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    Volume 11, Issue 2, May 31, 2016
    Message from the Editors
 Cutting It Fine by Graham Brand
 The Watchers by Frances Gow
 Mother by Irene Punti
 One Slow Trigger Day by D.A. D'Amico and Dean D'Amico
 Red Screamy by Dale W. Glaser
 Editors Corner: Runaway by Nikki Baird
  Editors Corner Nonfiction: Five Classic Science Fiction Tales for Modern Readers by Grayson Towler


         

The Watchers

Frances Gow

         
         March 1826
         The device is nearing completion. Is it possible after all this time that we may soon have a means to interact with them? I glance out of the window of my room, perched above the Three Tuns public house with its crooked chimney. A shiver snakes down my spine. They are there. The Watchers.
         Stationed on every bridge from Richmond to the Isle of Dogs, they sit, as though we have millennia to decide a way to seal our fate. Black, metallic and scented like a coal fire forge, their four-eyed vigil prevents any sober Londoner from reaching their destination without retreating in fear. At first, the Army went in with guns primed, but their bullets bounced off the invisible field that protects the creatures and no one is yet ready to order the bombing of London's bridges. But soon, that may come.
         "Isabelle." I jump, draw a sharp breath, and then sigh. François lays his hand on my shoulder and I shiver at the warmth of his touch.
         "You should rest," he says. I shake my head. He gauges the look on my face and his eyes cloud over. "Putain! You don't have to do this. Come back to Paris with me tonight. We can travel on the steamship and leave this problem to someone else. Isabelle... s'il te plait."
         His plea makes me only more determined. "Mais non, François, I can't." Who is to say that the Watchers will not just shift and re-group around the Seine? Already there are rumours of dark clouds hanging over the Danube. All of Europe's eyes are centred on London.
         Three years ago, they were just black shadows in the skies, hovering with intent though no one really knew how or why they turned their alien gaze on this city. As the years passed, their presence has drifted down, pressing the atmosphere like an encroaching storm. I could take up the offer to retreat to Paris with François and it might seem safe for a while. But that would be running away and I'm not the type of girl to run from her dreams, however bad.
         François stands behind me, his hands massaging my aching shoulders. My desk is strewn with drawings and sketchbooks, sticks of charcoal and pieces of jigtech. I pick up one of the long metal cylinders and roll it between my fingers. It crackles and sparks, making François start and lean away. We all create static, but no one as far as I know has managed to channel it in quite the fashion I have. François still finds this unsettling. A minuscule particle leaves my fingertips and lands on the back of an eight-legged arachnid the size of an Eccles cake, which jerks up and scuttles across the wooden desk, click-clacking with its metal legs. François plucks up the arachnid by its abdomen and turns it over, its legs scrambling for purchase on thin air.
         "Is there no other way?" he says.
         I glance towards the corner of my workroom at the pile of legs and beaded eyes that are disconnected, waiting for my time and attention to bring them to life.
         "To understand the enemy, you must first think like the enemy."
         François releases the arachnid, which drops to the wooden floorboards and scrambles into the corner on tensile legs. I reach out my hand and it spider-walks into my palm, tickling my skin with its pinprick steps. Curling my hand around its compliant form, I drop it carefully into my pocket.
         François wraps his arms around my shoulders, drawing his warmth in close to mine. He sighs.
         "You have far too much static, chérie." He tightens his grip and I fall into his embrace, wondering how much is too much. The walls of the device are lined with jigtech; it will either draw them in or keep them out. But one way or another, they will no longer be able to ignore our presence. Tomorrow would be the day of reckoning. Independence, collaboration or subjugation? It was time to test that static.

          October 1822

         St Saviour's Dock. Waiting for a passenger boat to take me down the Thames, away from the grim grey skies of London. The cranes attached to the side of the wharf extend like long black fingers; angels of death. The air reeks of East India tea, cinnamon and poverty. The wheel-workers are singing and stamping their feet in time to the lift of the cargo. There are dockers hanging around on the bridge, hoping to pick up the odd hour of work. The bridge spans the dock and is strung together by ropes and slats of wood. I sit and dream of the bridges of tomorrow, sketching in my mind's eye, a wrought iron beauty with timber sleepers.
         I sit on my case, hands cradling my cheeks with boredom. A young man with blond, rat-tailed hair and pinstriped breeches with white shirt sleeves takes a long, slow look at me.
         I look away, eyes raised to the Watchers hovering in the skies; predators from the otherworld. Blondie glances up, following my gaze, then narrows his eyes. I give him a cheery wave and he looks to the heavens, maybe saying a silent prayer to his god of choice. He shudders and turns away. I'm not worth the bother.
         "Isabelle!" Uncle says, hissing my name through the gap in his front teeth. He means well, but as my mother's brother, he is under strict instructions to deliver this precious cargo unscathed and unsullied onto the ship.
         Maman had dragged Papa along to see me away on my journey to lands overseas; lands that could promise me an education. An education to please Maman, not me.
         "Isabelle," Maman said, fussing with the long waves of hair piled up into my hat. "I can't stand to see you dressed like this." She adjusted my hat and pulled free a few auburn strands. We had agreed that for my own safety and comfort during the journey, I would be allowed to travel in breeches and a shirt; the kind of clothes I loved to wear around the house, but in everyday circumstances, Maman forbade me to wear in public.
         "Laisse-la faire; leave the girl alone." Papa hugged me tight as we said our goodbyes. "Ma Belle," he whispered in my ear.
         Oh, how I would miss my papa; sweet, unassuming man of my childhood. Throat-choked and prickly-eyed, I released Papa and ran a hand down my front, trying unsuccessfully to smooth out my crumpled appearance.
         Maman snorted and turned away towards the bridge, Papa in tow. She glanced at Uncle, slapping him with her eyes and Uncle shrank away. She has that effect on people. If it weren't for her miserly rations, I might have been leaving in style from the Royal Docks instead of slumming it here, waiting for a steamboat favour from a friend to take me to France.
         France, Paris and some ridiculous notion that a school could turn me into a lady. Once, I had suggested to Maman and Papa that my future was at the technical Lycée in Paris.
         "Oh, ma petite fille chérie," Maman said, "that place is for boys, not girls like you."
         I looked at Papa and he nodded, shame-faced, reluctant to admit that engineering was a closed profession, even to his own precious daughter.
         I shrug at Uncle and return my gaze to the water, which rolls with the movement of ships and slaps the sides of the dock. I take the weevil out of my pocket and sit it on my palm. First and favoured of my creations. One touch to the mechanism on its back and it springs to life, little metal legs clacking back and forth. It has long been a dream of mine to work magic with metal. The first gift my papa ever bought me was a jigtech set, especially crafted for tiny hands. It was then I discovered that these tiny hands crafted their own blend of magic.
         Maman scolded Papa and snatched it away and I bawled for three days solid before she relented. She monitored me tinkering and creating mechanical magnetism until the point when I sensed her intervention might signal the end of my creative utopia. So I hid the pieces of automata, squirreled them away under the floor boards, my attention left to focus on other things; things considered more becoming of a girl my age. Since then, she has only allowed me the sorts of toys appropriate for little girls. In time, Papa would sneak in extra pieces of jigtech and so began a secret collection under the floor, guarded by the dolls deemed worthy of my playtime.
         The memory of Papa's parting look on the dockside leaves a dull ache in my chest.
         I place the little weevil on the ground by my feet and watch it scuttle about, its feet tinkling with a tiny thud-thud on the wooden quayside. I look up at the sky and fancy I see a glint of something metallic. Some people say that the Watchers are black shadows of energy shaped like spiders. Returning my gaze to the weevil, an idea pops unbidden into my mind.
         A copper coin flies over my shoulder and hits the deck with a clunk, before spinning to a standstill. I look over my shoulder at a gentleman twirling a cane.
         "Oi," I turn around, "I'm not--"
         "Sure, sure," he says, "don't be too proud, son. Pride won't buy you a meal."
         A thin mechanical arm shoots out from the side of the weevil and grasps the coin in its metal pincers, dropping it with a clatter into a slot on its back. It continues its random dance. I glance back at the man, who makes his way towards Shad Thames.
         "I say." Uncle moves to my side. But the man has gone and Uncle shrugs, pulling on his lapels with feigned importance.
         I lift my chin and stare into the skies at the shadows, trying on my idea for size. What if I don't make it to the school Maman has arranged for me? I look at Uncle. All he has to do is make sure I am safely aboard the ship. What if Papa's cousin never meets me at the Port of Paris?
         The Lycée in Paris.
         Indeed, they don't take girls, but... what if?

~

         Arrivé. I am deposited on the dock, near the Pont des Invalides on the south side of the Seine, amidst the bustle of the Parisian bourgeoisie and the nouveau riche, all clamouring for the attention of someone, anyone. The air smells of riverweed and the screeching gulls circle overhead in silver-blue skies. Ships are unloaded with the hat boxes and cases of the upper classes, while I, pertaining to belong to no class in particular, slink away with my backpack and hat concealing the true nature of my purpose.
         This is not the first time I have disembarked à Paris. It has become a habit of a lifetime, being the progeny of a Franco-British family, forever dragged between two emerging cultures. It is Papa's side of the family that remain in Paris; the nouveau riche, aspiring to be the next bourgeoisie. It is easy enough to slip by his cousin, who is expecting to see a young lady from middle-classed London. I see an aging man, sketch in hand, scrutinising the crowd as I slip past with my head down, hat pulled across my ears; just another cabin boy, released from duty.
         Getting into the Lycée was easier than I imagined. I cut my hair short--my poor Maman would have heart failure if she saw me--then stuffed the remaining tufts back into my hat. That was the hardest part. All I had to do then was fill in some details on a form and sit an exam which consisted mostly of mathematical problems--thank the gods that I paid attention to calculus when I was at school. More problematic might have been the French language, but Maman has always insisted on a French tutor and we are a bi-lingual household. I waited among the other boys who were there to sit the admissions exam before finally being told that my application had been accepted and I had been awarded a full scholarship. It was straightforward then to apply through the admissions office for a room on campus. There was only one drawback to this plan of mine; my place at the Lycée to study engineering was entirely dependent on my ability to maintain the outward persona of a seventeen-year-old boy and now I had to share a room.
         "Bonjour, Hello. My name is François." This tall, muscular teenage boy with mousy well-groomed hair thrusts a hand towards me.
         I hesitate. Look up into his eyes, hazel flecked with green, and stare with my mouth open, manners forgotten. A lady would curtsy, a lady would offer her hand for him to kiss and I imagine for a brief moment his lips caressing the back of my hand. François frowns and raises one eyebrow. He is about to withdraw his hand, then I snap back into reality and thrust my own palm into his, squeezing with enough muster to imitate male camaraderie.
         "Mikel, Salut."
         A spark of static ignites between us and he pulls his hand away, shaking and rubbing it down his breeches.
         "Aïe!"
         "Pardon," I say.
         He looks at his hand, then back at me.
         "You're a live one. That's never happened before."
         I shrug, feigning nonchalance as though every new person I meet gets zapped by my static. Truthfully, it does often happen and usually I have more control, but my nerves got the better of me.
         He frowns, peering at the jagged line of auburn hair poking out from my cap. "I must introduce you to my barber," he says, a glint of mischief in his eye. I look around at the room and my heart sinks at how small it is. Two slim cots on either side, one short wardrobe and a single brown curtain to hide the washroom; no door to accord any modicum of privacy.
         He notes the look of despair on my face. "It's okay. I've got little brothers, you know. Nothing I haven't seen before." Unfortunately that gives me no reassurance whatsoever.
         The streets of Paris rumble with discontent, while the hungry and the lowly folk bleed for the sake of the Comte d'Artois. I walk down a side street, avoiding the Champ de Mars, where I might draw unwanted attention. A little street urchin sits beneath the shutters of a tall tenement, watching me pass. Her eyes follow me, open wide and curious, framed by her grubby cheeks and sallow complexion.
         I walk past, then stop mid-stride. Turn back on my heel, drop to her side, rummaging in my backpack. At first she scuttles back into the shadow of the building, but after a moment she creeps forward, craning her neck to see what I am doing. I pull out the weevil and set it on my palm. A touch to its back sets it moving and dancing in the twilight. The girl jumps back, and then peers at the weevil, a frown creasing her brow. I touch its back again and the weevil stops mid-scuttle, then I hold it out to the girl. She reaches forward, sets it down on cobbles and withdraws her hand as though touched by fire. She looks at it for a while, then inches her finger towards its back.
         "C'est ça, that's it. Just here, ici." I point at the weevil's back.
         The girl touches her nail-bitten forefinger to the weevil and it springs back to life. Her face lights up and she claps her hands. I push the weevil towards her. After all, what with my scholarship and the work at the Lycée I no longer have need of it.
         "It's for you, pour vous." I stand up and walk away, smiling to the sound of rattling coins as she discovers the weevil's secret stash.
         My next port of call is the local shop, to buy une carte-postale to send a message home:
         'I have arrived. Missed Cousin Pierre, but found L'École de Saint Germaine and am ensconced in residences. Looking ahead to classes. Worry not, they look after me well. Your loving daughter, Isabelle.'
         And so began a ritual of monthly postcards, relaying to my family all the information they wanted to hear but nothing about what really happened after that day I disembarked. Sometimes I feel guilty for deceiving them, but more often than not the deception I have to deal with on a daily basis far outweighs a few misdirected words.
         François leaves me be, although I sometimes catch his curious gaze only to see his eyes dart away and his cheeks grow crimson. He senses that something is not quite right, but is far too polite to say anything. I come in from classes one evening and there is a pair of brand new breeches and two white shirts laid out on my bed. I assume that they are his and lift the garments, soft to my touch, to lay them on his side of the room. I stop, mid-way, hold the breeches to my waist and frown to myself. These would not fit François, they are far too short.
         "My brothers grow taller every day."
         I swing around and stare at him standing in the doorway. He must walk among the shadows, or am I too wrapped up in my own thoughts?
         He smiles. "They have no need of these now and I see they will fit you well," he says.
         I look down at the shirts and run a hand across the fabric of the breeches. These are no cast-offs. I bustle into the washroom to change before he notices the flush that creeps across my skin.
         Now I have two sets of clothes and spend less time in the washroom, rinsing and worrying that my one set won't be dry by the morning and then running the perpetual risk of catching the shivers. Perhaps he notices and takes pity on me. Or perhaps he watches me a little too closely. I need to be more careful.
         One night, François comes in, the worse for a few flagons of ale. The lamplight is out and the moon casts its pale blue hue on the stark cupboard of a room. He flings the door open, which crashes against a bedside cabinet. I flinch and bury myself deeper beneath my blankets hoping he will think me asleep.
         "Mikel, Mikel," he says and I can smell the alcohol on his breath even with several layers between us. He bounces onto my bed and tugs at my blankets. "Wake up. I want to show you something." I groan and roll over to look at him in the moonlight. His face is flushed and his eyes wide.
         "Let me change first." I sit up and he looks in disbelief at my long thick nightgown. He mock-punches me on the arm. "Ouch." I pull away from him.
         "Come on, just grab a blanket. Don't be such a girl, Mikel." He slaps my forehead. I swipe him back, but he ducks and backs off laughing. "Come on!"
         François takes me down a small winding corridor, which I am sure is a dead end. I have never seen any students around here, but he insists that there is a secret exit to the roof and drags me by the arm as though walking a reluctant puppy. At the end of the corridor, a chink of moonlight illuminates a rusty old ladder, which leads up to a hatch in the roof. Despite the darkness, I see the glint of his teeth as he smiles back at me and places my hands around his waist.
         "Hold on to me and don't look down," he says with a chuckle.
         Oh my Lord, I think I'm going to die. François climbs the ladder, which creaks with our weight, and I scramble up behind him, trying not to get my nightgown caught in the girders either side of the ladder. My hand slips and touches the bare skin of his waist where his shirt has come un-tucked. A rush of warmth fills me up and I pull my hand away, then I am veering off to one side. He reaches back and grabs my wrist, placing my hand firmly back on his waist.
         "Stop prattling about, Mikel, unless you want to die an early death." He is swaying from side to side, which is not filling me with any measure of confidence. One push of the hatch and we are through onto the roof. He drags me up by my arms and I sit on the edge, legs dangling, rubbing my arms.
         "Next time, I'm going first," I say.
         "Next time?" He grins at me.
         A gust of wind nearly knocks me back down the hatch. I recover some composure, then look up and my heart stops beating. The sky is marbled with blue and indigo streaks and there is a metallic scent to the air. At first it seems as though the colour streaks are motionless, but after a moment I notice that the stars and the moon keep blinking on and off like flickering lamplight. All I can do is stare with my mouth open.
         "Isn't it beautiful?" François says, his speech slurring. "The sky is moving."
         I've seen this somewhere before and the awe sinks to the pit of my stomach as though I have just swallowed a rock.
         "The Watchers," I whisper. They are on the move. Spreading across the Paris skies. No, no. It is too soon. I don't yet have the answers.
         "The-what?"
         The air is charged with energy and my fingertips are tingling. I look back to François and we stare at each other, pupils dilated, pulses thrumming. Then his hands grasp my face, his lips press against mine and someone has just lit a fire cracker inside me.
         He pulls back. Eyes wide with horror. "No, no. I'm sorry. I'm not..."
         He backs away and all but tumbles down the hatch. The scritch-scritch of the ladder filters up to the roof; he must be taking it two steps at once and in double-quick time.
         He is gone.
         I am left all alone, wondering what just happened and looking at the roiling night sky from the Lycée rooftop. The moon hangs heavy on the Paris skyline. In the distance, I can see the Palais du Louvre, its centre square lit up by gaslight. Beyond, Notre Dame sits like a gothic gargoyle, wide-eyed and watching me. The Watchers are spreading their menace and there is so much I still have to learn. I think about my family in London. It is only my second semester, but how long before they come looking for me? How long before someone like François discovers the truth?
         I return to my room, which is empty of François's belongings. I am disappointed; the room is not the only space left empty. But perhaps it is for the best. I only hope that the Lycée don't put someone else in here. I look out of the window and although I cannot see them, I know the Watchers are there, teasing me with their secrets. My hands tingle with anticipation.
         Life at the Lycée continues without François, although I see him from time to time between classes. He nods at me with polite indifference, looks away quickly to engage his new companions in conversation. It was painful at first, but as weeks turned into months, it became easier the more I convinced myself that I needed this education more than I needed a man in my life. My mathematics results are exceptional so far and I have been invited by Monsieur Ampere to take electrics next semester.
         Alone now in my room, I have all the privacy I want to study and experiment with the jigtech I bought from home. I even start to grow my hair again, though I am careful to conceal it beneath my cap whenever I go to lessons. Monsieur Ampere welcomes me into his class and I start to understand the relationship between the electric current in a wire and magnetic forces.
         I continue to send my postcards home and one day on leaving the shop, I am called back by the postmistress, a genteel woman who stamps my mail every month with a smile and a nod but barely says a word. She thrusts a package into my hands and apologises before darting back behind her counter. I peer into the brown paper packet, then hug it to my chest, heart thumping. I recognise Papa's looping script and the address of L'École de Saint Germaine. I turn the packet over and it has 'return to sender' stamped in red all over the front. I run back to my room, nauseous from both the exertion and the homesickness. Of course they would write. Why wouldn't they?
         In my room, I spread the postcards out across the floor, turning them one by one to look at the messages. A lump springs to my throat and my heart flutters. Expecting to see warm loving words from home, all I read is despair and loathing. The Watchers in every other paragraph, spreading misery to thousands across the Capital. My tears drop onto Papa's writing causing inky streaks across the cards, so I gather them up into a pile and press them to my chest, hoping to somehow change his words by virtue of my love.
         The door crashes open and François is standing there looking at me. It is months since I have been this close to him, months since he has even spoken to me.
         "Mikel. Have you heard the news?" he says as though it were only yesterday when we last spoke. "London is under siege." His eyes widen, his face pales, then his mouth drops open. I turn to look at him and realise that my hair is falling in auburn waves around my tear-stained face.
         

         March 1826

         London Bridge. I clip the final piece of jigtech in place and sit back in the control seat. Three months to design and six months to build, the vehicle is the size of a carriage without the wheels and horses. It mimics the movements of the Watchers, like giant arachnids, walking on eight legs with eyes that reflect the outside world, casting a lens on humanity. I will be the first to approach them in their own image, the first to uncover their secrets. For a long time I puzzled over how to get past their invisible screen, but then I discovered through close observation that a combination of the energy in the jigtech and my own unique static enabled my automata to get further than anyone had previously managed.
         François grasps my hand and squeezes, withdrawing as my cover comes down and finally just the pads of our fingertips are touching and then his hand disappears in the long thin gap, as I am enclosed with a metallic snap. A pea in a pod. A snail in its shell. The frailty of humanity in a metal casing. I wonder what the Watchers look like on the inside.
         We have attracted a crowd this bright spring morning. The sun offers no heat to offset the chill of the wind and the skies are grey, like slushy snow. There is a crackle of static as my giant arachnid jumps into life. I pull my goggles down over my eyes, glass-fronted domes with myriad hexagonal surfaces that resemble the eyes of the Watchers. My vehicle pounds the cobbled approach to the bridge, legs all pumping pistons and chuffing steam. The crowds in the thousands are waving behind my multiple lenses--a muted cheer seeps through my casing. The air reeks of engine oil and the Watchers sit waiting in the centre of the bridge, the first one ready to meet its match.
         I creep forward, my spider-legs making a dull ka-chink on the stone surface of the bridge. The crowds now seem far behind and the silence is only disturbed by the rush of my own breath amplified in my ears. A crackle of static passes over the exterior of my device, as I slip through the shield protecting this Watcher from human presence.
         I stop only yards away from the creature. Heat from the steam makes the sweat trickle down my brow, compounded by the hammering of my heart and the shortness of my breath. Now that I am up close, I realise that my replica is barely half the size of the real thing. I swallow back the lump in my throat, thinking back to the countless people I interviewed and the pages of drawings, taken from a distance.
         It can only be minutes but seems like hours that we sit, watching each other. Then a horn blow, pure and menacing, bounces off the stone walls and echoes over the bridge like a ship coming into port.
         It is a call to action. The hairs prickle on the back of my neck.
         The Watcher rises from its perch and scurries with impossible speed to peer right into my casing. I am immobile. Paralysed. Dare I even breathe? I let out a slow breath, nausea rising in waves from my stomach. I am looking right into the heart of the Watcher. But I don't see a creature there. I don't see the fallen angel, visualised by so many who have gone before me. But I do see how the minds of drunken fools might have been turned against themselves.
         I rear on my back legs attempting to retreat, but the Watcher mirrors my defence and we are locked in an embrace of rotating legs crashing and sparking and grating against each other. But I have underestimated its size and I am pinned by its weight, my own arachnid screeching under the strain of the Watcher's superior engineering. The arachnid's legs buckle and fold, then I am thrown forward in my seat. Only the dome of my casing protects me from the impact of the stone-cobbled bridge. A hiss of steam escapes, as the lid flips open on my vehicle. The eye of the Watcher swivels and follows my movement as I climb out of my wreck.
         I have not been given this gift to work metal for no reason. I reach out and touch my fingertips to the thick coating covering the Watcher. I climb its many-jointed legs and place the palm of my hand flat on its large centre eye, which hums beneath my touch. My hand tingles with the vibration and static dances across my palm. When I look in, I see only myself reflected back at me. My life, made into a hundred different stories to keep the Watchers entertained.
         Perfectly situated for optimum reception and reciprocal transmission back home. Back home, where the true Watchers sit in judgement, making light of the insignificance of our existence.
         I balance myself upon its upper leg joint and place my other palm on the eye, so I can cradle the face like a mother consoling her child. The eye swivels beneath my touch and for a moment it is as though I am feeding its energy stream. I think I am making progress; we have reached an understanding. The real Watchers, wherever they are, can see how I feel, see how my people suffer under their gaze. Then the hum beneath my fingers turns into a gentle quiver and I search beyond the eye and see a thousand alien faces looking back at me trembling in anticipation.
         Are they laughing at me?
         Bubbling with indignation, I thump the eye repeatedly with my fist, rewarded with a resounding thunk. Peering inside, I see myself in all my petulant fury entertaining the thousands with my futile antics. Then the Watcher shudders beneath me, scuttles forwards, back, sideways, as though trying to rid itself of this miniature invasion of its systems.
         I wrap my legs around its hard, cold body and fumble for a handhold as my palms slide away from the eye. I slip back to the top of one of its legs and hold on as it tries to swat me away, but I am too small and it is too stuck in its self-defeating arachnid construction. The key is the eye, but I can only get to it by climbing back up. My feet slip, unable to gain purchase and my hands are slippery with sweat. I rub my fingertips together and sniff. No, not sweat after all, my hands reek of engine oil. The Watcher is leaking. Re-double my efforts, using a rope from my belt to lasso an anchor to the machine's front antenna. Heart pumping and breath coming in short rasps, I haul myself back up to the central eye. The glass is intact. I hit it again and again until my hand is sore and my knuckles are bruised, but still they laugh at me, booming now across the bridge like a foghorn in the night. And all the time, it continues to shake and scuttle making it increasingly difficult to hold on.
         "Damn you, give it up." I thump it again, but not a single crack in its armour. And it vibrates and booms, laughing and challenging me. My hands start to slip, all sore and bruised and I cannot hold on for much longer. I have failed; to claim our independence, to collaborate, even to just communicate. We are the subjects of their control. Not even the Army can defeat them with their guns and bombs.
         I look back over my shoulder at the waiting crowd, silent and still.
         Then back to the Watchers.
         Shrug, reach for my belt and grab the first thing that comes to hand. My hammer. A swing, then a crack, and there is a piercing shriek as my hand sinks through the eye and splinters of glass fly past my head. I duck, but a shard splits my cheek and my blood falls to the cobbles below like red raindrops.
         My hand is ripped to shreds and I pull it free from the hole I have made, dropping the hammer with a clatter. Clinging on with one hand, I rummage in the depths of my pocket to retrieve my little arachnid. One single spark of static and the spindly legs crackle to life as it scuttles forwards. All I need do is cup my hand towards the hole left by my hammer and in it goes. I leap to the ground and land on all fours. Standing to my full height, I see the Watcher retreat on unstable legs. It hovers for a moment, as though uncertain what to do next, then zig-zags back to the middle of the bridge, where it curls up on its back, legs bent to the sky, watching no more.
         I approach the lifeless mound and place a bloody hand on its vast black exterior, expecting to feel the hum of its mechanics. But it is still, cold. A small antenna pops up from the creature's eye and takes a look around. My little arachnid scuttles back out, click-clacking down the length of the creature's leg, then back into my open pocket. I turn to face the crowd, still watching in silent awe.
         One down.
         




© Electric Spec