BEST DRAMA SHORT FICTION
STEEL MARIONETTE MAIDENS X
...and for just a moment, the A-I aboard the _Sumeria_ was
distracted, but that moment was enough. The lethal beams raining
down on both the oncoming ship and the defenseless planet below
slackened and lost their points of aim, allowing the _Alzariguar_
to surge upwards into the very belly of the orbiting colony ship.
The A-I resumed firing, pouring all the power it could muster at
them, but it was too late. Straight into the hull of the _Sumeria_
they smashed, the _Alzariguar_ slamming through layers of
deck and armor and coming to rest deep in what had once been
the storage holds.
The android maidens wasted no time disembarking; the _Sumeria_
would also have defenses inside and would bring every weapon
it could to bear on them.
"That way!" Android NS-3 'Nyssa' pointed down a corridor. "The
main computer core should be down there."
"How can you be sure?" demanded RM-2 'Romana'. "There isn't
anything in our databanks about this ship."
"It just... feels right."
"I feel it, too," agreed LL-1 'Leela'. "Fate leads us in that direction."
"Androids shouldn't believe in fate," PR-5 'Peri' chided.
"Ah, stuff that," TG-4 'Tegan' shot back. "How else do you explain
everything that's happened except by fate? Why else are we here
now?" She wiped away a sudden moistness in her eyes. "If it
weren't for that, we'd still be with... with him..."
Nyssa patted her on the shoulder. "We all agreed, remember?
No regrets now."
"I'm going, I'm going," Tegan sighed. "I don't want to, but I will."
"We'd all rather stay with him," Peri agreed, "but we all know this
is the only way to save everyone. We have to join our Drama
Short Fiction Circuits to the _Sumeria's_ main computer to try and
mollify it, or it'll destroy the whole planet."
"I know, I know! Let's just get to it, before the _Sumeria_
figures out some way to stop us." No sooner had Tegan
spoken than a barrage of energy beams scorched the thin air
They charged straight into that burning storm, cybernetic speed
and reflexes sending them ducking and weaving through the
volleys without harm. Leela was the first to reach the automatic
gun turrets. Bracing her feet, she grabbed one in each hand and
tore them from their mounts, silencing them.
'This was what I was created to do,' she thought. 'I fight to
protect the ones I love, my sisters here and all my friends down
below. And you, my beloved. I can do this because your love
gave me strength and summoned the Story within me...'
And her story, the one she was created to carry, 'Chestnuts
Roasting on an Open Fire', by Igenlode Wordsmith, played out in
her memory core...
Danik settled himself by the fireside with Hilde and Linde, long
limbs folding under him, while Osman sank down into the chair
beside Magda and slipped an arm around his wife, resting his cheek
against her hair. Jenija nestled over from his arms into those of her
mother, but kept her hand firmly clutched around his. After a
moment Katija came and leaned up against his knees.
For long minutes there was no sound save contented breathing, and
the soft hissing of the coals. Liesl quietly spread a few more
chestnuts into the ash.
The _Sumeria_ fired a volley of missiles at them, the A-I willing to
risk damaging its own systems in its bid to stop the maidens.
But Romana was in their path, her battle-sensors analyzing flight
trajectories and angles of force. A small tap here, a graceful push
there, and the rockets were nudged off-course as they shrieked
past, flying off to wreak their havoc in other decks.
She thought, 'This is my moment. If I am not fully a person, I am
more than a machine. This is what it feels like to be alive, and for
that I am so grateful to you, master. You taught me how to live
and what it means to be human. Right now I am more alive than
I ever have been.'
And the story that was built into her circuits, 'A Fairy Story', by
Clive May, began to tell itself...
Only after he had taken his sharp shears, and snipped the Threads
of Life, did he notice that anything was amiss. There seemed
something extra woven into the breast of the Princess.
A Great Lord was calling, that very hour, to collect his new Princess.
The Weaver did not know what to do. There was no time to weave
another; and the Great Lord would surely be angry at having to wait.
So he quickly dressed the Princess in the fine gown sent by the
Lord, and not a moment too soon; for at that very minute the Lord
called to collect his new baby.
After thanking the Weaver, the Wizard rushed off without even
inspecting his new daughter. He never did notice that his new child
had a little brown bird for a heart, which fluttered and fluttered to
Which was a great sorrow, because if he had, then much sadness
for the Princess might have been avoided.
As they reached a junction in the corridors, heavy blast-proof
doors began slamming down all around them, walling them in and
cutting them off from their goal. But Nyssa merely smiled and flicked
on the ion beam built into her fingers. Four quick slashes and there
was an android-sized hole for them to pass through.
'You are here beside me,' she thought, 'even though you're far away
now. And with you, I can do anything. Anything. As long as I
know you're there.'
The story in Nyssa's circuitry was 'Sir Daric's Tale', by BKWillis, and
it, too, began to run...
So she turned to the last page he'd written, the last he would _ever_
write, a thought that hurt a bit worse than she felt it should, and this
is what she read:
'left the party on the King's magic carpet, the King and Sir Daric and
the Flower Princess and the Lady of the Upside-Down Lands,
leaving the False Flower Princess and her family behind. Sir Daric
wondered if the King would really take him home this time, but the
King seemed occupied with other things. But that was okay, too,
because maybe if he stayed with the King a bit longer, he might just
be able to tell the Flower Princess how he felt. He hoped so,
anyway, because even though Sir Daric was brave and strong, his
courage kept leaving him when it came time to say the word "love",
proving that even the brave warrior who'd faced down enemies like
the Great Snake and its minions had his weaknesses. Still, he had no
doubt that in the end he would prevail, as he always did. He was the
hero, after all, and the hero should always get the girl he loved in the
end. That was the way things worked.'
In the next chamber, the conduits had been torn loose from the walls
and the live wires inside lashed out at them, sparks flying like summer
lightning. Peri raced ahead to take them on, twisting and dodging as
she grabbed wires by the handful and tied them into big bow knots.
'We were together,' she thought, 'and that's what matters. Whatever
else happens, we were together and nothing can change that. Don't
forget me. And I will try as hard as I can to make sure I remember
Peri's story was 'Before and After', by Imran Inayat, and the thought
of it burned in her systems.
Before, he doubts he would have seen her as anything more than
an audience - maybe a tool, what with her Siren gift. Might have
been useful for all those summoning rituals...
After, though... after, with the loss of all the demonic baggage, with
the shift in his nature, and most importantly of all, with being a parrot,
falling for her came easily.
He doubts it would have come so easily, without the rebirth -
without the transformation into a creature even close to her position,
into a creature who wasn't a threat. Into a form without the years
That... would have been wrong, by any standard he could imagine,
can now imagine.
She's a _girl_ - she deserves the chance to enjoy her childhood, the
childhood she's discovered.
And it is not something he wishes ever to take from her.
The _Sumeria_ had assembled a small horde of its workbots --
bulbous little drones that it used to repair and modify itself -- and
it threw these at the maidens in a headlong assault. Manipulators
grasped at them and tool-tipped arms flailed away as they fought
their way through. A half-dozen grabbed at Tegan and held on,
but with a surge of power and anger, she tore free, ripping apart
the machines that clutched at her.
'I don't want this,' she thought. 'I don't want to be here and I don't
want to do what I'm going to have to do. But I will, because the
alternative is losing you forever, and I could never let that happen.
Even though it hurts to say goodbye like this, I know you're still
out there. I couldn't live if I didn't know that.'
'X, Y, Z...', by Imran Inayat was the story encoded in Tegan's
Drama Short Fiction Circuit...
You must understand this.
Allie and Sandra are soul-twins, sharing a mutual soul. Bound
together through perhaps one of the most fundamental connections
any can share.
When Nameless was sealed off from the Outside Dimensions,
sealed off by the mad creature that called itself a god, Allie
managed to escape.
Sandra did not.
Allie _knows_ Sandra still survives, knows it beyond all doubt.
She knows it, _feels_ it in her soul.
Sandra cannot pass on until Allie dies. As long as Allie lives, so
She cannot die.
But she can suffer.
Oh, she can suffer.
The computer core was close, now, and the _Sumeria_ was becoming
desperate. It focused all its power into a single huge beam and
fired it down the last corridor.
As the android maidens jogged ahead, an object slipped out of
Nyssa's blouse -- a small golden statuette made in the likeness of
their beloved master.
"Oops! Oh no!" Nyssa made a grab for the statuette as it fell, just
as the beam shot toward them.
The other four maidens dove aside, but the narrowness of the corridor
left Nyssa nowhere to go. The beam seared straight at her...
...and over her head, as the act of dropping down to catch the statue
put her safely out of danger.
She clutched the statue tightly to her chest. "He protected me. Even
so far away, he protected me."
The others nodded knowingly. In a way, they'd always known that
he loved Nyssa best, but they didn't begrudge her that. They knew
he loved them all, and that was enough. Even the statuette he'd
given her, signifying the vote that her story, 'Sir Daric's Tale', by
BKWillis was the Best Drama Short Fiction no longer made them
And in the escape capsule they'd tricked him into, Adric slowly
fell toward planet Adwecia. A young man, he was at that stage
where tears do not come so freely as they do for children or those
with the weight of years, so his eyes were dry. Yet his stare through
the porthole in the direction of the _Sumeria_ spoke volumes, as did
the crimson smears where he'd beaten his fists bloody on the glass.
"Why does it have to be this way? Why do _you_ have to be the
sacrifices?" he whispered. "I never even got to tell you..."
BEST DRAMA LONG FICTION
INAYATA JONES AND THE TOMB RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
[The camera comes up on the first chamber of an ancient temple, of
no easily recognisable style. In the middle of the chamber are
treasure hunters ALLIE ALLINGHAM and IMRAN INAYAT -
ALLIE is looking over the manuscript she holds, whilst IMRAN
studies the walls of the chamber.]
IMRAN: [turning back] ...Okay, what's it say?
ALLIE: [reading from the manuscript] "Then came it time for the
Adric of 'Best Drama Long Fiction' to be awarded." [looks up] From
context, it looks to be of a piece with 'Best Comedy Long Fiction' -
the 'long' means it was for multi-part stories, while the 'drama' means
its focus was on stories which emphasised more serious elements
over more comedic elements.
IMRAN: [nods] Go on.
ALLIE: "Herewith follows an accounting of those six stories
judged worthiest of the prize."
[As she finishes reading, a stone slab comes rumbling down, sealing
off the chamber's entrance.]
IMRAN: ..._That's_ not good. [takes a deep breath] Okay. Okay.
What's it say next?
ALLIE: [voice quavering just a little] "First was that round-robin
called 'Dark Carnival', the tale of the terrible carnival of the brothers
Tod, and of those ensnared in their machinations.
"From that tale, hear now the story of the oracle Grandmother Nox,
and the vision that came upon her."
[There's a _clunk_ from deep within the temple, and with a
grinding noise the chamber's walls start closing in on the two
IMRAN: ...Oh, cruk.
Far from the unfolding scene, Grandmother Nox sits in her tent,
ensconced amidst incense fumes and gaudy debris, staring into a
smudged crystal orb that remains stubbornly remains empty even as
fleeting visions play across her mind's eye.
She cackles, seeing Lineus stumble like a drunkard through the
carnival, darkest obscenities bleeding from his lips. The flesh of his
right hand is crumbling into dust. He reels toward his caravan,
tottering up one step then two. The door opens. Strong arms gather him
The scene blurs, images cascading in rapid succession.
[In a darkened tent, Pirouette slumps like an abandoned toy discarded
in a corner. Her harlequin's rags are tacky with blood.]
[A frozen tableau: Ezra Tod stares down at a battered girl in the
dress of a gunslinger. She holds a pistol to her own head.]
[The fat brother, Ezekiel, stands outside the Ahkanten Brother's
crypt, lost in thought. Over and over, he flips a chipped yellow star
into the air and catches it. Flips the star and catches it.]
[A starving cat gnaws and worries at the arm of a crumpled figure clad
in yellow, lying forgotten in the dust outside of a tent. Tendrils of
smoke begin curling from a pocket.]
In her mind, the scene changes, the point-of-view zooming out until
she sees the whole carnival sprawled out below her. From above, the
carnival takes on a peculiarly organic appearance: sawdust-strewn
paths resolving into arteries to carry the rubes from tent to tent;
the rides looking for all the world like diseased organs.
Then diving again, to focus on a frozen tableau. Ezra Tod stares down
at a battered girl in the dress of a gunslinger. She holds a pistol to
her own head. Someone speaks.
[We return to ALLIE and IMRAN, who've managed to find a way
into the next chamber, the entrance once more sealing itself closed
[Both of them are looking seriously shaken.
[If either ALLIE or IMRAN were in a position to look up, they'd
notice that each wall of the chamber has a hole set in it up near
[Unfortunately, they're not.]
IMRAN: ...All right. What's it say next?
ALLIE: [voice wavering] "Second came 'The Invisible City',
Helen Fayle's tale of the power struggle that befell the planet
Breceliande, also called Skazki, as it came into its Summer, a struggle
that found its foundation to the pasts of those who fought - a
struggle to decide the fate of worlds.
"This is the tale of how the Lord of Summer came into his own."
[On that, foul sticky black goop starts spilling from the holes and
onto the floor.
[IMRAN and ALLIE try to lift their feet, to move out of the way,
only to find the black goop is holding their feet tight.
[And is still rising.]
'Is that all you have, Hunter?' Kai taunted. He shifted his grip on
the hilt of his sword, not even the powered armour disguising his
fatigue. 'I fought at Arthur's side, fought both with and against
Morgaine the Deathless, and fought off your petty rebellion. I've
commanded armies, and levelled whole planets. What have you
got that can take _me_, Bes-mertny?'
Kastchei lowered his sword, and smiled. 'This.'
Lord of Summer. It had never been just an empty title, but until the
moment when he felt it rise at his command, he'd doubted it. For over
a hundred and fifty years, he'd waited. Wondering.
No more. He called, and the planet answered.
Where Kai ap Eachtar had stood, a pile of ashes scattered on a cool
Where chaos danced death amongst his pack, there was sudden
order, the broken, bloodied remnants of the wild hunt limping towards
their master, who sat astride Sivushka, white horse, white rider blazing
with the full power of the Summer Country, come at last.
The Legion, already demoralised, broke and ran as the news was
relayed from a shocked armsman on board Prydwen. The Royal Guard
followed them, defying the clamouring summons of the kremlin.
Kastchei ignored it all, and leapt from Sivushka's back to land at
Yuri's side, and kneel beside the lifeless body. Slowly, the four
surviving hounds limped over to join him.
This was how Tal found him, a few minutes later: a bloodstained
angel of death, kneeling in gore. He deliberately scuffed the paving
as he approached, not wanting a sword in the chest.
'I'm sorry. He was a good man.'
'There are some debts that can never be repaid.' Kastchei stood up
slowly, and sheathed his sword with deliberate precision.
[IMRAN and ALLIE stagger into the third chamber.
[Both of them are covered in the thick black goop, and they've lost
IMRAN: ..._Right_. Let's see what _this_ one's got in store for us.
ALLIE: Uh-uh. [shoves translation in his hand] _I'm_ not about to
set off the next death-trap. _You_ can do it this time.
IMRAN: ...All right. [reads] "Third was Paul Gadzikowski's tale of
Space Galahad's secret project, and the desperate purpose for which
his father, Space Lancelot, sought it - the tale of 'The Grail Project'.
'Hear now the true intent of Lancelot's audacious search.'
[Little holes open up near the bottom of the walls, and from them
spill a horde of scorpions, drawn to the sticky goop on their clothes.]
ALLIE: ...Oh, cruk.
"What makes you think it's possible?" Morgan said.
"You wouldn't be here if you didn't know what Galahad's process is
capable of," Lancelot said.
"What you're proposing is a quantum leap beyond his
accomplishment to date and you know it."
"What are you proposing?" Elaine tried to ask.
"But you're a fantastic biologist too," Lancelot argued with Morgan.
"You created that clone of Guenevere that kept us all, even *it*,
guessing which was which for two years."
"I lured you lot to that dig *because* I only *thought* I knew what
the unearthed device would do," Morgan objected. "And only
Galahad can work with the Grail."
"Why is that?" Lancelot asked.
"His purity," said Morgan.
"Is it so strange that I should recognize purity?" asked Morgan.
"I can recognize what's in front of me when it hits me over the head,"
Morgan snapped. "According to my scryings, Galahad's faith in the
Christian God is so pure that he exists in a permanent state of grace.
He's infallible and can do no wrong."
"Praise God," said Bors in wonder.
"I serve the Lord the best I can," said Galahad with pretensionless
"What's going on?" Elaine demanded. "Lancelot, what is it you're
"Your beloved," Morgan answered her, "wants me and his bastard's
toys to bring his lover back from death."
[Fourth chamber now, and IMRAN and ALLIE have added ripped
trousers and scorpion stings to their list of woes.]
IMRAN: [mutters] Wonderful. Just wonderful. What's next? Spikes?
[Both of them twitch.]
ALLIE: ...You just _know_ it's going to be that, don't you? [sighs]
Okay, let's get it over with.
IMRAN: [reads] "Fourth was that story of B. K. Willis called 'She
Talks To Rainbows', the tale of how the Light Muse Nyssaias
sought to discover the true nature of that sinister girl called
Embericles, and eventually came to befriend her.
"This is the account of how Nyssaias confronted the monster
Embericles had become, and of the promise she made her in the
face of that horror."
[One of the walls withdraws into the ceiling, revealing a wall of
spikes behind it, which immediately begins advancing on the
ALLIE: [flatly] Joy.
Nyssaias stood rock-steady, holding the monster's hand in her
own. The beast had stopped struggling to get away and was just
standing, jackalish mouth open in surprise, the ghost-fog around
its body quiescent. A soft white glow surrounded them both,
driving some of the clinging shadows away.
The onlookers, freed of the paralyzing terror that had seized them,
had drawn back, but there was something about that glow,
something about the girl with the white angel-wings that kept them
there. There was a feeling in the air, an anticipation, as though
there was something important that needed witnessing.
Nyssaias opened her eyes and stared evenly into the monster's
palely glowing eye-sockets. "Embericles," she whispered. "Light
needs Darkness and Darkness needs Light. Neither can be
complete without the other. I am the Light that has reached out to
your Darkness. The decision is now yours to make. You say you
are nothing, that you have nothing and are fated to nothing. Well,
I am offering you something. If you refuse it, then there will be no
one to blame but yourself." She took a deep breath. "I know you
now and I offer myself in friendship to you. True friendship. I will
stand by you. I will care about you. I will be there when you need
me, to light your way. What do you say?"
The monster said nothing, but a shiver ran up its arm.
"I know you now," Nyssaias repeated, "and I understand things
that I couldn't, before. Because of you. And I will still hold love
for you in my heart, no matter how you answer."
[IMRAN and ALLIE, now bruised, battered and bleeding, eye the
sarcophagi set into each corner of the fifth chamber.]
IMRAN: [fatalistic] Skeletal warriors. It's going to be skeletal
warriors. [slumps] I don't think I can take much more of this.
ALLIE: Let me do this one. [takes back manuscript and starts reading]
"Fifth came there another of Willis's stories, called '...War Without
End, Amen', being an examination of that mission it was which drove
Jubal Jackson to leave the service of one-eyed Cain, and a glimpse
of that which drove said Cain in his fight against the Regulators.
"Herewith, behold a glimpse of the events of that final mission."
[As ALLIE finishes, the lids of the sarcophagi slide open, and four
skeletal warriors erupt, swords clenched tight in their bony hands.]
IMRAN: ...I hate being right.
"Cain, what the Hell are you doing?!" The muzzle of Jubal's auto-
shotgun was mere inches from his temple. He glanced at it, then at
the Star Marshal's fury-twisted face, then at the door. Without
hesitation he stepped into the doorway, raising the staser to take
aim down the corridor.
"Don't do it, Cain!"
The staser whined one last time as a choked scream and the thud of
falling meat sounded from the hallway. Cain nodded in satisfaction
and calmly slipped the pistol back into its holster.
He staggered a second later, as the butt of Jubal's shotgun
slammed into his back. Staggered, but didn't fall. He turned slowly,
to see the gun muzzle right under his nose. Jubal was shaking with
sick fury, but the shotgun was a steady as a rock.
"What the _f**k_ was that about?!" he demanded. "Those people
were _prisoners_. They'd _surrendered_, for God's sake!"
"A Regulator _can't_ surrender," Cain said quietly. "Not to me."
He made no sign that he even noticed the shotgun or Jubal's finger
on the trigger.
[IMRAN and ALLIE eye the surroundings of the next chamber
suspiciously, but nothing seems inclined to jump out and kill them.
[This doesn't make them feel any better.]
IMRAN: [panting] "Six", it said. "Six". You think this's the last one?
ALLIE: Let's hope so. [reads] "Sixth and finally was there the tale of
Ernestine de Roncourt, called also Ernestine de la Tour, but better
known as L'Aiglonne, the Young Eagle, 'Eagle's Daughter', which last
of these was given to the tale of her deeds scribed by Igenlode the
Wordsmith - a tale of how a foul imposter sought to claim those
lands which were hers by right, how, with the aid of Count Danik
of Ruritania and his loyal crew, she set herself against this imposter,
and how she and Danik came to fall in love and be married.
"Learn now how the Eagle's Daughter confronted that imposter in
hope of escape."
[The floor splits open beneath them, withdrawing into the walls
[The ground drops out from underneath him.]
Perhaps he had not thought me bold enough. Perhaps he had not
reckoned on the strength of desperation. Perhaps he had been made
over-sure by thestrength of the walls, and the blank sea that
surrounded us. Perhaps he had simply wished for no witnesses of
his planned sport... but he had set no guard within the chamber
when we had speech together, and sent away the sentry who always
stood without, and now as we struggled together hand to hand it
was my bare strength against his, and it was my strength that
Only for the first few seconds of surprise; but it was enough. I had
drawn the pistol from his belt, pinned him against the wall, and
pressed the muzzle to his throat. It was loaded. I could tell by the
waxen hue of his face as the hammer clicked.
We stared at each other, breathing hard. I cannot say what I saw in
his eyes. I believe that death was mirrored in mine.
"You won't be able to do it, you know." His tongue flickered
nervously to touch his upper lip; but his voice was commendably
steady. He managed a slight smile. "You won't be able to pull the
trigger. You can't kill a man in cold blood. If you haven't done it yet,
you'll never do it now..."
A spasm passed across his face as my hand clenched around the
weapon. For a moment I saw myself fire the shot. Saw the blood.
Saw the death at my feet. The safety of all that I loved. Felt the strain
of the trigger as my finger tensed.
Saw the life pulsing at his temples beneath the skin, the living,
thinking mind behind the eyes that could not hide their fear -- and
found that, to my fury, he was right. I could not -- could not, even
if I willed it, even if survival demanded it -- kill in cold blood. I told
myself that was the difference between us. My heart whispered that
I was afraid.
[ALLIE and IMRAN find themselves sprawled on the floor of a vast
cavern, and slowly begin to haul themselves to their feet, looking
around themselves as they do so.
[In the middle of the cavern is a plinth, on which stands the BEST
DRAMA LONG FICTION ADRIC AWARD FOR 2003.]
IMRAN: ...The Adric. [moves towards it, before hesitating] Does the
manuscript say anything else?
ALLIE: Um... [reads] "These, then, were the stories in contention for
the award, and the people deliberated among themselves which
should be the winner, before finally casting their votes.
"And the winner was... 'She Talks To Rainbows', by B. K. Willis."
[ALLIE and IMRAN look around warily, to see if any other nasty
surprises are waiting for them.
[Hesitantly, IMRAN steps forward and lifts the Adric off its plinth.
[Somewhere in the distance, a low rumbling sound begins.]
ALLIE: ...Oh no.
[ALLIE and IMRAN start to run for it, the Adric in hand.
[Moments later, a huge boulder bursts into the cavern, hard on their
[Our intrepid adventurers dare a look behind them, before throwing
themselves headlong towards the camera.
[The screen goes black.]