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 Synopsis of a Looking-Glass Rebellion
a short story by Michael Cobley


A pure pearl of a moon in the clear night sky. Splintered reflections, like flotsam silver, rode wavelets up the beach to tremble and dissolve among the pebbles. John Stafford gazed down at the polished stones, the strands of kelp, the empty shells, and with a booted toe pushed the gleaming shingle into a bulwark ready for the sea's next assault on the island.

"I could be dead," he said, "and that tyrant MacNee would really be in trouble." He glanced at his jailer. "Your masters in Edinburgh plan to keep me in good health, no doubt."

The security captain was silent for a moment, pale eyes fixed on a dark formation of storm clouds slowly whirling in from the south. Then he smiled a terrible smile.

"We plan for every eventuality, Mr Stafford."


Order papers were waved and the Grand Chamber reverberated with jubilant shouts of approval from the government benches. Having dismissed the Opposition's argument with his customary vigour and resolve, Throne Minister Kenneth MacNee resumed his seat. The Crown Moderator raised the ceremonial stave against the commotion.

"Order! Order! ... We see the speaker for West Sussex."

Shapes moved behind the gallery windows, remote-controlled cameras that turned, angled and zoomed on Leo Fairfax as he stood to an expectant hush.

"My Lord Moderator," he began. "In centuries to come, when historians look back at this moment and this oppressive piece of legislation, they will draw a line and say 'Here marks the end of Britannic democracy'. whenever they mention the name of Kenneth MacNee, it will only be to demonstrate, my Lord, how one man can hijack a political party, then a nation, and through his single-minded arrogance tear that nation apart.

"On his shoulders alone the responsibility lies. Because this disgraceful Act in truth releases the English people from any obligation to the Accord of 1476." Near him, speakers were calmly rising to their feet. "Thus there is no longer any need for the Albion Party to participate further in this Scottish Parliament!"

There was uproar. Cries of "Traitor!' and "Coward!" harried the ninety-one speakers as they filed from the Chamber.


We scaled the wall of the castle by night, a cliff of stone gleaming with frost. We knew that at that very moment in London, our valiant comrades were emerging from Battlefield Forest, skirting the still water mirror of the Serpentine, and making ready to storm the Crown Halls on Treaty Hill.

I felt keyed up, drawn taut with excitement and fear. Hand over hand, with the compact winch humming at my waist, I followed the Sergeant up the icy face. Swiftly over the battlements and on to the parapet. We crouched in shadows there, sixteen of us in eight pairs spaced along the rampart. The Sergeant paused to study his knapsack deep-scanner; its tiny screen cast electric-green highlights across his features.

In the cold I remembered our endless training, and imagined holding the weight of the Orb or the Sceptre in my hands. I remembered my father, my mother, their smallholding deep in the Bedford farmlands. I remembered parties at Christmas, songs at harvest, gatherings at market. I remembered Rosemary and seemed to recall love and regret ...

The Sergeant suddenly looked up, something unreadable in his face. Then he turned and grinned.

"Stick by me, sunshine, and you won't go far wrong!"


VIDEO: LONG SHOT, an armoured car, overturned and burning on a snowbound country road . The heat has melted snow and ice from adjacent trees, and vapour wisps from overhanging branches. A soldier in cold-weather gear, and wearing a weaponry auto-harness, cautiously approaches the wrecked vehicle while speaking into a hand-held communication device. CUT to

CLOSE-UP of a uniformed body sprawled halfway out of the driver's hatch. An outflung hand lies partly buried in a muddy mass of slush. DISSOLVE to

Flames. Greasy black smoke. DISSOLVE to



We emerged from the forest under a moonlit night, converging in twos and threes on the camouflaged arms cache. We all knew at that moment in Edinburgh, our comrades, our friends, were climbing the walls of the Great Castle. As I stood there, distributing our precious arsenal, my heart went out to them, poor bloody fools sent on a fool's mission. With covert stealth they'd be treading stairways and corridors I knew so well, blind to the accumulated glories of five centuries of Britannic Imperium.

But they wouldn't encounter security guards like those awaiting us in the Crown Halls; it would be the Hammermen, the military elite of the Clan-Regiment of the Imperial Standard. Once, they were all the friends I had, all the life I knew. Once, I too wore that sash with the insignia clasp at my shoulder, and breathed loyalty and pride. Was it only six months since false charges led to my dishonourable discharge and set me on this route of betrayal?

A tinny voice came over on my headset, an advance scout relaying the unexpected arrival of a motorised militia company. Nearby, a gangling youth held his autorifle in a white-knuckle grip and gave me an enquiring look. I thought of the guard posts we'd have to win past to reach that office, that safe, that information.

"Well now, laddie -" I forced a grin, "- stay by me and you'll no' go far wrong!"


(Excerpt from the memoirs of High Earl Muir of Kintail)

In retrospect, the English Uprising was the first genuine crisis faced by the Britannic peoples since the Secession of the Americas in 1937. The Albion Party staged its walkout and citizens awoke on the morning of that first day of 1997 to find that their lives had been irrevocably changed. And the tragic evidence was there, starkly real on the screens of their tel visions.

The harrowing raid on the Great Castle, the barricaded towns and villages, the burning of Oxford, the gangs of looters roaming the countryside, the pointless deaths of English youth. It was a protracted agony that, paradoxically, strengthened the position of the Throne Minister and his 'supervisory' cabinet against the already severely weakened opposition parties. Thus, the draconian laws concocted in the wake of the crisis have yet further clothed our once-proud democracy in the garb of despotism.

As I have already stated, I feel that I must bear a considerable measure of culpability, for in the years before Kenneth MacNee took office only I was in a position to do him political harm. Close friends argue otherwise, putting blame on the Holy Northern Church or fixing upon section ministers who supported him unquestioningly. In reply I need only point out that MacNee remained such a strong Throne Minister because he surrounded himself with weak subordinates.

But regardless of the apportioning of blame, there is little doubt that the misgovernment which fuelled the Uprising of '97 was the utter ruin of two great nations, not one.


How scared was l? Well, 's difficult to remember sometimes. It's like the whole thing happened to somebody else, just running and running, firing through glass windows at empty offices, kicking doors in. There was gunfire behind us, and screaming and shouting, and a thump when someone let off a grenade. And all the time this ... panic like a rat or a snake was sitting in your chest with a grip on your throat.

I remember the Hammerman, though, clear as day. He led us upstairs to some big shot's office, blew open this big safe and grabbed some papers. Then he got us downstairs and out a back way, while he read something off those papers to someone on the other end of his radio link, something about an island. And all the time his leg was bloody and shot up. I remember him, all right, remember being scared of him, too ...

We got separated after that and most of us got caught. They say Stafford escaped during the '97 and went to the Americas. Hope so. But I never saw the Hammerman again. Never heard a thing about him, either.


VIDEO: EXTERIOR MEDIUM SHOT across a snow-covered carpark to the main building of a large rambling hospital. Men and women run past, clutching rifles or children or both. PAN RIGHT to

MEDIUM SHOT of two tanks moving up from an adjacent motorway feeder lane. Both are sleek with swept curves - they look as if they were designed in a wind tunnel. The aerodynamic turrets turn, barrels angling to bear and then fire. SMASH-CUT to

MEDIUM SHOT of an explosion mid-way up the hospital wall. Shards of masonry fly. INTERCUT with EXTREME CLOSE-UP of the fire-flash from a tank barrel. SHARP CUT to

SIDE SHOT of the hospital frontage as a shell explodes inside the building. Windows burst outwards, curtains and venetian blinds flutter in the blast. Glass slivers whirl and rain on the people fleeing below. ANGLE WIDENS to take in the carpark where bodies lie in the snow. A soldier in fur-trimmed camouflage combats enters the FRAME and approaches the camera, hand raised to the lens. FREEZE-FRAME and FADE OUT.


The gunfire ceased and suddenly there was silence on the stairwell. I swallowed against dread and glanced at the youth dying over in the corner. He lay quietly, dull eyes closing in pain whenever he coughed. He seemed glazed with death, clasping the Orb to his ruined chest with his last remaining strength. Its golden surface was smeared with his blood and in that moment I loathed it, a king's bauble, an empty symbol. I want to pull it from his grasp and hurl it down at those dispassionate killers.

Instead I crouched by him as the medic used the last of the pindisk painkillers, thumbing them to the boy's neck.

"Has he said anything?"

The medic shook his head. "His lips move, sometimes. See? But there's nothing to hear. He doesn't even whisper."

Without knowing why, I bent close to listen. But there was only his slowly fading breath, no murmur, no words, no absolution. I straightened just as a small black object flew up from below and arced towards the edge of the landing. I shouted at the sniper I'd posted there but he vanished in the flash and slam of the explosion. Then the roar of gunfire began and this time never ended.


Once the bodies of the security guards were airlifted back to the mainland, teams of specialists arrived to examine the incident site. But it was a perfunctory scrutiny, less than six hours spent searching the beach where the raiders came ashore, and scratching about in the fire-bombed bungalow that had been Stafford's prison.

Before they left, the two burned-out cars in the drive were pushed off a nearby cliff and into the sea. After the specialists departed, debris from the submerged cars began floating to the surface. Ash, chips and fragments of charred wood, sections of plastic dashboard buckled by heat, torn and scorched scraps of a map of Scotland. A sad detritus that washed up along the shore, creating in tide pools tiny exhibitions of destruction, overlaying pebbles and sand with an ominous new terrain.

© Michael Cobley 1989, 1997

This story first appeared in BBR #14.

Elsewhere in infinity plus:

Elsewhere on the web:

  • Shipbuilding, the impressive on-line anthology of Scottish science fiction, includes Mike's 'Corrosion', a short story first published by Interzone and since reprinted in Ikarie.

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