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My name is Jeffrey Pedlar and until last month I was a short story writer with a novel or two bandying about in my mind, and a career on its way to stratospheric heights – literally. I had signed a book deal with Cerulean publishers and was to begin serializing the first of five April Showers mystery adventures for them. I had never done sky writing before but Rupert Faraday, my former best-friend/ poet turned villainous Syndicate agent had told me it was a cinch, and for the amount of money I was to receive, well, let’s just say I would gladly have had Tinto, my dog, for breakfast. Okay, maybe not Tinto, that’s a bit extreme, but certainly his walker, April Sommers (on whom my mystery adventure novels were to be based). Actually, that’s no good either. April is edible enough on her own without the added incentive. But I digress. The point is, I was in. In the circle, in the money, in the cool.

Then of course, the damn war broke out and suddenly I had to choose: the Syndicate or the Independents. Of course I chose the Syndicate. I mean, why the hell not? They are bigger, make more money, give more publicity and have awesome mind-boggling intergalactic rock ‘n’ roll type book tours. And also Rupert said I should side with them. So I did. Boy was that a bad idea. It’s always the poor writer who gets screwed.

First, Cerulean publishers are independent so they pulled my contract, right in the middle of my first paragraph, chucked me out of the plane without so much as a ‘chute. I survived, obviously, but not without the requisite broken bones. I’m still prancing about on crutches. Yeah, wooden ones. I mean, I broke my legs for the Syndicate and they can’t spare some change for hover shoes?

“You’re just only a short story writer.” This was Ampersand – yes his real name. Royalty. Born into the Syndicate. He is EarthSyndicate’s Managing Editor, and an all-round asshole. This is an objective assessment, even his sister, Cedilla, agrees. She’s an asshole too. A pretty one, but there’s only one thing that comes out of assholes.

Worse than being denied the comfort of floating through air after suffering possible long-term damage to the lower extremities, are the daily assignments from the top brass. Rupert and I are writer’s for hire – mercenaries with word processors, propagandists, vilifiers, licensed libelers. I shudder to think how many have turned coat on account of our words, how many rot in the dungeons beneath the Castle at 1745, how many we have sent to the gallows. Oh how mighty the pen is! But in my defense, I am a poor writer. I doubt I’ve had as much success as Rupert. He enjoys these assignments, the fucker, likes to see the fruit of his labor. I should have known he was a sadistic sonofabitch. The signs were there. His first collection of poetry was called I Want to Hear You Scream. I had always thought it referred to adult play, which it does, but not really in that pleasant give and take way you’d expect a poet of his calibre to be master of. I picked up a copy the other day and I’ve been having nightmares since. Of course, not many people read in between the lines. You’d need a lemon for that, and an iron-box, but there’s very few iron-boxes still around, outside the museums. I have one but just because I like old electrical appliances. It’s a hobby of mine.

Worse still, than being a writer for hire for the Syndicate, is being a writer for hire for the Syndicate minus the pay. You’d think with its multi-gazillion yuan that they could at least shell out for lunch.

“You are just only a short story writer.” Ampersand again.

“I will have you know that short stories are difficult and complex and–”

“You will have me what?”Ampersand barked.

“No. No. I meant – in the meekest sense – your highness, that short stories have their merits–”

“Know your place, Pedlar.”

“Yes sir.”

“Editor. Writer. Managing Editor. Just only a short story writer.”

“Only just, your highness.”


“Only just a short story writer. Not just only. You’re inverting the wording.”

Of course I was mad, don’t let the tone of voice confuse you. Here was this little fucker telling me to know my place and all because of what, his random birth? The boy calls himself editor but has no facility for language – probably bribed his way through school. But I was also stupid. Never get into a pissing match with infantile over-compensators. Their egos are the stuff that destroy worlds.

So naturally, I was up against the wall, my legs dangling in mid-air and slowly dying of asphyxiation when I hatched my revenge scheme.

“That’s enough, Ed,” Ampersand said to his brain-dead brute of a bodyguard. “I think the just only short story writer has learned his place. And just when I was thinking to start paying you.”

The two walked off and I sat on the floor, my back to the wall, struggling to catch my breath. Then she walked in, ingredient number one of my cold cold dish: Cedilla, princess of the air, EarthSyndicate’s Associate Publisher.

I got up to greet her, cooed her name in the smoothest voice I could muster. She shot me a glance, walked past me and then flicked her wrist – an invitation to follow her. I obliged, unable to take my eyes off her silk-smooth legs. Jeffrey Pedlar, agent provocateur. I liked the sound of that. My little rebellion was about to begin.


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