The Infernal Nexus
by Dave Stone
Cover Blurb
The Infernal Nexus

Acting on an abstruse tip-off from the renowned paraphysiologist Dr Rupert Gilhooly (a man who, like, knows a lot of stuff) one Bernice Summerfield has found herself on a probe-ship heading deep into the Problematic Heart of the galaxy -- not knowing what, or quite who, she might find.

What she finds is Station Control. A place that exists, simultaneously, in four hundred and seventeen dimensions, a brawling, souk-like Nexus between every world that can, or has or ever will be. And one of those dimensions is Hell.

Bernice knows nothing of the rivalries and power-plays going on here. So she blunders right into them and makes a complete hash of everything, natch. And one of the particular whoms she finds, quite frankly, what with one thing and another, she could quite well do without. In her current state.

  • This is another novel in Big Finish's The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: August 2001

  • ISBN: 1 903654 16 5

Benny seems to have been putting on weight recently, and she tries to get her mind off things by starting work on the long-delayed sequel to Down Among the Dead Men. All she’s got so far is the title (“To Be Announced”), when Braxiatel summons her to meet Dr Rupert Gilhooly and Father Igron Alsabius, two survivors of a recent incident on an experimental probe ship. Gilhooly’s probes into trans-dimensional space caused an energy backlash which knocked their ship, the Tinker’s Cuss, off its own dimensional axis, locking it where it is in deep space and killing everyone outside the shielded laboratories. Gilhooly and Alsabius were both rescued by an EarthFed cruiser, but the EarthFed’s remit extends only to rescuing personnel, not equipment. Braxiatel thus asks Benny to take a probe ship out to the Tinker’s Cuss to shift it back into its proper dimension and collect the valuable data on board.

Benny uses a device provided by Braxiatel to shift her own ship into the trans-dimensional void now occupied by the Tinker’s Cuss, but before she can locked the phase generators onto it, her own ship is picked up by an enormous space octopus strapped to an energy source. The Octopus’ captain, an imp named Akroexabor, is here to escort Benny to Station Control, which is apparently an automatic procedure and one which will be carried out whether she wishes him to or not. Station Control turns out to be a nexus point between 417 multiverses, and once there, Benny has no choice but to sell the probe ship -- for failure to pay the docking fees would result in her ship being impounded in any case, leaving her stuck in Station Control with no money. As she has no clan of her own, she is “adopted” by the Iron Sun family for the duration of her stay.

Despite her cosmopolitan background, Benny finds it difficult to adjust to the multiversal nature of Station Control, and she thus decides to follow someone who looks as though they know where they’re going. This happens to be the spoiled Mora di Vasht, who expects everyone she meets to treat her according to her station even though she’s run away from Daddy to see the exotic Station Control incognito. While following Mora, Benny sees two flying figures kidnap her, and when she tries to intervene, Mora’s bodyguard, the cybernetically enhanced Suzi II, knocks her out with a single blow. When Benny recovers she’s in the custody of Volan Sleed, the demonic head of the Iron Sun Family, and she’s apparently under suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping. Mora is the daughter of Lucien di Vasht, one of the few people who possesses technology which could actually pose a threat to Station Control itself. Sleed was aware of Mora’s intention to visit Station Control, and intended to let her think that she was getting her own way while keeping a close eye on her; it appears that this plan has backfired. Benny proclaims her innocence, and suggests that Sleed let her investigate on her own. Sleed seems willing to accept her word, but decides to have her accompanied at all times by one of his most trusted lieutenants... who turns out to be Benny’s ex-husband, Jason Kane.

Due to the Gilhooly Theory of Transdimensional Contrivance, which states that one does not age when displaced from one’s multiversal timeline, Jason looks no older than he did when he and Benny were separated. But while Benny experiences all of the confused emotions which she and Jason seem to inspire in each other, Jason doesn’t seem to react to their reunion at all; in fact, he seems genuinely affronted when she privately suggests that they leave together while they still can. He is under Contract to Sleed’s predecessor, Agragazar, and the Contracts of Sleed’s demonic multiverse have a binding power to them; besides, loyalty is all he has left. Thus, Benny must investigate as she promised, and since they have no other leads, she suggests going to Mora’s intended destination, the Starsail Lounge. Once there she pretends to be Mora in order to try provoking a reaction, and she and Jason are soon attacked by a Whistling Ninja, a gestalt life form which attacks via sonic waves. Benny counters the attack with her rape alarm, causing the Ninja to split into its component creatures; Jason tries to question one of them, but Benny’s well-attempt meant to force answers out of it with the rape alarm sends it into a coma. Before passing out, however, the Ninja communicates that it was hired by the Clan of the Pontificating Dragon, and Jason admits that he and Sleed suspected their involvement. As Sleed had no proof and knew that the Dragon Clan wouldn’t be stupid enough to keep Mora in their own enclave, he was unwilling to risk a confrontation which could have led to war within Station Control. Benny, irritated with Jason for keeping secrets from her, decides to confront them anyway.

Mora has been imprisoned in a dungeon by the grotesque Whorl and Sloater, who have orders to keep her alive -- for the moment. Much to Mora’s shock, Suzi II is in on the kidnapping plot as well; her new master has found a way to circumvent her control circuits, and she’s going to enjoy taking out years of frustration and humiliation when the time comes for Mora to die. But the control protocols have been hardwired into her being for so long that when Mora gives her a direct order Suzi II must physically struggle not to obey. This gives Mora one slim chance to escape, but when she does so she finds herself lost in the Underland, surrounded by cannibals; nothing in her background has prepared her for this, and she’ll be lucky to last minutes...

Benny had thought herself to be coping admirably with the sensory overstimulation of Station Control, but she momentarily loses it when she and Jason arrive at the enclave of the Dragon Clan and find it to be a Faerie Tale castle populated by elves. Mae An T’zhu, the head of the Clan, is intrigued when Benny marches up to the front gates of the castle and demands entrance, and thus she actually does let her and Jason in to explain themselves, even though members of the Iron Sun family are generally not welcome since two demons killed Mae’s favourite husband D’arak, apparently under the impression that he would regenerate himself as was the manner of the demonic clan. Jason smooths over the diplomatic unpleasantness by complimenting Mae on her huge... tracts of land, as is the manner amongst the Faerie folk. Things nearly become very unpleasant again when Benny inquires into Mae’s role in the kidnapping of Mora di Vasht; Mae, enraged that anyone would dare spread such lies about her people, pulls out all the stops to find Mora herself and learn the truth. Benny accompanies the elven guards into the Underland, and they arrive just in time to save Mora from its cannibal inhabitants. Once safely back in the Dragon Clan’s enclave, they question Mora about the circumstances of her kidnapping...

As it happens, Whorl, Sloater and Suzi II have been following the orders given to them by none other than Volan Sleed. He is disappointed by their failure, and demonstrates his displeasure by consigning Whorl and Sloater to a very unpleasant place for several million years (although on his timescale they return after mere moments). Suzi II has proven her unreliability, and he thus sends her to quite another area of his organisation. In the meantime, Lucien contacts him and orders him to punish those responsible for Mora’s kidnapping; the term being bandied about is “extreme prejudice”. As Sleed signs off, however, Benny returns and confronts Sleed, having worked out that it’s no coincidence she just happened to be carrying the one weapon which could disable a Whistling Ninja, as anyone who’d already searched her would have known. The obvious thing to do once the Ninja identified its employers would have been to report to Sleed, rather than go off half-cocked to confront the Dragon Clan in person... Naturally, Mae has disavowed all knowledge of the attack, claiming that her people are too honourable to hire mercenaries to do their fighting for them. What’s more interesting is that Mae recognised Mora’s description of Whorl and Sloater as the two Iron Sun demons who had killed D’arak, and whom Sleed claimed had been sent back to his home multiverse for punishment. Also, while her people found Mora quite easily, they found no sign that Sleed’s people had been engaged on any similar search...

Sleed is unmoved by Benny’s revelations; he’d never really regarded her as that important, and was just hoping to use her to cement his case against the Dragon Clan. He thus incinerates the invisible sidhe which had accompanied her to the meeting, and drops Benny through a trapdoor in his office, disowning both her and Jason from his Family. Doing so breaks Jason’s Contract, and he finally comes entirely back to himself and remembers all of the terrible things which he was Contractually obligated to overlook. Benny is in terrible danger, but Mae is unconcerned; she owes Benny nothing, and intends to ship Mora back on the next transport and have done with it. However, Jason puts a long, hard and penetrating argument to her, and after going over his case several times, she is finally satisfied and agrees to help. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, Benny awakens to find herself in Sleed’s Maze, a series of interconnected, booby-trapped chambers, which due to the nature of Station Control recurs in many forms throughout the multiverses. Which is why it’s exactly the same as the one from Dave Stone’s Judge Dredd novel “Deathmasques”. (No, really, it says so in the book and everything.) Anyway, a hovering ARVID unit accompanies Benny through the Maze, giving her contradictory and deadly advice, but fortunately Suzi II appears and saves her life. When Suzi II joined Sleed’s service of her own free will, he gave her a Contract which broke the cybernetic conditioning which Lucien’s people had imposed upon her since birth; but now the Contract has been broken, and Suzi II wants her revenge. She and Benny work together and reach a door marked EXIT, which, naturally, opens up into the very centre of the Maze. There, the best and most worthy contestants are incorporated into a single, monstrous organism, Sleed’s attempt to generate the perfect living being. Jason shows up with elven reinforcements just in time to destroy it, and Benny realises that he’s back to his old self. But before they can resume the agony that’s their ordinary relationship, they have to deal with Sleed, who has gone to address the Conclave of Families and no doubt intends to unleash mayhem upon them.

The Conclave is the one area of Station Control where beings from every multiverse can interact safely; violence is strictly forbidden, and all potential weapons, even those built in to the Family members’ bodies, are confiscated or immobilised before the representatives enter the Chamber. But Lucien di Vasht possesses the technology to circumvent the Conclave’s defenses, and he and his people thus teleport into the Chamber, hold the representatives at gunpoint and scan them for traces of Mora’s DNA. Whorl and Sloater earlier infiltrated the crowds outside the Chamber and planted traces of Mora’s DNA on several of the representatives, but as Sleed denounces them for their roles in the conspiracy, Benny and Jason arrive to reveal the truth. As they no longer belong to the Iron Sun Family, and as they are the only representatives of their multiverse in Station Control, they have become a Family of their own and thus have the right to address the Conclave. Benny explains that, although Sleed tried to manipulate Lucien into executing his rivals for him, he had no grand master plan in mind; as he is immortal, he can risk throwing Station Control into chaos simply on the chance that he might end up slightly better off when it all settles down.

Suzi II carries Mora into the Conclave to deliver her testimony, but Lucien isn’t interested in hearing any more; as long as he has his daughter back, he doesn’t care to hear about any of this again. He and his bodyguards teleport back out with Mora, but Suzi II refuses to go with them -- and when Sleed starts to shrug off his failed coup attempt, she attacks him and rips his head from his body before Jason can stop her. She is then shocked into immobility when a second, far more demonic head grows out of his neck and begins to attack the other delegates; however, when it goes for Benny, Jason attacks and decapitates it again, acting out of sheer rage and terror for Benny’s safety. This time, the head which grows back in its place is that of Jason’s original employer, Agragazar Flatchlock; his species evolved split personalities as a survival mechanism, so that if one of their heads is cut off a secondary or tertiary head takes its place while the others recuperate. Agragazar works as a travel agent back in his own dimension, and is a far more benign personality than either of his others; he isn’t interested in holding power in Station Control, and thus offers to make amends by merging the Iron Sun Family and the Dragon Clan under Mae’s rule. He also promises to take Whorl and Sloater back to the Infernal Regions and punish them as they deserve; unlike Sleed, he will keep his word.

Jason declines Agragazar’s kind offer of re-employment, and accompanies Benny back to the port, where they find that since she neglected to purchase the non-breakage clause, her probe ship has been disassembled into its component parts for sale. They thus book passage back to the Tinker’s Cuss on an Enormous Space Octopus, and once there, Benny attaches the phase generators as originally planned and twists the ship back into her own reality. She and Jason then repair the transmitter, send out a distress call, and are eventually rescued by the cargo freighter Barquentine. Much time has passed since Jason left this multiverse, and he thus accepts when Benny offers to ask Braxiatel if Jason can stay at the Collection until he’s back on his feet again. Now that they’ve been reunited at last, they agree to take it slowly, try to sort through their personal issues and make a fresh start. But of course things aren’t ever that simple. Benny’s been ignoring the changes in her body for some time, but now that Jason is back at last she gives in and gets a medical check-up to find out whether anything is really wrong with her. She’s forgotten that some months ago, her body was occupied by a soul-switching sorceress, who used it to rediscover the pleasures of the flesh without taking the proper precautions...

In short, Benny’s pregnant.

Source: Cameron Dixon
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