bubble, the world moved around them as if they weren’t there, while Polaris tightened the straps on Summer Breeze’s backpack.
“I’ll be fine,” the girl repeated. “Besides, you’ve forgotten, I’ve got a special friend.”
Slipping off her pack, Summer unzipped it and delved inside. With a flourish, she pulled a raggedy blue object, which promptly let out a violent sneeze. It looked like a well-loved toy rabbit, until it objected rudely to being hidden in the backpack.
“You try being folded in freaking half!” complained Mr Snuggles, Summer Breeze’s constant companion since being small. “It smells of freaking cheese and old peoples’ socks… and I can’t stand cheese!”
“This is why I hid you, Snuggles,” said Polaris. “That mouth of yours! We’re still not sure where you came from, but in this Reality and the ones surrounding it, toys can’t move and talk!”
“That’s your loss, sister,” grumped the bunny, staring far too long at Polaris’ fabulous cleavage. “Anyhoo, what the kid says goes for me. We’re a team. When the chips are down, I can deal the rough stuff, sweet-cheeks.”
“Being a pervert doesn’t make me warm to you one iota.”
“Well you shouldn’t be built like a Victoria’s Secret model of steroids! I yam what I yam, to quote a famous sailor – end of story.”
“This isn’t helping John Savage one little bit!” shouted Summer Breeze.
Polaris closed her eyes and counted to 10. Never work with children and animals – even toy stuffed ones.
She summoned up Power 3 from her arsenal of 99 super-human abilities, total global wisdom, then she opened her eyes again. “Go. Get gone, now, before I change my mind. If your mother trusts you to do this, who am I to doubt you?”
Cuddling Mr Snuggles close, Summer Breeze waved a cheery bye-bye, and with hardly a sound, vanished.
Polaris stood up, praying to all the gods that she’d done the right thing.
This was a Game of two halves, with two star players. John Savage, aka The Sentinel, re-tooled for the 21st Century as a feisty fighting-machine only to be gunned down before his time. Then after three years in a morgue draw, along with four team-mates, he’d come back from the dead.
Now E=mc2 had hired a paranormal detective to track Savage down. Anthony Leibowitz, known to the precious few as, Leibowitz the Younger (on account of his dad did this gig before him – long before him), was an obsessive collector of the strange. Aged about 128, and he kept exotic wildlife in his pockets.
Especially very smart mice.
In the Grand Scheme of Things, both men were as important as each other. Both had individual paths to blaze from the moment Savage smashed his way out of that morgue draw. Right from this precise second, as Polaris stood alone in Methuselah Square, through to the Time Wars of 2022 and into the blind-beyond.
People like her and the mysterious Tourists, those orange-suited Chrononauts that were beginning to make a nuisance of themselves, were stood behind these two players, cheering them on.
But the moment was rapidly approaching when Polaris no longer needed to hide and could be her true self. Hell, she was the woman of the stars after all. The girl with 99 powers, and counting.
Standing tall, the secret heroine shot up into the sky at Mach 1, breaking the sound barrier as she reached escape velocity. Then she took a left turn and jaunted back to the year 2003, when all the fun had begun.
she ‘pathed into the void.


Chapter 1 - White Light

September 3rd 2003
The President visiting Dallas was turning into a whole PR nightmare.
These were the boom times in the United States of Amerika, no matter which way you spelled it, but as the mid-terms were coming around and Arnie had his eye on a third stint in the Whitehouse, it had been decided to make a grand show of things to erase bad memories from the past. Losing one good President to the gun in Dealey Plaza had left a scar across the heart of the nation. It was time to erase that mark.
Litta Graff had been assigned to the on-air team at CBS, as a program researcher. She was to be based in a downtown office in contact with the live crew, to feed them facts and figures about the Kennedy’s and every minutia that happened on November the 22nd 1963, as and when gaps appeared in the live broadcast.
“Christ, the eyes and ears of the world are on this thing today and I’m shuffling papers in the research team like a fucking intern!” she groused to her co-worker, Arlene as they logged in to their individual work stations.
“Watch your mouth, Litta,” hissed Arlene, a thirty-something bottle-blonde who was looking forward to becoming a Cougar in the very near future, what with all these young stud executives filling up the company. “You nearly got the axe over that crap with Senator Greystoke. Think yourself lucky you’ve still got a job!”
Litta bit her bottom lip and nodded. She’d gone up against the might of international corporation, E=mc2 on the trail of corruption, and lost, big time. On reduced pay and her career in tatters, she still sensed Greystoke’s eyes on her, all of the time. Those odd clicks on her home phone when she picked it up and a series of dark cars sitting outside her apartment were beginning to freak her out.
“I just wish we were out in the open, where we could see the cavalcade live, rather than stuck in this pokey office, that’s all,” she said bitterly.
Arlene squeezed her arm. “Never mind, honey. You’ll catch yerself a real cute guy someday soon with a fat pay check, and then you can kiss this crappy job goodbye. With those sassy Chinese eyes and your tanned complexion, you tick all the right boxes!”
Litta nodded, tying to ignore the slightly racist comment. I don’t want to give up the job… I want my old life back, she thought bitterly, logging on through the infranet to the live crew.
The hour of the parade grew nearer. President Schwarzenegger’s Show-biz chums had done him proud as dozens of interviews were being held in the strobes of the paparazzo’s cameras. The latest estimate said there were 317 individual camera crews from TV companies all around the world. It was the largest live televised event of the decade. Just the time and place to make a statement.
Since her obsession with bringing Senator John Clayton Greystoke to some sort of justice had only been aborted by her fall from grace, Litta had not slowed down in her quest for knowledge one jot. In fact she had blown a large part of her personal savings on various bits of hi-tech kit. The irony of it being, most of it was from the One Stop Science Shop, E=mc2, of which the Senator was CEO.
In the bag between her feet as she tapped away at her keyboard, trying not to lose the will to live, was an Ultrawave Tracer. She had paid a fortune for the illegal parts of this device and was still struggling with the science behind it.
Not working on any normal satellite phone network, this seemed to be a private wavelength of communication for various secret law enforcement agencies and VIPs such as Greystoke. She had first seen the CEO use one of these whilst spying on him the previous summer. It was normally a TV phone as small as a wristwatch, but Litta’s contraband unit was a hand-held set as big as a games console. She had it scanning the strange airwaves permanently on days like this, trying desperately to hack into something important.
The device picked that day to suddenly burst into life.
“Samaritan 5, this is 17. We have the green light for the Terminator. He’s on the move…” crackled a clear voice suddenly from under the table.
“What the hell…?” Litta’s friend gasped, as the diminutive reporter grabbed for her bag and stumbled to her feet. “Cover for me, Arlene. Something I’ve got to do!” Then she was away through the fire door and heading up towards the roof via the stairs.
“Honey, you’ll lose your job!” the blonde shouted after her, but it was too late, Litta Graff was already becoming part of history.
The sun up on the roof of the office block was blisteringly hot as she burst out of the fire escape door, her custom-made machine in hand. By the sound of things, she had picked up a waveband being used by the President’s secret service, although she’d never heard of Samaritan agents before. Leaning over the parapet, Litta had a perfect view down onto the route for the cavalcade. Crowds already lined both sides of the road, waving their stars and stripes and blowing plastic horns like it was a public holiday.
She grinned at her illegal device, as coded messages moved backwards and forwards. “You beauty!” she laughed. But boy was it hot up there.
She shielded her eyes from the sun and blinked up into the clear sky through her dark fringe. Was it her imagination, but was there a dark spot hiding in that solar disk? Eyes streaming, she had to look away, as the convoy of cars had begun to ease its way down Dealey Plaza. Switching the camera on her device to magnify, she zoomed in on that familiar craggy face, as Arnie sat in the back of an open topped limo, performing to the crowd.
The first gunshots came from a building directly opposite from where Litta was watching. She actually saw the flash before she heard the sounds. Three swift shots in close succession. The bodyguards instinctively hauled the President down to safety, as his driver slumped forward over the steering wheel. Then the armoured fold-back roof began to rapidly close over the president’s car.
The Police escort moved in, but even as they did so, a second maniac appeared out of the crowd with an automatic machinegun opening fire on the line of VIPs. He was joined by a third, then a fourth from further behind the convoy, catching the Police out, at least one officer going down and not moving.
Then more terrorists opened up from shop-front positions, because that was what this was; a terrorist attack and it was turning into a bloodbath.
Breathless with shock, Litta Graff had already hit ‘record’ on her device. All she could do was watch with the detached eagle-eye of a reporter.
Then he came out of the sun, gliding on the rays of light.
A man standing in the air as if it was a natural thing to do, clothed all in white with an impossibly long, folded metallic cloak slung over the right shoulder and a massive solar ray shield holding it in place, glinting like the sun herself. Swinging down over the city, the man-with-a-purpose passed right by where Litta Graff was hiding.
She looked into the face of one of the secret world’s most powerful posthumans. His black muscular face, head totally shaven, was ringed with a golden mirror visor. The way he looked down over the thousands of faces lining the roads below him, was unfathomable. As if they were just ants beneath him, was what flashed through Litta’s mind.
Standing on light, he soaked it all in, picking up wavelengths the reporter couldn’t even imagine. Then, in a flurry of movement, adjusting the golden visor, he began to fire tight laser beams into the crowd, cauterising the gunmen like the cancers they were.
Touching down right next to the President’s car, he bent over a wounded policeman as another hail of bullets rattled off the roadway. Several must have hit him as he protected the man, but they seemed to make no impression on the stranger. It was only now he was in scale with the rest of the world that everyone could see how tall he was – well over six foot eight, probably heading towards seven foot when he stood tall and proud.
There was a flash of light from one open hand and a ball of fire rolled across the road and engulfed that particular gunman. Then he went in search of the rest of the group; 13 terrorists in all, taking them out one by one.
Job done, caught by the world’s cameras, he rose majestically back into the air, flicking that insane cape behind him. As he retraced his steps and flew right over Litta, she suddenly found the courage to cry out to this man in white.
“Hey! Big guy! What’s your name?”
He looked down at her as he drifted by. It was as if he could see right through her flesh and bones and into her very soul.
“You can call me, Corona. Or maybe, the Solarnaut is better… How’s that sound, Ms Graff?” Then he was away back into the blinding sun, already a living legend.
With a trembling finger she clicked an open channel on her homemade device. “This is Litta Graff reporting for… well, just reporting. If you can hear this, if anyone can hear this, the mystery-man in white’s name is, the Solarnaut, and he just saved the President’s life, right here in Dallas, Texas. We’ve waited a long time for a hero like him, and as an Amerikan citizen of mixed race, I am proud to tell the world… the Solarnaut is black!”
She joined in the cheering and the waving from the insane crowds below as her hero vanished back into the solar glare. Then the Ultrawave crackled in her hand and sprang into life again.
“Miss Graff? Well done, Miss Graff… We got your report, short and sweet though it was, loud and clear. My name is Aaron Baxter… I own a little outfit named, Global News. Do you fancy a new job?”
And the Looking-Glass Earth would never be the same again.

Chapter 2 - Tighty Whities

Still September 3rd 2003
It’s one of those solid facts of history that when the Solarnaut drifted out of that clear blue Dallas sky and saved the President’s ass, everyone knows where they were and what they were doing at that precise moment when the news broke.
Anthony Leibowitz, very uncharacteristically, had taken a day off from his busy life’s calling to potter around his father’s House. That would have sounded quite a normal thing to do, if; a) Anthony hadn’t been the self-styled, self-employed curator of all things strange on the Looking-Glass Earth, and b) His father’s House hadn’t have been a semi-sentient entity that could move at will around the secret world, and all points west.
He had been rummaging about looking for several things that he hadn’t seen for some while. You know how it is, you put something down and a short while later it seems to have moved all by itself.
The books in question, Volumes 3 and 4 of Troughton’s Essays on Parallel Species had so far eluded his search in the meandering four-storey house. Volumes 1 and 2 he had found behind the cistern in one of the WCs on the third floor and surprisingly, they were in almost pristine condition. Volume 5 had not fared so well, sitting too long in one of the side ovens of an old auger cooker in the back kitchen. It was a little crispy around the edges, but still readable.
But volumes 3 and 4? Who knew?
Then it had been over 90 years since a young Leibowitz had put them down in the overspill library kept in the attic.
When the first pictures of the Solarnaut came on the TV, the black hero drifting through the air majestically dressed in white with that impossibly long metallic cape flapping out behind him, Anthony was just indulging in a Pot Noodle for lunch. Still standing, those reconstituted dried noodles almost to his mouth, he had frozen, entranced.
It was the end of an era. No more secret heroes. But, far more importantly, it was the beginning of a new age. Now the extraordinary people of the world; those with special abilities and extended lives would have to learn to play nice with the mortals of the planet.
Anthony Leibowitz was amongst their introverted ranks.
Later, when Shi-Kane joined him for their usual round of TV, heated conversation and the odd video game, the two of them camped out in the Parlour to watch the circus. Clearing some space amongst the textbooks, scrolls, copious note pads and general ephemera, to sit on that massive horsehair couch and clutch cushions to their chests, watching the endless coverage of Man’s first official superhero revealing his whole genre to the world-at-large on an old portable set.
They looked like a married couple on a Saturday night, TV magazine front and centre to plan their evening’s entertainment. The obviously Jewish Leibowitz, his short curly hair a little in disarray, dressed in a sleeveless khaki shirt and wide Bermuda shorts, and short white socks. The obviously Korean Shi-Kane, her hair its usual curtain of ironed-straight black, in an old blue cardigan over a pale grey T, denim short-shorts and long white socks with old black sneakers, which she had kicked off the moment she entered the Parlour.
“I just can’t take it in,” the Seer repeated yet again as that now historical footage was streamed a tenth time in all its stark glory.
“So you keep saying. And no one in your professional circle had any inkling that this was going to happen?” asked Leibowitz, helping himself to another slice of cold pizza.
“No! Fucking nothing! A blank slate! That just doesn’t happen, Tony. The future is our book… although it’s slightly blurred at times and still needs a copyreader. But we see all. No one around the world predicted this happening. No one!” She pushed her long dark hair angrily behind each ear, glued to the screen.
“Interesting,” the curator mused, chewing another mouthful of gluey cheese and anchovies. “Hey. You said on the phone earlier before all this insanity kicked off that you wanted to discuss a proposition with me?”
The skinny Korean woman looked a touch embarrassed. “It’ll keep.”
Leibowitz glanced across the wasteland of the couch at her. “No it won’t. You know I hate secrets. Spit it out, Shi.”
She put her head in her hands and ruffled her hair, madly. “Oh… This seemed so logical this morning when the idea came to me in the shower. I’d rather discuss it another time with all this crap changing our lives!”
“Oy-yoy-yoy! Spit it out, Shi!”
“Listen… Right. This is my great idea. We both live very busy, sometimes extremely dangerous lives. Forming relationships of any depth is kind of hard – shit, it’s totally impossible. The last long-term boyfriend I had was a super-soldier and he’s been dead for three years. You do the math!” She looked at Anthony, hoping he was beginning to guess where this was going. He hadn’t a clue.
“God – Jesusss, this is so embarrassing! I think I saw beer coming into this conversation this morning. Beer iron’s out the kinks. Beer is good at a time like this!”
She looked at him again, hands wide with anticipation, waiting for the penny to drop. It didn’t.
“Shit, shit, shit. Let’s try this from another angle. Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘friends with benefits’?”
“No,” he answered woodenly, not a clue what she was aspiring to.
“This is why we sit here, or at my place once a fortnight, and only play crappy shoot-em-up games and discuss medieval politics! Jesus, Tony! Neither of us has a sex life beyond the odd fumble in the dark now and again. Why don’t I stay tonight, of all memorable nights? Stay with you. Sleep with you.”
“But there are plenty of spare beds…”
She let out a little squeal of frustration and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him hard, making him drop his slice of pizza. “I want us to have sex! Become fuck-buddies! Do the horizontal mamba! Is that totally clear now?”
Leibowitz did his slow blink. “Totally. And… no, Shi. You’re my friend. It would be so… confusing!”
“No?” Shi-Kane sat back and looked gob-smacked. “No?” She shook her head and sat further back into the monster couch.
At that perfect moment, Keighley wandered in, looking like a battered crash-test dummy, wearing only black boxer shorts.
“Is this shite still on?” he groused, referring to the Solarnaut doing his debut to the world.
Plonking himself down between the two stunned, silent figures, the Yorkshire soldier-for-hire captured the TV remote and started to channel-surf. On auto-feeding-pilot, he also picked the slice of pizza his friend had just dropped off the floor, and began to devour it.
“I’m going to get some beer. Lots of beer. You want some, Yory?” snapped the Seer, glaring at Leibowitz. ‘No?’ she mouthed at the befuddled curator of the strange and stalked off in a huff.
“Beer – grand idea, lass. Beer for me, please.”
On every channel they were showing the Dallas Event, as it was now being dubbed. Or they were discussing the Dallas Event, or trying to get an interview with some C-list hero to comment on the new way of the world. Or they were announcing a press conference by the eminent Doctor Kristine Sun to reveal more about the posthuman community that had just been outed to the world.
“What you done now, Tony,” said Keighley, cracking a smile.
“What? Me? Nothing!”
“Bollocks. Shi-Kane looked as if you’d just squeezed her boobs… you didn’t grope her, did you?”
“No!! Why is everyone obsessed with sex and… sexual things at the moment?”
“Because it’s fun and it makes t’world go round. If old Mordecai Leibowitz hadn’t got jiggy with your mum – whoever she was – you wouldn’t be sat there looking like a bolloxed rabbit.”
“Shi asked me to sleep with her, and I said no.”
“Tit.”
“Pardon?”
“I said, tit, Tony. As in the bit fat one that you are!”
“That makes no sense at all, you illiterate bugger.”
Keighley shook his head in frustration, scowling at his life-long friend. “You turned down a hot Japanese lass who wants your skinny, underdeveloped body, genius. Proper sex. Proper, proper sex. Consequently, you are a tit.”
“But I’ve this thing going with Lucille Tarot… I told you that in confidence. Even though I think Shi is very attractive and everything, it would feel wrong, it would be a betrayal of Lucille’s trust in me!”
Keighley grabbed the last slice of pizza from the box balanced on the couch’s arm and crammed in another mouthful, spluttering something incomprehensible at the same time, spraying Leibowitz with crumbs. Shi-Kane made her reappearance with fists full of bottled beer and a face like thunder, followed closely by a short blonde girl still shrugging herself into a skin-tight grey Lycra body suit.
“Is he using that one-off bonk on the beach with that witch as a bloody excuse not to sleep with me?” snarled Shi.
“Oh, aye,” Keighley laughed, rescuing two beers and popping the caps off with his teeth.
“How does she–?” Anthony suddenly became very Jewishly animated. “You told her about Lucille?” He turned on Keighley.
“Didn’t know it were a secret. Now, us for example; the whole frigging secret community, we were a proper secret until that tit in the white outfit went and blew it all out of the water on live international TV!”
“You told her… And what’s with the ‘tits’ all of a sudden? Are you obsessed with tits?”
“He is a bit,” chimed in the blonde, still struggling to get into her uniform. “Any pizza going, I’m starving!”
“No. Tit-man here just woofed back the last slice – as per usual,” scowled Leibowitz.
“I’ll nuke some more in the microwave. The others will have to surface soon,” said Shi-Kane. “You are a piece of work, Tony! A one-off shag on some exotic beach does not constitute a relationship. Fair enough, you did it with the witch… then she buggered off on some witchy-quest or something. I’m offering you regular – well you know what I’m offering you, and you turn me down?” She half-stormed off again. “Oh, Yorkie,” she suddenly came back with. “How long have you known me?”
“Too long…” muttered Keighley, spraying Leibowitz again with particles of food.
“I’m from Korea, not bloody Japan!”
“Sorry, lass.” He pulled a funny face as she left the room. The blonde tried not to giggle.
“Hey, I’m outta here. Doc Sun’s called this press conference thingy in 20 minutes, and she wants all active members of LifeForce to attend. We’re going to be outed, Yorkie! I finally get to have my own collectable figurine – Earthgirl, mistress of the mysterious X-Cube!” She mused over that tagline for a moment. “I’ll get some advertising guy to write something better than that.”
She leaned over and gave the mercenary a deep, smoochie kiss, pizza and all.
“See you, lover. It was great, as usual, you big Yorkshire shag-monster, you!” she said. Keighley grinned, mouth still full of half-chewed food, like a five-year old who was very pleased with himself.
“Bye, Tony. Thanks for the use of the room. Hey, and give Shi a break. I think you two guys would look cute together!”
Fluffing up her hair, an ornate pattern of grey face-paint suddenly appeared over Earthgirl’s features. From somewhere she produced a small grey box the size of a dice. The X-Cube, an unfathomable multi-tasking living computer immediately expanded until it became a great, grey, box-chair that hovered over the carpet. The slim blonde wriggled into its seat and ran her long fingers over the keyboards set into each arm.
“Ta-ta!” she cried, and in a blur of motion, the cube shot straight up through the ceiling like a ghost and was gone.
Silence ensued as the soldier continued to channel-surf and Leibowitz moped and looked all fed up.
Another woman entered, quite tall and slender with a perfectly toned figure. Today she had long auburn locks that shone like a Hair and Shoulder’s advert, her sharp features taking everything about the room in. Everything. She wore tight black slacks, no shoes and a black crop-top showing off her muscular abs. She was doing something odd with her right hand.
“Earthgirl gone?” she asked either of the men on the couch.
“Just now. Whoosh, through the ceiling.”
“Flashy bitch. Either of you two fleshies come to terms with this Dallas thing? Worked out what you’re going to do with your lives yet?” She sat between them, still messing with her hand. A short alien Grey came in through the backdoor dressed in a light brown suit tailor made to fit. He began to rummage through a pile of junk in one corner of the room.
“What’s to do? It’s business as usual for action-man and me. We execute our best work in the dark, hidden corners of the secret world. That won’t change. It’s not like we’re going to don spandex like Jenny – Earthgirl, and parade ourselves in front of the world’s press,” replied a bitter Leibowitz.
“I’m not wearing me undercackers outside me pants for nobody,” Keighley quipped, looking around for something else to eat.
Angela Steel, one of the world’s first humanoid robots, cracked back her wrist at a nasty angle and began to fiddle with minute pistons and circuitry. “Red can be so damn rough sometimes,” she gave away too much information. “I think he’s split a carbon fibre tendon somewhere.”
“Anyone seem my briefcase? Aluminium… initials on it? I left it right her yesterday,” said the Grey from the back of the room, with a strong British accent.
“It’s the House. It likes everyone to stay as long as they can, so it’s started to hide things,” explained Leibowitz. “I’ve been looking for two books off and on for a week now.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Mr Small. “I need to be at the UN for LifeForce’s press conference. I hate being late!”
Suddenly a small aluminium briefcase tumbled off a pile of dusty old periodicals from the 1950’s and landed at the Grey’s feet.
“Thank you,” the little alien said to the House. “Anthony, if you see your sister today, tell her I’ll meet her in the Top Hat, Little Transylvania about six. A few of us exotic types are having a last hurrah before someone tries to put us in a cage. I’ve done that before, it’s no damn fun!” Then Mr Small left.
“You and he okay?” Leibowitz whispered to Keighley. “You know, after you tried to assassinate him back in WW2?”
“Aye, we’re sound… sort of. I try not to mention it. Those were strange days,” replied Keighley, looking a little embarrassed about his past sins.
Angela reattached her hand, Shi-Kane came back with two fresh, steaming hot pizzas and a massive red, horned daemon entered the room in just his shorts. Scratching two fresh grooves in the door-surround with his horns, he sat on the end of the couch and helped himself to food.
Shi-Kane slapped his arm as the daemon tried to take a whole half in one go.
“Greedy! It’s bad enough feeding Keighley without you starting!” said Shi.
“You okay, Greg?” asked the robot.
“I’m well okay, Angela. You okay? Sorry about the hand, babe… you know me when I’ve got my love-on!”
“Hand’s fine. It was a simple fix. I probably won’t sit down for a week without…”
“Please!” shouted Leibowitz. “Please… I’m trying to watch this. Doc Sun will be on in ten minutes and you are all being far too personal.”
The room went rather quiet.
“It’s called, being human, Tony,” said Shi-Kane softly.
“Human?” Leibowitz rose to his feet. “Human? We’ve a posthuman bimbo – no offense to Earthgirl, but she is a bit thick – having it away with a Long-life soldier. Then there’s a robot screwing a Daemon, for Krom’s sake! I’ve Earth-aliens using the place like a coffee shop and my elder sister who appears only biologically 13, who drifts in and out just when the comedy moment is right! What’s so bloody human about all that?”
When did my life turn into an episode of ‘Friends’, he screamed inside his head.
“Sit thee down, Tony. Have a beer. Rest your brains. It’s been a weird, weird day,” said Keighley, being used to his best friend going off on one when things grew a little tense.
“Right,” agreed Leibowitz, stunned by his own level of crassness. “I’ll have a beer. Sorry about that.”
These strange people were his friends. All of them came to the House for sanctuary, free food and his company.
“Sorry. Sorry everyone, I’m just being an arse. Its…” he gestured at the TV as the Solarnaut came on to save the day - again.
“I’ll do my running repairs in the Little Girl’s Room in future, Tony. I forget it freaks you fleshies out,” said Angela Steel gruffly.
“Just forget what I just said, Tony… about us. Bad idea. It would ruin our friendship and you obviously aren’t up to any sort of permanent relationship in any sort of adult way,” said Shi-Kane.
“That was workin’ right up to t’part about Tony being an adult,” said Keighley. “Anyone else want some pizza before I be me usual greedy self?”
“I’ll get a Gnome in to repair the grooves in the tops of your doors, Anthony,” said the Daemon, eyeing up the last of the pizza just as Angela swiped it. “And the holes in the wall… and the ceiling…”
“Cheers, guys. You know you’re all welcome here whenever,” sighed Leibowitz, taking a long pull on his bottle of Bud.
Just then a young teenage girl wearing rather old-fashioned clothes walked in through the door. Rachael Leibowitz, the older, born-again half-sister to frazzled Anthony, stared open mouthed as the Solarnaut did his thing for the 13th time on TV.
“Who the fuck is he and what the fuck is he doing?” she rather caught the gestalt of the moment, the zeitgeist of the whole, historical drama.
It was Day One of a grave new world. The secret people of the Looking-Glass Earth had just been outed.
Let the madness commence.