Tag Archives: crime

A Grim Fairy Tale

Famous Emma Watson lookalike Richard Dawkins made some comments this week on the subject of children being told fairy tales at a young age, remarking that it is “pernicious…to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism.” Dawkins believes that children should be taught the importance of rational thought and scientific rigour, though he later clarified that such stories probably encourage critical thinking, and thus aren’t particularly harmful.

The idea of a fairy tale bereft of its supernatural elements, and instead rooted in boring old everyday life, is an intriguing one. Have you ever wondered how some of our most beloved fantasy characters would cope within the stringent boundaries of our existential reality? Me neither, but sure we’re here now so let’s find out…

~

The following account is transcribed from the official report of a detective, who has asked to remain anonymous. It is believed that the author of these extracts retired shortly after the experience, due to the traumatic nature of the events and the psychological repercussions that were suffered in the aftermath.

It was early that morning that I received a tip-off from an anonymous caller about the house deep in the woods. It was an old woman’s voice, harsh and raspy. She kept referring to the cottage as a ‘den of vice’, insisting that her step-daughter was involved in some ‘weird shit’ over there. It was hard to make out anything else amongst the maniacal cackling. I thought she sounded unhinged but protocol dictated that I had to check it out anyway, so off I went.

As I drove through the woods I recalled that there had been a number of unusual incidents there in recent years that I had heard about from colleagues: the simpleton who was convinced his goose was laying golden eggs; the poor young schizophrenic kid who broke his neck climbing a beanstalk; and of course the awful episode of the brother and sister being lured to that pervert’s house made entirely of sweets.

I pulled up in front of the house and got out to have a look around. It looked dilapidated and gloomy, as if it was deserted. The windows were blacked out on the inside, which filled me with an odd sense of dread. I went back to the car and took my revolver out of the glove compartment, holstering it at my side. I knocked a few times on the front door but there was no answer. When I tried the handle it gave way with an eerie, drawn-out creak.

The sordid scene that greeted me upon entering the cottage is still burnt into my mind. The acrid smell of filth and squalor was almost overpowering. There were seven small cages lined up against the wall, filled with soiled rags and torn bedding. In the middle of the floor was a giant trough, with a few morsels of foul-smelling food lying rotting in the dank heat of the room. There was a bucket in one corner that I dared not approach due to the hideous odour emanating from it.

This pig-pen, as it appeared to me to be, took up the entire ground floor of the cottage, with a rickety staircase in one corner leading upstairs. I went up the stairs and opened the door at the top, and stood in shock at what I found there. It was an opulently furnished bedroom, clean and in perfect order. The giant four-poster bed took up most of the room, and a giant chest stood at the foot of the bed. I pulled the lid open to find that it was full almost to the brim with gleaming white diamonds.

It was at this point that I heard a commotion from outside the house, and dashed downstairs to see what it was. When I looked out the front door I saw seven small figures walking towards the house. Their faces and clothes were filthy and their feet were chained together as they marched in unison. They carried tools and chanted sombrely, over and over again,

“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s home from work we go.”

When the lead figure saw me he stopped dead, dropping his spade and the bag he was carrying. Great chunks of white diamond spilled out of the bag and onto the ground in front of his grimy bare feet. They began to shriek in horror as they scrambled to gather the precious gems. They cried out in anguished voices,

“Her diamonds, her diamonds. We must bring her diamonds. She is the fairest of them all.”

I approached them and told them I just wanted to help, but after collecting the diamonds they dashed into the house. When I went in I found them cowering in a corner. I’ve never seen such a collection of obviously traumatised and troubled individuals. One had a manic grin fixed on his face even as he trembled with fear; another hid his face from me completely and appeared on the verge of a panic attack; one of them even suffered a violent bout of sneezing and lay convulsing on the floor as his friend, obviously suffering stress-induced narcolepsy, collapsed and began to snore loudly.

Only one of them appeared to have his mental faculties intact, and I began to question him. He told me that he was a doctor who had happened upon the cottage one day on his way to give a young girl in a coma her monthly check-up. The one all the papers were calling Sleeping Beauty. He said he had been taken in by “her”, but wouldn’t give me a name. When I asked who she was, the others began to screech in panicked voices,

“She is the fairest of them all.”

Just then I heard the creak of the front door as a shadow passed over the quivering figures crouched before me. I turned to see a striking young woman standing in the doorway, wearing an immaculate blue and yellow dress, and covered in swathes of sparkling jewellery. The dwarfs shielded their eyes and continued to shriek their sorrowful refrain. The woman fixed me with a steely glare, and before I could say anything, took something out of her pocket and held it up.

“A visitor,” she said in a flat tone, “isn’t that nice. Would you like an apple…detective?”

Her eyes had flitted down to see the badge on my belt, and the last word was delivered with an icy venom. In her outstretched hand was a shiny red apple, and fixed on her porcelain face was a wide smile.

“No thank you, miss. I need to know just what the hell is going on here. These men are clearly being mistreated and…”

“It’s a shame,” she interrupted me as she looked me up and down, “that you’re so tall, detective. You’re not really to my taste.”

A fleeting look of disgust crossed her face as she spoke.

“I’m afraid I don’t have time for this detective. It’s getting near their bedtime.”

At this the dwarfs scrambled to their feet and began to strip off their dirty rags as they climbed the stairs. They chanted sadly,

“Bedtime. Bedtime. She is the fairest of them all. Diamonds…”

I turned around to the woman as I reached for my gun.

“Just what kind of sick shit are you…”

Before I could finish I was struck in the face with the canvas bag of diamonds and my legs buckled beneath me. She moved quickly and kicked the gun out of my hand. I grabbed her ankle and pulled her to the ground. Warm blood gushed from my temple and clouded my vision as we struggled on the wooden floor. She bit and clawed at me, and I could hear the frenzied jabbering of the dwarfs from the staircase. Suddenly a loud click echoed through the room and we both stopped wrestling to turn to the staircase.

The doctor stood at the foot of the stairs, half-naked and covered in grime, still chained to his fellow slaves. His hands trembled as he held the gun pointed squarely at the head of the young woman. The others continued to recite their twisted lament.

“She is the fairest of them all. She is the fairest of them all. She is the fair-”

A deafening bang brought the chanting to an abrupt halt as the dead weight of the woman landed on my chest, her glassy eye staring into mine as blood spurted from where the other had been.

“Not anymore she’s fucking not,” whispered the doctor as he dropped the gun. It clattered to the floor and he collapsed in a sobbing heap among the others.

I pushed the corpse off me and stumbled to my feet, taking out my phone to call for backup. I sat on the stairs with them and waited with them for what seemed like an eternity, until eventually I heard the sirens and saw the lights seeping in through the blackened windows. I sat there with them as they whimpered and screamed, and I held them. Just held them. I didn’t know what else to do.


The Bruce and Clark Expedition

The last decade or so has seen comic book culture pervade Hollywood’s every intimate crevice, in a fashion not unlike a sentient mass of locusts that take it upon themselves to permeate a cornfield, an allegorical biblical tale, or a locust convention. It is as if the town were bitten by a giant spider, which instead of bestowing super powers upon it, instead infused it with an irrepressible zeal for explosions, sequels, repetition, explosions, and sequels. And repetition. With the subtlety of the hammer of Thor himself, and all the panache of a Chris Hemsworth facial expression, Disney and Warner Brothers have taken turns to beat us over the head with their revamped versions of comic book superheroes.

Some of these films have been fantastic; the best of them usually combining a darker, more contemporary spin on the original character, with a self-effacing sense of humour that gives due respect to the source material – a sort of referential reverence that never strays into outright parody. Unfortunately though, for every Dark Knight there is a Daredevil lurking in the shadows. Or perhaps in plain sight; it’s not as if he’d know the difference. And in recent years, the balance in the comic book movie multiverse has definitively shifted not towards Christopher Nolan’s Yin, but rather headfirst into Ben Affleck’s Yang (ooh, matron).

Like any creature in the midst of its death throes, this leviathan is currently preoccupied with firing desperate parting salvos in a brave attempt to delay the inevitable. The latest of these is a mooted sequel to the recent commercially successful but much- (and somewhat unfairly) maligned Man of Steel, set for a 2015 release. The big news is that it will see Henry Cavill’s Superman cross paths with DC’s other marquee attraction, Batman. With anticipation already feverishly high, one does not envy the burden placed on the shoulders of Zack Snyder to revitalise an ailing mini-industry with his impending blockbuster.

What kind of dynamic can we expect between the two heroes? Will they overcome their moral, political and sartorial differences and become fast friends? Will Lex Luthor loudly ridicule them for being a pair of tights-wearing orphan homosexuals? Well, two years is too long to wait to answer these questions, so here’s an account of what we might expect to see…

~

Bruce Wayne closed his eyes as he lay back into the luxurious bubble bath Alfred had drawn for him. His body was bruised from his night’s work, and he could not remember the last time he took some time to himself to unwind. As the soothing tones of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture filled Wayne Manor’s opulent bathroom, Bruce felt himself drifting off to sleep.

The sound of the doorbell woke Wayne from his snooze with a jolt. As he wondered who could be calling at this late hour, he tentatively lifted himself out of the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. When he reached the landing he looked down to find Alfred inside the front door, accompanied by a gigantic figure that Bruce had no difficulty recognising.

‘Mister Kent to see you, Sir.’

‘Thank you Alfred,’ he replied after a pause. The butler headed for the kitchen, leaving the two men staring fixedly at each other in silence. Bruce’s visitor narrowed his eyes as he looked up the staircase.

‘Is that a bat on your towel?’

Bruce clenched his teeth and replied with a snarl,

‘Is that a giant S on your suitcase?’

‘It’s not an S,’ Clark retorted. ‘It means hope.’

‘Funny way of spelling hope,’ Bruce muttered to himself as he walked down the stairs towards his guest.

‘You know I have super hearing?’

‘Yeah I found that out at Wonder Woman’s Christmas party.’

‘It’s not my fault I couldn’t sleep with you and her going at-’

‘Okay, I’m not having this conversation again. Come on, I need a drink.’

The two sat by the fire in the study, Clark sipping from a glass of lemonade as Bruce nursed a tumbler of whiskey. Kent squirmed as he tried to fit his giant torso comfortably into the armchair.

‘Will you be careful you big lump?’

‘This chair is impossibly small.’

‘Just take it easy, everything in here is an antique.’

‘What about that Nintendo Wii?’

‘That’s…Alfred’s,’ Bruce replied curtly.

‘That must be his Wii dance mat in the cupboard then.’

‘Look, did you just come here to show off your silly little powers or is there a point to this visit?’

Clark set down his glass and sighed deeply,

‘Look, I’m sorry to bother you so late Bruce but…I was wondering if I could stay for a few days. I…kind of got evicted today.’

‘Evicted? Don’t you live in some giant igloo somewhere? The Fortress of Platitude or something?’

‘Solitude. Yeah…that melted. You know, climate change and all that. I’ve been living in an apartment for a few months now.’

‘What did you do, break all their antique armchairs?’

Clark glowered at him, ‘No, I…burnt the building down.’

‘You did what?’

‘I know, I know. I was tired, my microwave was broken, I tried to cook one of those ready meal things with my heat vision…next thing I know the place is covered in goose fat and the walls are on fire.’

‘Christ, Clark.’

‘The worst part is I was supposed to be doing Celebrity Masterchef next week. Fat chance now.’

Bruce drained his glass and rose from his chair.

‘You can stay as long as you need to Clark. Come on, you can sleep in Robin’s room.’

‘He’s not here?’

‘No, he’s off following One Direction on their tour around Europe.’

Kent looked at him quizzically.

‘Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.’

‘Thanks, Bruce.’

Wayne grunted in response and walked towards the door.

‘Oh and don’t touch his mineral collection. When people touch his minerals he goes-‘

‘Batshit crazy?’ interjected Clark with a wry smile.

‘You know I could think of a few other things that S could stand for.’

~

When Bruce entered the kitchen the next morning he found Clark preparing an omelette for breakfast.

‘Morning roomie,’ Kent chimed.

‘Don’t call me that,’ Bruce replied flatly as he sat at the table.

‘You break those eggs yourself? I’m surprised the house is still standing.’

Clark cast him a withering look.

‘Silly me, I thought the Joker was behind bars, but here he is in the flesh.’

‘Christ, don’t talk to me about that maniac. He still writes, you know. Last week he sent me one of his shits in the post.’

‘Good lord.’

‘I know. Not to mention all the other crazies he brought crawling out of the woodwork.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘This card was left at a crime scene last week, have a look and see what you think.’

Clark peered down at the card Bruce slid across the table. It had a question mark on one side, and an almost unintelligible scrawl on the other. Clark read the words aloud, ‘What grows smaller every time you use it?’

‘That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?’

‘Tell me about it. The last few nights I’ve gone to soap producers, pencil manufacturers, tyre yards, candlemakers…’

‘Not to mention pretty much all liquids,’ added Clark. ‘And foods. Cosmetics, toiletries, I mean it could be nearly anything.’

‘Yeah I know. It really is a terrible riddle. Still, it’s the only lead I have. I’m going out tonight to check out the giant eraser factory downtown.’

‘I’ll go with you Bruce, I’m dying for a bit of action. It seems like all I’ve been doing recently is rescuing kittens, freeing people handcuffed to radiators, that kind of thing. I could do with a bit of supervillainy for a change.’

‘What about Luthor?’

‘He disappeared a few months ago after that failed attempt to steal the Taj Mahal.’

‘He’s nothing if not ambitious, that man.’

After nightfall the two heroes made their way to the Batcave. They changed into their suits, Clark waiting impatiently as Bruce put the finishing touches to his black eye shadow. Moments later the roar of the Batmobile’s engine shattered the silence of the still evening, as the pair sped towards town.

‘It’s a bit cramped in here isn’t it?’

‘We don’t all have the luxury of flight, Clark.’

Kent frowned pensively.

‘Why is your symbol a bat then? Surely it should be something a bit more sedentary. How about a panda? You’ve got the eyes down already.’

Wayne ignored Clark, who continued to fidget distractedly.

‘What does this button do?’

‘Don’t!’

Clark looked on in amazement as the entire back seat of the vehicle was transformed. A plush velvet couch revolved into view, accompanied by an ice-bucket and an expensive-looking bottle of champagne. The lights dimmed to a soft, golden hue, and the unmistakeably smooth voice of Al Green reverberated around the car’s interior.

‘Eh…you know Bruce, I like you as a friend and fellow superhero, but…’

‘Don’t even start,’ growled a seething Wayne, pressing the button again as the car reverted to its original layout.

‘This is where I have to do most of my…entertaining. Alfred doesn’t like me bringing girls home since those two hookers stole the Caravaggios from the drawing room last year.’

A few minutes later they arrived at the entrance to the factory, and got out to have a look around.

‘I’ll fly around and see if anything’s happening,’ said Clark.

‘Right, I’ll see if I can get inside.’

Bruce made his way to the back entrance, a rusty door that was bolted and padlocked. It only took him seconds to unpick the lock, and he pulled the door back to reveal the pitch black interior of the building. Just as he stepped inside, a cloud of gas appeared with a hiss and enveloped him. Bruce slumped to the ground, trying to call for help, but to no avail. His head hit the cold concrete floor, and he faded into unconsciousness.

~

When Bruce opened his eyes his vision was blurred. His head was pounding and it took a moment to regain his bearings. He looked down to see that he had been chained to the inner wall of the building. He pulled at his shackles with all his strength, but to no avail. To his right he noticed Clark, who had been similarly fastened. He appeared to be conscious, though his head was bowed, and he looked groggy.

‘Clark,’ he whispered. ‘Come on, break your chains.’

Kent was unresponsive. It was then that Bruce noticed a small green crystal hung on the wall just above his friend’s head. His heart sank as he realised what it was.

‘Well, I see you finally solved my riddle,’ came a high-pitched voice from the darkness, as a tall, gangly figure loomed into view.

Bruce surveyed the madman with contempt.

‘Yeah, it was a real head-scratcher. So you’ve just been sitting around here all week waiting fo-’

‘Silence!’ he shrieked, a look of anguish contorting his sunken features.

‘Let’s strike a deal, fellas,’ he continued, a frenzied smile crossing his lips.

‘Solve my next riddle, and I’ll let you walk away right now.’

Wayne glanced warily at Clark as the Riddler spoke in verse,

‘This two-headed beast is black and blue,

Its night of sleuthing gone askew.’

Bruce responded immediately.

‘Well…that’s us obviously.’

The Riddler’s manic grin slipped from his face.

‘So we can go now?’

‘I’m afraid not,’ boomed a voice from the shadows.

A hunched figure stepped forward into the light, his hairless dome gleaming above the evil visage that was twisted with malevolence. He turned to the Riddler,

‘Edward, we really need to talk about your villain persona. These riddles are just ridiculous.’

‘Oh really, Lex?’ he responded, his voice becoming louder and more agitated.

‘I suppose I’ll just tell my mother I don’t want the question mark onesie that she spent a whole weekend making for me?’

Lex sighed in frustration and turned to his prisoners.

Bruce calmly met his sinister gaze.

‘Cute pet,’ he quipped.

Lex smiled scornfully in response.

‘Simply a means to an end. And now that I have you two under control, that end is looking pretty close.’

Lex retreated to a control panel and flipped some switches. The building lit up instantly, revealing an enormous contraption that looked like a giant antenna of some kind. It began to emit a powerful humming noise, as if it was powering up.

‘You see,’ Lex continued, ‘I’ve been dabbling in software development. A week ago I released an app so fiendishly addictive that every smartphone user in the world has downloaded it. And now I’ll activate the signal I hid in the coding, rendering every one of them a mindless automaton, ready to do my bidding.’

Wayne scoffed at this declaration.

‘You can’t possibly have created something that addictive.’

‘Oh no? I used the most complex algorithm known to man to calculate each variable. It uses data from every meme on the internet to ensure maximum effectiveness.’

‘So what is it?’ asked Bruce.

‘Well, it’s basically just Angry Birds. Except instead of birds and pigs, you throw tiny Nicolas Cage heads at those minions from Despicable Me.’

Wayne’s eyes widened in shock as he imagined the millions of people enthralled by such a prospect.

The Riddler perked up. ‘Ooh, that sounds like fun. Can I play?

Lex ignored him and went on.

‘I’ll have an army at my disposal to…’

‘To overthrow the world’s governments,’ finished Bruce, shaking his head disconsolately.

‘What? No, I don’t want some stuffy office job ruling over billions of cretins. I’m going to have them steal the Taj Mahal for me.’

Bruce stared at him in disbelief.

‘You really have your heart set on that, don’t you?’

Lex cackled to himself as he moved his hand over the console and prepared to turn on the antenna.

A deafening crash echoed throughout the building, as suddenly scores of men in FBI jackets streamed in through the entrances, and rappelled down from the ceiling. Within an instant dozens of guns were trained on Lex. His face etched with fury as he raised his hands, Luthor turned to his accomplice.

‘You idiot. Did you send the feds one of your stupid little non-riddles?’

‘No, I swear I didn’t. I was going to, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes with Taj Mahal.’

An officer stepped forward from the crowd and addressed Lex,

‘It’s the NSA you have to thank, Luthor. They intercepted an e-mail sent by you to your mother, in which you explained your plot in painstaking detail.’

‘You damned tyrants!’ Lex screamed as he and the Riddler were taken away. ‘Don’t you see what you’ve become? All I wanted was the Taj Mahal!’

The officer turned to Bruce and Clark as they were being cut from their chains.

‘Well, another terrorist cell safely disposed of. Thanks for your help, guys.’

Bruce frowned. ‘Eh, well I don’t think they really qualify as a terr-’

‘Yep,’ the officer continued as he walked away, ‘a good day for freedom.’

~

Bruce opened the door to Robin’s room to see Clark sitting up in bed, looking like his usual self again. He sat by the bedside.

‘Feeling better?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘Well, take your time. With those two off the streets, I don’t think we’ll have to deal with any more supervillains for quite a while.’

There was a knock at the door, and Alfred entered with a parcel.

‘Excuse me sirs, but this just arrived. The postmark says Arkham Asylum.’

‘Christ,’ exclaimed Bruce, ‘what the hell is that smell?’

‘Give that here, Alfred,’ said Clark, who stood up and took the package. He went to the window, opened it, and pulled his arm back over his shoulder.

~

The astronauts on the International Space Station were going through their daily systems check. A voice crackled in the ear of Lieutenant Chris Johnson as he inspected the communications array.

‘Uh, Chris, radar is showing an unidentified bogey passing by. It should be visible from the east viewing panel. Can you check it out?’

‘Roger, I’m here now, I’ll have a look. Oh Jesus…’

‘What is it?’

‘Well, it’s…hard to say.’

‘Well come on Chris, what the hell is it?’ laughed the astronaut.

‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane?’

‘It’s a box of shit, Frank.’

‘Well I know that Chris, but for the next five months it’s home, so get used to it.’


Demolition Lady

Paddy O’Donnell stood motionless in the dock, his hands cuffed together at his waist, a scornful look of indifference etched on his scarred face as he stared fixedly at the judge who sat before him. His arms and neck were covered in a sprawl of black ink, his skin a patchwork of intricate Celtic symbols, murals of fallen comrades, and various words and phrases scrawled in old Irish script. Somewhat incongruously, he also bore quite a detailed tattoo on his forearm of Irish actor Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek. The magistrate’s officious voice echoed around the grand chamber,

‘Mr. O’Donnell, you have been found guilty of each of the charges levelled against you. You have not shown an ounce of remorse for your heinous actions…’

As the judge continued to address him, O’Donnell’s lips curled into a sinister smirk.

‘…hereby sentenced to life imprisonment at the Royal British CryoPrison. You will be eligible for parole only after serving no less than fifty years in cryostasis.’

O’Donnell did not react but maintained his leering glare as the judge looked down at him over the rim of his glasses.

‘That is the judgement of the King’s Court on this, the third day of September 2029.’

As the judge’s gavel fell and the guards began to escort him out of the courtroom, O’Donnell turned to look at the magistrate once more.

‘He’s not my King, your honour,’ he spat contemptuously at him, although unfortunately this venomous riposte was negated slightly by the fact that the judge had already left his seat. As O’Donnell was led away he raised his head and crowed to the assembled masses, ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’, his face still contorted in a fiendish grin as he was taken from the room.

Constable Jessica Phillips stared distractedly out of her hovercar window as the buildings of London rushed by in a glistening blur. It was early still, the roads almost empty and awash in a bluish neon haze of artificial light. As the car steered itself around the corner onto Simon Cowell Square she noticed a car that had been pulled over by two traffic drones. The driver had clearly tried to make a run for it, since he lay prostrate and unconscious on the kerb as the drones processed the vehicle.

The radio hummed quietly as the car glided towards its destination.

‘This is 20FM, your only station for non-stop 20th century music. That was I Will Survive, a huge hit for Gloria Gaynor in 1979. A hundred years old folks, and still a great tune. Stay with us, coming up after these short messages we’ve got a classic from Will Smith…’

‘Radio off,’ muttered Jessica as she continued to gaze out the window. The Captain’s phone call half an hour earlier had unsettled her. He was not a man given to panic, yet his voice had betrayed an anxiety that troubled her as the car cruised towards the imposing Metropolitan Police complex. Newer Scotland Yard was an impressive feat of architecture, its glass edifice shimmering in the dim morning light as the sun crept over the horizon.

She had met the Commissioner only once, briefly, at a fundraiser for the Science Academy a few years earlier. Something about cloning worker bees as part of their Pollination Project to alleviate food shortages. She remembered he kept making awful jokes about stinging and honey and hive minds, at which she had laughed heartily of course. Not that such fulsome indulgence had furthered her career in any way. Her superiors had always seemed wary of her obsession with the culture and history of the 20th century, as though she was somehow infected with the barbarity and lawlessness of the period. Eight years on the force and still a Constable. Perhaps this impromptu meeting was the opportunity she had been waiting for. This thought lifted her spirits, and she skipped up the marble steps to the entrance as the attendant drone guided her hovercar to its parking space.

The Commissioner’s office was, like that of most professionals, purely functional; all austere minimalism, white walls, straight lines, and gleaming chrome surfaces. The shelves were neatly stacked with masses of colossal grey volumes – legal reference material, political polemics, that kind of thing. She scanned some of the titles: Order from Chaos: Before and After the New Constitution, Civil Liberties: Bane of a Unified Society, Zen and the Art of Drone Maintenance. The only colour present in the room was the deep crimson in the swollen jowls of the man himself, a look of flustered anguish greeting her from behind an enormous desk as she entered. The Captain was already seated in front of him, and nodded curtly to her as she sat down.

‘Thank you for coming at such short notice Constable Phillips. Time is of the essence here so I’ll get right to the point.’

Jessica listened attentively as the Commissioner outlined the situation. It transpired that yesterday evening, during a routine parole hearing at the CryoPrison, a convicted terrorist had somehow escaped. He had also managed to free several of his comrades, after which they took control of an entire wing of the facility and barricaded themselves in. This O’Donnell character was one of the leaders of the Actual IRA, a group of revolutionaries from the early part of the century, who were very sensitive about confusion with other contemporary factions such as the Bona Fide IRA and Seriously, We’re the IRA. These terrorist organisations sprang up after economic difficulties forced the Irish government to sign the Act of Union II in 2023.

The Commissioner continued, ‘Which brings us to why you’re here, Constable. The Captain tells me you’re something of an enthusiast regarding the 20th century.’

‘Yes Sir, I studied the history and politics of the era as an optional module during my Citizenry Training. But the 21st century IRA was quite different to…’

The Commissioner held out his hand to stop her.

‘It’s not an expert on the terrorists we need, Constable. We unfroze our own last night, after the escape.’

Phillips looked from the Commissioner to the Captain in confusion.

‘I don’t understand Sir…’

‘You’re the expert on our expert, Constable Phillips. You’re to be her handler for as long as this situation takes to resolve.’

With these enigmatic remarks the Commissioner pushed a button on his desk and addressed his secretary in the hallway.

‘Sarah, please send in the Baroness.’

Jessica turned to face the door as it slid open with a hiss. A figure she instantly recognised swept into the room, her beady eyes surveying the three of them with a slight hint of curiosity, and no little amount of disdain. Her hair was immaculately coiffed, her overcoat prim and pristine. Her frail hands, more bone than skin and practically translucent, were tightly gripped around a small brown handbag.

‘Well it’s about bloody time. Woken up after sixty-odd years and left sitting out in the hall with only a frightfully dull woman and a flying robot for company. It’s a long way from 10 Downing Street, I’ll tell you that much. If Denis were here, he’d tell you…’

‘Ah, Mrs. Thatcher,’ began the Commissioner hesitantly, ‘I do hope the security drone didn’t bother you too much…’

‘Infernal Japanese invention no doubt. Of course you know what Ronald always said about the Japanese…’

‘Baroness,’ he interrupted again, ‘I’d like to introduce you to Constable Phillips. She’ll be taking care of you while you’re with us.’

Jessica, still in shock at what was happening before her, stood up and extended her hand.

‘It’s an honour, Ma’am.’

Thatcher looked her up and down with a contempt that wasn’t so much thinly veiled as stark bollock naked.

‘A woman? Couldn’t you find someone more…senior, Commissioner?’

‘I assure you Ma’am, the Constable is an expert on…’

‘Yes, yes, alright, she’ll have to do’ she snapped impatiently.

‘Although if I may say so dear, you’ll never be taken seriously walking around with all that slap on your face. I told Edwina Currie the same thing. Edwina, I said, if you act like a whore then you can expect to be treated…’

‘Yes, well, no time to lose,’ interjected the Commissioner hastily.

‘We have a Situation Room set up at the prison. Let’s get over there and see if we can sort out this mess.’

Jessica sat in the back of the hovercar, nervously trying to answer Mrs. Thatcher’s incessant questions to the best of her ability.

‘These flying contraptions must cost a tidy sum, dear? I hope you’re not paying through the nose for labour costs, they seem quite flimsy.’ The Baroness was fidgeting with the video screen in front of her and had managed to break it cleanly off its mount.

‘Well Ma’am, we don’t really deal in money anymore.’

‘No money?’ she exclaimed, aghast at the notion.

‘Why if old Major heard that one he’d chase you round the House with his cricket bat. No money indeed. How on earth do your companies function?’

‘There are no private companies anymore. Everything is run by the City Authorities.’

‘Sounds a lot like Communism to me dear,’ replied Thatcher, and spat on the floor of the car.

A flat, monotonous voice buzzed from the speaker overhead, ‘Expectoration in a municipal vehicle is a crime. A civil obedience drone has been dispatched to your…’

‘Override dispatchment. Authorisation code Phillips Bravo Foxtrot.’

After a slightly awkward pause Jessica went on,

‘People need control. There’s practically no crime anymore; any that does occur is taken care of by the drones. They can be quite a deterrent.’

‘And the whole country is like this now?’

‘The major cities are. Some outcasts prefer to stay in the wilderness, but it’s total chaos out there.’

‘So there’s no crime, no resistance, no trade unions to be faced down, no foreign dictators to be put in their place, nobody protesting or clamouring for change?’

Phillips shook her head.

Turning back to stare out the window, Thatcher muttered with a hint of sadness, ‘What on earth do you do for fun?’

The Situation Room bustled with activity as they entered, the Commissioner waiting for them in front of a screen that showed the interior of the prison wing. A breathless subordinate ran to greet them, evidently still finishing his lunch as he clutched a half-eaten sandwich and a glass of milk.

‘Mrs Thatcher, it’s an honour. It’s all go here as you can imagine. Anything I can get you?’

‘Yes, I’m thirsty,’ the Baroness replied coldly, and snatched the glass of milk from his hand. The Commissioner motioned to her and she strode across the room to where he stood, an audible hush having descended amongst the assembled crowd as every pair of eyes followed her regal march across the floor.

The Commissioner greeted her at the screen, ‘The leader of the terrorists is ready to talk, Baroness. As per your recommendation, we’ve disguised his real voice and replaced it with an alternate.’

‘Good. He’ll get no free publicity from me.’

‘Quite. We weren’t sure whose voice to impose on him, so we picked a prominent celebrity from your era. I hope you approve, Ma’am.’

‘Yes yes, let’s get on with it, shall we?’

She stepped up to the intercom and addressed the prisoner, ‘Mr. O’Donnell, this is Lady Thatcher. What exactly is it you want that’s so damned important?’

There was a short pause, then through the makeshift speakers that flanked the giant video screen came the unmistakeable voice of 1990s’ entertainment personality Mr. Blobby.

‘I’ve told your Commissioner what I want. I want equality. I want justice. I want…’

‘Oh shut up for a minute, you sound ridiculous,’ she snapped. She turned to the Commissioner and raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, what does he want? His country freed from oppression, I suppose. His children’s children released from the yoke of bondage most likely, yes? The lifeblood of his comrades in arms vindicated by the submission of…’

‘Eh, fag breaks,’ came the crackled voice over the intercom. Thatcher turned back to the microphone, a look of confusion on her face.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Fag breaks. Just a few a year or whatever. Gets bloody cold in that thing, you know.’

The Baroness swivelled and cast an accusatory glance at the Commissioner that would turn a lesser man to stone.

‘This…is what you brought me here for?’ she snarled at him. Before he could answer she turned on her heels and promptly marched out of the room, followed closely by Jessica.

‘Eh…is that a yes?’

The hovercar drifted through the evening fog towards the Citizens’ CryoFacility on the outskirts of the city. Phillips sat opposite the Baroness, who sat sedately silent in her seat.

‘You’re sure you don’t want to stay a few more days Ma’am?’

‘What’s the point? May as well get back to that blasted ice cube for another lifetime I suppose, until I’m needed again.’

Jessica sensed the resignation in her voice.

‘You might grow to like it here, after a while.’

‘I thrive on conflict dear. In a world without any, what good am I to anyone?’

Sighing to herself, she sat back in her seat, her eyes glazed and downcast. For the first time that day Jessica didn’t see a fearsome, indomitable force of nature, but a tired and lost old woman who felt discarded by the world.

‘Well there is one place I can think of Ma’am, but like I said, it’s total chaos.’

Thatcher looked up to meet her gaze, her wizened face betraying a trace of a smile.

When they reached the outer gate the Baroness turned to Jessica and shook her hand.

‘Thank you Constable. You’ve been very helpful. I shan’t imagine I’ll be seeing you again.’

‘You’re sure about this Mrs. Thatcher? Once you go out there there’s no turning back.’

The Baroness looked her in the eye,

‘Don’t worry dear. This lady’s not for turning.’

With that she shuffled through the gate and into the bleak terrain beyond. Leaning against her hovercar, Jessica watched the hunched figure disappear into the grey mist.

After a few moments she sat into the car and began her journey home. ‘Radio on.’

‘…back to 20FM folks, and here’s a song from the 1980s that captured the mood of an angry nation. I don’t know about you but I’m glad those dark days are behind us.’

As the car thrummed its way back along the grey highway into the sprawling cityscape, the opening bars of Ghost Town reverberated around the interior of the immense machine, and a tear rolled down Jessica’s cheek as she surveyed the dark, lifeless metropolis that awaited her return.