Hellsborough & The Dark Peak

Discovering the unexplored parallel world of Sheffield, S6 -- Hellsborough and The Dark Peak


Junkyard Speedball


The symbiot careened like an ash fly as Mold drained fifteen units of potcheen, flinging the empty bottle at the back of a junked gruizer. He crushed a rollie between the fingers of his left hand and with his right, experience and brain patterns clicking in, plucked the incoming carbon ball from the air, letting its potential do the work, so that with a spin and flick of his gauntlet, the ball was jettisoned back in the direction that it came. With a dull thump, the ball embedded itself into the door panel of another wrecked vehicle and sat there, resting, as if dazed, before slowly falling onto the floor and rolling back to the feet of the new arrival. Rap Lomas toed the ball, his symbiot chirped. The ball began to burrow into the asphalt as if trying to hide, it didn't much like this game, it didn't want another death on its conscience.

His symbiot understood Lomas, leaving his shoulder, it slammed into the earth and began to burrow, nipping the ball from the underside when it made contact.

Gruizer graveyard! Life's short, bodies wearout! Slurred Mold, his glazed eye staring at Lomas, his other darting around frantically, looking out for the ball. Lomas said nothing, just concentrated on his symbiot and, by association, the carbon ball, which was now receiving his attention.

Mold's malfunctioning mind saw decay. Hulks of putrid scale, rotting in the humid murk. Where the ball had impacted the gruizer was like a wound to Mold, the giant lizard, it's armour depleted and rotting, oozing from a scar; its eyes half open, half closed. Its face showed no pain, no discomfort, just resignation, as if to say: Whether it's a heart attack today or cancer tomorrow, or Alzheimer's the day after that, the nett result is the same -- so what's the point in worrying over it, over death.

I'm sane, thought Mold, it's just the booze; I can beat that damn ball and this pest man. He stood straight now and waited for the ball to come in his direction as it inevitably would. Still Lomas waited, his and his symbiot's psychic energy focused on the gutterball, which still cowered in the dusty dirt.

Salad! Shouted Mold, his symbiot now hanging limply off his shoulder, Nice kebob! No hastle! Mold's vocal outburst was counter to his thinking, which although blurred by the potcheen, wasn't thinking what his mouth was issuing, he had no control over the content. What's happening to me, thought Mold, I need to regain control, that gutterball is going to be heading in my direction any moment, and I'm shouting out my, or someone's, lunch. I'm not going to be his lunch, or anyone else's.

Beef driiippiinnggg! jellied eeelss! Lovely cockles, muscles, wiiiinklessss!

Mold clamped his mouth shut, unable to understand his outburst, his eyes flashing with incomprehension, the rational side of his mind trying to fight off the fear. The ball was at Lomas's eye level now, dragged psychically from the dirt and spinning against its will. Both Lomas and symbiot concentrated their thoughts on the spinning gutterball and then with a synchronised blinking of the eyes, flung the ball towards Mold.

Here it comes thought Mold. He concentrated on its swift progress, its speed increasing all the time as it flew over the wreckage of old gruizers. No point trying to dodge it, reasoned Mold, too much thought control over it, must catch it and return it, like a hot coal jumping from a fire. Mold kept eye contact with the ball, then as it approached, wheeled sideways bringing his glove into contact to bat the gutterball; but it wasn't there. Lomas had stopped it microns from Mold's swing, and now dropped the gutterball heavily onto Mold's symbiot, which throughout the manoeuvre had lay motionless on his shoulder.

Mold screamed with pain as the symbiot was crushed under the falling weight of the ball and then all three: Mold, symbiot and gutterball fell to the ground, none of them moving. The first to stir as Lomas approached was the gutterball, which rolled, sliding out of harms way under a wreck; Lomas let it go, it had done its job for today and there were many more of them spread through this chequered landscape. Mold was unconscious, but breathing, the shock of loosing a symbiot under duress was a strong one, a major wrench to the nervous system, but he would survive and maybe, depending upon the next few minutes, get a new attachment. Mold's symbiot itself had already started to decompose, its thin structure readily absorbed into the asphalt. It had been the truly sick one, Lomas knew. As for the true mental state of Mold, and his make-up - biologically human or synthetic, that's what kept him alive - for the moment.

Although biological human and synthetic jellyheads were outwardly identical, the test, ironically, was simple, although only when the subject was unconscious -- or at least, receptive -- and to a pest controller, equipped with the necessary tools. Mental state was another matter; but with Mold's recent outbursts, Lomas was pretty confident that insanity was his also, and not just the symbiots. But it was still a risk, a concern for Lomas; even if Mold should prove to be a synth, if he wasn't mentally ill, if he was sane, he shouldn't be condemned, there was no way of telling -- just gut instinct.

The test, simple that it was, proved negative. Mold was not biologically human. He was a synth, an artificial jellyhead. He was insane, Lomas had seen it with his own eyes and heard it with his own ears. Lomas had no choice, as a pest controller he was compelled to do his duty and condemn the prostrate Mold. Mad jellyheads could not be allowed to run amok. Had the test proved positive, he would have been cared for in one of the netherlander facilities; but he was not human, he was not a biological man, but syntheic. Lomas had no option but to condemn and retire. To ensure that Mold never awoke again.

After the injection, Mold's body softened. Lomas took the uke from his back and strummed a melancholy tune, his symbiot hummed in time.


The gutterball sensed Lomas leave, and felt the vibrations of the strummed uke fade into the distance, the sound rebounding off the rotting gruizer carcasses. Only then did it roll over to the prostrate body of Mold, drawn by a faint pulse, and examine the scene. Mold's symbiot had now degraded completely, without psychic energy to keep it buoyant, but from Mold himself, the gutterball could sense a minute spark of life. The gutterball edged closer and nestled into the man's neck, feeding Mold with his own small lifeforce. In time, Mold's senses began to awaken and his alphawaves atuned to the gutterball until their thoughts intermingled. When Mold finally opened his eyes, the transformation from solitary gutterball to cojoined symbiot was complete.

Darkness had fallen onto the world of junk and filth. Mold raised himself onto his elbows as his eyes atuned themselves to the darkness and illuminated enough of his surroundings for him to see sufficiently. The gutterball perched upon his shoulder.

So you're my buddy now, Kibble, he said to the gutterball, what happened to Hassan?

Dead, answered Kibble, he wasn't well, Lomas killed him. Used me to kill him.

I don't remember, said Mold, I don't remember anything; nothing at all.

Telepathically, the gutterball told the story, making up for the holes in Mold's memory:

Hassan was ill, it sent you loopy. You drank to ease the pain, but that just made you worse. You talked rubbish. Anything that came into Hassan's head came out of your mouth. Then Lomas, the pest controller came and used me as a weapon. He controlled me, him and his symbiot, Jason; in the end, he dropped me on Hassan and killed him outright. You passed out of course. Then Lomas tested you out as a synth and retired you with an injection. Why are you alive?

Because i'm bio, not synth; I ain't no nascenti stooge. The injection was just pain relief for me, after Hassan.

But why did Lomas..

Think I was a synth? Because I've disguised my genome, enough at least to fool his field kit. I've been tracking him down for weeks. Finally made my way here, to junkyard central. Which way did he go?

East, a while back, you've been out for hours.

Lost him again then, slippery as a furslip. I need a gruizer. One that works, get myself above and scan him from there.

Can't you get backup?

No backup, I work alone, or you and me do anyway. No, what we need is a vehicle; seen anything viable? You've been around here a while, right?

Netherland junkyard, junkyard central, was a vast island of rotting bioengineered and geoformed material and bioplastics. Rising a thousand metres above the city of Hellsborough and spreading several kilometres from end to end, it had become the dumping ground for all manner and make of gruizer, sportster, helicop and jetplane. It also housed all manner of refugee and drop out in the crosslands, some solitary, some in small groups, all outcast and none the type who found solace in the city -- whether dissident politico, mentally incontinent or moron.

Disassociated symbiots and soliary lifeforms like gutterballs, ratterstars and pingots. Indiginous wildlife still existed in the junkyard: Scrufftail, rootwing, squarkwing and other rotties. Common were the hexapods: crickerjack, ants, beetleforms and caterpeads, and the cold blooded lizards and tads. There were also the beasts, but their existence was more mythical than concrete. The staple diet up here was largely vegetarian, wild fruit, barley, some cultivated pots and cabbs. Hexapods too were important nourishment and maybe one of the indiginous junk dwellers or lizard if you could catch one, or just its tail if not; regenerating trolls of the junkyard.

There is one gruizer, said Kibble, down near the Neepsend side, tucked around the back of an old pub.

Heart intact?

The body is well battered, but I think maybe the internals are good; came in a month or more ago, I was out that way then.

How long to get there?

An hour, maybe less.

The gruizer was where Kibble had promised, illuminated slightly by the pale murkmoon and covered in bankweed, its body shell dry as a wheat husk. Nobody bothered to steal them or mend them, they were junk, and in any case, vehicle skills were few and far between out in the netherlands. A gruizer, once dumped might be raped of anything edible (anything of value would have already been stripped, unless the hull was diseased in some way), but otherwise, it would be left to its own decay. Netherland junkyard was, what it was, an ecosystem for the mentally unwell, but then the whole world had broken backs and brains a long time ago.

Mold fought his way into the driving seat and pressed his palm against what was left of the console. Nothing, not even a cough of life.

Maybe it needs juice, suggested Kibble, but he knew he was just trying to make Mold feel better, there was little that could be done for this gruizer now, it had been dead for months at least, had probably been laid to rest long before its arrival at the junkyard. Any medicines on you?

Nothing is going to revive this beast, medicine or no, said Mold, I mean look at it, its been out of service for a long time. He pulled at the steering stem and it disintegrated between his fingers, turning to dust, nothing but brittle bone.

A distant sound alerted Mold. Kibble heard it too, through Mold's ears, not possessing any of his own. A huge governor ship was passing at low altitude, several units to the North. They heard its propulsion drive come to a halt and then a loud crunching as it dropped its load, most likely a fresh consignment of dead gruizers and crumpled sportsters, before it growled off into the distance. They didn't even discuss it, just headed off on the direction that the noise had come from.


They could smell the dump site by Norwood as they approached, even at almost two units away, the putrid smell got up Mold's nostrils. He closed them to keep out the stench. But as they approached, they also knew that they weren't alone. Others too were descending upon the dump site, the tingle of psychic energy hung heavy in the air, emanations of madness.

Will Lomas be here too? Mold wondered aloud.

Unlikely, but keep your thoughts down, said Kibble back into his mind, we don't want to draw attention to us.

Ahead, they saw a solitary figure cross Moonshine lane. Mold ducked into the shadowy ruins of an old chapel and watched as the figure, slender with a definite feminine shape, walked quickly alongside a sike in the direction of the dump site, every so often stopping to sniff at the air. Mold listened with his ears and mind, but could pick up nothing at all, the figure was clearly adept at hiding her thoughts, either that, or her mental capability was so light that it simply didn't transmit the few units distance, but Mold figured the former. Ahead of the figure, another darted across its path, this one larger, a male. The female squatted as the man continued at a faster pace, quickly disappearing into the darkness and tree life. Mold followed the woman at a distance, she was clearly heading to the same location as he, yet he became aware as he followed, skulking in the shadows, of a faint aura emanating from her brain. She had not picked up his presence, he was sure, but her mind read -- not fear -- but caution, mixed with a certain headiness, one that reminded him of forays into drug use as a youth.

As they closed in on the freshly junked gruizer horde, the woman stopped and began to inspect the first vehicle that she came to -- the shape of a sportster was shown by a faint glow. Mold continued his slow approach, but as he neared, she must have become aware of his approach and disappeared from view, the illumination that Mold had previously witnessed extinguished.

Incoming! Was all Mold heard in his mind before Kibble clashed with a symbiot roughly the same size as himself. The woman's symbiot rebounded heavily against Kibble and slammed into a sportster, dazed, giving Mold the time and opportunity to orientate himself and scramble for cover under the sportster's rear end. Kibble returned as the woman's symbiot did likewise.

Who?! Came Mold's mental message. He picked up Kibble's thoughts, but nothing else. Who are you? he tried again and listened to telepathic radio silence.

Grinja boom, ganja froom, halle, halle, mixa moon, came a low audible gutteral chant, Grinja boom, ganja froom, halle, halle, mixa moon.

It was no language Mold had ever heard before, maybe she's a witch, Mold thought.

No witch, said Kibble, Wood mystic.

How do you know? Said Mold, she had no readability before.

She has none now, but I've heard chants like that before, answered Kibble, they're insane, the most dangerous fighters of the junkyard. Keep themselves to themselves usually, inbreed, maybe this one is an outcast.

Grinja boom, ganja froom, halle, halle, mixa moon, came the chant again.

Know any of the language?

No, none at all.

She continued her chant in the ancient netherlander language known only to the Wood. Wood are the strangest of breeds; their insular nature and inbreeding turning them into a caste which could communicate with each other but not the outside -- or at least the mystical ones. Neither bio nor synth was able to read their alpha waves and so they were largely misunderstood and treated with general contempt, hence their refined fighting abilities. Their symbiots too were incompatible with those of normal bios and synths, possessing the same language and abilities of their hosts.

So we have an impasse, concluded Mold. If we move, she'll no doubt attack us, we might win, we might not, but it's going to expend alot of energy regardless; she's probably thinking the same about us; but meanwhile, we can't communicate. But likewise, if we stay here, we're sitting ducks, because sooner or later, another vagrant is going to come along.

Or, we could get the hell out of here.

And give up the chance of getting a gruizer.

We could return later.

We could do that, but our best chance is now, while the gruizers are still fresh.

Offer her a gift, show her that we're not hostile? Suggested Kibble.

OK, a plan. What did you have in mind?

How about food? Have you got anything on you?

Mold twisted to search through his overcoat pockets, nothing of value was turned out.

Kibble and Mold together heard the telepathic patterns of a group of three approaching. Almost as quickly, they came into earshot, talking quietly, but openly.

They'll be armed, said Kibble, they wouldn't be so upfront otherwise.

Just lie quiet, replied Mold, It's dark, they'll right walk past us.

But as the trio turned the corner, Mold could see that they carried torches, illuminating their surroundings brightly. Gripped by panic, Mold's brain searched for options. He was prone, lying in an exposed and unprotected position and now unable to move or he'd be spotted instantly, he was unarmed (with the exception of Kibble) and outnumbered, and to make matters worse had a been put into this position by an insane and incomprehensible rune-chanting mystic.

He noted that her chanting had now stopped and mentally noted his gratitude, but in his panic induced delirium, he failed also to hear the beat of feathered wings or the vicious talons that scraped and scratched at his face. Moments later, the Wood manoeuvred from her side of the sportster and wrapped his skull with the blunt end of a long bone.


Mold awoke into darkness and immobility.

You're blindfolded and your hands and legs are bound, Kibble advised him, reviewing the heat pattern of Mold's doubled up frame. I've been held too, by some physical restraint.

Mold could feel movement and the dull throbbing of the drive engine.

Yes, we're airborne, Kibble confirmed, we're aboard the sportster. After she'd knobbled you, she dragged you to one side, chanted some more mumbo-jumbo and hey presto! The drive engines ignited and burnt those three that were coming up good. Good enough for them to limp off, anyway. Then she restrained you -- and me, lugged you on board and nursed this crate into the sky.

How long have we been up here?

Not long, only a few minutes.

Any idea where we're headed?

Nope, and I've found out nothing about her or her symbiot, they're as closed as they ever was.

My name is Willow, came the voice of the woman into their heads, I come from a settlement in the Wisewood, where exactly, you don't need to know.

Mold and Kibble were silent. Unsure of how to respond, but their thoughts were now open to her as her thoughts were open to them.

How, why.. Started Mold, could we not communicate before?

Why should I have done? You were hostile, the whole area is hostile; it's madness down there after dark.

We followed you, that's all, we wouldn't have done you any harm.

I had no idea that that was true then and I don't know that now either, which is why you're still tied.

OK, fair enough. You're right, I'd have done the same in your boots. At least remove this blindfold.

Willow duly untied the blindfold and pulled Mold into a sitting position so he could see her the right way up. Now that he could see her and her headscarf had been removed, although dark, her auburn hair shone brightly and her electric blue eyes studied his intently. She wore a trench coat of the darkest grey, inlined with some sort of fur, probably synthetic, thought Mold.

No, flufftail, we breed them for their meat and fur, corrected Willow, the wool is tard, we breed them as well.

So If I can read you now, how come not before, queried Mold, what has changed?

Before I didn't want you to read me, that's all.

But no-one, synth or bio, can close off their thoughts, it can't be done.

Hah, Wood mystics can, laughed Willow, we remember skills that are long forgotten in the junkyard and even The Dark Peak. They are simple skills, but you are so used to reading and being read, that you perhaps no longer possess the intuition to control your brain not to broadcast. We do.

Mold nodded, although not really understanding the concept.

What about the chant, said Mold, the foreign tongue?

Woodspeak, the Wood mystic language, it helps with closing the mind, but also it is confusing and intimidating for you; whilst also reassuring to this poor gruizer. I also speak Ing, as I am now and a few other languages, they are useful for trading.

We will land now, said Willow, returning to the sportster's console. Mold, pleased by their talk had started to become confident, but now a glimmer of fear shot though his head.

What about us? He said mentally, Me and Kibble? What are your plans for us now?

Don't worry, Mold, Willow said, as she brought the sportster down to land near a few shacks that acted as the centre of the settlement of Firthwood.

We have known about you for a long time, before you even came to the junkyard. Although it was handy picking up a vehicle, my real task was to pick you up. The commissioner will be pleased, although maybe a little disappointed that you weren't a little harder to apprehend.

A long time? Who are you people?

Friends, Mold. The only friends you are likely to find in the netherlands, and *I* found *you*.

The commissioner was waiting at the door of the sportster when Willow opened it. Again they were unreadable to Mold and Kibble, and spoke in the mystical Wood tongue. Willow cut Mold free and pulled him to his feet, Kibble, now able to move, hopped onto his should and the two left the sportster. The commissioner, although not old, had an air of authority and motioned Mold to come with him into the nearest of the shacks.


Woods' of Firthwood, I bring you a man I believe can help us. Said the commissioner in Ing as he walked through the door of the shack with Mold and Kibble. There were no applause, only silence. Two dozen pairs of gawping eyes.

Elder statesmen of Firthwood, as you know, several of our community have been lost these last six months, to what, we are unsure.

A murmur of discontent passed through the men and woman gathered in the shack.

All we do know is, and I cover this ground only to bring Mold up-to-date, is that in the evening our friends were here as usual and in the morning, gone without a trace. Nothing biological has ever been recovered, not an eye or a finger, only the occasional piece of fabric or scrap of a garment that could be associated with a missing individual. We have ruled out wild animals, for they are few and far between, even in this sanctuary and as for the mythical beasts said to inhabit the murk, we have always doubted their existence, although, as you know, we cannot rule them out. No, what we believe we are dealing with is something of a greater intelligence than that, that is able to lure our people out, this Lord of the Forest as he -- I say he, I may be wrong -- is so called. Other than that, we know nothing, nothing at all, except that his -- its -- mind is wild and full of the creatures around us.

The commissioner paused, fighting with emotion but remaining stoic and keeping his composure.

I think I can speak for everyone, Mold, he said, addressing him directly, when I say that no one in our settlement has not felt the effect of this, this creature, we have all, for the time being at least, lost at least one family member. Last week, my wife, the lady commissioner, a strong woman of head and hand, a skilled artisan and fighter, was taken whilst I slept and I heard nothing.

My wife! He raised his voice and then softened, the mother of Willow, my dear daughter. The commissioner trailed off again, allowing Willow to continue.

For those of you that don't know, Mold is a pee-eye.

A low shushing spread through the group.

And I know we don't normally deal with the city folk of Hellsborough, whether it be the exacids or the taxers or any of them. They don't understand us and we don't want to understand them, but this pee-eye is a tracker. He's been searching for a rogue troubadour and pest man, and has tracked him down here, to the junkyard. He's good. I know he can help us find those loved ones that are missing. Mold, will you?

Willow put Mold central stage with the question and Mold considered his position.

If I do, he started.

There are chits, said the commissioner, more chits than you could expect in a year in your line of work.

Mold, for all his self perceived virtue was as much a bounty hunter as the next man, in fact, in tracking Lomas, whilst that was his salaried job, there was always a bonus for picking up nuisance makers (and Lomas certainly had been, at times, in Hellsborough and elsewhere), which was always a part of the appeal. Life was dangerous. Period. You had to accept danger to survive. This would keep him on his toes and when the job was done, he'd be able to afford a little holiday, or maybe he'd even accumulate enough money to buy himself out of the service altogether, get himself a little business of some sort.

Mold nodded.

Thank you Mold, said the commissioner and Willow in unison.

And there is one other condition, added the commissioner.

Which is?

Willow will accompany you.

I work alone, just me and Kibble.

Then how will you recognise our people?

You are genetically distinct from any people I've ever seen; the red hair, the sallow skin, your eyes, you all have these traits.

True, but this is the condition, said the commissioner with finality.

And if I can't help, added Willow, then at least I can watch your back, I know the Wisewood and the netherlands better than anyone.

Mold conceded. Her knowledge of this dump was better than his, and better than Kibble's too, no doubt. And she could fight, with tooth and nail he supposed, if need be.

Then you begin tomorrow, suggested the commissioner, but now we eat and sleep, you can leave early in the morning. We have culled a tard in your honour, is that satisfactory to you?

Mold nodded his assent. Later, satiated with fatty wooltard and filled with the Wood clan's potcheen sleeping draught, he retired with Willow to her shack and separated by Kibble, they slept.


Today Jason, is going to be a very fine day of hunting.

Why's that then boss?

Pass me that dead tad there, said Lomas, indicating a flattened wetbreath. Because we now have our poison arrows, more fire power than any subnorm out there. They'll not know what's hit 'em. And with that annoying synth-cop Mold now out of the way, there's nothing to worry about.

He sliced into the tad's venom sac with the tip of an arrow, coating it with a fine film of poison, and did likewise with several others.

But boss, enquired Jason, surely a long range attack is not altogether consistent with your trade as a pest controller?

Oh, how so?

Well, don't you need to know that the target is both synth and insane *before* you can retire them?

I was right with the synth-cop and we took him out from range, with a gutterball! Wasn't I?! Hah! We're not in Hellsborugh now, if you hadn't noticed! No, we observe, from a distance. We know that they're all loopy out here, we also know there's a hell of alot of synths roaming about, so fifty percent of the time we're right.

And the other fifty percent?

Are one hundred percent bio -- and wasterels, garbage, pissheads and unwants the lot of 'em -- and, none will be missed! My returns will still say SYNTH in big letters!

And no-one ever checks the palm prints.

Correct! They're not even missing!

But that's unethical, criminal.

In Hellsborough, sure, but we're outside city limits here, we're off limits! But, I'm only aiming to wound, ha! I like them better that way, without their symbiot! Crack-shot sir, crack-shot!

I think you've cognitised one too many boss.

Never! Ever! Say that again!

OK, boss, OK, it just makes me feel uncomfortable, that's all.

Tosh! Cognitisation is a drug and I'm, we're, addicted. You'll soon start moaning when we leave them behind. Better to keep them safe here in the museum, they like it here. A museum to biological humanity, a true work of art. The mental and the physical mixing through my work, pest control at its purest, music at its most vulnerable. Lomas stopped tipping the arrows and picked up his ukele, began tapping out a song that sombrely talked of time gone by and times to come, a song about a young man named John Shalesmoor and his travels through the world, or what was left of it. He sang about the solitude of Shalemoor's life and how he drifted from one life changing event to another, when all poor John wanted to do was have a steady job and provide for his family.

Probably ended up in the museum, said Jason as Lomas finished the song with a flourish.

Indeed. Anyway, that should have woken up the natives! How about a spot of sport my lad? Time to take this pest control malarky seriously, eh?!

Lomas collected up his pest controller's bag, crossbow and poison tipped arrows, kicked out the fire and after casting his eyes briefly over the museum, bounced out of the hollow in which his base resided. Comparatively heavily armed, Lomas had a confidence now greater than ever before, and he had never been shy when it came to the confidence business. Privately educated and of the noble caste, he was born for the pest control game, having a somewhat lowly opinion of lifeforms that didn't measure up to his own social standing; but cognitising was reaping a heavy toll on his sanity and that had been preciously scant to begin with. He scanned the area, looking for pests (as he preferred to call them -- victims to the rest of us).

From his vantage point, the place named Parkwood, he could see the far Eastern boundary of the junkyard at Longley with The Top beyond, where it butted up to the ancient fortified walls of Wincobank. There was a little activity, foragers mainly, they might make interesting quarries, but today he wanted to try his new tools out on something a little more unusual. He had in mind something new for his museum, a centre piece, something deliciously savage to show to his visitors when they finally came. He envisioned a mad king on horseback or a tax collector resplendent with money bags, or maybe a pregnant woman.

Yes, he thought, that *would* be a prize and a superb centre piece indeed. A bio female heavily pregnant with the spore, that would be a handsome addition! Ha!

And there must be one or two around here, chimed Jason, after survival, sex is their biggest instinct, in fact I wouldn't mind speculating that for a lot of them, it comes ahead of survival, proliferation of madness. There's a commune over there, look, he said, pointing to the left of Longley, an area known as Southey, I understand. Maybe we can pick one off from there; after we've done the necessary observation, obviously.

Come then, Jason, let us go and observe!

As they walked at a quick march, Lomas and Jason could feel the alpha waves of various fauna competing for their attention, they ignored them or told them to leave them alone, now was not the time, they were on a mission. A mission to Southey, the formidable Southey, one of the most ferocious areas of the whole junkyard, more dangerous than even the infamous Moonshine lane, but not because of rogue symbiots, solitary grizzlers, gnawmards and razor billed squawkwings, but because man, when in congregation with man, when lacking in mental stability was the most volatile of all the creatures on the surface of the Earth. Lomas's face formed into a charmingly maniacal smile, today, he chuckled, is going to be fun!


Willow coaxed the sportster into the air at murkrise. Overnight, she had opened her mind to Mold and their dreams had become united and now they shared a symbiotic closeness. From Firthwood, they retraced their steps of the night before in search of the lost ones and, more importantly to Mold, Willow knew, Lomas. Back at the previous night's dump zone, they could see the massiveness of the operation. Maybe a thousand gruizers lay twisted and dead in the wreckage. It was too early for looters now and the bodies languished in the early murklight. After surveying the dump zone, Willow did an about turn and, under Kibble's tutorage, headed back to the pub on the outskirts of Parkwood, and the site of Mold's original fight with Lomas. A few gutterballs were up early messing in the murkrise, but there was no sign of human activity.

Where to now then? Said Mold.

Let's scan awhile, get a feel for the area, said Willow, pointing to an area close to he summit of Parkwood.

Land it, we'll search on foot, we might see signs of activity, all I can see up here is tree tops.

Willow landed the sportster close to the summit where there was a clear area of asphalt.

You go that way, she said to Mold and Kibble, indicating a pathway to the left, I'll head over here. We'll stay in contact, just in case.

Mold meandered through the endless carcasses of gruizers, looking for evidence of Lomas, but saw none. He entered the wood, the murk thicker than usual, meandering through the tree canopy.

We don't stand a chance of finding him through all this, Mold said to Kibble, fighting his way through the vines that blocked his path, how did he find me so easily last time, when I had only been here a few hours?

Who knows, maybe he saw your drop?

Yes, maybe, or just luck perhaps, or maybe his hideout was nearby all along. Which way was the location of the fight?

About half a click back, said Kibble.

They re-traced their steps and began heading in the same direction that Willow had taken, by now, she was several moments ahead.

We're behind you now, Willow, Mold communicated, but there was no answer, for some reason, despite her last message, her mind was in closure.

Looks like we're on our own then, he grumbled to Kibble, nothing new there then.

They continued along Moonshine Lane, passing an old, stagnant, reservoir. The going was muddy and thick with footprints. He thought he recognised Willow's and Kibble confirmed they were recent, they still resonated a pattern of heat that was no more than a few tics old.

Without warning, radio communication was restored with a short, painful gasp that made Mold and Kibble think that Willow was choking. Mold began to run, as best he could, slipping and sliding on the black peat. Nothing further was heard, despite his efforts at making contact. Eventually, in what seemed like hours, but was only a few tics, the pair, now out of breath and breathing heavily, reached the top of a rise.

Mafu! Willow screamed in Woodspeak into their heads, the shock sending them reeling from the power of the word, she repeated it time and time again, becoming more frantic and emotional with each outburst until, silence. But Mold could still hear the telepathic scream, although more distant. He began to regain his composure and look around him, the scream still audible, but fainter. He realised that Kibble was still in contact, but his mind was not and briefly wondered how it was possible that Willow has closed off her mind to him, but not Kibble. Then he became aware that it was he that had done it. He was selectively blanking out Willow's cries of pain, but still picking her up in miniature through his symbiot. He straightened now and scanned around him. Still early, there was no movement he could see, but he knew he could locate Willow with Kibble. Using him as a homing beacon, he continued to where Kibble thought Willow was transmitting from, and as he reached the top of a hollow, he saw Willow, invisible from the pathway, her back facing him and her face, he knew without seeing, contorted in silent pain.

As he approached he saw her collapse onto her knees and went to support her, but she hit the ground unconscious before he could reach her. He checked her pulse, she'd fainted, consumed by mental stress. It was only then that he turned his attention to the source of her horror.

Before them, naked and covered in lesions was an emaciated corpse of a human, face down, but clearly a woman, bound tightly to the bulkhead of a long dead gruizer. So decayed was the gruizer that the woman has begun to sink into its bonnett and tendrils of bindweed and filchgrass had grown through it and over her wraith like form. He approached tentatively lifted the woman's head by her hair. A handful came loose and her head slumped forward on the windscreen. Mold pressed his fingers to her neck and detected a faint pulse, slow and variable, but present nonetheless; yet there was no emanation of alphawaves from her mind, she was, Mold supposed, based upon Willow's previous cries, in a state of closure. Mold removed his coat and placed into over the woman, feeling the chill morning air touch the sweat that had formed all over his body making him shiver involuntarily.

Now he studied the enclosed hollow more closely. Other bodies, some male, others female, six more in all, adorned gruizers in various poses, all naked and bound, and all in the same emaciated state as the first, Willow's mother and all, by the unmistakeble breeding, Firthwood foresters. The first he approached, a male or indeterminate age was in an advanced state of decomposition, biceps and calf muscles sunken and melted away. The second, a woman the same and the third. The fourth had been a child of maybe eight years old. The final two, a male and female, were bound together in a perverted state of penetration, their faces and fingers in a putrified embrace.

If I could, said Kibble, I'd retch.

Mold did.

A twig cracked above them and a cross-bow bolt catapulted Kibble to the ground with a sickening thud.


The second bolt pinned Mold through the shoulder to the rear wing of a gruizer, generating a mental expletive that Lomas picked up readily.

How are you alive synth?!

Mold, his mind open, didn't reply, just twisted away, ripping the bolt from the soft flesh of the gruizer and then pulling it out of his own body with a grimace.

Lomas concentrated on Kibble, telepathically summoned him, aiming to use him as before, but this time, Kibble was with Mold and it was Mold who did the summoning, gradually rolling Kibble, dazed as he was towards himself and then levitating him to head height. The gutterball posed in mid air, waiting. Mold and Kibble both could feel Lomas pushing the gutterball towards Mold and the confusion on his face when Kibble didn't move as commanded. Suddenly, Lomas began to laugh and released his thoughts from Kibble, who remained where he was, only for a moment as Mold dropped him to the ground, but the hoax had been discovered and Lomas was now reloading his crossbow and moments later had in trained on Mold.

So who are you then synth?! Said Lomas with a leer, been sent here to get me have you?

Mold still kept silent, but Lomas had already read Kibble, A cop eh? A synth cop. Now why would they send a synth cop after a lowly pest controller, heh?!

You know why, Lomas, Mold spoke at last, you're insane yourself, you've been cognitising, you can't be allowed to run amok doing things like that! You terrorised Totley and Dore and I nearly had you then, but you slipped away. Took me a while to find you again, but I knew I would. Drop the crossbow, Lomas, it's over.

Ha! Drop the crossbow. Now why should I do that, why don't I just kill you -- again -- right now, who'd know? You guys never work with backup, so you're alone and your synth corpse will be gone by tomorrow.

What make you thinks I'm alone?

If you mean that gutterball, the one who killed your symbiot?!

No me, said Willow, who had approached Lomas from behind, unseen and her mind in closure. She gave him the full force of her longbone weapon to his left temple, and that's for Mafu, you animal! She bludgeoned him some more, his face becoming a welt of blood.

Jason, had fainted.

Don't kill him, said Mold, I need him alive.

After what he's done to mother?! She screamed.

It can be reversed! Mold struggled to make himself heard over the effort Willow was focusing on Lomas.

What can? She said, finally holding the longbone aloft and not bringing it down again, Look at her!

I know, consoled Mold, I've seen her, and the others, but those that are alive, we can get their memories back.

Their memories, she echoed, what's he done to them?!

Cognitised them, he's taken their memories as his own and left them with none, but those memories are still there, in his head, we can get them back.

But he's insane!

He's been cognitising out here, bios and synths both, and you know the sanity of this junkyyard, he's taken on multiple personalities maybe a thousand fold.

But how will we get the right memories back into Mafu, what if we make her insane too?

Willow saw movement out of the corner of her eye and swung around raising her bone again. The face that met her from the shadows showed no fear, only subordination. Willow could see that the young woman was heavily pregnant.

Hello darling, what's your name then? Cooed Willow, all anger seemingly dissipated. The creature didn't answer, nor could she as Lomas had done the same to her as to the others and, although she didn't resemble a Firthwood forester, her external features matching those of a Ley, inwardly, she was the same, sucked of all memory and personality -- an empty shell. Willow tried several languages and attempted to read her mind before Mold said:

You'll not get through to her, Lomas has cognitised her too. Another exhibit for this macabre museum to humanity, I assume. We'll take her with us, all of them, back to your township and those that are still alive we'll rebuild; those that didn't make it you can say your prayers for before we put them to rest. Bind him, quickly before he wakes up.

Nursing his wounded shoulder, he returned to the sickening museum and began to free the living ones.

We'll need to walk back those that have survived, he said to Willow, there's too many to take in the sportster, how far back to Firthwood?

Three clicks or so, indicated Kibble, get Willow to fly her Mafu, the pregnant girl and Lomas, we can shepard the rest of the living back, I know the way. The dead can be collected by the Firthwood foresters.

Willow nodded her ascent and wordlessly went to collect the sportster, returning a short while later. In the meantime, Mold had completed untieing the living and covered the dead for their later collection. Together they guided Willow's Mafu and the pregnant girl into the sportster and roughly manhandled the prostrate Lomas into the same, Willow adding a swift kick to his stomach for good measure, he didn't wince or even stir, just laid in his state of unconsciousness.

It was highmurk when Mold, Kibble and the surviving Firthwood forester revenants arrived at the township.

Lord of the Forest

Mold, you have brought my wife back to me, but she is not my wife anymore, said The Commissioner.

When Lomas has regained some consciousness, I'll restore her memories commissioner, he's still out cold now.

But how? She is nothing now, I can't reach her at all.

I'll need Willow to act as a surrogate mind, she being blood of your wife, she has the most mental connectivity, even if Willow doesn't feel it, she'll be able to open the lady commissioner's mind sufficient for transfer, like blindsight. Her physical brain is still intact, the neurones still lay in the same configuration that they always have, but through Willow, we can connect to the ancient lower brain, the thalamus and the hippocampus and from there, refresh the neural pathways with thoughts that I will extract from Lomas.

But won't Lomas prevent it?

He can't, he'll only be semi-conscious and if he does, the threat of physical violence will quell him and he'll submit. Now, ready Willow and blood relatives of the others. They don't need to be in here, but they do need to be open to me so I can channel the memories back.

As Lomas began to stir, Mold went to work on the jumble of thoughts in Lomas's diseased mind, sifting and sorting the content and passing to the relevant blood relative who would then pass it to their loved one. Gradually the blood relatives began to see tears forming in those listless eyes, as colour returned to their sallow cheeks and comprehension to their heads.

Lomas was still not fully conscious when the job was complete and Mold continued to go through the sick and psychotic memories of dozens of Lomas's victims. Only one revenant remained now - the young pregnant woman. Mold had the commissioner bring her to him, but without a blood relative, Mold had no idea whether he could restore her memories, presumably the exacid instructors that had shown him the blood relative technique had tried this sort of thing direct and failed, which is why the blood relative was required. But he had to try anyway, he couldn't just leave her in this vegetative state. He put out his mind to her, and as expected, could read nothing. He picked around Lomas's thoughts for hers and began to channel them towards her, pushing them with as much force as he could muster, but she remained expressionless, lost in her own nothingness.

Mold led her to a corner of the shack and sat her down, out of the corner of his eye a black rat scuttled by, but when he turned to see it, there was nothing there, a mere phantasm, perhaps. But then he saw another to his left and one more to his right. He turned to see Lomas now standing, freed from his bindings.

I am too strong for you here, synthman, you brought the Lord of the Forest to the forest, don't look so surprised! I command the animals! Why did you think I could take these foresters away so convincingly?! They are lovers of nature and their surroundings, why on d'divi's earth wouldn't they follow someone who could take a rat in his hand or a corvid on his shoulder?

Mold made a move to apprehend Lomas, only to face an angry crowd of hissing rats that barked and spat at him as he tried to approach. Kibble landed in front of them and tried to disperse them, but they had no fear of him, charged as they were by Lomas's telepathic madness. Lomas had already gone, out of the shack and under the cover of the murk, he had evaded them again, melting like a wraith into the woodland. In time, the rats backed off and ran for their own cover, leaving Mold with the revenant girl and Kibble. Mold went and inspected the health of the Firthwood foresters and found them joyous and revelling with food and their potcheen. He explained to them about Lomas, but they were too involved in their entertainment to listen or care, but Mold knew Lomas would be back, maybe not today, but soon.

The End, Part I

Lomas had made good speed on his return to his encampment, his mania and paranoia growing with every footstep. There were many vagrants hanging around the old streets of Southey, but he passed them by, comfortable that his mental state was far more powerful than anything they would want to handle, even in packs. They knew who he was in anycase, he was the pest controller, he had the knowledge, however sick his mind had become, and the tools and so they gave him wide berth.

Anger emanated from him, a livid, spitting venom. When he reached Parkwood and saw that the museum had been entirely eradicated he gave a great scream of twisted anguish and tore into the rotting gruisers with his bare hands, ripping away body panels and fuselage like paper. His mind writhed like a thousand venomtooths and the mist of destruction descended until the yard was twisted and broken, his hands bloodied and his face tattered with scratches and scars, his eyeballs black and fixated, the whites of his eyes red with poisonous blood. He would return now and rebuild his museum, recapture his specimens and recognitise them as he had done before, restore his balance and he would finally reduce the synth cop to ashes, as he had done, should have done before.

His eyes still burning with hate, Lomas approached Firthwood from the West; he could hear their partying from afar and decided that the young and the weak, who would be asleep by now would be his easiest targets. The first shack on the edge of the township was silent as he crossed the threshold, but he could hear the unmistakable sound of sleep coming from the next room.

My friend, said Lomas in thought, It is I, the Lord of the Forest, the lover of all of the animals and birds, the insects and reptiles, the trees and flowers and shrubs. I have come for you, come to take you back to the wondrous nature that you love so much. We will be together, forever united in a fusion of nature.

Lomas heard snuffles as thoughts passed into his mind, but no mental message was returned, he continued into the room and spoke again in his soothing tones. In the corner, he could see the sleeping form of the elderly woman, his first new acquisition. He approached closer and put out his hand, resting it on the woman's shoulder and shaking her slightly, until she broke free from the sleep that held her immobile. Eyes opening with the warmth of recognition as she saw that it was indeed The Lord of the Forest, the great lover of nature, who had appeared in her dreams. She made to sit up in the bed, but Lomas pressed down or her to keep her immobile as he removed his pest controller kit from his belt and with further soothing words, sent messages of his good intent. Still he could not read her thoughts, but it was no matter, soon she would be his first victim, just a little scratch and she would be completely under his control. He would stash her pacified self beyond the village boundary and return for the next and the next until his museum was restored. He reached toward her with an ether drenched swab, whispering kindness and looking directly into her eyes with a warmth quite impossible for a mind so diseased -- a look that could only be carried off by a person in the deepest throws on insanity.

Mold waited until the last moment, as the ether swab was almost upon him, to remove himself from closure, doing so with such speed and force that the mental bolt physically jolted Lomas back and the swing of his legs as he brought them forward from the bed, tumbled Lomas into a confused heap on the ground. Spitting and fiery, Lomas recoiled and tried to right himself, but Kibble was well aimed, and flung with a force so severe, that upon impact with the bridge of Lomas's nose, it caved in, piercing his frontal lobe. Lomas howled and writhed, unable to see, blinded by the impact of the gutterball. Kibble, carried by a wave of potential energy, rose to the ceiling and then dropped, letting gravity take his full weight and landing upon Lomas's windpipe, crushing it into his spine and severing the spinal cord, paralysing him from the neck down.

Body immobile and brain in shock, Lomas's brain went haywire, spewing telepathic diarrhoea at high volume, crazed, depraved bolts of mental energy.

He's dieing, and quickly, thought Kibble, but I think I have a way to save the girl.

Then how? Said Mold, pulling back the bed covers to reveal the pregnant revenant girl beside him in the bed.

You and I must part company, said Kibble, if I become her symbiot, you can channel his, her, dying thoughts from Lomas via me.

But how do we part, how can we unlink the mental connection? I know of no way that it can be done without either of us dieing.

No, me neither, confided Kibble, I was hoping you'd make a suggestion.

The End, Part II

What happened?! Said Willow, returning to the shack having consumed her fair share of potcheen during the celebrations.

He, Lomas, returned, said Mold, we dealt with him, he's dying now.

Good, best thing for him, said Willow.

But what about her, said Mold, looking towards the revenant girl.

What about her? Said Willow, she's a Ley, just trash; means nothing to me, or you. Take her back to the Leys, let them deal with her.

No. Not my way, said Mold, we must restore her.

But you can't, you tried. Retorted Willow.

I need to release Kibble. He can then become her symbiot and I can channel Lomas's dieing thoughts. Do you, or your people know another way?

Maybe, pondered Willow, but, no, it wouldn't work.

What? Tell us. He's dieing fast, we need to know.

Well, she started, when we Firthwood foresters are young, up until adolescence, when we face the change, when we overcome our fears and pass into adulthood, some of us maintain a connection with a particular animal of the forest, one that we have grown up with. We have a mental connection, can see through its eyes and hear through its ears. We smell though its nostrils. After we have passed the exam, the connection is ripped away and we no longer possess the same insights. It is a painful departure, she added, a wistful, almost tearful note to her voice.

But how do you break the connection? Said Kibble.

We don't, she said matter of factly, the animal does.

You mean Kibble has to do it? Said Mold.

I don't know whether he can, I mean, he's not bio is he, he's a synthetic organism. Do they possess the same methods?

I grow like any other species, said Kibble, I have just been engineered, that's all; I don't feel any different to an indigenous species, I was just developed, that's all.

OK, said Mold, let's assume Kibble can do it. How does he do it.

He dies. Said Willow.


Yes, but in doing so, he transfers, cognitises, with you Mold, becomes one. He ceases to exist physically, yet lives on in you.

Which means we can't use him to channel Lomas's thoughts back to the girl!

But don't you see?! Said Willow raising her voice.

No, not at all.

When we met, when I attacked you the first time by the sportster, you thought it was my symbiot. But I have no symbiot.

So what attacked us?

I did, in the form of my animal, Craikwing, my hawk. That is why you never saw her again, it was me, I changed then returned to myself. But Craikwing is still here, Willow pointed to her breast, inside me.

So, let me get this right, said Kibble, I need to die, voluntarily. I then become a part of Mold, forever, yet I am still me, inside him. And, at any time, Mold can become me. Right?

With practise, said Willow, but yes, that's about it.

Well, here goes, thought Kibble as he tried to breath his last metaphorical breath, I want to die, I need to die, he thought, but he could still feel that he was in his own spherical form. Then Lomas's mania reached him, cursing and spitting and spewing unholy vitriol, and Kibble realised that he was meant for better things than this, he knew that Lomas was wrong and what he had to do was right, the correct path, his destiny. He never felt like he had lost consciousness, but maybe he had because when he awoke, Mold was writhing with a mental agony he (Kibble) had never before experienced. He saw his own spherical shape through Mold's eyes, silent now, dead and already, within just a few short tics, beginning the quick process of decomposition that was a feature of the synthetic form when mental energy is lost.

Then a blackness consumed him, them both, as Mold's body passed out with the pain of the symbiotic cognitisation. They awoke to Willow slapping them in the face and dazed, but basically healthy, knew what they needed to do. Mold approached the revenant girl and placed his head against hers, Kibble mentally snuggled up to her nothingness, he felt the vacant void of her mindlessness, but he could feel something, touch something, the ancient mid-brain. All of a sudden he felt the channelling, felt the girl's pure thought, of joy at the baby, of poverty in the Ley, of childhood and adolescence, mother, father, sister, daughter, wife. He felt it all flood through, a sea washing over him, through him, into her. Her name is Lilly, he realised, fifteen; her baby is a boy.

"Where am I," said Lilly, "and where have I been?"

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