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Beyond the Lunar Fringe
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-268-2
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 326 Pages
Published: June 2005



From inside the flap

Confined within the straitjacket of a contemporary world, Beyond the Lunar Fringe is a cluster of short science fiction stories that sway between fits of melancholy and starts of electrifying action. Ever gathering momentum, the book crawls triumphantly toward the ragged edges of the human experience where culture and science entwine like patients and bed sheets on a restless summer night. 
    

Beyond the Lunar Fringe (Excerpt)


Circuit Board Gangs

Oskar looked through his window onto the empty city street. It was a summer night, but the usual city revellers had abandoned the paved streets in the wake of the cold front that continued to sweep in from the sea. The previous night had seen intermittent patches of rain and sleet, and the sharp, biting chill in the air tonight heralded more of the same.

It was half past twelve.

Oskar was slumped in the leather seat of his classic, broad-shouldered car, and was looking through the tinted windscreen at a cluster of shops on the beachside fringes of the city. Parked about five hundred metres away, he could see the soft security lights of the jewellery shop shimmering off the dry tarseal road - glistening in the oil stains stippled across it’s surface and bouncing playfully off the white gutters. Everything in the picture looked serene enough.

But he knew better.

He was on a stake out.

Of course, his daytime job as a robotics tutor at the local polytechnic was more than enough to pay the bills, but he loved this sort of work. It was important work; sometimes contracted out by the local police force; sometimes by security firms. And it gave him an adrenaline rush that few other things in life could match. In assignments like this he was pitted against his own kind: highly technical robotics freaks. They were clever and ingenious people, and Oskar loved to keep up with the best of them.

He knew they?d be making a play tonight - it was the perfect time to strike. The quaint streets, with their brick arcades and hanging baskets, were unusually empty for this time of night and the pavements were still bone dry.

Oskar surveyed the area with a heightened sense of expectation. To ease the tension now and then he?d pull out the canteen that was nestled in his top coat pocket, and take the merest nip. Closing his eyes he?d tilt his head back, just letting the black liquid touch his lips, then pull the canteen away to screw on the lid and return it to his top pocket.



Ah, the good old rum. He always took it with him on a stake out - it warmed his mouth and eased his nerves. It was a precursor to the victory cigar, which lay beckoning on the passenger seat.

As he licked the sweet nectar from his lips the radio in his dashboard burst into life, and the voice of a young woman broke the quiet intensity of the watch. It was that of the young African dispatcher from the jeweller’s security company.

?Come in Oskar.?

Oskar sniffed as he ran his thumb and forefinger over his nostrils. ?Yep, what’s up.?

?Heck dude,? she replied in an over rich voice, ?don?t ask me what’s up? that’s what I?m callin? you for! Man, if you wanna know what’s up from me, then there sure ain?t nothin? happenin? at your end. You just sittin? on your lazy ass again.?

?Can?t deny that.?

?Yeah, that’s what I thought,? she replied. ’So anyhow Oskar, the boys?ll be cruisin? past soon?boys in blue I mean. You need ?em to check in on you??

?Nah,? said Oskar, trying to echo her laid back tone. ’She’s sweet.?

?Oh, you be sittin? there a long time Oskar. You gotta be bored stupid. Why don?t I get them boys to drop you off some donuts and coffee or somethin?? They?ll fix you up. They good at stuff like that. Yeah, you leave this to Delilah. She sort you out, boy. Delilah know what you need’some good, hot food ?break up the monotone experience for your sorry ass.?

?Oh, nah, don?t do that,? replied Oskar. ?those little steel fellas?ll be turning up soon. You send the old bill around and you?ll frighten ?em away.?

?Aye? Whatcha talkin? about? the old bill??

?Coppers.?

?Coppers??

?Yeah.?

?If you mean coppers, then you call em coppers, boy. You leave that British shit back in that teeny little island where it belongs. You in the land of the brave now, baby.?

?Really?? said Oskar with a chuckle. ?Well if your all so brave in this country, why do you feel the need to send round a couple o? coppers to wipe me nose??

?Coz you a snotty British boy!?

Delilah roared with laughter.

Oskar nodded his head slowly and waited for her to settle. ?Yes, yes, point to you. Very cute.? Then his voice fell to a more serious tone. ?Anyway, don?t send the cops around.?

?Don?t worry baby,? said Delilah with a squeal in her voice. ?ain?t no visitors gonna come a knockin? if you don?t want ?em to.?

?Cheers.?

There was a moment of silence at the other end of the RT before Delilah spoke again.

?Hey boy? what makes you so sure those metal freaks are a comin? tonight? You sounding mighty confident. You got that ESP thing goin? on with your fellow nerds again? Oh yeah, Delilah know? you exercising that Poindexter mind meld shit, ain?t you??

Oskar dropped his head on his chin. ?Yeah, maybe,? he said with a grunt.

?Oh, I say more than maybe, boy. I say much more than maybe. You a chasin? your own shadow, ain?t you. Yeah, Delilah knows you baby. You like one of them pioneers? like them founding fathers o? those smash and grab it ro-bot gangs. Oh yeah, we all know why you in the land of the brave, baby? coz you too a-shamed to go home. Ain?t no-one your friend back on the island boy.?

Oskar grunted, and a hint of annoyance resonated in his reply. ?That was a long time ago.?

?And you done your time,? said Delilah sarcastically.

?And I done my time,? asserted Oskar.

Delilah paused for a moment to assess his tone. She wasn?t really chasing a confrontation, and certainly held no grudge against Oskar, so decided it would be best to switch to a more empathetic timbre. ?Well? OK, OK, you doing good now, baby. All in the past, yeah? You keeping it real these days, boy? that’s what counts.?

Oskar wasn?t impressed. He knew Delilah well enough by now - the young lady thought she could say anything she felt like, just as long as she smoothed over it quickly.

?Yeah, cheers,? he replied in an acerbic tone. Then he sniffed. ’So? quiet on the streets tonight??

?Yeah baby, all lookin? fine.?

?That’s what I thought,? said Oskar. ?They?ll strike tonight ? you mark my words.?

?Well this is your third night, honey? you were pretty sure last night too.?

?No, tonight is the night. I?m a hundred percent sure.?

?Oh yeah? And I guess you wanna be puttin? a wager on that then??

?Yep, you name the amount, sugar? I?m in.?

There was a long pause at the other end of the RT. Then Delilah’s voice came through flat and low. ?Who the hell you callin? sugar??

Oskar was lost for words.

Delilah repeated herself. ?I said? who you callin? sugar??

Oskar fumbled for a reply. ?Well? that’s what you people say, don?t you??

?Us people?? said Delilah in a highly strung voice. ?Who is us people boy? Aye?? Her seething voice halted for a second. ?Let me tell you somethin? about us people? we don?t like hearing that shit from you’s people. Only one person call me sugar, boy, and that my daddy. And let me tell you somethin? about my daddy. He the kind of man that can crush a skull with one hand. You ever seen that done? Coz you might? that’s what’s gonna happin? to your skull if you ever, I mean ever, call me sugar again. You hear what I?m saying??

?Um, yeah, sure? OK.?

?You be hurtin? my feelings there Oskar.?

?I?m sorry.?

?Well, maybe? maybe you is sorry, maybe you ain?t. I?ll tell you what Oskar. I?m gonna go now? gonna get my head together? see how I feel about that cheap shot you just lay on me.?

?Um sure,? said Oskar in an awkward tone. ?I?ll just be waiting here.?

?Yeah, you do that. You just sit there and think ?bout what you said to me.?

Delilah’s voice disappeared, and suddenly it was all quiet again.

Oskar leant his head back and ran his hand through his short, curly shock of black hair. One of these days he thought to himself one of these days I?m going to stroll in there and introduce myself to that temperamental little lady. Yeah, that?d give her a fright. Then she?d see that not every man with an English accent is a pasty white guy.

He looked down the street towards the bakery, and his mind drifted back to the task at hand as he took another sip of his rum. But only a small sip - he didn?t want to lose his edge. If he wasn?t alert, a stealthy team of robots could sneak in from a direction he didn?t suspect - perhaps from the back or even from an adjacent rooftop.

Though he highly doubted it. All the tell-tale signs of smash and grab preparation pointed towards the bakery.

One of those signs was the presence of discreetly hidden cell-phones with built in cameras. Cell-phones were used by smash and grab gangs because there were millions of them distributed, so they couldn?t be traced back to a small group of enthusiasts - unlike remote controlled radio equipment. They were also cheap and disposable, so it didn?t matter if they had to be discarded, and they could easily be rigged so that the camera function would activate when a call was made to the phone.

The phones in this particular set-up were pointing toward the bakery alley, the main street and the jewellery shop. Disguised in brick coloured shells, nobody had actually seen the little phones being planted in the crevices of the building’s upper floors, and if it hadn?t been for a window cleaner stumbling over one of them, no-one would have known. That was the lucky break for the law-enforcers. That and the fact that the window cleaner was knowledgeable enough about such things to make sure that the camera didn?t pick him up. He backed away from it and alerted authorities.

The other sign of a smash and grab set-up was what Oskar referred to as the soft trail. Robots had very limited mobility. Nearly all were wheeled devices, so one awkward tumble and they would be hard pressed to right themselves. Also, few could negotiate stair wells, street gutters, or narrow gaps. The controllers solved that problem by turning up some time before the crime and creating a soft trail for them.

In this instance, they had loosened a couple of fence palings at the end of the alleyway so the robots could push through easily; they?d cleared a path through the rubbish in the alley; and they?d even taken the trouble to fill sand into a few pot holes in the street and pavement.

Oskar was quite excited with the set-up. It was all by the book for a smash and grab. The team of robots would presumably be dispatched from a service vehicle parked somewhere near the beach - as there was a perfectly flat stretch of road behind the alley that headed down that way - and then would return to it after the heist for the getaway. If these guys were really good, the service vehicle would be driven remotely as well.

Oskar licked his lips at the professionalism of it all. He was just itching to see them sneak around the corner and spin their wheels over the pavement. He never knew what to expect, which is what made it such a cool job. The wait was akin to that of a fisherman’s patient vigil, where the wait was as much part of the excitement as the catch.

Oskar’s vigil lasted another half hour.

Then he heard them. Their arrival was announced by the sounds of palings clattering in the alleyway as the machines, in typically boorish fashion, broke the silence of the night air. For Oskar, the noise created the same sort of anticipation as listening to a mouse tiptoeing around a mouse-trap in the next room, only with much bigger mice.

The clatter of palings was followed by the soft, distant whirr of engines. Then the machines rounded the corner.