Not Dead But Sleeping


by Kev Davis

“DI Crowley, Vyse Street CID,” said the Newcomer in the trenchcoat, ducking expertly under the fluttering police cordon and flipping his ID wallet open. A couple of disinterested uniformed officers grumbled affirmatively at him as he passed.

Sprawled awkwardly on a pile of rubbish bags half way down the dark alleyway was a young Tenctonese male, staring blankly at the hastily-erected plastic canopy above him. Heavy rain blattered determinedly against it, and two forensic scientists huddled beneath, muttering doubtfully and shaking their heads at each other. The flashing lights of the police cars in the street cast a grim two-hertz blueness over the proceedings.

As Crowley approached from the pavement, Detective Sergeant Darkwood looked up, brushed aside his rain-soaked shoulder-length hair and nodded in the DI’s general direction.. “Evening, sir.”

“Evening, Keith,” said the detective absently, his attention given almost completely to the corpse. From this angle, the brutal wounds were clearly visible. Both hearts had been cleanly shot out, and a horrific hole ran right through the stomach. “What’s the verdict, then?”

“I think we can safely cancel the ambulance,” said Darkwood grimly.

“Random shooting, is it?”

Darkwood raised an enigmatic eyebrow, and halfnodded at the corpse. “Probably not, actually. Take a closer look.”

The DI crouched on the rain-slicked tarmac and peered critically at the cadaver. The skin seemed to be pulled back slightly over the bulbous skull, and the eyes bulged unpleasantly from their sockets. The usual healthy Tenctonese flesh tone had been replaced by something grey and uninspiring. Even the untrained eye of the detective could see that the Newcomer had shuffled off his mortal coil some while ago.

“Three weeks dead?” he guessed.

The first forensic officer turned to Crowley and nodded. “Eighteen days,” he sighed. “Looks as if the body was dumped earlier today, though - it wasn’t here this morning.”

“Hmm. Who found it?”

“James Milton, apparently,” said Darkwood, inclining his head at the grimy wall. Milton’s chip shop lurked on the other side of the brickwork.

“Jim Milton, eh?” said David, rising to his full height and smiling faintly to himself. “Anyone interviewed him yet?”

“DI Morgan’s in there with him now.”

“Right you are. I’ll leave this with you, then.” Darkwood scowled vaguely at the weather, and cast a despairing glance at the corpse. “Yeah. Cheers.” David Crowley nodded, turned on his heel and strode back out into the thundering rain and murmuring traffic.


“Haddock and chips please, Jim,” smiled Crowley, pushing his way through the door of the chip shop and approaching the counter. DI Morgan, seated at one of the place’s grimy tables, looked up from her laptop computer and raised an eyebrow at Crowley.

Jennifer Morgan was some thirty years of age, fairly tall, darkly-haired, and had been transferred to Birmingham CID yesterday morning from a similar position elsewhere. She was dimly aware of DI Crowley’s existence within her department - when the Tenctonese began moving to Europe seven years ago, many companies were keen to employ token Newcomers in fairly minor positions.

Crowley had risen from the streets and up through the ranks with disturbing swiftness, DS Darkwood had been telling her over breakfast. He was now grudgingly regarded as one of the city’s finest detectives, even if he tended to stray outside the norms rather frequently. There were rumours circulating among the station about his killing of an Overseer back in ’95, although after a twomonth suspension and a detailed investigation, he returned to his post. And never, ever talked about it.

“David Crowley,” said Milton, surprised. “Good grief. How the hell are you?”

“Could be better, could be worse,” said Crowley with a shrug, shaking the rain from his coat in the process. “And yourself?”

“Can’t grumble.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Salt and vinegar?” queried Jim, as he wandered over to the freezer behind the counter. He tugged it open and pulled an icy haddock from the swirling cube of frozen air within.

Crowley gave a false laugh.

“Still the old sense of humour, then,” he said flatly, running a hand over his jaggedly-striped head and flicking the rainwater on the floor. He joined Milton at the counter, and waggled a salt cellar thoughtfully. “Did you ever catch that bloke who was switching the sugar and salt, by the way?”

“I thought that was your job,” said Jim.

Crowley grinned. “Top brass CID staking out chip shops?” he said. “No, not quite. I’ll send a couple of plainclothes plods over, if you want.”

“No, it’s all right - our poisoner seems to have given up of late,” said Jim. He fiddled with his microwave. “How’s life in the police force, then?”

“Could be worse,” said Crowley, giving a noncommittal Newcomer shrug. “Underpaid and overworked, but at least I’m DI, now.”

“Detective Inspector, eh?” said Jim, impressed. Crowley nodded modestly, and DI Morgan cleared her throat.

“Ah,” added Crowley, “duty calls. Speak to you later.” Jim nodded and returned to his work.

David dragged an unpleasantly orange plastic chair across the linoleum floor and sat himself next to Jenny. “Evening, Morgan,” he said. “Got Jim’s statement, have you?”

“Just finished it, sir, yes,” nodded Jenny, spinning her laptop around so that David could see it. Crowley peered at the neat rows of green text, and chewed his lip thoughtfully.

James Milton wandered over to the table carrying a large plate of chips. A lukewarm raw haddock rested on top of the golden heap, wearing a slightly worried open-mouthed frown. Crowley fished some change from his pocket and dropped into Milton’s waiting hand. Jennifer just stared at the meal and shuddered.

“Want some?” murmured David, pushing the plate over to Jenny. Wincing, DI Morgan plucked a chip from beneath the fish and nervously shoved the plate back. Crowley grinned wolfishly, and popped a chip into his mouth.

“Mmph,” he said, waving a hand at Jim and swallowing awkwardly. He gestured to a sentence on the laptop’s glowing screen. “What’s this bit here?”

Jim squinted at the text of statement he’d given a few minutes ago. “Oh,” he said, “yes. There was a NecroTech Cryogenics van parked out the front all afternoon; someone came to pick it up about half-past four.”

“And you discovered the body at...?”

“Five o’clock. I was taking the rubbish out.”

“Hmm,” Crowley cut himself a slice of haddock and chewed thoughtfully on it.

“It can’t be relevant, can it?” said Morgan, doing her best to ignore the unpleasant crunching. “If you’re going to dump a body, you don’t sit outside a public place all afternoon in a marked van. And you don’t dump it where it’s going to be found straight away. Unless you want it to be, of course.”

“Indeed,” mused Crowley. He looked over at Jim, who was idly drumming his fingers on the counter. “I take it this NecroTech place has a branch in town somewhere?”

Jim nodded. “Smith Street,” he said.

“Away to Smith Street, then,” said Crowley, rising from his table and dabbing his mouth with a napkin. He looked down forlornly at his half-eaten fish and chips. “I’ll finish this later. Got any newspaper, Jim?”

James Milton nodded once more, and took an old copy of the local weekly from a box beneath the counter. Whilst his human customers tended to opt for a more hygienic form of wrapping, the Newcomers saw the newspaper as a delicious addition to the meal. Jim tugged free a couple of sheets and laid them flat on the counter. David piled his meal into the centre of the paper, and expertly folded it into a neat parcel, before hiding it all in a pocket of his trenchcoat.

“Can I open up again now, then?” said Jim with a trace of irritation. He’d already lost a good half-hour of potential takings.

“Yes, yes, of course,” replied Crowley, making for the door. He patted his bulky pockets thoroughly, in search of the car keys which, even now, sat on a shelf at home awaiting the return of his car from the garage. With a helpless frown he turned to Jenny.

“Er, you couldn’t give me a lift to Smith Street could you, Morgan?” he said.


Crowley tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the dashboard and stared out through the rain-streaked windscreen, thoughtlessly watching the blurred neon lights of downtown Birmingham as they rushed past to either side. The wipers swept determinedly back and forth across the glass, worse than useless against the sheer force of the downpour.

Well, at least the weather was nice.

Whereas the majority of the Tenctonese slaves were more than happy to spend the rest of their days in sunny Los Angeles, a good few thousand Newcomers absolutely hated it. The species as a whole had been bred to survive in various climates - most were best suited to high levels of heat, but those sharing a gene pool with Crowley had been adapted to work in sub-zero temperatures. After a month or so of staying indoors and filling their hot- water bottles with ice, the latter strain emigrated northwards from Los Angeles. Crowley had moved to Britain along with thousands of others, choosing the fair city of Birmingham for reasons which they never explained in any depth.

The clouds rumbled. Crowley smiled to himself. “So,” he said, righting his train of thought, “what do you make of all this, Morgan?”

“Jenny,” said Jenny, turning off down a gloomy side street. “Call me Jenny.”



Crowley grunted his affirmation. “All right,” he said, in a businesslike manner. “So long as you don’t call me Dave.”

“Why not?” frowned Morgan.

Crowley gave a hollow laugh. “Have you any idea what ’Dave’ translates to in Tenctonese?”

“Er, I should do,” said Jenny, narrowing her eyes slightly. “I bought one of those Linguaphone tapes for Tenctonese a while back,” she explained.

Not that there was much point in learning the language, of course - it was really only the die-hard traditionalist Newcomers who hadn’t bothered learning any Earth dialects. Crowley had picked up English in a couple of weeks. He’d once learnt Welsh just to kill a weekend.

Jenny had decided to learn a second language as a worthwhile way of killing a few evenings, and as something to impress potential employers with. Since Tenctonese was more or less grammatically identical to English, that was what she’d opted for. It was really just a matter of remembering what the words meant.

“Lick,” she ventured, eventually.

“Yes,” said Crowley, with audible contempt. “Or, as a noun, saliva. So I’d appreciate it if you just called me David, all right?”

“Fair enough,” said Jenny. “Still,” she added, trying to sound sympathetic but teetering dangerously into the realms of the patronising, “that’s what you get when the immigration people choose your name, I suppose.”

Crowley gave another hollow laugh, and smiled grimly out into the night. “No,” he said. “The immigration people initially named me...” His voice dropped to a low, ominous whisper, and his irises darkened momentarily. “Aleister.”

“Did they?” said Jenny. Darkwood had mentioned that Crowley was quick to change his name after he’d got through quarantine. “Did they really?”

“Yes,” scowled the Newcomer. “And I strongly doubt that they covered that sort of thing on your Linguaphone tape.” Crowley fell into a grim silence.

With a screech of inefficient brakes and a shower of brackish water from the overflowing gutter, Morgan’s car drew to a halt outside the gloomy facade of NecroTech Cryogenics. Pale yellow light spilled out through the windows of the front doors, casting a sickly glow over the sharp pavement railings.

Crowley muttered some words of thanks and clambered out of the car. After slamming the door, he turned around and rapped his knuckles on the rain-streaked passenger window. Leaning awkwardly across the passenger seat, Jenny wound it down.

“Come and pick me up after you’ve been back to Jim Milton’s,” said David, raising his voice to make himself heard above the rain. “I shouldn’t be too long here.”

“But I’m not going back to Milton’s,” complained Jenny warily.

“Where’s your computer, then?” beamed Crowley. He waved foolishly and climbed the rain-soaked steps to NecroTech Cryogenics.


“Can I help you, sir?” said the girl at the desk, looking up from her magazine. David Crowley was standing in the centre of the lobby, shaking the rain from his coat and not doing a great deal to improve the state of the carpet.

In contrast to the grimness of the building’s exterior, the NecroTech offices were rather expensively decorated within. Plush blue carpet, now bearing a dozen of Crowley’s damp footprints, stretched between the grey-papered walls, and numerous triangular lights cast a clean, efficient white glow over everything.

“Er, yes,” he said, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. He smiled bleakly. “Yes. Is the manager available?”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I’ve got a small plastic card, if that’s any good,” said Crowley, taking out his police identification. He tilted it to and fro, and a tiny holographic image of David’s grinning visage swam in and out of the visible spectrum.

The girl nodded, and pressed a button. “Mr. McGeddon, there’s a...” She hesitated and lifted her finger.

“Crowley. DI Crowley,” said David absently.

“Detective Inspector Crowley to see you.”

“Send him up,” said a crackly voice on the intercom. The girl nodded. “Up the stairs and on the left, sir,” she said, indicating a wide carpeted staircase behind her.

“Much thanks,” nodded David, striding energetically up the half-dozen steps and passing through the open doorway to his left. McGeddon’s office was every bit as opulent and expensive-looking as Crowley had expected - an antique-looking desk sat in the middle of the thick red wall-to-wall carpet, its ornate brass lamp casting a pleasing glow over the polished wood. Whispers of classical music drifted from a neat black sound system in the corner.

Another doorway was set in the right-hand wall, leading off to, from the little Crowley could see through it, another office. “Take a seat, I’ll be right with you,” called a muffled voice from that direction.

David nodded to himself and settled into the comfortable leather chair. He glanced down at the faltering LCD display of his wristwatch. Twenty to ten. Seeing as he’d been out on a dawn raid early this morning, Crowley was feeling increasingly tired as the night drew on. His eyelids drooped, and he let the faint strains of Bach wash over him.

There was some frantic whispering from the adjoining office, and Crowley jerked back to full consciousness, just in time to miss the last of whatever was being said. He straightened up from the lazy sprawl that he’d sunken into, and glanced over at the door.

“Ah, Mister Crowley,” smiled a thirtyish human, idly brushing back his thick grey-streaked black hair as he entered the room, “what can I do for you?”

“Richard McGeddon?” queried Crowley, as the gent lowered himself into the seat on the other side of the desk.

The man smiled warily for the briefest of seconds. “Yes,” he nodded, and shook David firmly by the hand. “Nice to meet you. So, what seems to be the problem?”

“It’s about one of your vans,” explained Crowley.

“Ah, the one that was dumped outside the chip shop?” said McGeddon, raising his thin eyebrows quizzically.

“Dumped?” frowned David.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry if we didn’t go through the proper channels. I meant to call, but...” explained McGeddon, his voice trailing away as he clicked open the drinks cabinet. He waggled a crystal decanter at Crowley; sour milk slurped about inside it, leaving an opaque film in its wake. “Milk?”

Crowley battled with his conscience for the best part of ten seconds. He’d given up drinking sour milk a couple of years ago. Back in 1995, Crowley had been quite a heavy drinker - home-brewed sour milk was dangerously inexpensive to manufacture, and his two month suspension from the force had seen him maturing crates of the stuff for personal consumption. For all the Newcomers’ biological perfection, though, too much sour milk had an adverse effect on them; Crowley had twice been in hospital for drink-induced illnesses, and his doctor sternly advised him to stop drinking sour milk. But for the occasional glass at Christmas parties and the like, Crowley never touched a drop these days. His willpower audibly collapsed. As days went, this one had been particularly long.

“Go on, then. Just a small one.”

McGeddon returned to his desk and placed a glass of noxious milk on the green-leather surface. He held a tumbler of whisky for himself. “Cheers,” said he, lifting his glass to his lips. He sipped appreciatively at the golden liquid.

“Likewise,” said Crowley, taking a sip of his milk. He sloshed it about the inside of his mouth and nodded appreciatively. Expensive stuff indeed; while you could get a pleasing enough taste by leaving a carton of milk in your cupboard for a week, the properly-manufactured stuff was far kinder to your taste-buds and - the next morning - your head.

“Superb,” he said, after swallowing it. He tilted the glass and gazed admirably at viscous, lumpy liquid within. “Very subtle. Something I can’t place, though.” McGeddon’s smile flickered.

“It’s from a little place down in Cornwall - goat’s milk, matured in oak casks for month. You can really taste the wood, I’m told.”

Crowley took another mouthful and nodded thoughtfully. “Wood. That’s it. To business, anyway. Hold on,” he said, laying aside his drink. He clicked the locks on his portable computer, opened it like a book and placed it on the desk in front of him. It beeped cheerily into life, and blinked a few lights at the world. “Recorded interview between DI David Crowley and Richard McGeddon, commencing...” said Crowley, his words magically appearing on the screen of the computer as they left his mouth. He frowned into middle distance and consulted his watch. “9:42pm, eighth of September 1998. No other officers present.” “Right then...”


Some fifteen minutes later, David Crowley emerged from the NecroTech Cryogenics building. He stood on the top step and took several large lungfuls of the vaguely polluted Birmingham air, and let the faltering rain wash over his bald head.

A somewhat muted car horn blared at him from the side of the road. Jenny Morgan gave a cheery wave from the driver’s seat, and David danced unsteadily down the stone steps. He wrenched open the passenger door and climbed in.

“Anything?” said Jennifer, with a vague trace of optimism. She started up the engine and the car juddered into life. Crowley stared blankly ahead for a few seconds.

“Er, no, no,” he said suddenly, returning to his senses. “No, nothing. Not a jot.”

“You took a statement?”

“Well, for what it was worth, yes,” said Crowley, tapping a finger on his portable computer. “The van was reported stolen this morning, and one of the NecroTech employees noticed it abandoned outside Milton’s this afternoon. He picked it up and brought it back.” “Reported stolen?” said Jenny, frowning slightly.

“Oh, yes - I checked with the main police computer,” said David wearily. “The manager called in at about ten this morning. It’s all logged and everything. No great mystery, there.”

The two police officers drove on in silence for a couple of blocks. Crowley yawned, and scratched absently at the side of his head.

“You examined the van, did you?” said Jenny.

“What?” said David distractedly. “Oh, yes, yes. Dusted it and all that. Matched the prints to four of the human NecroTech drivers, none of whom have got previous; it’s all on the computer. There’s a couple of Tenctonese drivers I’ll have to check out tomorrow.”

Crowley yawned again and peered groggily out into the night. In the distance, the Town Hall clock determinedly struck ten, its chimes barely audible above the ceaseless crashing of the rain.

“Sorry, sorry,” David murmured, clutching vaguely at the makings of a headache and frowning deeply. “I’m not at my best, at the moment. Think we should call it a day.”

It was the milk. He knew it was the milk. Such a stupid mistake. Crowley drummed his fingers angrily on the dashboard. An unpleasantly pink pub sign was just visible through the rain as the car drew up at some traffic lights. Crowley cursed under his breath in Tenctonese.

“Drop me off here,” he heard himself say. The cheery neon sign of The Cooper’s Arms blinked on and off invitingly. He could still taste the sour lactic acid on his tongue.

“Sure?” said Jenny. The lights turned green.

“Yeah, I’ll get a bus home,” said Crowley, climbing from the car. He offered a vague wave to Morgan. “No problem. See you in the morning. Thanks for the lift.”


The low murmur dropped to nothing as David Crowley entered The Cooper’s Arms. A dozen scowling human faces eyed him with contempt, and the barman looked up with a barely-concealed sneer. Someone in the far corner of the room muttered something, and a round of guttural laughter broke out.

“What was that?” called Crowley, with an exaggeratedly polite smile. Deep in his trenchcoat pocket, four printless fingers slipped deftly around the handle of a recently-remembered gun. Even in the current age, few of the British police were actually armed. When such trouble was expected from the criminal fraternity, guns were brought into play accordingly, but for the majority of the time they managed without. Crowley had been issued with a pistol for this morning’s dawn raids - a busy day and a poor memory meant that he still had it in his pocket. He’d be invoiced for Hell when he returned to the station, no doubt.

“Diddums want his milk?” called a crop-haired youth, nudging his drinking partners in their collective ribs. Unable to come up with anything funnier, the comedian said it again, in a notably more foolish manner. He waggled his cigarette and leered hopelessly.

Crowley sighed deeply. He was used to this although the Newcomers had been in Britain some seven years now, the Purist movement was still unnervingly strong, and the Newcomers were still a long way from being fully welcomed by society.

Normally Crowley would shrug such mindless racist insults off, but the lactic acid fizzing through his bloodstream added a twist of anger to the apathy. He flipped off the safety.

“And what might you be drinking, sir?” replied Crowley with mock interest.

The yob lifted a half-empty bottle from the pile of debris on his table and waved it proudly in the air. His companions gave a few drunken cheers, although they were rather silenced by the gunshot. Twisted plastic and sticky cider rained down upon the nearby clientele of the Cooper’s Arms, bringing with it an uneasy silence that was broken only by a gimmicky eighties pop song from the jukebox.

“Oh, did baby spill his apple juice?” sneered Crowley, his words cutting through the murmuring pop music to reach everybody in the pub. The crew-cutted youngster wisely decided not to make an issue of it, and the detective turned to the bar, clicking his gun’s safety catch to its more acceptable position as he did so. Wearing his finest grim smile, Crowley’s fingers danced along the bar top and he turns his attention to its pumps. Four lagers, three bitters, two obscure real ales and one sour milk. Crowley sighed. It was a generic, synthetic and rather unpleasant brand - most breweries had started stocking milk in their pubs so as not to appear hostile to the Newcomers, but they invariably went for the cheapest possible label. Any half-decent sour milk had to be consumed at its optimum age - leave it for a few weeks more and you might as well be drinking cupboard-brewed gold top. Since demand for the drink was fairly low in most places, it made economic sense to stock a chemical-laden brand that would happily sit in the cellars for up to a year.

“A pint of milk, please,” smiled Crowley, when the barman returned from making a call to the local police. There was a strangled burst of static from David’s police radio.

“Shooting reported in the pub on Nightingale Road, male Newcomer armed with a revolver,” said a crackly voice from its speaker. “Nobody injured, perpetrator still on the premises. Can anyone deal?”

“Marvellous response time, isn’t it?” smiled the detective, nodding to the surprised barman. “Your taxes at work.”

Crowley reached up to his collar and gently tapped a button on his radio. “Affirmative, control,” he said. “DI Crowley here. I’m at the Cooper’s Arms. I think I’ve got the situation under control. A mere false alarm, is all.” The radio muttered acknowledgement and returned to the realms of silence.

“Thank you, thank you,” said David to the barman, lifting his pint from the bar top. He fished a handful of change from his pocket and swiftly sorted out the appropriate coinage, sliding it across the bar in a neat pile.

Clutching his drink in one hand and his gun in the other, David sought a table to sit at. The locals eyed Crowley with an uneasy blend of racism and fear, and shifted nervously in their mock-leather seats. The prospect of having a Newcomer at the table was more or less as inviting to them as having an armed trigger-happy maniac drinking with them. A combination of the two was easily at absolute zero on the scale of drinking partners.

In a dark corner of the room, a young Tenctonese male sat alone at a table, staring morosely into an empty glass. Clad in a dark coat and looking rather pale and miserable, a palpable air of depression hung over the polished-brass table. David Crowley strode into the shadows, doing his best to dispel the gloom with an understanding smile and the nearest he could get to a friendly face.

“Evening. Is this seat taken?” said Crowley, extending a finger and indicating the empty chair at the side of the table. The Newcomer looked up for a brief second.

“No, no - go ahead,” he murmured, shrugging non-committally. Crowley nodded in thanks, and placed his computer on the tabletop, his drink beside it.

“Can I get you a top-up?” beamed David, pointing to his companion’s empty glass. The young Newcomer nodded wearily. “Cheers,” he said vaguely, pushing it across the table to Crowley.

“Be right back,” said Crowley, making a return to the bar with the glass in his hand. The barman, summoning up what courage he had, cleared his throat noisily.

“Er,” he began. He looked at Crowley’s revolver hopelessly. The Newcomer detective frowned at the barman, and slowly followed his terrified gaze.

“Oh, sorry,” said David with genuine surprise. “Forgot I had it.” He waggled the gun foolishly, and a few alert patrons to his right ducked instinctively. “Don’t worry, it’s not–”

A gunshot. An agonised groan. A couple of screams. The jukebox triumphantly finished whatever blandness it had been assaulting the customers with and horrified silence claimed the bar as its own.

“Andarko,” cursed a somewhat surprised DI Crowley, turning to face the direction his pistol had been pointing. The dart-board. Still intact, and probably not groaning or screaming. David frowned, and glanced down at his gun. The safety was still on.

There was a low gurgle from the far corner of the bar. The lone Newcomer was lying flat out on the grimy tiled floor, clutching with trembling hands at his chest. He croaked and coughed helplessly.

“Police!” barked David, pulling out his identity card and holding it aloft. He ran across the saloon bar, and fell to his knees beside the wounded Tenctonese. “Nobody move!”

There was a whine and a dull clunk as the door to the gents’ closed itself. “Monk,” swore David. He looked down at the victim of the shooting. Both hearts shot right through, and a horrific bullet-wound to the stomach. “Monk, monk, monk, monk, monk,” muttered Crowley. He angrily slapped a button on his radio.

“Newcomer ambulance to the Cooper’s Arms, Nightingale Road. Priority,” he said. Casting a nervous glance at the dying Newcomer, he darted over to the toilets and kicked open the door. Twin cubicles to the side of him lay empty, and a large open window in the far wall clanked to and fro in the wind.

“On its way,” said the static-choked voice of his radio. Crowley sprinted back to the saloon bar, his brain pounding. He clutched madly at his head, and muttered to himself.

“Okay,” he said, looking over to a nearby customer. “Get some... get some, er...” Crowley’s vision suddenly swam and blurred, and he fell to his knees in the dying Newcomer’s blood. No - not blood. He tried to concentrate. White. Spilt milk. Shattered glass. “Get me some...”

“Are you all right?” said the drinker. Her voice was twisted, slurred, somehow far away. Crowley peered madly at her, but found himself unable to focus. With no warning, his legs gave out on him, and he fell forward onto the tiled floor. Spilt milk and shattered glass.

“I’m, er...” he complained. He rubbed a bloodied hand over his face, and attempted to organise his thoughts. “I’ll be...”

Crowley passed out.


“Lethaka!” called an authoritative voice. Lethaka, still a good month and a half away from the name David Crowley, was standing in a tired Gas-induced slouch beside a steadily moving conveyor belt. The hellish light of Recycling Point Seasti burned from a low archway in the far wall, throwing an evil glow over the unpleasantness being slowly carried towards it. Rotting meatgrowth, uneaten vegrowth, various discarded debris and - without the numbing blandness of the Holy Gas, Lethaka would probably have contributed his breakfast to the contents of the conveyor belt Tenctonese corpses. Every so often, a twisted, sometimes limbless or dismembered Tenctonese body would pass Lethaka on its way to the recycler.

It was his job to check it for jewellery or any other non-organic contaminants. With a dull absence of thought, Lethaka reached out to the body that had drawn level with him. A young Tenctonese male, clad only in the torn remnants of a ceremonial gown. A horrific saltwater wound had taken both his hearts clean out. Neither noticing nor caring, the future-David gave the cadaver a firm push. It lolled awkwardly onto its front, and David let out a mindless grunt, satisfied that the thing was ready for processing. His eyes swung slowly back to the entrance archway, dimly alert for the next body.

There was a dull clunk, and the background hum that filled the room fell slowly into silence. “Lethaka!” said the voice again, for the fifth time.

Crowley straightened up, dimly aware of someone talking behind him, but more concerned with the fact that the conveyor had stopped. He stared hopelessly at it, and ran his hands over its gore-stained rubber surface in a foolish bid to get it moving again.

“Lethaka!” barked the speaker, grabbing Crowley by the shoulder and wrenching him around. It was an Overseer. Ytris.

“Out of my way,” he said, pushing Crowley aside. David nodded dumbly. This was an order. He knew where he was with orders. People shouting his name didn’t mean a great deal to his near-dead brain, but orders were orders. Crowley performed a half-stumbled sidestep and resumed a blank, thoughtless pose.

The arrogant Kleezantsun’ examined the corpse David had been picking over, and gave a grunt of irritation when he found the hearts to be missing. Reaching to his belt, the Overseer clicked a button on an enigmatic silver box. Motors whined back to life, and David looked on impassively as the conveyor belt rumbled back into life.

For five minutes, Ytris glanced uncaringly over the occasional cadavers that rolled past him. When an uninjured Elder arrived on a mattress of rotting vegrowth, the control box came back into play and the conveyor stopped once more.

“Pick up the body, cargo,” ordered the Overseer, turning back to Crowley. Without hesitation or revulsion, David strode over to the corpse and slipped his gloved arms under the Elder’s neck and knees. He lifted the body from its rancid, bloody resting place. Rancid chunks of meatgrowth slithered from the torn robes of the corpse, spattering over the gleaming floor-plates.

“Follow me,” said the Overseer, turning and striding boldly out of the recycling chamber. Pallbearer Crowley staggered groggily along in his wake.


“How long has he been like this?” asked the Tenctonese doctor, casting a wary and slightly unsettled eye over the unconscious inhabitant of the bed. David Crowley mumbled faintly in his sleep. After passing out in the Cooper’s Arms, both he and the victim of the shooting had been taken to Birmingham General. Crowley was now lying in a rather uncomfortable NHS bed of the Tenctonese ward, with a bandaged arm and a slightly unnerved frown. His momentary drinking partner had been wheeled off to the morgue shortly after leaving the ambulance.

“Just over an hour,” replied Jenny Morgan, raising her head. She looked half asleep, having also been on a dawn raid, albeit a different one, during the early hours of the day. “They’ve treated him for his minor cuts and bruises to the hands and face, but he’s been sleeping like a corpse since they picked him up.”

“I see,” nodded the doctor. He scratched distractedly at the jagged brown stripes of his angular cranium, and gave an awkward frown. “Well, there’s really not much point in your staying here any longer - doubtless your friend will awaken in the morning.”

Jenny nodded understandingly and took her bag from under her chair. “I’ll be off, then,” she said, rising to her feet and slipping into her raincoat. She gave a final, momentary glance to the sleeping detective, who responded by mumbling incoherently into his pillow.

“Oh, did Crowley have his computer with him when he was picked up?” asked Jenny. The grubby white table beside the bed housed only a scratched-plastic water jug and a bowl of small purplish things that Jenny hoped were grapes - Crowley’s few personal possessions rested on a shelf beneath, but there was no sign of his police computer.

“If it’s not there, he can’t have had it,” shrugged the doctor. “I can check, if you like.”

“No, it’s all right,” said Jenny. A half-stifled yawn told the world how tired she was. “It can wait until the morning.”

The doctor nodded to himself, and walked over to another patient. “Indeed. Good night, officer.”

“Good night,” smiled Morgan weakly, striding along the ward to the double-doors. Her shoes clicked against the recently-cleaned tiles, and the noise echoed ominously about the near empty ward. The moment she passed through the double-doors into the corridor, the doctor returned to Crowley’s bed.

An evil smile playing about his lips, he looked down at the snoring, muttering figure of David Crowley. He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a slim hypodermic. With a deft flick of the thumb, he removed its plastic cap. A thin arc of greenish liquid glinted in the moonlight as it squirted from the barrel.

“Good night, Crowley.”


“Put it here,” snarled Overseer Ytris, gesturing to a blank silver workbench set in the far wall. Crowley nodded dumbly. If he’d have been any nearer his full awareness, he would have recognised his current surroundings as that of an abandoned infirmary. Corpses rested on some of the beds, each and every one with two grim holes punched through the chest.

The effects of the gas were slowly wearing off. David staggered slightly as the realisation of what he was doing began to trickle into his brain. Signifying this with a doubtful frown, he placed the dead Elder onto the slab.

“Now leave. Return to your duties,” ordered Ytris, indicating the door to Crowley. The Overseer turned to face another corpse, a young Tenctonese male this time, lying flat on a bed in the centre of the room. Tapping briskly at a hand-held wire-trailing keypad, a sinister medical probe was activated; it descended gently from the ceiling like some hideous mechanical spider, hellish red lights blinking on and off randomly along its eight jagged limbs.

Crowley watched with a dull but mounting horror as the contraption settled over the chest of the cadaver. It clicked and whined as three of its legs clamped around each side of the body, and lifted the remaining two into the air. Where the other arms had ended blankly, these tapered into thin blades. They swung carefully to and fro above the body, and with a grim realisation their purpose became apparent. The Overseer took a hypodermic from a shelf and fiddled with it purposefully.

“Lethaka!” barked Ytris, realising that Crowley was still here. “Return to your duties!”

The Holy Gas was thinning, taking with it the fog that blurred David’s thoughts. His gaze rose from the corpse and stared into Ytris’s uncaring eyes. The Tenctonese slaves had become accustomed to the heartsless destruction of their dead in the ship’s recyclers, slowly learning to accept it. A clean and inevitable fate; there was some twisted sense of decency in it. True enough, most of the victims had died at the hands of the Kleezantsun’, but all were assured a sort of worthwhile funeral. “Returning to the mother,” some said. It was an absolute. An unavoidable, levelling fate.

But here was Ytris, desecrating and abusing corpses that were meant for recycling. Wrenching the innocent dead from their resting place and subjecting them to... to...

Crowley’s gaze fell to the corpse, to its sightless eyes, and the glinting blades that swept above its hearts.



And Crowley was awake. His bleary eyes tried to focus. For the briefest of moments, the dream superimposed itself on reality - Ytris seemed to be standing over him clutching a hypodermic needle, poised to stab him with it. David squinted a bit more, but his eyes remained largely uncooperative. The Overseer’s robe faded gently to become a doctor’s coat, the needle inclined itself at a less murderous angle, and the face dissolved into a vague but unmistakably Tenctonese silhouette. The backdrop blurred from the brutish decor of the infirmary to the rather less inspiring grey walls of Birmingham General.

“What’s going on?” slurred the detective.

“You’re in hospital. I’m just going to give you an injection,” said the Newcomer doctor.

“Ah. Vitamins, is it?” hazarded Crowley.

“Something like that,” smiled the doctor. “Roll up your sleeve.”

Crowley deflated a bit, and fumbled back the loose sleeve of his pyjama top to expose a pale unbandaged arm. With businesslike precision, the doctor slid the needle beneath Crowley’s pale skin, and the greenish liquid bubbled into his bloodstream.

“There. That should improve matters,” said the doctor.

It took three oblivious heartsbeats before the pain hit him. Crowley’s entire body tensed as if he’d been electrified, and a fearful paralysis suddenly gripped him. As he slid painfully into unconsciousness and beyond, his fading gaze fell upon the Tenctonese doctor’s right forearm as it neatly returned the needle to a pocket.

If he’d have had enough neurons firing, he probably wouldn’t have been surprised to see the tattoo. With a dull groan, Detective Inspector David Crowley fell into a deeper and altogether darker unconsciousness.


There was a scratching of keys at the front door, and a few slightly annoyed seconds later the handle turned. Jenny Morgan pushed open the door and strode into her flat, the light from the hallway rushing in ahead of her. It darted enthusiastically around the cramped but organised room, chasing away the darkness and making a hopeless bid to brighten things up.

Yawning somewhat, Jenny placed her police computer onto a spare patch of table and sought out the bathroom. The cheerless neon light flickered erratically into life above the mirror and Jenny frowned vaguely at her weary-looking face for a moment, before reaching for her toothbrush.

There was a tinny electronic fanfare from the living room, and Jenny froze. The mirror caught her distracted look and idly threw it back at her for a few seconds.

The fanfare sounded again, with a trifle more urgency.

Feeling more bafflement than fear, Morgan crept back into her darkened living room. The television was switched off, the radio sat on a shelf lacking a plug, and the video - unless it had been learning some new skills while she’d been out - wasn’t even a possibility. She cocked her head on one side and listened carefully.

There it was again. As the jingle of notes sounded, a tiny green LED flashed merrily away on the side of her computer. Her puzzlement deepened. It had never done that before.

Intrigued, she clicked open the locks and opened out the device. Sensing this, the screen flickered into life. A large window was open in the very centre of it, bearing a twee picture of a cartoonish alarm clock and a large, flashing message beneath. Two words.


Feed Maelstrom


This didn’t make a great deal of sense to Jenny. It would have made perfect sense to Detective Inspector David Crowley, however. Taught to read and given a few English lessons, it’s probable that Maelstrom, Crowley’s goldfish, would have had a passing interest in the matter as well.

Realisation dawned before very long. Morgan had picked up Crowley’s police computer by mistake. Or rather, no - Crowley had accidentally taken hers with him to the pub. Making a mental note to swap computers tomorrow morning, she tapped at the screen and the alarm box vanished to whence it had came. Yawning once more, Jenny reached to close the computer down. But didn’t.

A file was still open beneath.

Recorded interview between DI David Crowley and Richard McGeddon, commencing 9:42pm, eighth of September 1998. No other officers present. read the title box. There was a nice neat straight line under this, followed by...

Crowley : Right then. So, let's start at the beginning.

McGeddon : Sure.

Crowley : You say that--

Unknown : Okay, thanks Dave.

Jenny bit her lip. If the computer picked up a voice that didn’t match any in its memory, it registered as unknown. Crowley’s was stored permanently in the computer so that he wouldn’t have to keep muttering at it every time he wanted to use the thing - the interviewee’s voice print was stored by simply typing in the name and pressing a certain button the first time that person spoke; the vocal pattern went on the hard-disk, and any further occurrences of that voice were tagged with the relevant name.

The fact that a voice remained unknown meant that Crowley hadn’t been expecting it.

McGeddon : Heh. No problem.

Half of the remaining text was printed in the jagged script of the Tenctonese alphabet; Crowley spoke in English, the unknown voice in Tenctonese. Jenny tapped irritably at a button to translate it - she could understand spoken Tenctonese, but couldn’t for the life of her make out the written words. The screen shimmered briefly, and the spiky lines of transcription were replaced by their English equivalents.

Crowley : Er, hold on Richard - where are you going?

Unknown : Turn that thing off.

Crowley : I beg your pardon?

Unknown : \relax \special {t4ht=Turn that thing off!} This line was in a bold typeface, indicating that it had been shouted.

Crowley : Sorry?

Unknown : \relax \special {t4ht=Turn the damn thing off, cargo!} Again, in bold.

Crowley : Er. Yeah, sure.

And that was it. Jenny tapped hesitantly at the “page down” button, but there was no more text to be had. No mention of the NecroTech drivers being quizzed, no plausible explanation of how the van came to be found outside Milton’s - none of the facts Crowley claimed to have recorded.

Jenny bit her lip, and reached for the phone. Her fingers danced erratically over the keypad, and the mechanisms of British Telecom whirred and clunked beyond the earpiece. Jenny stared nervously out through the window, pondering the situation. Was Crowley covering something up? Was he in the pay of NecroTech? A police-issue pistol, now resting in Morgan’s handbag, had been turned up in Crowley’s trenchcoat pocket - it was missing a bullet. What the hell was he playing at?

“Hello, how can I help you?” said the cheery voice on the other end of the line.

“Er, good evening,” said Jenny, her train of thought arriving back from its detour. She tried manically to recall who she’d been phoning. Memory returned. “Hello. I was, er, wondering if I could speak to a patient of yours.”

“The patient’s name, please?”

“Crowley. David Crowley. Brought in just over an hour ago. He’s in the Newcomer ward.”

The voice’s owner tapped efficiently away at a keyboard, producing a few cheery bleeps and a page of information.

“Ah yes, he’s just gone in for surgery, I’m afraid.”

“Surgery?” said Jenny, a mite taken aback.

“Yes, he went into...” The voice faltered as its owner peered at her computer screen. “Er. Terryack? Twenty minutes ago.”

Jenny nearly dropped the phone. “Tehriak’?” she whispered, barely sounding the click at the end of the word. Tehriak’ was a Tenctonese condition where one heart stopped completely and the other faltered, throwing the victim into a coma. Without an immediate operation, the blood would start clotting, blocking up the other heart with unsurprisingly fatal consequences.

“Yes. Can I take...”

The receptionist’s phone took to burring at her as Jenny hung up. With a shrug, she replaced the receiver and went back to filing her nails.

Down the corridor and on the left, in the emergency room of the Tenctonese ward, a hearts monitor ceased its faltering bleeps and opted for a grim, terminal monotone.


Crowley awoke to the sound of birdsong, which was a bit unexpected. Birmingham’s feathered populace of the modern age was really limited to a few thousand feral pigeons, more suited to guttural cooing than a cheery dawn chorus. Perhaps he’d been moved to a different hospital. That’d be it. Somewhere out in the country.

And the grass. That was odd. Crowley supposed that he could have been lying on his back in the grounds of this country hospital. It suggested a certain lack of care and attention on the part of the hospital staff, but Crowley wasn’t overly concerned. The grass was warm and comfortable, and scored several points above the average NHS bed in many respects.

Then there was the sunlight, warming Crowley’s slightly puzzled face with a pleasant indifference. Something was different. David lay there thoughtfully for a few seconds, soaking up the brilliant ultraviolet and organising his thoughts.

“Lethaka, te masa vot?” called a familiar voice.

Crowley deftly exchanged his contented smile for a startled frown and sat bolt upright. His mind shattered into several baffled pieces, all leaping unswervingly to the same conclusion. Rasmi. It couldn’t be. Crowley brought up a dew-covered hand and clamped it atop his racing brain.

“It’s me, Rasmi,” said the voice, clearing the matter up rather neatly.

“Rasmi?” replied Crowley, as incredulous as anyone could be expected to be upon meeting their dead wife. His head swung around to face the source of the mystery, and standing only a few feet away from him was none other than Rasmi, Family: Circles of Ionia, Family: Grey River. She smiled crookedly at her husband’s expression.

Something clicked. Crowley deflated a bit.

“I’m dreaming, right?” he sighed. It’s a fairly long haul from the grimy wards Birmingham General to Crowley took in the scenery for the first time; the impossibly blue sky, the bizarre yet beautiful plant life scattered through the turquoise fields, the chittering bird-life swooping overhead - this mysterious alien paradise, wherever it was. It certainly wasn’t Earth. He was either dreaming or...

Memories of the undoubtedly lethal injection returned, bringing with them an uneasy, dismal groan from the pit of Crowley’s stomach.

“Oh, don’t tell me I’m dead,” he said. “Anything but that.”

“Don’t you know where you are?” smiled Rasmi, helping the grumbling ex-detective up from the delicate grass. Crowley winced vaguely as he caught his wife’s gaze. The dreams of Ytris had raked over long-forgotten parts of his mind, and the face of his loved one brought back the gruesome details of her death.

Crowley shook his head to derail that particular train of thought. He poured all his attention into examining his environs. Shimmering blue grass swept out in all directions, interrupted only by occasional clumps of low silvery trees and sparkling lakes of fresh water. Tenctonese of all ages populated the area, some gathered in large groups, others wandering hand-in-hand through the fields. A dozen or so giggling youngsters ran past as Crowley gazed about in silent bafflement, and sharp, clean sunlight shone down from directly above.

“This would, I suppose, be the afterlife you kept telling me about,” grumbled David, barely convinced. Years of work on the recycling conveyors of the slave ship had made Crowley something of a doubter when it came to the subject of religion. Celinism seemed overly idealistic for him, the teachings of Ionia were laughably vague to his cynical ears, and none of the minor Tenctonese religions seemed to work for him. He’d settled comfortably into the role of atheist before very long.

“You never change, neemu,” said Rasmi, gently stroking the near side of Crowley’s furrowed brow. She pulled lightly at his arm, motioning for him to follow her. “Come on.”

Crowley irritably tugged himself free and collapsed with a mutter onto the grass. This was too much. He was clearly experiencing some insane dream as his brain went through its final motions, and the more idealistic corners of his subconscious were winding him up.

Not dead but dreaming.

“I’ll be away to oblivion in a moment, don’t mind me,” grumbled Crowley, idly wrenching a handful of grass and flowers from the slightly damp soil. He picked off the petals with no small amount of irritation, flicking them wretchedly into the gentle breeze.

Rasmi gave a familiar smile and sat down opposite Crowley. This was certainly the Lethaka she knew.

“Do you want to talk about this?” she asked. Crowley surveyed the scenery wretchedly, reluctant to accept any of it. The concept of every dead Tenctonese in history living with him in a vast field was more than a trifle unnerving, if that’s really all it was. And did the shambling Tenctonese species of prehistory get invites as well? He scanned the fields warily.

After seventy-odd years on a spacecraft, the outdoors just didn’t really appeal all that much to Crowley. Bred as he was for sub-zero labour, excessive UV just gave him a headache. And if the weather got any hotter, he might as well be in - to compare it with one of the Human afterlives that Darkwood often sniggered about - Hell.

He muttered a silent curse at the elder gods. It probably wasn’t a very good idea, considering his current state, but he did it anyway. The local star hung with a sinister determination in the “noon” position, and Crowley had a very strong suspicion that it would stay there for eternity. Whilst the majority of his race would happily soak up the heat and ultraviolet, Crowley and the rest of the sub-zero crowd would be in constant torment.

“We’ll discuss this later,” he decided, and shrugged off his doubts, for the time being. He leaned against his wife with a confused but contented sigh. Crowley closed his tired eyes, grudgingly soaked up the ultraviolet and breathed in a lungful of clean, fresh air. He sneered vaguely, missing the Birmingham tinge of carbon monoxide.

“Fifty milligrams of nu-tetraprozine.”

“What was that?” said Crowley, sitting upright and staring accusingly at something that might have been a rabbit. The creature gave him a blank look and bounded away oblivious into the long grass.

“A metlata. It not just us that make it to the afterlife, you know. All living things do,” said Rasmi. “According to some of the Elders here, it’s an animal native to Tencton.”

“All right, all right,” he shushed. “Does it talk?” “Does it what?”

“Talk,” said Crowley, in all seriousness. Rasmi gave her husband a concerned look and rested the backs of her hands against his temples. “Are you feeling all right, Lethaka?” she asked.

“Okay, we’ll try it again,” said a low purplish shrub to Crowley’s right. His head span again, and he subjected the plant to a suspicious and critical gaze.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” said Rasmi.

“That, er...” replied Crowley, his voice faltering as common sense put the brakes on. His ground-state worried frown reasserted itself. “You didn’t hear anything?”

“Switch it on, Phil,” called an authoritative voice a few feet above both of them, and Crowley tilted his head back. A few birds twittered lazily through the clear blue sky high above. Vague and unpleasant ideas began to form in David’s mind, and he was rapidly beginning to see the way this was heading.

“Monk,” he cursed, and scrambled awkwardly to his feet. The air around him began to hum gently, although his wife didn’t hear anything.

“Lethaka, what’s wrong?” said a concerned Rasmi. “What is it?”

“I’ll explain later,” he called, breaking into a panicked sprint. He wasn’t sure if he could logically outrun this, but he’d give it a damn good try. Crowley thundered determinedly across the soft grass, his bare feet stomping the blades flat in a precise and terrified path. Rasmi watched in bemusement as her husband ran from invisible demons.

The humming continued, rising in pitch and Crowley increased his speed accordingly. Any minute now, he knew with a horrible certainty, somebody was going to say...

“Stand clear!” advised a loud voice from nowhere.

And Crowley fell. For a moment his back arched and a pained expression took hold of his face, then he staggered and stumbled hopelessly into the long grass. There was a faint shimmer in the fabric of reality, and his now motionless body vanished, leaving only an enigmatic Crowley-shaped dent in the grass.



In the darkness of a Birmingham flat, atop a scratched and mug-ringed wooden table and inside a cheap plastic bowl, Maelstrom the goldfish ceased his mindless swimming. For the second time in as many minutes, he turned cautiously to face the glittering crystal that formed the centrepiece of his otherwise uninspiring home. It was half-buried at a careless angle in a few inches of garishly-coloured artificial gravel, dropped lazily into place by David Crowley last time he changed the water.

Maelstrom stared curiously at the crystal as if he’d never seen it before, in exactly the same manner that he had some two minutes ago.

His memory quota ran out. Maelstrom idly resumed his pointless swimming, all things forgotten.


“Don’t worry, you’re all right,” said a vaguely familiar voice. Half-sedated and half-confused, Crowley couldn’t place it. He was conscious enough to realise that the damp grass had gone and a rather scratchy linen had replaced it, but that was about the limit of his thoughts.

“I am?” he slurred doubtfully.


“Ah.” He took the voice’s word for it. “Good.” David Crowley opened his eyes warily, expecting anything and nothing. Jenny Morgan smiled weakly at him, backdropped by the grim decor of Birmingham General Hospital. As Crowley’s senses clicked back into position, his surroundings became more and more apparent. The low murmur of conversation from other wards assailed his sensitive eardrums, the bland scent of hospital food clogged his nostrils and his mouth felt as unpleasant as it usually did first thing in the morning. A few scruffy pigeons croaked at him through the open window.

“I survived the operation, then?” he queried, half rhetorically.

“No. Welcome to Hell.”

“Urgh,” complained Crowley. He stiffly moved himself into a sitting position and straightened his ill-fitting pyjamas. “Nice day for it, anyway,” he added, yawning animatedly.

Jenny lifted a chipped blue dish from the bedside table and offered it at arms’ length to Crowley. Several chunks of rubber mauve unpleasantness were sitting in a thick reddish goo, and a fork was jabbed into the centre of it. “Your breakfast,” she explained with a scowl. “And don’t tell me what it is, just eat it.”

“How goes the case?” queried David, between mouthfuls of raw meat. He grimaced vaguely at the food.

“Any word from McGeddon?”

“Very little, apparently,” said Morgan, drawing Crowley’s computer from under her chair and irritably clicking it open. The transcript of last night’s rather brief interview with Richard McGeddon sat with a determined greenness in the centre of the screen. She’d been thinking it through during last night’s bout of worried insomnia.

“I was going to take this straight to Chesterton, but I thought I’d give you a chance,” Jenny hissed, waggling the computer threateningly. “What the hell are you playing at, for God’s sake?”

David wiped a dribble of blood from his frown and laid aside the gory dish. He peered doubtfully at the computer screen.

“Er, this is mine, is it?” he queried.

“Yes,” scowled Jenny. “You left it in my car.”

“Ah,” he nodded, and glanced briefly over the transcript. “What is this, a joke or something?”

“I’d say it was a rather pathetic attempt to cover up some bribery, wouldn’t you?” said Jenny. “For God’s sake Crowley, you don’t leave stuff like this on your computer. And you certainly don’t carry a bloody pistol about off-duty.”

“A pistol?” slurred the DI.

“The ambulance crew found a pistol in your coat pocket,” hissed Jenny. “A bloody police-issue pistol, Crowley. That’ll be in the books. You’d better have a bloody good excuse.”

Crowley shook his head hopelessly. “No,” he sighed. “No, I haven’t. I just forgot I had the bastard thing.”

“Oh,” said Jenny, mocking a smile. “Well, that’s all right then. I’ll remember that next time I’m stopped by Customs.”

“I just,” said Crowley, spitting the words out slowly and deliberately, “forgot I had it. All right?”

Morgan said nothing and stared out of the window pointedly. Crowley turned his attention to the screen.

“This...” he said, clutching at his head and narrowing his eyes, “this isn’t what happened.” His voice took on a level conviction. “I interviewed McGeddon. It was all on disk, along with the data of the stolen van. This,” he concluded valiantly, tapping at the scratched plastic screen, “is a forgery.”

“Rubbish,” spat Jenny. “That computer’s been with me since I picked you up from NecroTech. Nobody’s had access to it.”

“How did you get into it, anyway?” queried David, getting vaguely suspicious. “It’s DNA passworded - I’m the only one who can start it up.”

This was true; the computer had a tiny scanning device attached to it, which took a rough snapshot of the user’s DNA and checked it against the owner’s. It was a completely foolproof way to stop unauthorised people accessing police computers.

“You forgot to switch it off.”

Almost completely foolproof.


Crowley’s embarrassed iris-shade faded in a single terrifying instant, however, when he finally glanced at the last recorded word of the unknown speaker.


Realisation hit him like a gunshot, and a few shocked words of alien invective drifted from under his shallow breath. “Andarko. A Kleezantsun’. Of course.”

Jenny had heard stories of the Overseers, of course. Although the immigration records showed that none had been on the planes that brought the Newcomers to Britain, at least a dozen had been sighted in the country over the past few years.

“What are you saying?” wondered Morgan, a trace of suspicion in her voice.

“You’ve heard of the Holy Gas, I take it?” said Crowley, looking up from his computer. Jenny, who’d watched the odd Tenctonese documentary or two, nodded.

“It’s possible that the unknown speaker used it to persuade me that everything was all right. I mean,” he continued, gesturing hopelessly at the final sentence on the screen, “I’d never stop the interview just like that, not without closing the file and turning off the computer. Not unless I was completely out of my head.”

“What? So this guy hypnotised you?” Easily at the half-way mark on the scale of incredulity.

“Sort of. If an Overseer tells you to do something whilst you’re under the effects of the Gas, you’d do it. If he tells you to forget everything and remember something else, you’d probably do that as well.” Crowley shrugged helplessly.

“Is it possible to check for the presence of Gas in your bloodstream?” queried Jenny.

“It should be, although it would have appeared to have worn off since last...” David’s voice trailed away into silence, and he stared blankly, thoughtfully into middle-distance.

“Last night. Andarko,” he said, the memories suddenly returning to him with a nearly audible thump. “What happened to me last night?”

“You passed out in the Cooper’s Arms.”

“No, after that.”

“Oh. Well, they pumped a load of drugs into you and left you to sleep it off. You went into tehriak’ at about eleven o’clock - after a bit of surgery they managed to get your hearts going again, and here you are this morning.”

“Did they find out why I went into tehriak’?” said Crowley urgently.

“Er,” replied Jenny. “No. Not really. They guessed it was an allergic reaction to the drugs they’d given you, but weren’t altogether convinced.” Crowley shook his head grimly, and swore under his breath.

“It was a Kleezantsun’. It was–” said Crowley. His voice faltered momentarily. No. It couldn’t have been Ytris. Ytris had died, years ago. The poor lighting of the hospital ward coupled with his fogged brain meant that it could feasibly have been anyone that tried to kill him. The tattoo? Doubtful.

“One of the Overseers from the ship, possibly. He came here last night and injected me with something... lethal?”

Jenny narrowed her eyes, and nodded slightly. “Yes. You were clinically dead for about a minute, in the theatre. But somebody nipping in to murder you?” She shook her head, unconvinced. “Nobody can get in here, the security’s airtight.”

“What if it was an Overseer, and they used Holy Gas to overpower a guard and gain access?” hissed Crowley desperately.

Jenny bit her lip. She called to a human doctor who was attending a patient further along the ward. A shiny plastic badge on his spotless white coat gave his name as Pike. “Good morning,” she smiled, flashing her police ID card at the doctor. “I wonder if I could have a word with you about your security guards?”

The junior doctor nodded warily. “Yes, we’ve got half a dozen of them from, er, Sorquekla Security,” he said, with a shrug and a Birmingham accent. A lot of the local human security agencies were losing business to the might of their Newcomer rivals. The Tenctonese could easily outrun and outgun their human equivalents, and they were slowly cornering the market.

“We think one of them might have been overpowered last night, with Holy Gas,” said Jenny. “Is that possible?”

“Well, it’s unlikely,” replied Doctor Pike, after considering things. “Nothing was reported, and all six guards clocked off okay this morning. We could check the security camera tapes, if you like.”

“Is it all right if I get up, incidentally?” said Crowley irritably, preparing to leave his bed. Whatever poison he’d been given last night, the operation had apparently cleared it from his bloodstream. His cuts and bruises had healed to faint blemishes during the course of the night, and Crowley was more or less and fit and healthy as he ever was.

“Where do you think you’re going?” quizzed the doctor, moving to restrain his patient.

“Er, with you.”

“This is Detective Inspector Crowley,” explained Morgan.



Crowley, Morgan and Pike sat in the flickering glow of a tiny black-and-white television screen, gazing critically at it. The image panned swiftly to and fro, switching to a different viewpoint every couple of seconds. Tenctonese security guards skittered around the perimeter of the hospital, the fast-forward of the video tape turning their bold strides into the totterings of foolish clockwork automatons.

“Whoa there, wind it back,” said Crowley, waving a hand. “What was that?”

Pike thumbed a button on the remote control, and the stream of images ground to a halt. With a clunk from the video, they began to run backwards for a couple of seconds, before replaying at a respectable speed.

“There,” stated Crowley, pointing at the screen. In the background of the current shot, a silvery Ford Sierra had pulled up at the main gate and the guard stationed there looked up from his side of the booth glass. The security gannaum and the driver talked for a moment, their words lost to the non-audio recording, and the barrier was raised.

“Gas doesn’t travel through glass, this is well known,” reasoned Morgan.

“Hmmph,” muttered Crowley. “Do we know whose the car was?”

Pike peered at the flickering monochrome screen. “Er...” he muttered. He watched as the car drove in the direction of the camera, and turned into an empty parking space. A tall Newcomer dressed in a doctor’s uniform clambered from the driving seat and deftly locked the door. He turned and glanced up at the security camera.

“Oh, it’s just Doctor McGeddon,” said Pike, idly pausing the tape and relaxing a bit.

“Doctor Richard McGeddon, would that be?” said Jenny doubtfully. Pike nodded.

“Yes, that’s right. He’s our Newcomer specialist; he’d been called in to take a look at the body brought in along with Detective Crowley last night,” he explained. “I believe McGeddon also advises a few other medical institutions over Tenctonese physiology.”

“Would that include NecroTech?”

“Ah, the cryogenics place? Yes. Actually I think he runs it, or something,” said Pike.

Jenny turned to Crowley, who had been contributing surprisingly little to the conversation since his suggestion to stop the tape. He was staring at the screen, his mouth half-open in horror, which seemed a fair enough reason. His face was a blend of hatred and terror - something dark and frightening seemed to be hiding behind his eyes, struggling against Crowley’s self control.

“What’s wrong?” said Morgan.

The jaggedly-striped head of the Newcomer doctor was turned towards the camera, and his eyes seemed to be staring freeze-framed into the nebulous depths of Crowley’s soul.

He hadn’t been mistaken last night.

It was Ytris.


Crowley straightened his tie in the reflection from the window, and his translucent mirror image smiled brightly at Jenny Morgan as she returned from the corridor. In the dark and swirling depths of Crowley’s mind, much contemplation was being given to the presence of Kleezantsun’ Ytris on the streets of Birmingham.

Ytris was dead. Or at least, Crowley was very much under the impression that he was dead. The last time he’d seen the Overseer, he’d had a decidedly fatal saltwater chest wound and a noticeable lack of vital signs. That had been enough to convince him, at the time. Crowley shook his head hopelessly.

“Did you get through to the office?” he said, gathering up his few possessions from the bedside table.

Jenny nodded. “Eventually. Darkwood and Black are arresting McGeddon as we speak,” she said, and Crowley’s irises blanched momentarily. “Excuse me a moment,” he said, gesturing for Morgan to leave.

Narrowing her eyes slightly, Jenny strode out through the sturdy plastic doors onto the corridor. Crowley tinkered with his radio, and spoke into it at length for a half a minute. He left the ward looking rather relieved, joined Jenny outside and took to pacing the bright corridors of Birmingham General.

“Right. Sorry about that,” he smiled casually. “So, what do we know about Richard’s partner?”

“A certain David Morrison, it would appear,” said Morgan, reading from a computer printout. “A London GP up until three years ago - he resigned over some unpleasant drug business; six months community service. He’s been in Malton for just over two years, starting NecroTech with McGeddon and a couple of other Tenctonese last year.”

“Tall, thirtyish, greying black hair?” hazarded Crowley.

“Nothing less. He’s being brought in for questioning.”

Crowley nodded, his suspicions confirmed. “That wasn’t McGeddon I interviewed, then - it was Morrison. McGeddon must have recognised me when I entered his office, so he sent his partner in in his place, pretending to be him.”

“Clever. And the Holy Gas?”

“Bubbled through the milk, probably - I certainly didn’t smell any in the office,” shrugged Crowley. “It probably contributed to me passing out in the Cooper’s Arms, as well. Hmm.” A thought struck him. “Is the victim of the pub shooting fit to be interviewed yet, by the way?”

“Well, if you’ve got a Ouija board with you...”

Crowley ceased his determined stride and slowed warily to a frowning halt outside Pathology. “Hmm?”

“He was dead on arrival.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, and deflated slightly. “Well, is his corpse still on the premises?”

“Should be,” nodded Jenny, and peered up at the bewildering array of direction signs on the nearby wall. It took her a fair while to realise that a pointer to the morgue didn’t feature among the brightly-coloured array. “To the front desk, then,” she suggested, with a shrug.

Crowley cheerfully binged the desk bell with the palm of his hand, and a dozen pairs of eyes rose wretchedly to peer at him. Eleven rather bored-looking patients waiting patiently on uncomfortable orange plastic chairs, all in varying states of illness and bandaging, and one extremely bored-looking receptionist painting her nails behind her desk.

“Can I help you?” she said wearily. David responded with what would have been a disarming smile, but for the blood on his unwashed teeth. He dismissed the receptionist’s vaguely horrified glance.

“Yes, we’re looking for–” he said, then frowned and turned to face Jenny. “Who are we looking for?”

“Oh, hold on,” said Morgan, fumbling in her pockets for her notebook. She eventually found it, and flicked through its pages of scribbled text. “Yes, we found a wallet on the corpse. Eric Praline, his name was,” she said, missing the reference. Crowley tittered silently under his breath.

“Is he still in the morgue?” queried Jenny.

The receptionist’s fingers danced expertly over her keyboard, and the screen swiftly blinked up a page of text.

“Er, no,” she explained, and gestured hopelessly at the information on the monitor. A recently-painted fingernail tapped at the line which gave the current location of the patient in question. Crowley read it.

He read it again.

“Praline discharged himself at two o’clock this morning?”


DS Stephen Black sucked thoughtfully on half-finished cigarette and blew the smoke idly into the airspace above his desk. His partner, Keith Darkwood, coughed foolishly from the other side of it and waved his free hand theatrically through the invading smoke. He looked up from his paperwork and waggled his biro admonishingly at Stephen.

“I’d rather just the one of us died from lung cancer, thanks all the same,” he commented.

“Ah, fate’s fate. It chooses you, I’m afraid,” coughed Black. He stubbed out his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray, all the same. Crowley would be in in a minute, anyway, and Newcomers were rather touchy about passive smoking. Tobacco often had a notably violent effect on them, and Black was in no mood to watch Crowley retching helplessly into the waste-bin again.

“Take Phil Evans, for example.”

Darkwood laid aside his pen and scratched thoughtfully at the pathetic stubble of his chin. Yesterday morning’s dawn raids had rather thrown his biological clock out of joint, and he’d overslept this morning. “Oh, what, the health freak in B division? What ever happened to him?”

“Never smoked, never drank, never did drugs,” said Stephen, gazing out at the cloudy sky over the city. It hadn’t quite started raining yet, but the rumbling grey mass carried a certain gloomy promise with it. “Hit by a bus whilst jogging, he was. The number thirty-seven, if memory serves. Fate chooses you.”

“That’s as maybe,” commented Keith, and returned his attention to the paperwork that lay beneath him, in more than one sense. No computer setup ever being entirely secure, paperwork still featured heavily in the more sensitive areas of police life.

Darkwood ticked some boxes with a deft flourish and applied to a dotted line the illegible scrawl that passed as his signature. Sighing a bit, he turned to the next page.

“Morning all,” said Jenny Morgan, striding through the open door of the office and nodding to the two detectives in the otherwise empty room.

“Talk of the devil,” said Stephen, demonstrating one of his less irritating habits to the world. He tended to say those four very words whenever anyone entered the room, irrespective of any preceding conversation topics. Jenny grinned wearily at him, and wandered over to her desk.

“Morning Jenny,” muttered Keith, momentarily brushing aside his straggly shoulder-length hair and looking up at her. “Crowley still in hospital, is he?”

“No, I couldn’t bear to be away from you,” said the gannaum himself, entering the office with a computer in one hand and a battered tray in the other. As he passed from desk to desk, his fellow detectives claimed their drinks in turn. White unsugared tea for Darkwood, orange juice for Jenny and - a drink that some suspected he only drank to try and confuse people - a black coffee for Black. Crowley placed the tray on his cluttered desk and plucked the penultimate cup from it; a heavily sugared white tea. A white decaffeinated coffee remained, waiting for DC Jayne Smith to arrive.

Crowley sat in his chair and sipped warily at the ice-cold contents of his beige-plastic cup. The sub-zero Newcomers didn’t think highly of hot drinks. “Here,” he said suddenly, sitting up straight and casting a doubtful glance at the lounging forms of Black and Darkwood. “Shouldn’t you two be over at NecroTech arresting the managers?” He gave Darkwood a particularly critical stare.

The two Detective Sergeants raised their respective eyebrows and smiled exaggeratedly innocent smiles at their superior. “You haven’t heard, then?” said Darkwood.

“Heard what?”

“Someone set a match to the place early this morning,” explained Black. “The blokes from forensic are sifting through the rubble as we speak.”

“Well, why aren’t you out looking for McGeddon and Morrison?”

“We sent a couple of PCs round to their respective houses,” shrugged Darkwood. “Nobody home, it would seem.”

“Ever heard of a search warrant?”

Darkwood lifted a thick bundle of papers from his desk and waggled them disparagingly in the air. “Yes. That’s what I’m applying for,” he complained, and set to work with his biro.

“Hmm,” murmured Crowley, and returned to sipping his tea. He opened up his police computer and thumbed the DNA scanner. The screen flickered into life. After a valiant search through the random clutter of his desk, he located a trailing multicoloured cable that ran to a port in the skirting board. The free end terminated in a spiky plug, which Crowley pushed carefully into the side of his computer.

“What are you up to now?” said Morgan vaguely.

“Just uploading my files and seeing what we’ve got on Praline and McGeddon,” replied David, punching single-fingered at the grimy keyboard of his laptop and wading through the main police computer via the rainbow cable.

“Did you know McGeddon on the ship?” said Jenny warily. Crowley seemed to ignore her question, and stared distantly at his computer screen for a few long seconds.

“We’d met, yes,” said David in a low voice.

Morgan nodded imperceptibly, sensing that she’d just nudged a deep and sinister patch of Crowley’s personality. From what she’d heard, rather a lot of his psyche was of such a state. Over breakfast yesterday, Darkwood had reeled out a lengthy list of conversation topics to avoid.

A tiny speaker on David’s computer broke the awkward silence by bleeping cheerily. The tense atmosphere lifted in an instant, for the three humans. Crowley’s concern deepened.

McGeddon, Richard. displayed one part of Crowley’s monitor. Tenctonese name: Vohan. displayed another. Families: Vengeance of the Sky, Flaming Serpent.

Crowley smiled for a fleeting moment. You could lie about your Tenctonese name, you could falsify your human one, but without extensive surgery or complicated permanent makeup you couldn’t possibly pretend to belong to any other families. McGeddon was either Ytris, or a close relative.

The “twin brother” theory was given the briefest of thoughts; Ytris only had the one brother, and he certainly wasn’t a twin. If Crowley was sure of anything in this whole maelstrom of confusion, he was sure of that.

David bit his lip. Had he been mistaken, all those years ago? He was sure enough at the time that Ytris had died, as was everybody else. Even the finest of actors would be hard-pressed to imitate a corpse with half his torso scythed away by a blast of saltwater. Crowley had watched the Overseer breathe his last, he was sure of it.

But here he was, on the file. And that was certainly him on the hospital security camera. Not dead at all.

Crowley shook his head hopelessly. He looked up at Darkwood, who was sucking foolishly on the end of his now-spent biro in an attempt to coax it back to life. David’s unregarded gaze fell back to the computer screen. He tapped a few more times at his computer’s grimy keyboard, and it bleeped again, throwing up a page of data.

The detective picked up the receiver of his phone, and noticed the lack of dialling tone before it even got to his ear. He rattled the receiver-detect button up and down foolishly, being under the impression that this might help, and - when it didn’t - took to clubbing the top of his desk with the silent receiver. “Phone’s dead,” was his considered verdict.

“No, no, it’s stunned,” chorused Black and Darkwood, and sniggered foolishly at each other.

“The system’s being rewired,” explained Jenny. “The lines’ll be down all week, probably. Who are you trying to get through to?”

“Eric Praline’s landlady.”

“Huh?” said two voices in an out-of-synch chorus. Black would have joined in, but he was busily extricating a careless cigarette from his coffee.

“Karen Henderson,” explained Crowley, grinning smugly. “Praline’s been down in our morgue since last night.”


“Hello, miss?” called Crowley, stood by the spotless desk of Vyse Street’s rather cramped morgue. He and Morgan peered warily about the whitely-tiled underground chamber. A dozen or so brushed-steel drawers were set grimly in the opposite wall - one was open, and a red-headed policewoman was studying the grim contents.

“Be right with you,” said Karen Henderson, not looking up. After purposefully ticking something on her clipboard, she closed the drawer with a squeaking metallic rumble and a heavy clunk of finality. Satisfied, Karen straightened up and strode across the tiled floor to the brace of detectives

“Ah, Morgan. Crowley,” she said, nodding a greeting. “What can I do for you?”

“We’re here to see one of your customers,” explained Crowley, smiling faintly. “Eric Praline, brought in last night. Is he in, or has he popped out for a bit of breakfast?”

“Praline?” frowned Karen, shrugging off Crowley’s bizarre sense of humour. “I don’t think we’ve got a Praline.” Not entirely trusting her memory, she lifted a clipboard from the desk and peered critically at it. “No,” was her eventual conclusion. “There’s no Praline here.”

“Any Newcomers at all?” said Jenny, with a shade of desperation.

Henderson checked. “None whatsoever, I’m afraid.”

“Hmm,” said Crowley. “Can we borrow your computer a moment?”

“Feel free,” shrugged Karen, and gestured at the empty swivel-chair. David dropped accurately into it, and tapped a few buttons on the clunky desktop computer.

“You think whoever logged the body could have made a mistake?” Jenny remarked, studying Crowley’s activities on the machine.

“No,” said Crowley distantly. “I was checking to see if anyone had altered the file since.” His voice trailed away, and smiled crookedly to himself. A printless finger reached out and poked the power switch. The computer whined dejectedly into silence.

“Well?” said Morgan.

“Well what?”

“Did anyone alter the file?”

Crowley’s smile broadened knowingly. “No, I’ve just remembered who logged the corpse.”


Darkwood’s brain was fitted with a sharply-toothed circular saw of metaphorical design that could cut corners faster than most people could blink. If there was a way to skirt around certain bits of paperwork or effort, Keith Darkwood would have mastered it to Olympic standard. It was, for example, rather pointless hanging around until a corpse reached the morgue before logging it - you might as well do so when it’s loaded into the ambulance.

Darkwood explained this warily to DI Crowley.

“You logged the corpse at 9:54 last night?” said the Newcomer.

“Well, not as such,” squirmed Darkwood. “9:34. But it takes twenty minutes to drive from Milton’s to the morgue, so I wrote in the arrival time there and then.” He smiled hopefully. “No harm done, eh?”

“Milton’s?” said Crowley, his irises suddenly assuming a pale grey hue. “The corpse came from the Cooper’s Arms, didn’t it?”

“No, he was lying the alleyway next to Milton’s,” said Black, who had fetched himself another coffee and was determined to make it last as long as possible. He took up a grin similar to Darkwood’s. “You were there, remember?”

David looked rather bewildered. “The corpse by the chip shop was definitely ID’d as Eric Praline, then?”

“Going by the lad’s wallet,” shrugged Darkwood.

Crowley narrowed his eyes. The corpse in the alleyway, shot through both hearts and the stomach. The gannaum in the Cooper’s Arms, shot through both hearts and the stomach. With a bit of concentration and a modicum of applied thought, Crowley wasn’t long in realising that they were one and the same. Eric Praline.

David bashed a fist on the desk, and his three coworkers looked up. “Of course,” said Crowley, slapping his expansive forehead with his other hand. “What a fool I’ve been.”

“Really?” queried Darkwood.

“Praline wasn’t dead when you picked him up from the alleyway; just injured. He stumbled from the ambulance at, probably, the Nightingale Road traffic lights, nipped into the Cooper’s Arms for a swift pint and was then shot dead by friend murderer. Probably McGeddon, or one of his cohorts.”

Jenny narrowed her eyes critically. Darkwood chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. Black sipped his coffee and wondered vaguely where he’d put his cigarettes.

“The assassin wasn’t after Praline, though, he was after me; McGeddon must have realised that I’d recorded the interview on my computer, and had me followed to the pub to try and dispose of the evidence. Mistaking Praline for my fine self, the murderer kindly put a bullet through him and sprinted away with my - or, rather, Jenny’s - police computer.”

“But,” said Morgan, “surely all that mind-wipe business was McGeddon’s wiser alternative to shooting you?”

“And,” observed Black, “our friend Praline had a load of bullet-holes straight through him when he was found in the alleyway, did he not? I know you blokes are rather resilient, but that’s pushing it a bit.”

“And, er, didn’t the boys from forensic confirm that he’d been dead for three weeks?” added Darkwood, memories returning with a vague frown.

“And the hospital computer said that Praline actually discharged himself from the hospital morgue how did he do it, and where the hell is he now?” shrugged Jenny.

A rather more sinister mental image soon arrived in David’s racing brain, however. The helpless cadavers in Ytris’s workshop aboard the slave ship. Stabbed through both hearts by the fearful mechanical spider. Vague and terrifying ideas were forming.

“Ah...” breathed David Crowley, nodding warily. He reached for his coat, and shot a glance at the doorway to the Detective Chief Inspector’s office. “Is Chesterton about yet?”

Keith shook his head. “Off on some training course for a few weeks, apparently,” he explained, and continued with a note of hesitancy. “He’s left you in charge, actually.”

“What about Smith?” added Crowley, nodding at an empty desk.

“Probably overslept again,” suggested Black.

“Right,” said DI Crowley, nodding purposefully. “Morgan and Black, go and visit Praline’s widow; let her know of her husband’s current state. Darkwood - get those warrants and take a couple of PCs with you for a look round McGeddon’s. I’ll go and take a look at what’s left of NecroTech.”

Darkwood applied the final tick to the last sheet of paper, and slipped the bundle into a large manila envelope. Morgan and Black strode from the office.

“I’ll catch you up,” called Crowley, turning to face Keith and adopting a very serious expression indeed.


Jenny Morgan’s rain-spotted blue Fiat pulled away from the charred wreckage of the NecroTech building, DS Stephen Black sat awkwardly into the passenger seat with his head resting against the ceiling. Crowley, now standing on the pavement, offered a cheery wave to the departing vehicle.

A thin drizzle fell from the solid grey clouds above the city, gently turning the pavement a darker, grimmer shade. What remained of it, at any rate. The NecroTech offices had collapsed forward after the blaze had claimed some important supporting walls, and the blackened, shattered brickwork had spilled out towards the road, smashing the pavement tiles as it went.

The fire brigade had been on the scene since just before three o’clock that morning. A lone fire engine remained, although it was in the business of packing up and leaving. Everything was in the hands of the police, now - having marked the place off-limits with a few hundred feet of stripy plastic tape, they were now sifting through the building’s remains in the hope of finding some evidence.

“How’s it going?” said Crowley, approaching a lone PC who stood surveying the scene. A dozen or so forensics and arson experts clambered over the heap of wreckage, pausing to examine various sections of it.

“Er, hello?” said Crowley, tapping the silent police constable on a rain-soaked shoulder.

“What?” said the officer, turning around irritably.

“I said, how’s it going?” repeated Crowley.

“Piss off,” scowled the police officer, and pointedly returned his attention to the crime scene. The wind changed direction, the rain became a touch heavier.

“I’m sorry,” said Crowley, “is this a Purist thing, or are you just a naturally miserable bastard?” He gave a polite smile. “I like to know where I stand, that’s all.”

“You don’t belong in this country,” muttered the policeman, not turning around. “You don’t even belong on this planet. Stealing our jobs, taking our money. It’s not right. Now piss off, or I’ll arrest you.”

“You’re from London, right?” said Crowley. The policeman didn’t reply, and stood motionless with his back to David.

“Piss off back to London, then,” continued Crowley, mocking the officer’s South London accent to a point beyond accuracy. “You don’t belong in Birmingham. Stealing our jobs, taking our money. It’s not right.”

“Right, that does it,” spat the policeman, spinning round and grabbing Crowley’s arm, twisting it behind his back. The Newcomer didn’t resist. “You’re bloody nicked, mate,” he explained, seeking handcuffs.

David gave a crooked, enigmatic smile. “I see. Might I ask what for?”

“I’ll think of something,” muttered the cop, and waved to another policeman further along the road. “Here, John,” he called. “This bastard slag just assaulted me.”

The Purist strode purposefully towards his squad car, dragging an unprotesting DI Crowley along in his wake. John walked over from where he’d been standing, but his scheming smile dropped to a terrified grimace as he caught sight of the alleged assaulter.

“Bloody spongeheads, eh? Always out for a fight,” cursed the Purist. He noticed John’s expression, and the osmosis of doubt carried some of it to his own face. “What?” he asked.

“Er,” said the second policeman weakly, gesturing at the Tenctonese prisoner, “that’s, er... it’s...”

“Crowley. Detective Inspector David Crowley, Vyse Street CID,” beamed the gannaum in question, shaking the officer by a disheartened hand. He peered exaggeratedly at the Purist officer’s shoulder badge. “PC 696,” nodded Crowley, carefully jotting the number in his notepad. “Nice meeting you.”

“Now then,” he continued, ignoring the flabbergasted look on the Purist’s face and turning instead to the policeman known as John, “perhaps you can tell me how it’s going?”


“How long have you been working with Crowley, then?” asked Jenny, making a spirited bid to dispel the silence that mingled uneasily with the acrid scent of the cheap pine air-freshener.

Black looked up from his perusal of the car’s dashboard-mounted cigarette-lighter. He’d been idly fiddling with it for a couple of minutes.

“I, er, assume this doesn’t work?” he said vaguely, waggling the stone-cold widget disparagingly.


“Thought not,” said Stephen, poking the thing back into its housing and shaking his head dismally. He settled back in his seat. “Four years, give or take,” he added. “I joined CID in ’94, after a few years on the beat. Crowley was a DS, back then. And Darkwood.”

“I assume Smith wasn’t with you?”

“No, no. Still pounding the streets somewhere, I think.”

Morgan nodded, and drew her car to a grumbling halt behind a dozen or so rush hour victims stopped at the traffic lights. Black yawned a bit, and peered unimpressed at his reflection in the drizzle-specked wing mirror.

“Darkwood told you a bit about Crowley yesterday, didn’t he?” said Black vaguely, scratching at his beard.

“Er, yes,” said Morgan, perhaps exaggerating. Keith, never at his best before lunch, had merely slurred a few vague warnings and anecdotes at her over his five o’clock cornflakes. “A bit.”

“Mention the Overseer killing, did he?”

“Briefly,” shrugged Jenny. The traffic lights grudgingly turned from red to green, and the rush hour rolled onward. “You were about during that, I suppose?”

Stephen nodded. “Still a DC, although I was promoted to DS while Crowley and Darkwood were suspended,” he said.

Morgan’s Fiat rattled to a sullen halt at the next crossroads. Black had a rather foolish theory about organised crime controlling the city’s traffic lights for their own nefarious purposes, but spared his assigned partner from it.

“Darkwood was suspended as well?” said Morgan, rather taken aback.

“Oh yes, yes,” said Black casually. “He was with Crowley when Andrew Christ was killed. He doesn’t tend to talk about it much, though.”

Morgan’s expression blanked as she tried to work out what the pun was, there. Virtually all of the British Newcomers had been given foolish puns for monikers - the sub-zero lot were more or less the last in line when the names were being given out. Puns or famous names, the lot of them; Darkwood claimed that Crowley and Smith were the only English Newcomers who didn’t conform to the rule, although that was only because they’d insisted their names were changed.

A slow look of realisation soon made an appearance.

Andy Christ.

“So what happened?”

Black gave an ignorant and slightly doubtful sort of shrug. “No idea. I can tell you what the police investigation turned up, though.”

Morgan nodded a prompt as her car rumbled onward.

“Self-defence, with sufficient warning given. Crowley and Darkwood were picking up Christ for further enquiries - he’d been running some rather evil Newcomer narcotics thing since ’94.”

“Christ had one of his cohorts in the flat with him, armed with a saltwater pistol. Ford Anglia, I think his name was. As Andrew made his escape, he told Anglia to fend off our boys in blue. He unwisely chose to squirt his ammunition at Darkwood, mind. Keith did a neck-pinch on him, took the water pistol and went after Christ with it.”

“Neck-pinch?” said Morgan doubtfully. Seven years ago she’d have just laughed derisively at the overall surrealism of Black’s final sentence. A lot had changed.

Stephen tapped himself behind the ear, pointedly. “Jab them just there,” he explained. “Knocks them unconscious. Handy thing to know, that.”

“I’ll remember it.”

“Anyway, it turns out that Andrew had a gun as well. A good old-fashioned sharp-bits-of-lead one. He took a couple of shots at Darkwood, putting the lad in hospital for a bit, and proceeded to try and escape. Crowley pursued, grabbing the fallen water pistol. Christ turned and took aim, and Crowley barked your standard armed-police warning whilst doing similarly. Christ fired. Crowley fired.”

Black shrugged expansively. “And they both fell. Darkwood managed to call a couple of ambulances - everybody was all right in the end, except for Christ, who was lacking by about fifty per cent in the vital organs department, and had died almost immediately. Crowley had taken a bullet to the arm, and Darkwood got away with just a minor leg wound.”

“They were both suspended for two months while an investigation was carried out,” continued Stephen. “As I say, they were both back on duty afterwards. Christ was cremated, Anglia went to trial but got away with just a couple of years.”

“I see,” said Morgan. The scenery got a bit grimmer as her car entered one of the city’s less pleasant areas. The rising sun had yet to catch the dark streets, here, and virtually every street-lamp had been taken out by a well-aimed brick at some point in its life. The night survived, hiding in the alleyways.

“And what’s your view of it all?” said Morgan.

Black shrugged again. “I haven’t got one. Crowley and Darkwood don’t like to talk about it in any detail. Press them and they’ll tell you what I’ve just said. Anglia doesn’t remember anything about it. And the attempted hypnotic regressions didn’t go terribly well.”

“They didn’t?”

“Well, Anglia still didn’t remember anything, Darkwood couldn’t give any clear details because - they guessed - the trauma of being shot had blanked most of it from his mind, and Crowley...” His voice trailed off.

“And Crowley?” prompted Morgan.

“He went berserk when they tried to regress him to the night in question,” said Black, darkly. “Smashed the place to pieces and damn near killed the hypnotist bloke before they could snap him out of it.”

Morgan registered a blend of surprise and horror.

“Never found out why, either,” shrugged Stephen. “Crowley - when he’d recovered - blamed it all on some sort of mind-control experiments from his days aboard the slave ship. He said he had vague memories of Christ performing brain surgery experiments back on the ship - a couple of other Newcomers backed him up on that,” Black shrugged. “Seems a bit odd, anyway,” he added, his tone of voice vaguely unconvinced.

“Hmm. You don’t suspect conspiracy, at all?” said Morgan warily. Her Fiat ran obliviously through a set of long-dead traffic lights. Black grinned.

“I always suspect conspiracy.”


Kathump. Kathump. The number thirty-seven bus, on its way to the suburbs, juddered its way over something large and solid halfway along Court Lane. It swerved to the left and drew to a noisy and unscheduled halt outside the library.

Darkwood looked up from his magazine - sporting an amusingly-captioned cover picture of Britain’s only Newcomer member of parliament - and offered a distracted frown to the person sat next to him.

“Excuse me a moment,” he said, pushing his way out to the aisle. Ignoring the baffled mutterings of his fellow passengers, he strode to the front of the vehicle and strode out of the door in pursuit of the driver.

“Police,” explained Darkwood, deftly flipping his wallet open to display his identification card, not flicking it out into the gutter by only the merest of chances. “What happened?”

“There was nothing I could have done,” said the bus driver distantly, shaking his head slightly. He leaned absently against the side of the bus and tried to pull himself together. “He just ran out in front of me. Straight under the wheels. Didn’t stand a chance.”

DS Darkwood crouched down urgently and squinted beneath the bus. An unfortunate Tenctonese was sprawled under the oily workings of the vehicle, understandably groaning and croaking a lot. No blood, however. And a vaguely familiar face.

“Hmm,” commented Keith. He waved an arm at the driver, and folded his magazine into a coat pocket. “Give me a hand, here.”

Darkwood lowered himself further onto the damp, unpleasant tarmac and stretched an arm in the victim’s direction. “Grab hold,” he advised, and followed up with a badly pronounced Tenctonese attempt at the sentence. “Er, kat dloh.”

The injured gannaum grasped Darkwood’s questing hand for the briefest of moments, but apparently changed his mind and swatted it away. To Keith’s general incredulity, the jaywalker crawled purposefully in the opposite direction, rising awkwardly to his feet as he emerged from under the bus. There was a screech of brakes and an annoyed blast of car horn as he staggered into the path of the traffic.

Darkwood sprinted around the side of the bus just in time to see the tire-marked Tenctonese hobbling away down the road, slowly stumbling into a sprint.

“Blast,” said Keith vaguely, and narrowed his eyes at the escaping Newcomer. “Er.” If he’d have had a car, he’d have jumped into it and given chase. If he’d have been as fast as a sprinting Newcomer - which no humans were, not even the best of athletes - he might have given chase. He sighed. When in doubt, bluff.

“Armed police, freeze!” shouted Keith. He held his right hand out in a vague gun-shape, for theatrical effect.

The escaping Tenctonese ignored him and continued his sprint along the deserted road, before ducking away along a side-street. Darkwood cursed expertly.

“Keith?” queried a familiarly accented voice behind him. The Detective Sergeant span around warily. The car that had stopped beside the bus was being driven by none less than DC Jayne Smith, on her way to the station.

She’d overslept, much as had been expected. Whilst Darkwood often had a lie-in and blamed his lateness on the city’s hellish traffic jams, Smith’s extra hours in the arms of Morpheus were always betrayed by a noticeable paleness of her cranial spots.

With an uncharacteristic display of energy and determination, Darkwood clambered into the passenger seat of Smith’s Metro, muttering greetings to the driver. Smith didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in her current state - oversleeping always left Newcomers feeling vaguely disorientated and confused - but lacking the licence, skill and inclination to drive, Darkwood decided against commandeering the vehicle.

“Ashley Street,” he suggested, pointing a finger in such a direction. The blood-red Metro swerved lazily around the diagonally-parked bus and drove onward with the nearest it was ever likely to get to valiant purpose.


“How can anyone live in a place like this?” said Black, a distasteful look on his face. He nodded variously at the piles of litter and the colourful but depressing graffiti, and stepped onto the next turn of the grimy concrete stairway.

Greenwood House, a council flat-block. A hundred rather squalid and uninspiring apartments, home to some two-hundred Newcomers of similar aspect. Birmingham City Council thought it’d be a good idea to put all the Tenctonese flats in the same building. The local Purists voiced their appreciation of this scheme by cheerfully setting fire to the place every couple of months.

“Gruza House, the locals call it,” sighed Jenny, glancing down over her shoulder, from her vantage-point on the stairs above him. Black looked baffled.

“That was the name of the Tenctonese slave ship,” explained Morgan, and shrugged hopelessly. “One of the names, anyway. They say the comparisons are numerous, although this is really the height of luxury compared to the conditions aboard the ship. Says a lot, doesn’t it?”

Black nodded thoughtfully, saving his breath for the ascent.

Across the plaza, the identical stories of Redforest House cast a cruel shadow over its neighbour. Redforest was an entirely human-populated flat-block, and enjoyed something of an ongoing battle with Greenwood. It had thankfully settled down a bit in recent months - back in ’96 there’d been an all-out war between the flats, with heavy casualties to both sides. An increased police presence in recent months had helped quell things a bit, although occasional outbreaks of violence still cropped up every so often.

“Which floor are we after?” gasped Black, clutching at a rusting banister rail and tugging away several strata of brittle nastily-hued paint.

“The ninth.”

Black squinted at the sign on the nearby wall. Once bearing a neatly-stencilled number, it had long since been spray-painted into submission by the locals. Atop the varied colours was a black and angular symbol that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a video remote-control.

“That had better be a nine,” said Stephen. The lift was out of order, and he’d lost count of how many flights of stairs he’d staggered up.

Morgan nodded, and pushed open the battered door that led out to the windswept balcony corridor. DS Black staggered out of the stairwell in her wake, a few shreds of litter dancing after him as the breeze caught them.

“Flat ninety-eight,” explained Morgan, striding purposefully along the concrete walkway, glancing at the door numbers.

“Squiggle-squiggle?” sighed Black.

“Something like,” nodded Jenny. “Ah, here we are.”

Stephen leaned on the rusted steel balcony fence and fished a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. Far below, a car pulled up in desolate scrub-land of concrete and mud between the flat-blocks. The chill wind idly rolled a few empty carrier bags across the plaza, like tumbleweeds across the main street of a ghost town in any half-respectable Western. A darkly-haired human strode groggily into Redforest house.

There was a click from flat ninety-eight’s front door.

“Mrs. Praline?” said Jenny.

“Yes?” came the reply. DS Black turned around, having let his unlit cigarette spiral nine floors earthward, and smiled weakly. He fished an ID card from his pocket and waggled it purposefully.

“Police,” said Stephen. “Mind if we come in?”

“No. Not at all, not at all,” said Mrs. Praline, gesturing accordingly to Morgan and Black. The police officers nodded their thanks and entered apartment ninety-eight.

Rachel Praline was an attractive but somewhat haggard-looking Newcomer somewhere in her thirties, and Morgan guessed - correctly - that she’d been Eric’s partner aboard the ship. She smiled politely as she ushered the detectives through her flat.

The Pralines’ living room was a cramped and badly-lit affair; sunlight bounced off of the outside of the boarded-up window facing the walkway, a dead bulb dangled wretchedly from the ceiling as if it had been hanged, and the only illumination was from the dozen or so candles scattered over various flat surfaces.

The faint scent of alien incense hung in the still air, and a deep sense of peace and reverence hit Morgan as she and her assigned partner strode into the room. Far beyond words, she could only describe it as the sort of feeling you get when you walk into a cathedral.

Black, ever the pagan, just coughed and winced a bit, flapping his hands foolishly through the pall of thin smoke. Having now realised that he’d left his cigarette lighter back at the office, he had just enough respect not to light up from one of the candles. Very little more, though.

“Mrs. Praline, I think you should sit down,” said Jenny softly. Nodding slightly, Rachel Praline lowered herself onto the spotless sofa and looked expectantly up at Morgan.

“It’s about your husband. I’m afraid we have some bad news,” continued Jenny. “We think he may have been involved in an accident.” Her delicate voice faltered momentarily. Inviting Mrs. Praline to identify the corpse down at the morgue wasn’t really an option.

“My husband is dead,” said Rachel in a level monotone. She was staring intently at a guttering candle over the bricked-up fire place, and for the first time Jenny noticed a photo of Eric propped up next to it, with a dull purple rock on its other side. Glancing briefly about the room, Morgan could see that each candle had some trinket next to it - a watch, a tie pin, a pen. Minor possessions of the late Eric Praline, most likely.


Jenny gave a sharp intake of breath.

The Zelian clayocabta ritual. Literally meaning “beacons of the soul”, the candles and the personal possessions were believed to aid the deceased’s path to the afterlife. The slow-burning candles were left burning continuously for thirty Earth days, being replaced every morning at sunrise. So long at least one candle burned all the while, the soul would reach the afterlife safely.

Rachel Praline seemed to sense Morgan’s discomfort. “It is all right,” she said, smiling weakly. “You are not disturbing anything by being here.” Jenny gave a reverential nod.

“Eric was shot three weeks ago,” continued Rachel, fishing a handkerchief from the pocket of her blouse. She smiled apologetically and dabbed at her eyes. “Sorry.”

“Take your time,” said Jenny, patting the linnaum’s arm.

“He was... shot last month,” said Mrs. Praline, in a quiet voice. “He was mugged, and left for dead.” Without warning, there was a heavy, dull thump against the haphazard panels of chipboard that covered the window. Jenny glanced up, Black reached warily inside his jacket for a gun that wasn’t there. Rachel looked at the blank sheets of wood with horror in her eyes.

The thump came again, with greater force. A rusting nail jerked out from the corner of a board, tumbling through the air and tinkling to a sinister halt on a glass-topped table.

“It’s him...” mouthed Rachel silently, rocking back and forth gently on the sofa.

“Armed police, freeze!” called Black, taking aim at the blank chipboard with a couple of empty fingers. He motioned for Jenny to leave via the front door and confront the intruders from there. Purists, no doubt.

Another thump. The corner of one wooden sheet pulled itself free of its fastenings and lolled inward. Thin sunlight and a strong breeze entered the room through the crack, and a pallid grey hand wedged itself awkwardly into the gap. Jenny paused in her departure, and raised a hand to her radio, preparing to call for backup if it was required.

“Police!” barked Stephen again. His gaze wavered nervously to and fro, and he narrowed his eyes. “Hold hard or I fire!” he bluffed.

The hand tugged at the creaking board and snapped it easily in two, sending a cloud of sawdust through the now swirling air. Low muttering could be heard from outside.

“It’s him, he’s back!” whispered Rachel, her voice carrying far more horror than any voice should.

“I’m serious!” called DS Black. He turned his head to Rachel, and threw her a quizzical glance.

A thin but muscular grey arm tore another hole from the boarded-up window. The jagged piece of chipboard span across the room, scything a flickering candle from atop a table.

“It’s him!” sobbed Rachel urgently, gesturing weakly at the window. “It’s Eric!”


The car park directly opposite the smoking remnants of NecroTech Cryogenics had been filling up for the past twenty minutes or so, and a dozen or so soaked and irritated police constables were explaining the situation to the workers as they emerged warily from their cars.

Crowley stood on the slippery pavement, glancing tensely up and down Smith Street. He strongly doubted that either Ytris or Morrison would turn up for work this morning, but kept a nervous eye out all the same.

There was a sudden flurry of activity at the ruined building. The waiting ambulance workers sprinted purposefully towards the waving forensic officer, but a few brief shouts halted them. The uncovered body was dead.

Crowley precariously tiptoed over the rubble to join the group of police officers clustered around the corpse. It was little more than a blackened skeleton, smashed into numerous pieces by the brutal rain of masonry.

“Human or Tenctonese?” queried Crowley, not being entirely up to speed on human skeletal structure.

A couple of forensic officers lifted the shattered remnants of a desk from nearby, revealing a bleakly grinning skull. The distended cranium could only belong to a Newcomer. Crowley’s hearts froze momentarily, and he stared at the charred, scattered skeleton, surrounded by the shattered remnants of McGeddon’s hi-fi and desk. Could it be?

“Can we DNA-scan the remains?” said David anxiously.

The head forensic shrugged. “If there’s any bone marrow left, we might be in with a chance. Back to the lab for further tests, it’ll have to be.”

“No word from the security and cleaning companies, I suppose?”

“NecroTech employ their own janitor and security guards, apparently,” said a constable. “We haven’t been able to contact either of the managers yet, so we can’t get in touch with them.”

Crowley sighed and nodded. He dropped to his knees and swirled his fingers in the sodden ash. If there had been a charred mop or a blackened pistol nearby, things would have been made slightly easier.

His questing digits nudged against something hard and metallic buried in the ash. With a faint glimmer of uncharacteristic optimism, he dug it out and wiped the black sludge from it with the sleeve of his trenchcoat.

It was a brooch, of Tenctonese design. A golden circle within a silver triangle. Crowley looked at it thoughtfully, flipping it slowly through his fingers. It gleamed wetly in the dawn light, and stirred nagging thoughts in the depths of David’s mind. He gazed back down at the cremated corpse, then back at the brooch.

Ytris had worn it on the ship. With an unconvinced shrug and a pessimistic sigh, Crowley slipped it into his pocket. It proved nothing, of course Ytris could quite feasibly have left it in a desk drawer or planted it on a corpse to confuse matters. Neither would have surprised Crowley.

“Sir!” called a police officer, waving for to Crowley to join him. He was standing on the far side of the rubble, against a charred but intact brick wall at the back of the wreckage. The fire department had been on the scene fairly quickly, before the blaze had been able to claim the entire building.

A heavy, fire-scorched steel door was set in the base of the wall, and a couple of officers were struggling to force it open. Crowley, having traversed the debris, wrenched open the door with little difficulty, and peered within. Dark and smoky though it was, he could see every detail.

Crowley gave a sharp intake of breath, and coughed a bit as his lungs voiced their opinions of the smoke.

The room was, but for the badly-plastered walls, a precise copy of Ytris’s laboratory aboard the slave ship. A dozen or so Tenctonese corpses ignored the Newcomer detective as he wandered from bed to bed examining them. Some had been stabbed through the hearts, some hadn’t. Crowley bit his lip thoughtfully, and his sweeping gaze fell upon something not entirely unexpected.

Hanging from the ceiling was the evil-looking mechanical device. Its eight legs pointed limply at the floor, and numerous points of hell-red light glowed on and off in the smoky darkness.

Crowley warily approached the thing, half-expecting it to leap into life, and carefully examined its spiked pincers. Both were smeared with pinkish blood. As he leaned closer, he caught a whiff of concentrated Holy Gas. There was a brief ringing sensation in his ears, and he backed away warily.

Aboard the ship, there had been rumours about what Ytris had been doing with the cadavers he took to his lab. Mixed as they were with the contorted remnants of Tenctonese mythology, Crowley hadn’t believed a word of them. In light of recent events, though, it seemed almost feasible.

The slaves had spoken of the eveckwa.

The undead.

“Have we found any actual cryogenic equipment amongst the wreckage?” called Crowley, turning back to the dim rectangle of light in the wall behind him.

“None yet,” came the reply. “The actual cryogenic engineers don’t seem to have turned up for work yet, mind, so we can’t be sure.”

“Give me a shout when they do,” said Crowley, leaving the laboratory and returning to the drizzle. “If they do,” he added, darkly.

The on-duty officers shrugged, and left the matter to CID. David glanced at his wristwatch, reached for his police radio. He tinkered carefully with it for a few moments, then tapped at its transmission button.

“Crowley to Darkwood,” he said. There was a silent pause of several seconds in length, before Keith’s voice crackled from the speaker. “Mmm-hmm?”

“Morning. Have you, er, dealt with McGeddon?” asked Crowley. His voice was probably a bit more of a whisper than it might have been.

“Ah,” replied Darkwood. The low engine noises in the background grumbled slowly to silence. “No. Not as such. We’ve had a development.”

“You’ve let him get away?” hissed Crowley angrily, turning away from the assembled police officers. His irises swirled through dark and frightening corners of the spectrum, and he scowled evilly at his radio.

Always the realist, Crowley was assuming the discarded badge was a red herring. Ytris was probably even now sat at home reading the morning paper over breakfast. “I gave you strict instructions, you bastard. You know what’s at stake, here!”

“Yes, yes,” replied Darkwood. He laughed dismissively at somebody on the other end of the line. “Smith’s with me,” he said, pointedly. “I bumped into her, and could hardly continue with it.”

Crowley was incredulous. “Bumped into her?” he sneered.

“A bus ran into - over - someone on Court Lane, and I think it might have been our friend Praline. Smith said she’d go after him, and I said I’d back her up. Standard procedure with potentially dangerous criminals. We’re currently chasing our man into...” There was a pause as Darkwood squinted at the graffiti- ruined lettering of a nearby sign. “Greenwood House. He’s broken into a ninth-floor apartment.”

“And what are you planning to do about Ytris?” He had to still be alive. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to die in an office fire. Not Ytris. “Don’t you realise how important this is? I can hardly send anyone else, can I? I can’t get him arrested.”

“Can’t you make your way over there, then?” said Keith warily.

“What, get a lift in a squad car?” jeered Crowley absently. “Nice thinking, Keith. I’ll have to get back to the station and get a bus, or something. Hell. All your bloody fault, as ever.”

With that, David fiddled about with his radio and broke the connection. A few button presses later, he was in contact with Jenny Morgan.

“Crowley to Morgan,” he said, striding toward the pavement. The radio bleeped to signify that Morgan had pressed her receive button.

“Jenny. Morning,” said Crowley vaguely. “Any chance of a lift back to the station?”

“Er, well...”


Eric Praline was standing in the centre of his living room, silhouetted dramatically against the sunrise through the glassless, ragged-edged window behind him. The candles supposedly guiding his soul were dying in the cold breeze that swept cruelly in after him.

Eric looked just as cadaverous as he had when Jim Milton discovered him in the alleyway last night. His flesh was bloodless, of a uniformly grim, pale shade, and the skin was stretched a little over his now near-spotless skull.

Detective Sergeant Black was currently crouched behind a dusty armchair, gazing incredulously at Eric Praline. Already he had sustained three gunshot wounds one to each heart, another to the stomach. From his viewpoint, Stephen could see sunlight through the latter wound. He shuddered.

Rachel Praline remained motionless on the sofa, trembling fearfully and staring into the eyes of her husband. Eric was slowly advancing on her, his arms open and a thin, feeble smile on his decaying lips.

Morgan had backed into the hallway, and was whispering urgently into her radio. “Praline’s here,” she was saying. “We’re at his flat.”

“Where’s this, again?”

“Greenwood House,” she said. “Number ninety-eight.”

“Ah. That figures. What’s he doing?” asked Crowley.

“Katra,” said Eric, his voice a dry croak. In the corner of a fading eye, a pure-water tear formed and slalomed down his cadaverous visage. “Katra, I’m sorry.”

Overcome by emotion, Rachel rose to her feet and, sobbing, wrapped her arms around Eric’s frail torso. With a slow, slightly erratic movement, he patted the back of her neatly-spotted head with a dead hand.

Black lowered his gun cautiously, and relaxed a little. Morgan quietly explained the situation to her radio.

“What’s happening, Torrpa?” said Rachel. “You...” She gestured weakly at the candles, half a dozen of which were bravely surviving the freezing wind. “You died.”

Eric closed his eyes and nodded. The memory of his death remained forever at the front of his mind, burned into the very synapses of his brain. The two human muggers. Although “muggers” was probably too flattering a job description for them; murdering corpse looters would have been more accurate. Eric had been taking a shortcut home that fateful Friday night, and the twosome had gunned him down with neither warning nor concern. As he lay there in a widening pool of his own blood, they took the opportunity to empty his wallet, before sprinting away into the anonymity of the night. Eric had lost consciousness some five minutes later, as far as he could remember.

And then, what seemed like the morning after, he’d woken up with a hideous mechanical spider clamped to his chest and two murderous blades piercing his hearts. Fear. Pain. Life.

And a Kleezantsun’ standing over him, laughing triumphantly.


Darkwood peered groggily at the vandalised sign bolted the wall. “That had better be a nine,” he said, under what he could get back of his breath.

“It’s a six,” said Smith. “Don’t tell me your optimism’s overcome your ability to count flights of stairs?”

“I passed out two floors back, this is all just reflex action,” said Darkwood, with an expansive, hopeless shrug.


“Onwards and upwards, then,” he muttered, taking the next turn of the stairs with weary persistence.


“For a moment I thought I was back on the ship,” said Eric. He sipped at a recently-poured glass of sour milk, and stared grimly at the murky carpet of his living room. “The light, the smell, the Kleezantsun’,” he said, spitting out the final word with all the contempt it deserved.

“When was this?” whispered Rachel.

Eric rubbed at his face with a colourless hand. His memories of the past twenty-four hours were blurring closer and closer together as time passed. “Yesterday morning, I think,” he said. “But I’m dying, Katra, I’m dying. I had to see you before I died again.”

“Damn. Blast. Hellfire,” complained Black under his breath, kneeling on something sharp as he tried to get into a more comfortable hiding position. “Bugger,” he added.

Eric looked up groggily, peering at the armchair which Stephen was hiding behind.

“It’s all right, odrey,” explained Rachel. “He’s with the police. He’s here to help you.”

Black’s nervous face emerged from behind the chair like a rising sun with a thin beard and an unlit cigarette. Smiling hopefully all the while, carefully sat himself in what was previously serving as his cover.

“My, er, colleague, Jenny Morgan, is also here to help you,” he explained, gesturing weakly at the woman in the hallway. With a nervous smile and a display of gunless hands, Jenny entered the living room and took a seat in the other armchair.

“You’re here to arrest me?” said Eric, without surprise or concern. “I didn’t mean to cause any damage,” he said earnestly. “I just wasn’t thinking straight.”

Black shot Morgan a mystified glance. “It’s all right,” he hazarded. “It’s not a problem. We’re just visiting your wife.”

“Did they put the fire out, in the end?” asked Eric in a quiet, concerned voice. “I didn’t think it’d spread that quickly. I... I don’t know what I was thinking. The Gas...”

He buried his head in his hands.

“The Holy Gas?” said Rachel. Eric Praline nodded wretchedly.

“It’s like I’ve been breathing it all day, but I can’t smell it,” he said, and laughed hollowly. “I don’t even need to breathe anymore. I can’t. My lungs don’t work.” He tapped absently at his ribcage, home to two dusty lungs and a brace of silent hearts.

“The Kleezantsun’ have been controlling you, Torrpa?” said Rachel, in a horrified tone of voice. Eric gave another bleak laugh and shook his head.

“One of them tried to. At least that’s what I assume his plan was,” shrugged Eric. “Whether the dosage was wrong, I can’t say. When I awoke on that operating table, though, I felt more alive than ever.”

“This was in a building on Smith Street?” queried Jenny Morgan, having heard Crowley’s theory of events.

The eveckwa nodded. “An office block, I think. I was being held in some sort of medical laboratory in their basement.” The memories caused him to wince momentarily. “A lot of it seemed to be from the ship. The lights, the infirmary beds, the medical equipment...”

Eric Praline rose crookedly from the sofa and took to pacing the floor distractedly. He sloshed the milk about in his glass, and drained half of it in a single swig.

“It wasn’t hard for me to escape; as I said, it felt like I’d been given a new lease of life. The Overseer tried vainly to stop me, but I just wrenched open the door and ran out of the building onto the street.” Eric laughed at the simplicity of it all. “I stole a van, and just drove aimlessly about town for an hour or so. The Kleezantsun’ chased after me to begin with, but I soon lost him in the traffic.”

As Eric stepped past the coffee-table, an eddying breeze caught the candle positioned in its centre, and the flame guttered to nothing.

“You drove to the chip shop on the High Street?” guessed Black.

Eric winced as the memory hit him again, and nodded. “It was all I could remember. Everything else about my life was a blank. I thought if I returned to the alleyway I might be able to find my wallet again; find out where I lived, who I was.” He shrugged. “I parked the van outside, and went into the alley.”

He swallowed the last of his drink.

“And did you find anything?” said Black.

“My wallet, yes,” said Eric. “And a sudden headful of memories. It was overwhelming - the emotion hit me like a brick to the back of the head. I stumbled into the litter-bins and passed out.”

“And presumably even the finest of forensics wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an unconscious undead and a corpse,” said Morgan darkly, turning to her partner.

“Not dead but sleeping,” said Black.



“Leesk, leesk, kak ock key zoo?” said a voice. Darkwood didn’t even bother trying to translate it. Heavily sarcastic politeness sounded more or less the same in any language.

The two detectives froze momentarily on the stairs between the eighth and ninth floors, then turned around slowly. Leaning arrogantly in the doorless doorway they’d just passed was a burly T-shirt-clad Tenctonese, eyeing the pair of them with obvious distaste. He’d been awarded the name “Brian Damage” whilst in quarantine, for one reason or another.

“E nemas nas Tenctonets byndy?” he sneered, idly stepping out into the stairwell. He adopted an evil, lopsided smile. “Won etwes.”

“What’s he saying, what’s he saying?” hissed Darkwood half-turning to face Smith. He had a very nasty feeling about all this, and glanced fearfully at the surly Newcomer. Brian responded by spitting a slimy nugget of chewing gum onto the step beneath Smith. At least, Keith hoped it was chewing gum.

“He thinks,” said Jayne, wondering how to put this. “He thinks we’re together. And he doesn’t seem to like the idea particularly.”

“But we...” began Keith. He grinned mirthlessly. “Ah. I see.”

“We’re police. Key-ip mileetsya,” he explained, using one of the few Tenctonese sentences he’d been taught to pronounce properly. The Newcomer sneered a bit. Keith fumbled around in his pockets for his police ID, pulling it out in an impressive shower of toffee wrappers and loose change. The coins bounced and span their merry way down the grimy staircase, and Darkwood grinned feebly.

“Mileetsya,” he repeated, gesturing at the card, the hologram of which sported a similarly anxious smile. “See?”

Brian slipped a muscular hand into the inside of his jacket. Inside Darkwood’s brain, the “bad feeling about this” dial span urgently into the red zone. It didn’t have far to go; to Keith Darkwood, the difference between a violent armed Newcomer and a violent unarmed Newcomer was - at this sort of range, and with Darkwood lacking any form of defence - largely academic.

“We’re just police, called to a burglary on the ninth floor,” said Smith urgently, and laughed. Darkwood narrowed his eyes. “Vot tash N’ad kay each eckwa tew e melsell sash eek tees?” Jayne added, smiling.

“Kwen,” said Brian. And pulled out a knife. A nice, big, sharp kitchen number, stained with blood. It glinted terrifyingly in the murky dawn light. Darkwood shuddered, vividly imagining how it would feel to have the blade plunged through him. He knew the blood on the metal was probably only from Brian’s breakfast, but that didn’t really do a lot for his morale. A sibilant four letter swearword slipped out from under his breath.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” advised Darkwood, his eyes fixed on the blade’s tip like an imminent roadkill staring out a juggernaut. “Stabbing police officers is generally frowned upon in legal circles. Don’t make your situation any worse. Drop the knife.” He tried to look bold and valiant.

Keith Darkwood then did something very, very stupid. He would shortly find himself sitting in a pool of his own blood, silently cursing and muttering how very, very stupid he’d been.

He pretended he had a gun.

It was a common trick of his, this. Reach purposefully into your inside pocket with a bold and valiant look on your face, and friend criminal, if he or she wasn’t entirely up to speed with the British police’s firearm regulations, would assume the worst and cross out “violence” from their list of options. It was usually worth a try. It was, however, not a plan to be recommended when dealing with armed felons, and Darkwood was about learn to his disadvantage - not one to be carried out against unstable human-hating Newcomers with sharp knives and good throwing arms.

The blade made a nice gash in the sleeve of his jacket, and clattered onto the staircase behind him. Darkwood stared at Brian with a distant wide-eyed incredulity for several seconds, not fully taking things in. The Newcomer’s right arm had merely flipped through ninety degrees with a deceptively lazy movement, and the knife had vanished from his fingers.

Darkwood’s nervous system did its work. His right hand suddenly clamped the top his left arm, and he groaned terribly. Darkwood swayed gently for a moment or two, before sitting down heavily on the concrete steps. Blood welled through his fingers.

Jayne, who had been watching all this with increasing horror, suddenly looked back at Brian. Or, as was now the case, a large, empty patch of Brian-shaped air. And some receding, panicked footsteps making their hurried way down the staircase.

“Go on,” gasped Darkwood, speaking through gritted teeth. If you’d have told him earlier this morning that he’d be going through a hopelessly dramatic leave-me -here-to-die routine before lunch, he’d have spluttered a laugh into his tea and thrown sarcastic apothegms at you.

“Get the bastard,” he advised. Gory redness welled between his clasped fingers, and he fumbled vaguely for his radio with his left hand. The limb failed to respond to his requests. “And an ambulance,” he added.

Jayne grimaced bleakly for a second, before giving Darkwood an understanding nod and bounding away down the staircase in pursuit of Brian Damage.

Her footsteps slowly escaped the realms of Darkwood’s hearing. A radio in a nearby flat tinnily sang the closing verse of “Eech Ka Marcus”, the latest cover song from Touss la Duga. But for that and the faint murmuring of the gathering wind, the world was silent.

Darkwood bled a bit, and groaned. On the step beside him, the blade of the kitchen knife was wet with his own blood, glistening unpleasantly in the murky sunlight.

“Well, it looks like my horoscope was probably wrong this morning, then,” he said to nobody in particular, and tried vaguely to remember if this sort of thing was covered in his first-aid training.


Crowley watched with narrowed eyes as a burly figure sprinted purposefully past a sixth-floor window of Greenwood House’s nearest stairwell. A few seconds ago he’d passed the seventh floor, looking similarly anxious. Crowley leaned thoughtfully on the side of the squad car, parked at a careless angle in the bleak wasteland between the flat-blocks.

“667 to all units,” said his radio. “Am in pursuit of a Newcomer male leaving the Greenwood tower block. Has already attacked an officer. Assistance required.”

David registered surprise, and tapped idly at the control switches. “Crowley here. No problem,” he said, and launched himself lazily into an upright position.

“I’ll check the break-in, shall I?” said PC Geoff Carnadine, jerking a thumb at the looming concrete nightmare of Redforest House. A ninth-floor resident had called in to report a burglary in process, and Crowley, eager to pay Praline a visit, had hitched a lift in the assigned squad car. He span idly on his heel as he strode across the mud, and nodded briskly to Geoff before turning around again.

The bulky silhouette of Brian Damage flitted across the dust- opaqued window of the fourth floor. Not far behind him, Crowley could see Smith in determined pursuit.

As he slowly approached the only exit from the stairwell tower, David’s eyes took in the scattering of rubble that was heaped untidily against the stained concrete wall. A rusting length of steel pipe took his interest, and with a grunt of effort he tugged it free from the pile of shattered brickwork. It had a large and unpleasant-looking nail through the end of it. Crowley grinned evilly, and made a few experimental swishes with it through the murky dawn air.

The footsteps were louder. Second floor, David guessed. He wandered off of the blank concrete path, and stood by the side of the door, hefting the metal pipe onto his shoulder.

First floor.

Crowley’s fingers tightened about his makeshift club, and he tilted his head slightly.

Ground floor. The acoustics of the footsteps altered slightly as they hit the solid concrete.

DI David Crowley counted absently under his breath for a few seconds, idly examining his fingernails, and slammed the fire door.

Nine floors up, two humans and a Newcomer spoke with the dead.

“The next thing I knew I was alive, awake and in an ambulance,” said the eveckwa. “In a body bag. Took a while to get out of that one, but I managed it eventually. When the ambulance drew to a halt at some traffic lights, I just opened the rear door and climbed out.”

“And went into the Cooper’s Arms?” said Black, nervously chewing the filter of an unlit cigarette.

“A pub of some description, yes,” continued Eric. “Now that I had my wallet, I knew who I was, where I lived and –” he took Rachel’s hand in his own, and squeezed it tightly, “–who my wife was, I had to organise my thoughts, plan my actions. I’d realised that I’d been out for three weeks - did my wife think I was dead? Missing? I just sat there with a pint, working out how I should go about getting back in touch. Another Newcomer came and sat at my table - when he went to the bar, a human emerged from the toilets with a pistol.”

“He shot you?” said Rachel, her expression a wavering mix of horror and concern.

A momentary look of blankness passed across Eric’s face. “No,” he said. “No, he injected me with something, and took the briefcase that the gannaum had left on the table. I lost consciousness almost immediately.” Eric gave a lengthy sigh. “Andarko knows what happened after that.”

“He could have shot you afterwards,” shrugged Stephen, idly glancing over Praline’s skull for bullet holes. “Who knows?”

“I think the injection was meant to kill me,” said Eric. He gave a deep and unhealthy-sounding sigh. “I’ve been slowly dying ever since. I can feel my mind slipping gradually away from me.” Even for a three-week old corpse, Eric didn’t look particularly well. His spots had faded to almost nothing since Milton found him in the alleyway last night, and his face had become more drawn and pallid as the day progressed.

“We can help you, Eric,” said Morgan’s radio. Crowley had tuned himself back into her frequency and was leaning against the wall outside, listening in on the conversation. A bloody-nosed Brian Damage struggled half-heartedly to escape from the drainpipe he’d been handcuffed to. Crowley waggled his metal pipe threateningly.

“A Newcomer ambulance is on its way for you,” continued Crowley. “When we’ve got Morrison in custody, we should be able to find out if the reanimation...”

Crowley’s words and the beginnings of a nagging thought were cut short by a gunshot from the direction of Redforest House. In the still morning air, his aural systems pinpointed the noise, and his eyes swung up to the upper echelons of the building.

In flat ninety-three of Redforest House, PC Geoff Carnadine slumped painfully to the floor, leaving a nasty crimson streak on the wallpaper and adding an exciting splash of colour to a Lowry print. A few feet further down the hallway, the owner of the flat lay in a separate pool of her own blood.

David Morrison pushed shut the front door and walked gingerly to the open rear window of ninety-three Redforest House. He lifted a rifle from the sofa.


“Crowley to Carnadine,” said the DI for the third time, still getting nothing but static from his radio. The gunshot meant one of two things, and all the evidence was pointing with increasing urgency to the anti-police conclusion.

Crowley damned and blasted, and turned to face the looming angular bulk of the human-populated flat block. Two-hundred inhabitants, virtually all of them Purists. And, as was often wretchedly observed, all of them armed, from a Tenctonese perspective. A group of precociously yobbish under-tens were sat on the stairs to the building, squirting saline water pistols at nothing in particular. Raised on vastly xenophobic video games and cartoons, the below-average-intelligence under-tens of the modern age contributed alarmingly to the Newcomer assault statistics.

David glanced into the rear seat of the squad car. Carnadine’s police cap sat on the grubby fake-leather upholstery, and Crowley contemplated it. A helmet would probably have fitted slightly better, but the cap should hide his species well enough, provided that nobody looked too closely. Perhaps.

Although no great friends of the police, the Redforesters’ hatred of the boys in blue was probably marginally less than their hostility towards Newcomers. Plain-clothes Crowley slipped the headgear over his jaggedly-striped cranium, and, lacking Carnadine’s keys, performed a convincing “locking the driver’s door” mime for the benefit of any casual car thieves who might have been watching.

The kids looked up as David strode towards the flat-block. Crowley met their gaze and continued to walk forward. This was ridiculous, and a couple of the older youths knew this perfectly well. Although the gun laws were still fairly harsh in England, no real restrictions had been levied in the field of water pistols. The more militant Purist groups often went a-shooting with the latest high-powered kiddies water guns, but the police were powerless until a Newcomer was actually injured by them. If they tried to arrest them before the shootings began, they’d find a hopeless lack of salt in the water - it just took a couple of salt-cubes prior to the assault for the twee, garish kiddies’ toy to become a brutal murder weapon.

And, of course, it was near impossible to crack down on every sort of salt-water projectile - Jim Milton had more than once seen Purists emptying salt cellars into their drinks and flinging the concoctions in the faces of Newcomers. A good enough motive to switch the salt and sugar at that fish-and-chip shop.

The children warily dispersed as Crowley began to climb the steps. He strode through the bleak lobby, and thumbed the loosely-fitted lift call button. The Fates being on David’s side for once, the lift opened after a couple of seconds, bringing with it the unpleasant odour of all flat-block lifts.

Wincing vaguely, Crowley strode into the filthy steel box and stabbed a digit at the required floor button. The lift groaned into life and began its rumbling ascent to the upper echelons of the flat-block.


Black peered cautiously around the side of the window frame. His gaze swept to and fro along the many plaza-facing windows of Redforest House. The rising sun was obligingly bouncing its light off of the glass directly into Stephen’s eyes, preventing him from getting a good view of the interiors. Behind the now-closed window of flat ninety-three, David Morrison stood flat against the wall and stared manically at nothing.

“See anything?” said Morgan.

“Nope,” replied Black. “Not of any note. We’ll leave it to Crowley. He tends to enjoy that sort of thing.”

Across the plaza, Morrison glanced out at the Praline residence. He watched the crop-haired police detective collapse into the armchair, and the window of Redforest ninety-three was pushed open again.

The barrel of the rifle rested neatly on the badly-painted windowsill, and David Morrison took careful aim. His target was sat in plain view on the sofa. Morrison’s finger hovered over the laser sight button. This had to be precisely carried out if it was going to work at all, McGeddon had said.

The front door of the flat clicked almost silently, and opened a few inches. DI Crowley edged his crablike way into the apartment, and did his level best not to audibly voice his disgust at the scenery. Carnadine and the unfortunate resident were sprawled across the hallway, neither of them dead, but both heading with increasing rapidity in that direction.

A pistol rested on the table, by the phone.

Crowley dithered. Birmingham General probably didn’t have any necromancers on the hospital staff, so the mechanical spider looked like it could be Praline’s only hope for survival - if Ytris really had died in the fire, Morrison was probably the only person on the planet who knew how to operate the device. And if Ytris had merely fled the area, Crowley supposed, it was a safe bet to assume that Morrison could point a finger in the right direction. Perhaps Darkwood hadn’t screwed up entirely, then. Ytris, if alive, could wait.

Silently, cautiously, Crowley lifted the gun from the table.

“Armed police. Drop it, Morrison!” shouted Crowley, striking up a dramatic armed-police sort of pose. Morrison hefted his rifle from the window and span idly to face Crowley. He stopped suddenly.

The two Davids stood motionless, staring at each other across the stained carpet. In sharp contrast to the relaxed, amiable person Crowley had spoken to at NecroTech last night, the Morrison of the current hour was clearly on the brink of madness. The events of the past night had taken a terrible toll on his sanity - the desperation in his eyes was as clear as the doubt in Crowley’s.

“Don’t do anything stupid, Morrison,” said the detective. “I don’t want to have to shoot you. You know what our reflexes are like; if you fire, I fire.” His fingers tightened about the trigger.

Morrison’s blank look faltered, and his aim dropped momentarily. His wild eyes stared critically at Crowley, and the detective spied a certain familiarity to their dullness.

The Holy Gas?

It was common knowledge that the Gas had an effect on humans, of course; some humans reacted to it just as the Tenctonese did. Giving Morrison a rifle, two lungfuls of Holy Gas and an order to kill Eric Praline would probably have worked. Also tell him to shoot anyone who gets in his way, and to ignore the words of everybody but the voice he’s hearing now, and you’ve got a very easy and non-incriminating way to dispose of your enemies.

But why the hesitation? Realisation half-dawned, hovering doubtfully on the edge of the thought horizon. Was it possible?

Crowley dropped his voice slightly, and assumed a commanding stance. In a poor light, he could probably have passed for Ytris; although Crowley was a mite shorter and wider, the bold, jagged stripes of both his and the Overseer’s crania were similar in more than a couple of aspects.

“It’s me - Richard. Drop your gun, David,” he commanded.

Morrison stood his ground, trembling slightly. A nervous bead of sweat traced a path down his forehead and buried itself in an eyebrow. Any knives applied to the thick pall of tension at this point would have come away a good deal blunter.

“It’s over. Drop it,” said Crowley, showing only a trace of terror in his voice. In his current state, Morrison was more than likely to put a bullet through Crowley, lightning reactions or otherwise. “Drop the gun.”

Morrison gave up, and his shoulders fell into a half-slouch. He grunted monosyllabically under his breath, and the gun dropped from his limp hands.

As it fell to the carpet, the less murderous end clipped the edge of the glass coffee table. The rifle’s hair-trigger deemed this a good enough excuse.


“Never a dull moment, is there?” said Darkwood, as the second gunshot’s echoes died to silence. He and Smith were slowly retracing their way down the grimy stairway, Keith’s injured arm being crudely wrapped up with his grim black tie. “This is the reason I became a detective, you know.”

He took a couple of pained steps forward, taking him away from the dusty window and putting six inches of brickwork between him and the outside world. “To cower in fear from hidden snipers. Marvellous. We’ll probably be caught in a bit of crossfire now. Petrol bombs and the like. And me one of the only three humans in the building. If the Purist snipers don’t get me, the Newcomer assault teams will. Wonderful, wonderful.”

“Are you always like this?” said Smith.

“Hmm? No. Only when I’m being shot at and bleeding to death from a knife wound,” said Darkwood, and his eyes took up a vaguely distant look. “Sorry,” he said, and made a spirited attempt to pull himself together. It nearly worked. “Sorry. Not at my finest this morning. Guns and near-fatal injuries tend to bring out terror in me at the best of times, anyway. Ignore me.” Darkwood shrugged. He tinkered one-handedly with his radio, tapping the same button thrice and conjuring up an electronic link with his superior officer. “Crowley?” he said. There was a pause.

“Yes?” came the reply. Darkwood detected the after-effects of adrenaline in the DI’s slightly out-of-breath voice, and could hear somebody muttering and writhing in the background.

“Er,” was all Keith could say on the matter. “Not disturbing anything, am I?”

“Thirty seconds earlier and you probably would have been. I’ve just arrested Morrison.” Darkwood and Smith nodded in simultaneous understanding.

“Been a-shooting, has he?”

“A civilian and PC Carnadine, apparently, yes,” said Crowley. “He was after our man Praline with a rifle, I think. Hmm. Ambulances are on their way, in any case.”

“Mine there yet, is it?”


“I’ve been stabbed, you see. I thought an ambulance might be nice.”

“Ah. No. Nothing’s turned up yet.”

“Do you still want Smith to check out Morrison’s house, then?” said Darkwood.

“Indeed. Give it a search; something might turn up.”

“And, er, McGeddon’s?” asked Darkwood, warily.

“I’ll sort something out.”

“Right you are,” said Darkwood. “We’ll be on our way.” He twiddled the dial on his radio, and its speaker faded into a solemn silence.

“Onwards and downwards, then,” he decided wearily.

He tilted his head at the nearby floor sign. The colourful Tenctonese spray-painting looked like something from the washing instructions of Darkwood’s shabby-grey and recently bloodstained shirt, and conveyed about as much meaning to him. “Is that a three or a four?”



“It’s a six.”


“I came here after leaving the hospital,” said Eric, his voice now faltering in and out of silence. He’d been clutching his head a lot in the past few minutes, and knew he was nearing death again. Halfway along Goodyear Road, a Newcomer ambulance sat amid the rolling fumes and gridlocked cars of Birmingham’s rush hour.

“Bashed on the door,” continued the eveckwa. His speech became increasingly laconic and weary as his consciousness faded. “To see Katra.” His eyelids fell.

“Keep him talking!” said Morgan’s radio urgently. Crowley was in on the conversation, despite being stuck in traffic on the outskirts of the city. In the rear of a squad car, he tried desperately to get some sense out of David Morrison. Heavily drugged on the Gas - Crowley had had to open a window to dispel the traces exhaled - and programmed for serial-killing, he was doing very little beyond seething silently and twitching in his handcuffs. Crowley’s Ytris-impersonations had little effect on him; he’d been pushed way over the edge since the Overseer had started on him.

“So, er...” said Black hopelessly.

The swirling autumnal wind changed its angle of attack, and Black looked up. A fine mist of drizzle swept gently through the shattered window, putting a thin sheen of water droplets over the coffee table.

On an otherwise empty shelf stood the last remaining clayocabta candle. Where the others bore charred, dead wicks, its orange flame survived, flickering and guttering against the weather.

Rachel Praline glanced up at the candle, its tiny point of fire reflecting deep within her tear-filled eyes. Her gaze fell to the now still form of her husband. One fading, colourless eye looked weakly back at her, full of terror, regret and disappointment.

“Goodbye, Torrpa,” whispered Rachel.

Eric’s mouth croaked a half-spoken response. “Goodbye.”

The candle died.



Three detectives stood at the window of the CID office, gazing across Vyse Street at the churchyard. The clouds rumbled, the rain hissed, and the body of Eric Praline was lowered into the murky soil. Beneath a canopy, a small crowd of mourning Tenctonese stood around the recently-dug grave, and a purple-robed Zelian priest went through the solemn burial ritual.

Every life-signs test in the book had been pointedly negative, which hadn’t surprised anyone; Praline would probably have failed most of them when he was jogging home earlier that morning. As they body-bagged him and sped him away in their ambulances, Rachel hadn’t objected. From the moment that the final candle had been extinguished, she’d insisted with an unnerving conviction that her husband had died. Crowley had attempted to talk her around to his way of thinking that Praline had just lapsed back into unconsciousness with the stress of recent events - but it was like arguing with a particularly stubborn brick wall.

“Can’t we check if he’s dead or not? Didn’t he have a serdsos?” said Darkwood, having a fairly basic grasp of such things. He now sported a clean shirt and some neat bandage-work from the station’s resident doctor, not to mention a rather unwieldy sling around his left arm.

Crowley lifted his gaze from the muddy grave and shook his head grimly. “No, Praline was a Zelian. None of the Zelians have serdsos.”

Darkwood looked blank.

“Not all of us were able to take our serdsos with us when we left the ship,” explained David. “The sudden panic of the Descent, the sealing-off of ship sections those of us trapped far from our sleeping quarters couldn’t go back for their serdsos.”

“Couldn’t take their souls with them,” echoed Jayne solemnly.

“It destroyed the will of a lot of our people,” said Crowley, unsympathetically. “They believed their souls to be forever lost. In the quarantine camps, some of the Elders made an attempt to calm them, reassure them. The Zelian religion - apparently originally founded around the time of Celinism - was reformed, and those without serdsos were welcomed into it.” Atheist Crowley shrugged to signify his lack of knowledge and interest in such matters.

“Was there a purple rock in Praline’s flat?” he added.

Black nodded absently. “On the mantelpiece, yes.”

“That’ll be your Zelian serdsos, then,” said Crowley. “The Elders gave out a load of rocks and said that the souls would see them in the same way that they do serdsos. Even though we’ve all bought new serdsos since, the Zelian’s have stuck with their stones. The candle business is some sort of feeble everlasting-life checkpoint thing, as well you know.”

The DI’s gaze had returned to the funeral. The mourners and priest had left, leaving an open grave and a darkly shrouding canopy. Six feet beneath the straggly, wet grass, and surrounded by an expensive pine box, the corpse of Eric Praline rested motionless. The only remaining piece of evidence in the whole NecroTech case. The mechanical contraption from the lab basement had been buried under a ton of flettons when a damaged supporting wall finally gave way, and had been crushed to a billion shattered pieces.

Morrison had been dragged gibbering to the local hospital shortly after his arrest, and his mental and physical prospects looked far from rosy. He was certainly in no fit state for an interview.

Leaving Ytris. He was missing, perhaps dead - the lab report on the charred bones was inconclusive - and there was little else that could be done. Crowley had been quick to visit McGeddon’s Birmingham residence soon after dealing with Praline, but the place had been cleared out and abandoned. Crowley hadn’t been surprised.

Of the NecroTech staff that came forward, all of them turned out to be office workers, knowing little of the business’s running. The actual cryogenic equipment was, to their knowledge, situated somewhere out of town and visited only by McGeddon and Morrison. Crowley hadn’t been surprised.

The corpses that remained in the lab at NecroTech were eventually identified as customers. The families claimed to have visited their loved ones several times over the past months, although admittedly they’d only been shown a large, blank, cold steel box with a temperature readout. “A glass window,” the smiling NecroTech guide had said every time, “would, of course, affect the temperature stability.” Crowley hadn’t been surprised.

NecroTech had had several human customers. All of the corpses in the lab had been Tenctonese, presumably because the reanimating device was geared for twin-hearted life-forms. None of the human corpses were ever found on the site, although there was a nice big incinerator in the basement that invited closer inspection. Crowley hadn’t been surprised.

And when the DI had asked Rachel Praline if he could take the corpse back to the labs for an in-depth autopsy, she’d said that it would be going against the basic tenets of the Zelian faith. Crowley hadn’t been surprised.

Darkwood flipped through some paperwork with his free hand. His wound meant that he probably wasn’t too well suited to making arrests; even more so than usual. Which left paperwork, surveillance, and perhaps a bit of trailing along on other cases. He wondered vaguely if his superior officers knew he wasn’t left handed. The CID budget needed sorting out now that the new fiscal year had begun, and it was something of a daunting task.

“Death and taxes,” said Keith, with a sigh.

The rain drummed ever downward, churning the soil of the churchyard into mud. A couple of gravediggers shovelled the waterlogged earth into the open grave. Crowley knew, even without looking, which one of the standard Zelian epitaphs would be chiselled onto the headstone.

Eve eckwa stew quascha.

Not dead but sleeping.

“No,” said David, pensively rolling a silver-and-gold badge between his fingers. He stared absently at the thick grey clouds above the city. In the distance, thunder grumbled ominously to itself. His gaze fell back to Praline’s grave, and for the briefest of moments his irises flickered to a cold, swirling darkness.

“Just taxes.”