One from my archives. Back around the late nineties/early noughties I was a regular contributor to a Doctor Who website called timelord.co.uk As well as discussions, it used to have an active fan fiction side, including many chain stories we called “Random Fiction”. One of it’s long running series was “The Cool Kids of Time” created by Steve Lake. Originally a team of assassins trying to kill the Doctor and change history, they eventually reformed and became time agents for good. They had several authors and at one point I tried turning our stories into an audiobook series, removing the Doctor Who elements to make it an original SF entity. I also contributed one story to the series, “Just for the Record”. I found it again recently and I think it stands up pretty well. Hope you agree because I’m republishing it below, along with the audiobook version, read by the marvelous voice actor/anime sub translator Kara Dennison. It’s a straightforward pulp action tale of monsters and a kick-ass-babe.
You can listen to the audiobook version here:
Just for the Record
By Gareth Preston
“She’s here again.”
Neil raised his eyes from the scribbled lines in his order book and looked over at Joe. His friend had been re-reading his crumpled NME for the third time but now was surreptitiously nodding his head in the direction of the storefront window. That is, he thought he was being subtle, but it looked more like an embarrassing tic. He followed the direction of the jerks and saw with pleasant surprise an attractive young black woman standing outside. Her hair was close-cropped and her graceful neck flowed down to a trim toned figure. At least he imagined it did, she was wearing an expensively tailored grey coat. She wasn’t looking at the records on display, not even his cover of “The Kids are Alright” signed by Pete Townsend. Instead she was scanning the street and as he watched, checking her watch. Digital he noted. Suddenly she seemed to register that he was staring because she glanced through the window at him. He averted his eyes but not before he had registered the directness of her gaze.
“I reckon she’s been stood up,” opinioned Joe. “What an idiot he is eh?”
Neil tried to busy himself with the order book, but that was hard since the ratio of blank page to sale details was large and depressing.
“Idiot right?” Joe persisted.
“Yeah,” agreed Neil with studied casualness. He snapped the book closed and scratched his half-hearted beard. Looking around the empty aisles of his music shop he let out a sigh. Motes of dust swirled in the afternoon sunbeams. “Why don’t you check through the heavy rock section? Make sure it’s sorted right.”
Joe shrugged. “No one’s looked there since first thing. There’s nothing doing. Want to take a look?” He offered the magazine across but Neil shook his head.
“I think I’ll reorganise the window tonight. Get some of those Duran twelve inches up.”
A frown crossed Joe’s round face. “You changed it on Monday. It’s only mid-week.”
“Yeah well it’s not working is it?” snapped his friend.
“You ought to do it now,” advised Joe sagely. “Show off your prowess in front of the lady.” He gestured towards the window but was disappointed to see the girl had gone, leaving only the grey street. “Her fella must have turned up.”
Joe felt a mixture of disappointment and relief and felt annoyed by both emotions.
An orange glow bathed the street. All was quiet save for that indefinable urban background hum. There was barely any breeze but the air was cool. Neil dropped his empty Wimpy cup of cola into a bin and pulled out his keys. He knelt down and unlocked the metal roller blind guarding his shop door. The grating noise of its ascent seemed loud but he knew he had no neighbours to annoy. Yet he couldn’t rid himself of the feeling he was being watched. He glanced around at the shops across the road but they remained dark and silent. Dismissing the thought he unlocked the door and stepped in, the bell jangling out.
A brief time later he was leaning into the front window, changing some albums on the display rack, moving others into prominence. He had a vague concept about producing a more modern selection of titles but really there was as much personal intuition as market knowledge in his choices. When he’d been made redundant from the old engineering firm it had seemed like a golden opportunity to change the direction of his life. Music had always been his main interest, the design work had been something he had had an aptitude for. Like many a lad in the seventies he had a go at being in a band, as a bass player. Sadly after several months of big ambitions and small local venues, “Distress Flare” had petered out thanks to a mixture of egos, bad bookings and a letter from the drummer saying he had joined the navy. But the music always remained.
What was that? His reverie was interrupted by the image of a large dark mass moving frighteningly quickly out of the corner of his eye. He cupped his hands against the glass and peered out. Nothing in the road as far as he could make out. The silence seemed to deepen. Trying to dismiss the prickly feelings on his skin, Neil returned to his nearly completed work.
“Grooves” – his record shop seemed like a great idea eleven months ago. A way of turning his obsession into a practical job. Rhonda his then girlfriend had been all for it as well and together they’d made up the business plan, found the shop and cleaned it up. But like a easily bored child with a new toy (his opinion) once they’d got down to the day to day business of running the place, Rhonda had lost interest. Started going out at night on her own, then one day just not coming back. Now his capital was running out and the income was not flowing back fast enough. Joe had blamed it on the new compact disc format but Neil still felt that was not a convincing format. Look what had happened with laserdiscs. You couldn’t record on them, so the public hadn’t been interested. Anyway the sound quality on the compact discs he had heard had been annoying tinny compared to a halfway decent turntable.
There was another movement across the street and this time he did catch the source. His eyes widened in surprise as he saw the tall figure of the black girl from earlier in the day climbing up the front of the office equipment store across the way. She moved swiftly and efficiently and only when she had reached the top and swung herself upright did she look down. Nick followed the direction of her gaze and gagged in shock and disgust.
A sleek black monster strode angrily into view, its elongated head twisting to and fro. Neil’s terrified eyes took in its slick wet skin which stretched tightly across huge twitching muscles, the long barbed tail which whipped about its owner, metallic talons, a pair of thin slits for eyes which glowed with an inner crimson glow. He desperately wanted to run, to put as much distance as possible between himself and sheer unnaturalness of the creature. But his limbs were frozen with fear and all he could do was stand in the lighted shop window, waiting for the monster to turn and notice him.
Incredibly though, the oily head snapped upwards towards the rooftop girl in the shadows instead. The monster emitted a sibilant hiss and its tail reared in anticipation. Then it sprang upwards, clearing the front of the shop in two easy bounds. One of its clawed feet struck the business’ neon sign as it ascended. It clattered down to the pavement in a shower of sparks. Above the girl tossed aside her long coat in a swift movement and somersaulted backwards, out of Neil’s sight. The creature balanced nimbly on the parapet and hissed something that sounded like a language but he could not recognise it. Then it rushed forward and he heard crashing sounds.
With the creature out of sight, Neil found he could move again. With a lurch he turned and scrambled out of the shop window, scattering record sleeves and feeling at least one disc snap under his shoe. He dashed behind the counter and switched off all the lights. Covered in sweat, he stood for a moment in the darkness considering his next move. Could he make it out the door and down the street? The rear door was useless, it only led into a cluttered backyard with a padlocked rear gate that he didn’t have the key for right then. Should he phone the police? What could he say? He could lie a bit, say he saw someone breaking into the premises across the street and leave out the black glistening description. He heard a small explosion outside, followed by a demonic screech. Surely someone else must have seen the monster by now? Heard the fight that seemed to be going on above? Another explosion, no this was more of a zap, something electrical.
A sixth sense he never knew he had suddenly made him duck back into the rear storeroom just in time.
With an ear-splitting crash the front of his shop abruptly caved in as ten feet of leathery monster came crashing through the window, taking most of the surrounding wall with it as well. Its body ploughed through the tables, boxes and cabinets that made up the aisles, reducing them to jagged splinters on wood and vinyl. Clouds of masonry dust billowed into the air and the whole building shook with the impact. In the storeroom, Neil’s arms instinctively protected himself as records and boxes tumbled and crashed around him.
Finally it was over. Wincing from his bruises Neil pulled himself up and peered through the crooked door frame. The dust was beginning to clear, giving him a horrifying vista of the bombsite his investment had become. Sparks sprayed out from the old air-conditioning unit that was now dangling ominously from the ceiling on a frayed electrical cable. Instinctively he grabbed a fire extinguisher from the side of the door but before he could begin to understand how to use it, the wires had snapped and the unit clanged onto the floor. Burglar alarms were ringing in the distance. He gaped dumbly at the gigantic body that sprawled in front of him. The fierce jaws of the long head were hanging open, drooling thick saliva onto the dusty floor. He took in it powerful oiled torso and smelt a burnt vinegary aroma coming off it.
“What the hell are you?” he wondered out loud. Then he heard a soft groan and suddenly registered that there was someone lying on top of the creature. The girl, her body slicked with blood from a deep cut, her hands still gripping the hilt of the huge metal shaft which she’d obviously plunged into the monster’s chest. She raised her eyes to meet his boggling ones. After a moment she sighed and let go of the shaft, but not without a moment of effort.
“You never saw this. Understand?” she whispered. Then her eyes glazed over and she began to slide off the creature’s body. Neil stumbled forward to catch her. She revived and he supported her as she stood upright. She gazed down at her foe. “Never underestimate a Hericona. Tough bastards.”
She brushed Neil’s arm aside and began to walk towards the gaping hole in the wall with only a slight limp.
Neil found his voice, “Wait! Uh…what…I mean…who?” She looked back at him with a questioning expression. “What is it?” he settled on.
To his surprise she smiled. “I shouldn’t worry about it. Some of your black ops will be along in a while I expect and clean it all up. Not that they’ll learn much from him. I doubt their scalpels will scratch his skin.” She winced and he began to offer some help but she held up her hand to silence him. “I’m sorry mister, but this was private business. Sorry about your shop, guess it was in the wrong place.”
He couldn’t honestly detect much sincerity in her apology and a flash of indigence coursed through him. Gesturing around him he shouted, “Sorry! Just…just look at this place. This is my life! I’ve got everything in this place!”
To his frustration the girl had turned her back to him and was heading back to the door. Stepping over the dented fire extinguisher he had bought for safety, much good it had done him, he tried to stop her leaving. Wrapped up in his emotions, he failed to see the shudder that ran through the prone beast underneath him. His mystery woman was too busy trying to ignore his protests to react to the movement fast enough.
With a chilling shriek the monster swept upwards, more plaster raining down as the crest of its head struck the ceiling. At the same time the honed spike at the end of its tail whipped through the air, aiming straight towards her back. Neil yelped out a warning but before the girl could do more than twist her shoulders, the tail had speared her in the side. She didn’t scream, she just fell to the side with a soft groan. The creature swung its head towards him and hissed like a hard-breaking steam train. Looking into its gleaming eyes he suddenly became aware of the metal cylinder in his hand. He was still holding the fire extinguisher. In a blur of instinct he raised the tool, snapped off the safety ring and pulled the trigger. White vapour spurted into the monster’s face and it recoiled slightly. Still gripping the handle, Neil tried to move towards the door but already his predator had recovered and was rearing to strike.
There was a silver flash as something long and pointed shot across his vision and into the side of the monster. It howled and looked at the spear hanging out of its side, a match for the one still sticking into its chest. He felt a hand pulling him on his shoulder and looked around to see the girl, looking pale but standing. She tugged again and he got the message. As the dark giant thrashed around the room, gripping the spear they ran out of the door and into the sepia darkness.
They scrambled down the street and turned left at the end into a similar row of shops. Neil could tell that the woman was in pain by her ragged breathing. They couldn’t keep this pace up for long. His legs were already protesting as the adrenaline began to lose effect. With another sharp turn, his rescuer pulled into a dark backstreet. Feeling her way around a skip that smelt of wet cardboard and oil, she then stopped and nodded towards a bolted back door. He looked at her non-plussed.
“Okay then, I’ll do it,” she whispered irritatedly.
She stepped out, producing a coppery sliver of metal from her jeans’ pocket. Checking to make sure they were unobserved, she waved it over the lock and Neil heard a snap from inside.
As she moved she began giving a soft commentary. “This is a very handy toy to have in this period. Pays to do your research. By the end of the next century it’s all electronic and a couple of centuries back the locks are all too heavy for this baby. But right now it’s perfect. Dyanne’s useful for something.”
With a push, the door swung open and they walked inside.
It seemed they were in some kind of kitchen and instinctively he looked for a light switch. She must have read his mind for she whispered, “Don’t! We’re hiding remember?”
Then she swayed and he jumped forward to catch her as she began to fall forwards. Breathing hard he lowered her to the grubby tiled floor.
Her wound! Cursing himself for his momentary forgetfulness, he turned her slightly on to her side and with whatever light there was available, examined the wound left by the monster’s barbed tail. To his surprise it didn’t look as deep as he had feared, nor was it bleeding. Climbing to his feet he looked for the sink and was able to run some water over a J-cloth. Kneeling down he began to clean away the blood. The cold cloth made her stir and she looked over at him with unfocused eyes.
“What’s your name?” she asked quietly.
“Neil,” he answered, not looking up. Was it his imagination or was the wound smaller than when he first looked?
“I’m Chayni. Dammit, Chris is never going to let me forget this if he finds out. You won’t tell him will you? He’ll only fret.”
Neil sat back, resting his back against a cheap kitchen unit. “Is he your husband then?”
She sniggered gutturally. “No, he just acts like it sometimes. Suppose I like it really, having someone care what happens to me, but he can be a bit – conservative. Guess it’s the policeman in him. Listen to me. Rambling away to a stranger. Must have had a full load of poison in it that sting. Or maybe you’ve got one of those faces?”
“Poison!” Neil hunched forward in alarm. “What can I do? We need to get an ambulance.”
Chayni waved her hand. “Don’t panic. Nanobots are doing their job. Nullifying it. Good thing too, ‘cos I’d be lying dead in your shop otherwise. Funny that. The bastard’s legacy is keeping me alive. Bet he’d be really upset if he knew.” Before Neil could comment she continued. “But Hericona venom is some of the best there is. Even with the tech it still has side-effects on me. Makes me talkative for a start. Lowers my inhibitions. You might have noticed.” She grinned with a set of perfect teeth.
He couldn’t help but smile back for a moment. Then curiosity and worry took over again.
“What is that monster? Where’d it come from?” he demanded.
Chayni flapped her hand at him casually. “Keep it down! You want him to find us?” A look of concentration filled her face and she appeared to be trying gather her thoughts together. Then she seemed to give up the struggle and decide to just go with the stream.
“He’s the High Jokra of Frasheen family. From a lousy ball of rock called Hericona. I think he’s mad with me because I killed his brother.”
“His brother?” gaped Neil.
“Yeah, a nasty piece of work. Ruled a grubby little province but suddenly was rich enough to hire a gang of mercenary spaceships. I guess that why I was sent in to cut the head off the snake. They thought it was an ana – anoml – a mistake.”
Her voice was slurring and her eyes were hooding. Neil decided the best action was to keep her talking.
“So who sent you? I mean are you some kind of…” he groped for the right words. “…woman in black?”
Her eyes focused on his. “Huh? Lavarre named us the Cool Kids. I sometimes wondered if it was some kind private joke or something. We come from all over the multi-verse and we’re very good at what we do.”
“Killing anyone. For a fee. But that was then and this is now. We don’t do that schitck anymore, now we guard history! We won the contract from… powerful pan-dimensional guys. Well it was a kind of an offer I couldn’t refuse y’know?”
Something else had been bothering him. “Why here? Why didn’t you fight him in a desert or something? Away from people?” And their shops he added to himself.
“The early eighties were conveniently near,” she explained. “For the rest I had to improvise after… did you hear something just then?”
He craned his head around. There had been something, a distant clatter. Then his spine ran cold as he heard the scraping sound of something heavy being pushed aside. Indicating to Chayni to stay quiet, he frowned as he saw her slumped against the cabinet apparently unconscious. Slowly, he crept across the kitchen vinyl and pulled himself up too peer over the work-surface to the window. Just as he was trying to peer into dark, something massive flexed in the gloom and a massive claw erupted through the window, missing his head by a whisker. He scrambled back as the talons clutched in the air. A fierce red eye appeared in the jagged hole for a moment and another of alien’s chilling screeches juddered through the room.
“Why doesn’t somebody come?” thought Neil. “They must be able to hear that!”
He looked down at the unmoving Chayni. She would not stand a chance against her enemy. A small part of him told him to get deeper into the shop and hide. When the Jokra or whatever it was found her, it would kill her and then hopefully leave, vengeance achieved. Maybe she deserved it? Perhaps she was a hit-woman, a gangster with a price on her head. Hadn’t she already admitted to killing people for money in the past? All this went through his mind in a few seconds mixed with confused thoughts of attraction, movie heroes, gratitude and anger. By the time the dark, oily creature was begin to demolish what was left of the window frame and force its way in, he had made his decision. Grabbing the biggest knife from the floor, he leapt forward and jabbed it into the monster’s arm. The blade barely made a dent in the skin but the creature reacted with a hiss and pulled back for a moment. Neil dashed to the back door, already hanging off its hinges and swung it open. He dashed out into the street, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Tail swishing, the alien giant swung its head away from the ragged hole in the wall and regarded him for a moment. It’s working he thought with elation. With a lurch of his stomach he saw that it still had a spear sticking out of its chest. Must be jammed somehow, or it is too dangerous to remove it a dispassionate part of his consciousness wondered. His voice was hoarse but he tried to shout louder, tried to make himself look fierce, interesting and worth chasing. But to his despair the alien turned back to the rear of the shop. Jaws salivating, it began to crawl back into the hole. Neil looked about the street, trying to identify a weapon, something big and sharp. Just before he started towards a rusty skip, he heard a bang and a shriek of terrible pain.
To his confusion he watched as the monster’s body began to shudder. He could see blue-white flickers in the folds of its skin. A revolting smell of oil and burnt hair hit him with an almost physical force and all the time the creature screamed. Then it suddenly it was over and the monster slumped on to the brickwork.
It took a moment for Neil’s legs to work again but then he was running over to shop, shouting her name. When he reached the door-frame he stopped and peered through the dust and foul smoke. A dirt smudged Chayni was crouched in front of the creature, her hands still holding on to electrical cable which she had pressed against the creature’s embedded spear. Sensing his gaze she gave him a forced grin and laid the cable down, before rising to her feet.
“Note to self, do the job properly the first time when fighting a Hericona. It’s not enough to stake ‘em, you’ve got to cook ‘em in their jacket. No I’ll be okay, the nanites did their work in their own sweet time.” She was waiving away his proffered hand.
Neil stepped back and allowed her to leave what remained of the kitchen. They stood and regarded the faintly smoking corpse in silence. It was Chayni who broke the silence.
“You’ve got a good set of lungs on you. I heard you outside as I was coming around. Thanks.”
He was at a loss for words, so eventually he decided on, “Glad you’re okay.”
Sirens were slowly building up in the background. Her face lit up with a smile. “Sounds like me cue to be gone. You too if you’ve any sense. Like I said, let the experts deal with the body.” She leant over, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him full on the lips. Before he had a chance to release any of the questions or thoughts in his head, she just as quickly disengaged and ran down the street waving. Then he blinked and she was gone. The wailing was growing closer and Neil’s instincts took over, propelling him in the opposite direction.
Neil could still here the sirens as he approached his own shattered shop front, not to mention a helicopter overhead. They’d probably be here in short order. How could he begin to explain all this? He stepped through the front door, the bell jangling far too loud. Irritated he raised his hand to muffle the chimes and it was then that he saw the polished wooden box sitting on the grimy shop counter. Vinyl crunched underfoot as he walked swiftly over to it. Raising the lid he exhaled sharply as he saw the six gold bars inside. Lying on top of them was a note:
“Hi, this isn’t strictly policy but it seemed the right gesture. This should help you rebuild the shop, if that’s what you want to do. Personally I think you could do with a better location but what do I know? If you want to thank me, do me this favour. Remember Chris? If a big muscular good-looking guy comes asking after me, you never anything. Like I said he worries too much and I don’t need a lecture about Hericona blood feuds right now or ever. This was personal business. Stay cool. C”
Alien artwork by Rodolfo Hernandez – http://rahovart5.deviantart.com/
Audiobook reading by Kara Dennison – http://karadennison.blogspot.co.uk/