A Life of Surprises
Edited by Paul Cornell
Cover Blurb
A Life of Surprises

Professor Bernice Summerfield, interstellar archaeologist, adventurer, romantic and drinker, has had either one very big life or a number of only slightly smaller ones.

This anthology contains stories from many times and places across her long career, ranging from the starkly dramatic, through the thrilling, to the hilarious.

It links Bernice to her roots, as well as sending her forward into new adventures. And it celebrates a decade of Bernice in print. Cheers!

21 brand-new short-stories and an in-depth essay all about Benny and her extended “family”: Jason, her ex-husband and all-round git; Irving Braxiatel, enigmatic owner of the Braxiatel Collection, a planetoid which houses a fantastic art and artefact gallery; Adrian Wall, the Killoran architect and builder and father of Peter, Benny’s half-human, half-Killoran baby (although she wasn’t actually occupying her body when he was conceived). Confused? Imagine how they all feel.

  • This is a collection of short stories in Big Finish’s novel range The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: September 2002

  • ISBN: 1 903 65444 0
The Shape of the Hole by Paul Cornell

Benny decides to go in search of her dearest friend, but when she can find no sign of him anywhere, her quest eventually becomes a search for his grave. She finds legends of his death on many different worlds -- Earth, Olleril, Artaris, Kyrol and Quiescia -- but the grave is always empty. Eventually, she comes to realise that this is the point: it always will be.

Continuity Notes: This story takes place in Benny’s future. She and Jason are apparently together again, with three children: Peter, Keith, and Rebecca. Braxiatel is living on “Old Earth” and no longer employs anyone. Since the point of the story is that the Doctor will never really die, it seems churlish to point out that the grave on Quiescia was probably empty because his body was vapourised, so we won’t.

Kill the Mouse! by Daniel O’Mahony

Benny is conducting research on Ganesh, a high-gravity world where a subsidiary of the COMBINE corporation is crushing the life out of the people. When Braxiatel arrives to escort her back to the Collection, he is attacked by something which removes his very identity; he is still alive, but faceless. A corporate security officer escorts Benny back to her accommodations from the hospital, but on the way, he is attacked and his face is stolen by the same creature that attacked Braxiatel. Benny chases the creature to an underground lair, where it is being worshipped by a young street urchin who may have summoned it to this world. Benny offers up her worldly possessions in exchange for Braxiatel’s face, and the creature accepts the trade of one identity for another. Benny and Braxiatel leave the planet, knowing that the creature -- a “cacogen” from another plane of reality -- will continue to wreak havoc amongst the corporate drones on the planet, who are metaphorically faceless already.

Solar Max and the Seven-Handed Snake-Mother by Kate Orman

Benny supervises a dig in the tundra of the planet Terra Roxa, accompanied by two young students and a botanist named Sarger from a world where all women were wiped out by a genetically engineered virus. Terra Roxa’s auroras are referred to in legend as the snake-mother of the Universe, and the planet’s history is based around igo, an extinct coffee hybrid said to induce powerful hallucinations. The drink was used in political klatches until civilisation on the planet fell apart. The planet is currently at solar maximum, and the auroras are stronger than at any other time. When one of her students is injured in an accident, Benny sends them back to town, but she remains at the dig, confident that she can deal with Sarger. Sarger is contemptuous of Benny’s interest in the little details of ordinary life, considering them unimportant -- and when he finds some remnants of the igo plant at the dig, he puts it in the fire without telling Benny, and both of them inhale the hallucinogenic smoke. They are attacked by a carnivorous yale, and Sarger fights it off; he then assaults Benny, considering that she has become his property since he saved her life. As Benny fights him off, they both begin to hallucinate, and Sarger, who had wanted to see beneath the skin of the Universe to the truth underneath, sees Benny as the snake-mother and runs screaming into the tundra. Benny recovers and makes her way back to town, where she finds that the solar flares have knocked out the nuclear reactor’s safety systems, causing it to explode. In the midst of the devastation, she settles down to make herself some coffee, knowing what Sarger never understood: it’s the little details of life that make up the Universe.

A Mutual Friend by Terrance Dicks

While visiting 21st-century Earth with Jason to pick up some Britney Spears CDs for the Braxiatel Collection, Benny shares a table at Starbucks with a journalist preparing for her coming TV show. The two women hit it off and share a conversation, and as the journalist prepares to go, she and Benny realise that they have a friend in common. The journalist’s name is Sarah Jane Smith.

Continuity Notes: For Sarah, this takes place before her work for the TV programme Planet 5, and thus before Comeback.

Alien Planets and You by Dave Stone

A feature article by Professor Bernice Summerfield on the subject of visiting alien planets. It is generally a good idea to be invited by someone who intends to use you as a pawn in some nefarious scheme or another. If you start off the expedition by sitting around in pubs, drinking heavily, your patron will usually send out thugs to capture you and get things moving. The next step is to be rescued by one’s ex-husband, even though you really didn’t need his help, after which you will both be captured and brought before the raving lunatic who hired you. Inevitably, he, she, or it will require your professional help to unearth and/or identify the important relic of such-and-such in order to complete his, her, or its evil master plan. At this point, all that remains is for you to do something clever and save the day. Specific examples, involving the evil schemes of Grand Exquisitor Gorbarobuglar Wom of the Soul-reaver Protectorates, can be found in the article’s endnotes.

Something Broken by Paul Ebbs

When the Braxiatel Collection illicitly acquires files from the Collasac Exhibit, Bernice discovers that Blastertal Galactinational used a fluencegenerator to provoke a war in which millions died just so Blastertal could sell the viewing rights to the galactic media and make billions in profit. Enraged, Benny arranges for Blastertal to invite her onto their hit game show, Eat the Poor. During the show, she sabotages the Meedja-transmitter and broadcasts the incriminating files to every one of the billions of people watching the programme, using the same fluencegenerator that Blastertal used during the war to ensure that the viewers are just as outraged by the injustice as she was. The military forces called in to kill her refuse to do so, and Blastertal subsequently collapses.

The Collection by Peter Anghelides

When Jason goes missing, Braxiatel orders Benny to stay away from the area of the Collection known as the Pons Asinorum. Benny disobeys, and finds a diary apparently written by Jason indicating that he’s spent ten years imprisoned in the past. Benny realises that an artefact in the Pons Asinorum is an alien time machine and that Jason inadvertently triggered it with his Time Ring. She does the same deliberately, intending to rescue him, only to find that he’s actually on an abandoned spaceship with enough food, water and luxurious accommodation to last him his entire life. He admits that he exaggerated his situation in his diary in order to convince anyone who found it that he was in desperate need of rescue -- and also reveals that he came here deliberately after finding a similar diary written by Benny. Irritated, Benny writes up her own diary, and, like Jason, exaggerates both her situation and the amount of time that’s passed. Once she’s finished, Braxiatel shows up and reminds them that they can use their Time Rings in tandem to return to the present-day Collection. There, Braxiatel orders that the diaries be destroyed, but Chief Archivist Stendurp instead smuggles them out; much later, they are sold at auction for a hefty profit.

Setting Stone by Mark Stevens

On an archaeological dig on a distant planet, Benny meets a young girl who leads her to a courtyard full of statues that the girl claims are her kin. According to local legends, a cruel Emperor once acquired a magic weapon that he used to kill the royal family and usurp their position. He claimed that he would rule in the name of the common people, but his family simply replaced the former rulers, and the Emperor used his magic weapon to kill all who spoke against him. Eventually, the Emperor’s enemies were contacted by a man and woman who travelled between the stars in a magic blue box. The travellers brought with them creatures from another world who claimed that the Emperor had stolen the weapon from them. These creatures provided the rebels with an even more powerful weapon, which the rebels used to turn the Emperor and his followers into stone statues. The creatures then left, taking their weapons with them. Centuries have passed since those events, and the statues have finally been able to pool their mental resources and bring the young girl, the Emperor’s daughter, back to life just long enough for her to tell her story. As the child reverts to stone, all Benny can do is apologise for what she once did, claiming that she and her travelling companion had simply, sadly, run out of options.

Time’s Team by David McIntee

The Koloppan Culture Ministry sponsors the Braxiatel Collection’s expedition to their planet’s moon; however, Benny’s shuttle is delayed, and she ends up stuck in orbit as the live network broadcast begins. Without her presence, the dig will have no academic clout and the expedition will lose prestige and publicity; however, Braxiatel can’t afford to stop the dig in mid-broadcast. Desperate, he suggests that they fake it, broadcasting images of Benny from her spaceship cabin and editing them into the footage from the dig. Unfortunately, they’ve underestimated the popularity of the broadcast, and Benny discovers too late that the passengers and crew of her liner are watching the show. The ship’s crew confront Benny, upset that their tax dollars are being used to fund a fraud; however, she explains the situation and manages to convince them how frustrated she is that she’s unable to participate in the dig herself. The crew thus arrange for Purser Bolland to meet Benny in the crowded passenger lounge and refer to her publicly as Professor Summerfield’s sister. The passengers are appeased, and, in exchange, Benny arranges for the crew to visit the dig in person.

Beedlemania by Nev Fountain

The warrior Knyy’ds and the Mystic Wizards of Magee’s World both stake a claim to the ruins recently found on the planet Beedle by the Geramons, a race of compulsive practical jokers, and Benny is invited to the planet to determine the ruins’ origin while an Arbiter from Beta Centauri negotiates between the Knyy’ds and the Wizards’ representative, the Great Alfredo. Benny arrives on Beedle at the same time as a shipment of classic 20th-century practical jokes purchased by the High Japester. That night, Benny sees the Great Alfredo’s genetically engineered assistant, a Smamfa, slipping aboard the Arbiter’s ship; she is then attacked and knocked out by figures in camouflage units. When she awakens the next day, she learns that the Arbiter has been found dead in a locked room and that the Knyy’ds have failed to show up for the negotiations. The Great Alfredo admits that he stole a game of Centauran Twister from the Arbiter’s ship and placed it in the Knyy’d vessel in order to keep them away; the Knyy’ds’ warrior code of honour means that they must use any pointed object once unsheathed, which means that they were forced to use the spinner in the game box to play a round of Centauran Twister. Once the game is over, the Knyy’ds depart without contesting the Wizards’ claim to the ruins, and when Benny examines the ruins herself, she discovers that they’re fakes. The Knyy’ds must have been the camouflaged figures who attacked Benny when she nearly caught them trying to steal the ruins -- but in the process, they must have discovered that the ruins were fake. Benny thus deduces that the Geramon High Japester created the fake ruins in order to lure the Knyy’ds and Wizards to Beedle so he could try out his new practical jokes. When she examines the Arbiter’s cabin, she finds a whoopee cushion beneath his seat. The high-strung Arbiter died of shock and embarrassment. The High Japester tries to flee, but the Geramon Ambassador, Demjely, reveals that his people have planted a nuclear bomb on his ship, avoiding any further diplomatic unpleasantries by playing the ultimate practical joke on their ex-leader.

The All-Seeing Eye by Justin Richards

Benny is conducting a dig in the ruins of a Victorian inn with the depressed Stanislaw Galt and the elderly Cynthia Crackton. Galt finds a manuscript hidden in the wall of the cellar, but dies while translating it -- and the manuscript vanishes from his room and reappears in the cellar wall. Crackton tries to translate the parchment herself, but also dies while doing so. The manuscript tells the story of a physician who visits the inn, unaware that it is where he once died in childhood. When the serving girl commits suicide and is found to be pregnant, he is accused of the murder and sentenced to hang; however, his life is spared when the gallows trapdoor fails three times in succession. That night, at the inn, he is visited by the ghost of the serving girl; the innkeeper is the true father of her child, but she wanted the physician for herself, even after death. The physician is saved from the ghost’s embrace by a mysterious lady who has been watching these events, and as the lady and the physician embrace, she is revealed to be Death herself. As Benny reads the story, the lady appears to her, as she appeared to Galt and Crackton -- but unlike Galt, who suffered from depression, and the elderly Crackton, who had grown tired of life, Benny still feels young and wants to experience everything the Universe has to offer. She turns her back on the lady, who vanishes.

And Then Again by Robert Shearman

Bernard Stanley Summerfield works as an accountant in a dull and nondescript office. One day, a strange little man arrives and offers him a small blue box. That night, Bernard looks inside the box and sees wonders he never imagined possible, but when his lover, Robin, takes the box and looks inside, she sees nothing there. Bernard puts the box aside, forgets about it, and keeps working at his dead-end job, doing nothing important and going nowhere in life. Eventually, long after Robin has left Bernard, the strange little man returns to remind Bernard of the opportunity he wasted; fortunately, the strange little man is here to give him a second chance. Bernard rushes back home to find the blue box waiting for him, and inside he sees the woman he would have been if only his parents had conceived their child one night earlier. Bernard steps into the box and allows himself to merge with and become Bernice Surprise Summerfield, casting aside his old, dull life for a life of surprises and adventure.

Cuckoo by Stephen Fewell

Soon after Peter’s birth, Benny goes on a dig with the young Corin and Mabe, searching for clues about the extinct Avanonian race. Mabe is a vegan, but Benny and Corin often breakfast on the eggs of the local chicken-like birds, though the creatures frequently draw blood while defending their nests. The structure they are excavating turns out to be an egg repository, and when Mabe analyses the DNA of the mummified eggs within, she determines that the “chickens” could be the Avanonians’ devolved descendants. A storm then knocks out the dig’s satellite link and covers the structure with sand; soon afterwards, a charlatan, populist author named de Tranveldt arrives with legal documents giving him the right to exploit this site. To Benny’s fury, Corin hands over their dig’s findings in order to get partial credit for the discoveries. According to Mabe’s research, the Avanonians nurtured other egg-laying species as well as their own -- Draconians and Chelonians, amongst others -- but while de Tranveldt is making notes, putting a racist spin on the findings, he is attacked by the “chickens” and barely escapes with his life. When Benny learns that some of the eggs she’s been eating now contain human DNA, she realises that the “chickens” were in fact drawing blood to harvest their DNA and nurture it. The Avanonians nurtured other species as well as their own due to their religious beliefs, and were driven into extinction when the newcomers usurped their place. Nevertheless, Benny returns home to Peter, knowing that she considers him her child.

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu by David Bailey

Benny is visited by Professor Charles Stafford, who wishes to discuss her expedition to Canatha some years ago. However, she can’t remember a thing about it. Apparently, Canatha is the legendary afterlife of the warriors of Brantyr, a planet that was invaded and destroyed by the fireflies of Karthos long ago; however, Benny can’t remember ever visiting it, and when she tries reading an unfamiliar diary dating back to her alleged expedition, she forgets even that Stafford is there to visit her. Stafford ties Benny to a chair and demands that she read the diary, which is in fact a mnemosine store book, a diary which draws memories out of the reader’s head for storage. Only the diary’s owner can access the stored memories. It seems that Canatha is in fact a weapons factory that teleports embryo warriors into the wombs of the target planet’s women; the women give birth to an invincible army of genetically engineered warriors, and then succumb to a plague that wipes out the planet’s population while their children scavenge the remains. Benny barely escaped from Canatha’s robot guardians, and, realising that Stafford wasn’t the innocent academic he’d claimed, she stored her memories of the planet in the mnemosine diary he’d given her as payment. Stafford now forces her to read the diary and reveal Canatha’s secrets -- but she’d prepared for this when she first used the book, and the first thing she says activates the comms system and calls her friends for help. She then starts to tell the story of her life, and hasn’t yet reached the secrets of Canatha by the time her rescuers arrive. Stafford is placed in custody, Braxiatel burns the diary, and Benny forgets that any of this ever happened.

Squadborronfell by Nick Walters

Centuries ago, the Sydiast, natives of the planet Farlone, fought an unidentified enemy to mutual extinction on the battlefield of Squadborronfell. Benny visits the battlefield with a young exobiology student, Stefnie Vollier, and they set off to explore the underground bunkers while their military escort sets up camp outside. Deep within the bunker, Benny suffers a panic attack and flees, convinced that some terrible ancient force has been disturbed. Outside, she finds that the soldiers have been murdered, and then she too is attacked and knocked out. She revives to find that Stefnie has chained her up in an underground chamber that is slowly filling with water. Stefnie is the last of the Sydiast, and she only joined the expedition in order to kill them all and ensure that the battlefield would be left alone. Fortunately for Benny, Captain Helsall survived Stefnie’s attack, and he kills her and rescues Benny. He admits that he too is a Sydiast -- now genuinely the last one, as far as he knows -- and that the enemy they fought was themselves. A genetic aberration led to the rise of a faction of warmongers who wanted the Sydiast to conquer the galaxy; the pacifist faction was forced to fight their own kind to save the rest of the galaxy, and eventually they released a virus that wiped out all Sydiast on the planet, pacifists and warmongers alike. The few survivors have carried on the fight throughout the centuries, and Helsall now admits that he used Benny’s expedition as bait to lure Stefnie out into the open. He also admits that Stefnie was the last of the pacifist faction, and that he was one of the warmongers. Sickened, Benny leaves with Helsall, deciding to leave Squadborronfell untouched as a memorial for the dead.

Taken by the Muses by Steve Lyons

An old friend of Benny’s from the University of Vremnya asks her to lead an expedition to the planet Lyra, where she walks into what she believes to be an abandoned temple and is captured by the android occupants. It seems that these androids, the Muses, adhere strictly to the rules of the planet’s religion -- which is based on a book of nursery rhymes left behind by visitors from Earth. The Muses believe that rhyming is divine, and they slaughtered the entire population of the planet for failing to meet their strict standards of meter and verse. The Muses put Benny on trial for heresy, and she is forced to defend herself in rhyme. She fails to match the Great Muse’s scansion, but to her surprise, she is sentenced not to death but to permanent exile from the temple, under strict orders to wander the lands and never rhyme again. Actually, very little of this really happened; she’s still in a cell somewhere in the temple, and she’s just writing this story to pass the time before she finds out what her robot captors really intend to do.

The Spartacus Syndrome by Jonathan Morris

One morning, every single person on a certain planet awakens believing themselves to be Benny Summerfield. One grey-haired old lady meets the real Bernice Summerfield soon after aliens appear above the town and demands that the real Benny Summerfield surrender herself. The real Benny explains to the old lady that these aliens, the Finshargles, travel the galaxy, stealing the minds of entire civilisations and selling them for various purposes; one planet’s population was used as cannon fodder in a computer video game by a bored rich kid. When Benny and Braxiatel discovered the truth, Benny posed as artist Menlove Stokes, contacted the Finshargles, and stowed away aboard their ship to save the remaining civilisations stored in their soc-reels. She was too late to stop them from stealing the minds of every living being on this planet, however, and in order to keep their bodies alive, she uploaded her own memories into the population. Working together, the real Benny and the other Benny Summerfields manage to outwit and overpower the Finshargles, and Benny then places the population’s real minds back in their bodies, though she knows she is condemning all of these copies of herself to a sort of death.

Continuity Notes: This adventure takes place while Benny is still working at St Oscar’s University on Dellah. Menlove Stokes appeared in the Doctor Who novels The Romance of Crime and The Well-Mannered War, and the Bernice Summerfield novel Oh No It Isn’t!.

Might by Neil Corry

Benny has just unearthed a valuable artefact on the planet Kintabi, whose inhabitants are renowned for a complete lack of curiosity. Her shuttle is crushed by a Neo-Aretian vessel at the spaceport, and the Neo-Aretians come looking for her; however, she is ushered to safety by a man who appears out of thin air -- and who identifies himself as her son, Keith, who is at this point only a potential being from a future which may never exist. According to Keith, the Kintabi were once violent sociopaths who realised the error of their ways when they encountered a species just as violent as themselves; ashamed of what they’d become, they genetically re-engineered their aggressive tendencies out of themselves. However, some of the relics of their former warlike existence remain, including the apparently innocent scarf that Benny was about to take back to the Braxiatel Collection, where its subsequent theft would result in catastrophe. Keith saves Benny’s life when the violent Nimmari appear from nowhere, demanding the scarf, but she is still unsure whether she can trust him -- and when he gives her a note written in her handwriting, apparently describing him as a man of peace, she concludes that no son of hers would ever resort to such emotional blackmail. Keith then knocks her aside and takes the scarf himself -- but more Nimmari appear from nowhere and gun him down, disintegrating the scarf. At the last moment, the Neo-Aretians arrive and rescue Benny, as they’d only ever wanted to apologise for destroying her ship in the first place. Benny returns to the Collection, shaken and grieving for Keith’s death despite herself.

Continuity Notes: Benny recalls seeing the potential Keith in Little Caldwell in Return of the Living Dad. The Neo-Aretians were introduced in the Doctor Who episode The Ice Warriors and acquired their new name in the Benny Summerfield novel Dragons’ Wrath.

Paydirt by Lance Parkin

An archaeological expedition in the 46th century uncovers what may be an earring worn by the legendary Bernice Summerfield herself, sparking a debate between the young students as to whether she ever existed in the first place. The legends are contradictory, and no two images of her look the same. Professor Kent claims that the stories that have sprung up about Benny are more important than the mere facts of the real woman’s life, and although not all of her students agree, young Grayson can’t help but notice that Kent has certain similarities to the legendary Benny Summerfield herself.

Dear Friend by Jim Sangster

A letter from Benny to her closest friend, thanking him for meeting her; though her life has been confusing and violent at times, it’s put her in a position at the Collection where she is surrounded by friends and has a child, and she wants to thank her friend for making all of that possible.

Afterword by Lloyd Rose

A non-fiction essay about the character of Bernice Summerfield and her life in fiction.

Source: Cameron Dixon
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