Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The office is derelict, with many more overturned chairs than collapsed desks. Filing cabinets stand crooked and burst, the once-precious burdens they held now repurposed as nesting materials or fodder.

A few plasticised pieces of paper flick or wave in the desultory breeze, which enters through the hole where the wall collapsed into the alley – the piles of masonry broken by the protruding bones of some unfortunate caught in the fall.

Tonight the scavengers of this dank corridor, where the river Thames is slowly winning a guerrilla war against the low-end, are moving cautiously around the derelict office. In the only sturdy corner, one of the desks has been righted, and a chair placed behind it. In that chair a shadowed figure sits, the glowlight on the desk angled away, making the shadows of the alley seem more menacing.

In the alley, the new patches of inky dark cede before a black figure, who waits by the edge of the hole, invisible to the one who waits within.

“You know they’re going to blame you for this, don’t you?” The voice from behind the desk is conversational and cultured.

“I’m not responsible.” The reply from the shadows of the alley is guttural to the point of incomprehensibility.

“I did not say you were at fault. I said you were going to be blamed. It is a subtle difference; only for those directly affected.”

“What my sib did is not on me. Whyfor you blame me? Seek the one who held my sib in thrall.”

“Your sib, and you, are an urban legend, living testament to the errors of the early animorph projects. With your body in the light, the sensation will cause the spotlight to fall elsewhere. A monster is better for headlines than some convoluted plot about a chip and its maker.”

“My sibs are not for your diversions, Mister Manter. You should have looked elsewhere for them.”

The figure behind the desk quietly presses the button on a small, secure transmitter. The winds picks up, and the dark beyond the fading illumination of the glowlight seems to deepen. The figure behind the desk quirks his head, as if an expected event has not occurred.

A clawed hand extends into view. The pallid scales are almost obscured by dried blood. In that massive grip, a receiver flashes silently.

“We are not man-made mutants, Mister Manter. My father watched the sons of the Third Reich rain bombs upon this city, and his father swam through the bodies drifting away from the Great Fire. I venture that I will live to see all the outcomes of tonight’s endeavours. You, however…”

The voice growled into silence, and Mister Manter launched himself from behind the desk, his Sireo chargegun punching fist-sized holes through the outer wall.

“Damn you, Sharktor! You’ll not take me!”

The thrum of a compressor-pulse shotgun was nearly lost in the Sireo’s howl, but the impact wasn’t. It caught Manter in the kidneys and threw him through the hole in the wall.

As he ricocheted off the opposite alley wall, a gigantic hand swatted him down. Manter’s remaining breath left him in a rush as he slammed into the ground

“My name is Chak’tur, and I have no intention of taking you, Mister Manter. Here is as good a place as any for you to die.”

Manter gritted his teeth and turned his head – in time to see the monstrous, clawed foot descending.

A sudden scream rolls through the darkness, then cuts off, leaving only echoes to fade.

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