A Life Worth Living
edited by Simon Guerrier
Cover Blurb
A Life Worth Living

The war is over. The Braxiatel Collection is back to normal. Better than that, people are all making more of an effort -- to rebuild, to get on, to re-establish the Collection at the forefront of academic excellence. Benny and Jason are back together. Life is good.

It’s not going to last, is it?

Soon Benny is up to her eyeballs in strange deaths, sinister cults, peculiar love affairs and a Collection full of people who haven’t yet stopped fighting...

Spend a whole year with Benny!

14 brand-new short stories about Bernice Summerfield (some-time adventurer, even-less-time academic) and her extended ‘family’. There’s Jason Kane (ex-husband, ex-buccaneer, ex-author of xeno-porn) and Irving Braxiatel (employer, Renaissance Man, sneaky devil). There’s Bev, Adrian, Ms Jones and Peter. There’s Hass, the new gardener, just arrived from Mars. There’s the invasion of new students. And, inevitably, there’s the mysteries, murders, mayhem and major weirdness that happen whenever Benny gets out of bed...

  • This is a collection of short stories in Big Finish’s novel range The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: September 2004

  • ISBN: 1 84435 109 2
Misplaced Spring by Paul Cornell

April, 2064. Irving Braxiatel has opened up the Braxiatel Collection to students, turning it into a university as well as a museum. Not all of the Collection’s staff are happy with this move, especially as most of them have bitter memories of the Occupation by the Fifth Axis and resent the arrival of newcomers who didn’t live through it with them. Benny, who is still trying to come to terms with her reconciliation with Jason, is particularly upset by her new student Parasiel, who questions the need for the new University’s invented traditions and implies that Braxiatel is imposing a false culture on the students, just as the Axis imposed their culture on the occupied worlds. Benny fears that Parasiel is deliberately needling her, and when she catches him with her son Peter, she nearly beats him to death before the frightened young man admits that he was just trying to work up the courage to ask her out on a date. Shaken, Benny finally realises that Braxiatel has invited strangers to the Collection to help the staff put the past behind them, and has invented the crazy traditions to give the students something pointless to rebel against so they can make up new traditions of their own.

Welcome to the Machine by Sin Deniz

Jess Carter visits the Collection to study psychology and sociology, mainly because she is emotionally incapable of social interaction herself; she has, however, been having long and happy conversations with a figure named Mann, who communicates with her entirely via text messaging. At Mann’s urging, Jess attends a party with other academics, but is unable to take part in their ordinary conversations and leaves early, believing that they’re making fun of her. Unsure who to trust on the Collection, she encounters a student named Thomas who tries to put the moves on her and becomes forceful and violent when she resists him. Fortunately, Adrian Wall catches him and intervenes, and when Jess reports the incident -- reporting strictly the facts with no emotional colouring -- other women whom Thomas has assaulted come forward as well. Thomas is expelled from the Collection, but while Jess is regarded as daring for exposing him, she still doesn’t feel comfortable mixing with other people. The only person she feels she can trust is Mann -- who is in fact non-sentient software that Jess programmed herself to imitate basic social skills.

Final Draft by Cameron Mason

Just over two hours before Benny is due to give the keynote address at the First Annual Braxiatel Collection Archaeological Conference, Hass, the Collection’s new Martian gardener, points out an embarrassing mistake that means she’ll have to scrap the entire speech. As she desperately tries to rewrite, she is interrupted by Adrian and Peter, Bev and Braxiatel, Jason, her students Parasiel and Meredith, and Jason again, who saw her talking with her students and wants to know why she can’t spend time with him. She finally ends up with a decent replacement speech, and arrives at the stage four minutes late to find that her notes have run on the page and she can’t read a word. She thus makes up the entire address on the fly, and the result is total chaos and violent audience participation -- and the best speech she’s ever given.

Against Gardens by Eddie Robson

Hass, the Collection’s new Martian gardener, is reconsidering his position. The previous gardener, Mr Crofton, is regarded as a martyr by many, and Hass has faced some abuse for daring to change the style of the gardens. Benny tries to convince Hass to stay, but Hass reveals that someone or something has been undoing his work and putting the gardens back the way they were. Hass has even seen a vine grow up out of the ground before his eyes and destroy the air conditioner in his Martian greenhouse. Benny insists that he at least try to solve the mystery before he leaves, and he thus reluctantly investigates the mysterious vine with her help. He manages to prise it up and follow it to its source, and during the course of tearing the vine out from beneath the ground, he comes to appreciate the garden’s landscape and understand what he could do with it if he applied himself. He eventually finds the source of the vine, a mutated Damon’s Tender -- a plant that can influence the growth of other plant life, and that seems to have taken on aspects of Crofton’s personality. After some consideration, Hass decides that he does want to remain on the Collection after all, and he removes the Tender from the garden.

A Summer Affair by Joseph Lidster

Ms Jones continues to organise the daily life of the Collection, but she also mourns the late Bernard Moskof and does not participate in the life going on around her. Benny convinces her to attend a party, but she is unable to mix with the other academics, who are still hostile towards her due to her relationship with an Axis officer. Nevertheless, a newcomer named Ronan McGinley follows her from the party, insisting that life is about living; she initially rebuffs his advances, but his sheer enthusiasm for life wins her over and she starts to come out of her shell. However, she then learns that he lied about his origins, and when she investigates, she finds evidence that he is a former Fifth Axis lieutenant responsible for a massacre on the planet Frastus Minima and currently on the run from the authorities. She visits him one last time to say goodbye; she will not turn him in, but she advises him to face his past. She then leaves, unaware that Ronan was in fact a perfectly ordinary man from another time, who was taken away from his soul-destroying job by Irving Braxiatel. Braxiatel offered Ronan one extra summer of life in exchange for helping to bring Ms Jones out of her shell; it was Braxiatel who planted the evidence against Ronan to ensure that Ms Jones would not try to track him down after he disappeared, and now that Ronan has fulfilled his side of the bargain, Braxiatel ensures that he will never be seen again. Ms Jones does not hear the scream.

Denial by Ian Mond

A Thazkan academic named Stamis is invited to the Braxiatel Collection to deliver an address on his controversial claims that the Thazkans’ near-genocide of the Rentali people never actually happened. Rentali protestors ask Benny to use her influence with Braxiatel to ban Stamis from the Collection, and after seeing horrific footage of the Thazkan atrocities, Benny commits herself to their cause. However, Braxiatel refuses to ban Stamis from stating his views, and Suze Mathers, the conference’s organiser, also insists that Stamis has a right to speak. Benny angrily conducts further research into the history of the atrocities, and finds a paper that Stamis wrote as a young man completely contradicting what he’s saying now. When she confronts him and threatens to go public, Stamis reluctantly explains that, as a young man, he saw his government beginning to repeat the mistakes of its past. By this time, the horrors had become a distant memory, and even the Rentali didn’t appreciate the danger of what was happening. Stamis thus publicly stated that the holocaust never happened, stirring up outrage on the Rentali homeworld and alienating himself from his colleagues, friends and family; however, as a result of the negative publicity, the Thazkans began backing down from their more extreme positions, and history has not repeated itself. At Stamis’ request, Benny destroys the only copy of his original paper, even though they both know he will continue to be derided as a hatemonger.

Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants by Philip Purser-Hallard

The Collection’s librarian informs Benny that Jason has several overdue books, and when Benny investigates, she discovers that Jason has been researching academic writing styles in order to write fake papers of his own, pseudonymous analyses of his own xenoporn novels. He admits that he submitted the first paper in order to show up an academic who’d torn his writing to shreds at a party, but when the paper was published, it resulted in a small boost to his books’ sales figures. He thus began to submit further papers to a wider variety of literary publications under a number of different pseudonyms. His alter egos have now published so many papers that two of them have been invited to attend a symposium at the Collection, with Jason himself as the guest of honour -- and in order to satisfy his audience, Jason has rented two ProxyMations™, short-lived cybernetic replicas who are to disguise themselves and act as his academic alter egos. However, his replicas are rather put out when they realise that they’re the short-lived copies, and thus sell Jason out to one of his rival publishers in exchange for permanent bodies and writing contracts. In the middle of the seminar, a third replica shows up, posing as yet another of Jason’s pseudonyms, and announces that the academics on stage are impostors hired by Jason’s publishers to inflate the sales of his books. The conference is cancelled, and Jason hides away to avoid the resulting storm of bad publicity -- but Benny realises that his replicas, who are similar to him in almost every way, are equally upset that they will have to live out the rest of their long lives without Benny.

The Blame of the Nose by Ben Woodhams

A visiting academic named Kardom dies while studying an ancient text unearthed by Benny on a recent archaeological dig, and when Braxiatel investigates, he discovers that the text was coated with a rare contact poison. It has since spread to several other books in the library due to a recent initiative to scan the books into electronic format, which explains the mysterious death of another researcher some weeks earlier. Feeling guilty, Benny visits the spaceport to watch Kardom’s body being sent home, but there, she meets a stranger who also appears to be feeling guilt over Kardom’s death and who gives her a false name. When Benny investigates, she discovers that the stranger is Professor Rand Gemeno, a famous debunker of pseudo-scientific frauds -- and she also learns that Gemeno is telekinetic. She and Jason hide out in the library and catch Gemeno trying to destroy the mysterious text, which Kardom believed to be evidence that the legendary Harrassi civilisation actually existed. Gemeno admits that he killed Kardom to prevent him from doing so, and then tries to kill Benny as well; however, the psi-dampening field is too powerful for him to overcome, and when he tries, his head explodes.

Reparation by Gregg Smith

Braxiatel sends Bev Tarrant and Adrian Wall on a mission to return certain cultural artefacts to the planet Viveka, another world recently occupied by the Fifth Axis, despite Benny’s protests that Bev doesn’t have the diplomatic sensitivity necessary for such a mission. One of the artefacts in question is a controversial statue depicting first contact between humanity and the Erinancean natives; ever since then, Erinanceans have been second-class citizens on their own world, and although both species fought together against the Axis, there is still tension between the species. The Erinancean spokesperson, Lormar Tsyte, is particularly vocal in denouncing the statues as a symbol of human imperialism, but his concerns are dismissed as irrelevant by Minister Sikandar Shama, who insists that the statues are a vital part of the human colony’s heritage. Eventually, protestors storm the museum and try to destroy the statues, but the museum’s curator, Warren Carroll, manages to convince Tsyte to let him send the statues off-world instead; rather than destroy such priceless works of art, perhaps they can be put aside for now and then erected once humans and Erinanceans have come to terms with their past. Bev and the Killorans return the statues to the Collection, and the irritated Benny suspects that this is just how Braxiatel had planned it all along.

Nothing up my Sleeve by Richard Salter

A stage magician named Marlow, an associate of Braxiatel’s, bequeaths his belongings to the Collection upon his death, and to Benny’s irritation, Jason spends a bit too much time helping Marlow’s assistant, the beautiful young Brenda, to catalogue the props. A party from the Brotherhood of Magicians then arrives on the Collection, and their chairman, Mr Stewart, informs Braxiatel that the stage props and their secrets belong to the Brotherhood. The terrified Brenda tells Jason and Benny that the Brotherhood may try to make her “disappear” to protect their secrets, and Jason vows to protect her -- but soon afterwards, half of Brenda’s torso turns up in a saw-the-lady-in-half cabinet. The Brotherhood accuse Jason of the murder and take him into custody, but Benny notices that one of the hooded magicians is shorter than the others -- and when she confronts the odd one out, she discovers that it’s Brenda in disguise. Brenda admits that she and Marlow faked their own deaths so they could run off together, and disappears in a puff of smoke, refusing to turn herself in for Jason’s sake. Benny thus confronts Mr Stewart and demands a chance to audition for membership in the Brotherhood. With Braxiatel’s assistance, she reconfigures the weather patterns and the Collection’s sensor net to make it seem as though the Mansionhouse is the mill, where Marlow was supposed to pick up Brenda. As a result, Marlow inadvertently teleports directly into the middle of Benny’s “audition,” and the Brotherhood capture him and release Jason.

Buried Alive by Kate Orman

Benny visits an archaeological dig on a planet ruled by insects, said to have been raised to sentience with crystals that magnified and focussed the power of their thoughts. His Effulgence Bug XXXLVII has authorised the excavation of the first Bug Emperor’s gardens; there is unrest on the fringes of the empire, and Benny soon realises that he’s using the dig to compare himself to the first Emperor, glorifying his own achievements and justifying leading his people to war. Benny studies the dig from an outsider’s perspective, realises that there must be other structures buried beneath the ancient garden, and proves her claim by using an orbiting satellite to scan the grounds. However, the Bug Emperor’s guards then try to kill her, and she’s forced to flee into the ancient tombs. The guards wall her up inside, but she finds her way to the central chamber, where she finds the body of the first Bug Emperor -- surrounded by the bodies of his courtiers, who were buried alive with him. Bug XXXLVII must already have known about this unpleasant aspect of history, and if it becomes public, nobody will want to be associated with his new crusade. Benny is transported to safety by a passing Lacaillan ship at Braxiatel’s request when the satellite’s corporate owners complain to Braxiatel that Benny has used its resources without paying for them. As Benny tries to explain what happened to her, however, the Lacaillans detect a build-up of power in the tombs. The legends of the first Bug Emperor were based in truth; when he buried himself alive, his dormant consciousness was preserved in one of the crystals he’d used to forge his empire. Now that Benny has woken him, he’s seen his descendant for himself, and is repulsed by their civilisation, which he regards as weak. The crystals explode, taking out the entire insect city.

There Never Need be Longing in Your Eyes by Ian Farrington

Back on the Collection, while waiting to see if she will face criminal charges for her recent adventure, Benny finds that her work is piling up and is forced to leave Peter at a new day-care centre run by Elizabeth and Bradley Monroe. Her latest thesis is shredded by critics on the Collection’s intranet, somebody posts pictures of her face atop a naked woman’s body, and the team she sent to pick up an ancient legal artefact, the Covenant of Oultram, returns with the battered and bewildered Governor of Oultram. In addition to her frustrations at work, Benny is coming to fear that she’s not spending enough time with Peter and that her son no longer loves her. She thus visits the crèche early to pick up her son, only to find that the Monroes have sedated the children and are scanning them with an alien device. Elizabeth and Bradley Monroe are in fact Major Nryn and Sergeant Reysomris, fact-gatherers from an alternative reality, who have come here to determine why children, the most important beings in the Universe, are so badly neglected by their parents. The Monroes are placed under arrest and the children are returned to their parents, but before disconnecting Peter from the machine, Benny discovers that it’s noted his strong emotional attachment to his mother.

Continuity: in the short-story collection Something Changed, it is revealed that Nryn's people disowned her after she was discovered, and since she genuinely did care for the children, she was allowed to continue running the Collection's day-care on condition that she run no further experiments.

Mentioning the War by Nick Walters

Benny protests when Braxiatel announces that the Collection will host a conference on the subject of warfare -- including the Occupation, which ended just two years ago and is still fresh in many people’s minds. One of the visiting academics is a Vellophoi named Ovmakh, who intends to dig up part of the Collection to find “relics” of the Occupation. Benny protests to no avail, especially when the Vellophoi excavation unearths a dormant robotisation unit of the type used on Benny’s father. Benny accuses Ovmakh of glorifying warfare, but Ovmakh in turn accuses Benny of being a populist author who doesn’t explore her subjects in depth; and while Benny may claim that her people suffered in the Occupation, so did Ovmakh, and, unlike the human inhabitants of the Collection, the Vellophoi didn’t have the option to collaborate. Frustrated, Benny visits the dig herself, just as the Vellophoi unearth a signalling device that has apparently been transmitting ever since the Occupation ended. Benny realises that the device will self-destruct now that it’s been unearthed, but Ovmakh remains to rescue the relics she’s unearthed, and she and Benny are buried when the device explodes. Benny suffers a heart attack when the rubble crushes her chest, but Ovmakh keeps her talking and aware until the Vellophoi excavators break through and rescue them. As Benny recovers from her injuries, Ovmakh admits that her people are short-lived and must genetically modify themselves in order to get the most out of their lives; once Ovmakh had decided upon her discipline, she had no choice but to stick to it for the rest of her life. She and Benny part with a greater understanding of each other.

Fragments by Stewart Sheargold

Benny finds fragments of a novel, or of several novels, misfiled in the Collection archives. Apparently unearthed from the ruins of KS-159 in the early 37th century, the fragments tell a thinly fictionalised version of the love triangle between herself, Jason, and Adrian. The fictional Beatrice (or Benny, or Bernadette) has had a child with Allan while separated from Justin (or Jonathan). Their child, Patricia, has been wasting away since she was born, and dies during the story. Worse, another of the fictional characters -- a rich collector named Sterling Shadowfell who seems obsessed with owning Benny -- purchases the dead body of her child to add to his collection. After discovering the fragments, Benny confronts Braxiatel, suspecting that he arranged for her to find these fragments so that she would be prompted to write the actual novel and he could add it to his Collection. He assures her that he would never manipulate her in such a manner, and agrees to let her put academia aside for now and return to the field as a proper archaeologist; however, he also adds that if someone did have an interest in collecting all there was to know about Benny, it could only be because she is a very important person. She seems grateful for the thought, but it’s unclear whether she read the final fragment in the files -- in which Beatrice, appalled that Sterling has put her daughter’s corpse on display, beats in his alien head with a statue.

Source: Cameron Dixon

Continuity Notes:
[Back to Main Page]