Parallel Lives
edited by Simon Guerrier
Cover Blurb
Parallel Lives

The Collection has lost one of its own. Someone who made a mistake once, and has never been forgiven for it. Someone whose hard work and need to make amends has been taken for granted. Someone who doesn’t fit in.

Clarissa Jones has been head of administration at the Braxiatel Collection for many years. Enough time to really know her way around the place -- its security, its weaknesses, its secrets. Knowledge, in fact, of great value to any of the neighbouring powers.

So it’s bad news for everyone when she disappears.

The Collection has lost one of its own. Unless Clarissa has taken others with her.

  • This is a collection of 3 novellas in Big Finish’s novel range The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: January 2006

  • ISBN: 1 84435 154 8
Parallel Lives
Parallel Lives (I) by Simon Guerrier

Two years after the Occupation, many people on the Braxiatel Collection still consider Clarissa Jones to be a traitor. One night, someone throws a rock through her window while she’s babysitting Peter. She tells Braxiatel about the incident, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate her concern fully -- and when she asks him if he can contact Ronan McGinley for her, he tells her only that this is impossible. Jason returns to pick up Peter -- later than he’d promised -- and, once she’s alone, Clarissa begins to pack her belongings...

The Serpent’s Tooth by Rebecca Levene

The trail of the missing Clarissa Jones leads to Atwalla 3, a planet in the Fallan Nebula where women are barely treated as sentient beings, let alone given human rights. Benny disguises herself as a man and visits the planet despite Braxiatel’s objections, partly to look for Ms Jones and partly in the hopes of learning enough about the isolated culture to write a paper. Her contact on the planet directs her to the Old Forest, but warns her to expect monsters -- and indeed, while exploring, she is attacked by a fire-breathing dragon. She manages to slice open the dragon’s exposed underbelly, but is nearly crushed by the beast’s death throes before four handsome young knights arrive on the scene and rescue her. Since Benny has slain the beast, they conclude that she must be the fifth knight whom the Oracle claimed would join their quest; to keep her cover, Benny has little choice but to do so -- and while accompanying the knights, she realises from their talk that they have never even set eyes on a woman before.

The knights’ quest leads them to the Forbidden Forest near the Cursed Lands; it is said that each Emperor visits these at the start of his reign to learn the terrible truth of things. Bizarre monstrosities unlike any animals Benny has ever seen stalk through the Forest, which soon gives way to a strange, overgrown city where weird creatures are being born out of the very walls of the buildings. The knights soon locate their objective, a clearing containing seedlings like hybrids between plants and animals. Once they have collected a seedling, their quest is complete -- and only then does Benny learn that the prize will be the hand of one of the Emperor’s daughters in marriage. If Benny turns down her “prize,” her cover will be blown.

The knights return to the palace to claim their rewards. While waiting for her wedding, Benny visits the palace library, where she reads up on some of the planet’s myths and realises from reading between the lines that the people of Atwalla were once accomplished genetic engineers. However, their technology declined at the same time that their society’s attitude towards women took a turn for the worse. The Emperor catches Benny in the library, but accepts her explanation that she’s trying to find out about women so she will know how to treat her wife properly. Meanwhile, a party of aliens arrives for an audience with the Emperor, and their leader, Thiss, requests that the females of his party be given a private suite away from prying eyes. The people of Atwalla see nothing strange about the request, but it’s a ruse; all of the aliens are male, and they have an ulterior motive for their visit. And thanks to Benny, they’re being forced to act ahead of schedule.

The knights are all married in the same ceremony, and Benny has little choice but to accompany her new wife, Jesh, to the bridal suite. Before she can admit the truth, she hears screams and investigates to find one of her fellow knights, Dreash, beating his 16-year-old wife for flinching away from him. The furious Benny hits Dreash so hard that he knocks himself out on the floor, and in the commotion, the Emperor’s other daughters arrive, unveiled. The punishment for seeing a woman unveiled is death -- the woman’s death -- and Benny thus convinces the daughters to flee with her to the Cursed Lands, where no one will follow them. Benny manages to get them out of the palace and steal a copter, but when they arrive in the Cursed Lands, Benny realises that they’re the remains of a city that was destroyed by a nuclear explosion. And beneath the surface, baked into glass by the heat, are innumerable bodies of human, alien and hybrid children.

Benny has forgotten that the Emperor is the only one allowed to enter the Cursed Lands, and he and his guards arrive and capture Benny and the princesses. For her part in the escape, Benny is sentenced to a year and a day in a relatively luxurious prison cell -- but the women are sentenced to be burned alive. It is assumed that they have been violated, since no man would be able to control his base urges once alone with them and the women must have permitted themselves to be sullied. Thiss and his fellow aliens are permitted to inspect the gas jets before the execution, as they claim that they wish to understand how women should be treated. Benny protests to no avail, and when the time comes for the execution, she has no choice but to strip down before everyone’s eyes, shedding her male disguise and proving that she can’t possibly have sullied the princesses’ honour. The execution stops so quickly that the flames seem to vanish before the jets are turned off, and Benny is tossed into a dank cell to await her own execution.

The Emperor, Jodal, visits Benny in her cell and admits that he’s proud of her for risking her life to save his daughters. He wishes to repay her, but the only way to keep her safe is for him to make her another of his wives. Benny reluctantly agrees to marry Jodal, but even after she has become his wife, the men of this society simply can’t conceive that it’s possible for a woman to use her initiative, and she is able to slip past her guards and get back to the library. There, she finds the truth by reading between the lines of a faerie tale, the story of a king who sued for peace by wedding his daughters to the monsters surrounding his kingdom, only to realise too late that their children would be monsters too. Jesh then confronts Benny, accusing her of ruining everything, and Benny realises that Jesh deliberately set up impossible quests for her suitors in order to keep them occupied until her own plans were complete.

Jesh teleports Benny to the visiting aliens’ ship, where Thiss and his kind reveal that they had already set up the teleport to rescue the princesses from their death sentence; this is why the flames appeared to go out so quickly. Jesh and Thiss now confirm Benny’s suspicions about the planet’s past; the people of Atwalla 3 were once accomplished genetic engineers, and the monsters in the Forbidden Forest are the results of their failed experiments. Finding themselves surrounded by hostile alien species on all sides, the Atwallans tried to make common ground with their enemies by enabling their women to cross-breed with all other forms of life. However, as more and more hybrid children were born instead of pure Atwallans, the Atwallans realised that their own species would eventually die out. They thus committed genocide, wiping out the hybrid children and keeping their women closely confined so that no aliens would ever be able to cross-breed with them. At some point, the Atwallans attacked Thiss’ world, using a genetically engineered toxin that wiped out every female of his species; however, Jesh found a way to contact Thiss, who offered her and her sisters the opportunity to escape their repressive life on Atwalla 3. Although Jesh and Thiss find each other physically repulsive, they both accept that this is the best outcome, as Thiss is the only male who has ever given the princesses the opportunity to choose for themselves, and the Atwallan women are the only females who can bear children and ensure that Thiss’ species survives.

Thiss and Jesh drop Benny off on a neutral world, but before returning to the Collection, she pops back to Atwalla and teleports herself into the Emperor’s palace to deliver a warning. Before he can have her executed, she claims to have contacted genetic engineers from her homeworld -- and rather than create a “cure” for the women, they’ve created a virus that will make the men of Atwalla equally capable of interbreeding with other species. Unless Jodal agrees to end the cover-up and start changing his society to accept women as human beings with equal rights, Benny will return and release the virus. Her threat delivered, she departs, leaving the shaken Jodal with the understanding that she wasn’t bluffing.

Parallel Lives (II) by Simon Guerrier

Benny was bluffing, and upon her return to the Collection she provides Braxiatel with Atwallan DNA samples and the seedling from the Forbidden Forest, asking him to pass them on to real genetic engineers so she can back up the bluff if necessary. Unfortunately, Braxiatel then passes on some bad news in return. Having misdirected Benny to Atwalla 3, Ms Jones returned briefly to the Collection in Benny’s absence and made off with the schematics of its security system, which she could potentially sell to any of the Collection’s enemies. And when she left, she took Peter with her.

Hiding Places by Stewart Sheargold

Bev and Adrian follow Ms Jones’ trail to a deserted resort town and a hotel with only three residents: the caretaker, Henry; a former diva named Henrietta; and a boy named Jacob who seems to know a great deal about the new arrivals’ dark personal secrets. Adrian is barely keeping his anger under control, and fears that he may revert to an animalistic state when he confronts the woman who kidnapped his son. Bev, for her part, is surprised to find herself developing feelings for Adrian, and is disturbed by strange dreams in which she kills a man. Adrian sees a wolf and a young boy on the beach at night, and the next day, he follows their tracks to the lighthouse; however, Henry warns him away, claiming that it’s dangerous. That night, the lighthouse lamp illuminates and sweeps across the hotel, and the residents suffer terrible nightmares drawn from their memories. Adrian sees himself murder a five-year-old boy during the invasion of Világ. Bev dreams again of bashing in a man’s skull with a heavy brass ball. Henrietta remembers stabbing her agent Carsten to death when he told her that her diva days were long past. Henry, jealous of Adrian’s animal freedom, lets the light transform him into a wolf and runs free on the beach...

The next day, though unsettled, Adrian and Bev have forgotten their nightmares -- and they’ve forgotten why they came here in the first place. Adrian decides to visit the lighthouse to see whether he can repair it, but when he activates the master switch, the light shows him a vision of Ms Jones and Peter -- and again, Adrian finds himself reliving the murder of the boy on Világ. He is then attacked by a wolf, and as they fight, Adrian falls against the switch, turning off the light. The injured wolf runs away, but later, Henry appears in the hotel, moving stiffly as if injured.

Back at the hotel, Bev visits Jacob, whose unadorned room suddenly transforms into the ruins of Világ. The horrified Bev sees the animalistic Adrian murder the young boy, but Jacob then removes the memory from her mind, along with her rage and horror. Nevertheless, Bev remains unsettled and angered the next time she sees Adrian, although she can’t remember why. Jacob then announces that Adrian and Bev have been accepted as permanent guests at the hotel, and promises to help them find the boy they’re looking for -- because Jacob is also looking for him.

That night, the lighthouse lamp illuminates the hotel again, but this time, the occupants’ traumatic memories overlap. Bev once killed her lover by accident when he surprised her during a museum robbery and she mistook him for a security guard. Henry is a werewolf who once killed for pleasure. Adrian was once a warrior who once took pleasure in killing, but he was force-evolved and now tries to resist his violent animal instincts. He is nevertheless forced to relive the murder on Világ yet again. Jacob realises that Adrian is resisting his “therapy”, and leads him to Bev’s room, where Bev is now experiencing Henrietta’s memories of murder; seeing Adrian as the monster who killed a young boy, Bev instinctively stabs him.

When Bev awakens the next morning, she feels weak and unsettled, as if the light has stripped away her defences. She is thus vulnerable to Henry and Henrietta, who have managed to overcome the light’s influence on them. This “resort” is in fact an asylum where the criminally insane are forced to relive their crimes over and over again, in an attempt to make them come to terms with what they’ve done -- but Henry and Henrietta have learned to appreciate the experience, and they now intend to “punish” Bev for her own crimes by drowning her.

Adrian, injured but not killed, finds himself reliving the murder of the boy on Világ over and over again -- until Jacob comes to his rescue. The hotel was designed to draw evil memories and feelings out of the resort’s patients, but when Ms Jones arrived with the innocent Peter, the hotel drew on that innocence and created Jacob. Jacob’s own innocence has been lost due to the terrible memories he’s absorbed from the hotel, and he’s been forced to use the lighthouse more and more often in order to hold onto his own sanity. But every time the light is turned on, Henry and Henrietta are freed to kill again, and their psychosis grows deeper.

Jacob sends Adrian to the beach, where he finds Henry and Henrietta drowning Bev in a tidal pool and unleashes his rage and violence upon them, killing Henry and mortally injuring Henrietta. He then takes Bev to the lighthouse, where Jacob is waiting for them. He gives them the co-ordinates to Thuban, the world where Ms Jones has taken Peter, and begs them to take him along as well, in the hope that Peter can restore his lost innocence. But Adrian and Bev are too angry with Jacob for what he’s put them through, and Adrian forces his way into the lamp room, resisting the light’s attempt to burn his way his memories, and smashes the lamp to pieces. The hotel melts away, losing its grip on all of the evil it’s absorbed, and Jacob awakens from the shock as an innocent young boy with none of the terrible memories he’d been forced to hold onto. Nevertheless, Bev and Adrian abandon him in the deserted resort and set off for Thuban alone. Adrian suspects that Ms Jones lured them here deliberately so they’d forget about Peter, but despite his simmering rage, he feels oddly grateful to have Bev by his side throughout this.

Parallel Lives (III) by Simon Guerrier

Benny sets off to join Bev and Adrian on Thuban, and Hass loans her his sonic gun. Meanwhile, Jason finally shows up, and Braxiatel sends him after Benny, telling him not to let Peter see his mother commit murder if it comes to that. Jason is irritated by Braxiatel’s attitude, but only briefly, as thinking about it gives him a headache. In any case, he’s got other things to think about, for when he catches up with Benny, she angrily demands to know where he’s been all this time...

Jason and the Bandits, or, O, Jason, Where Art Thou? by Dave Stone

This is Jason’s story:

The film rights to one of Jason’s novels, an educational historical work of good taste and wholesome propriety, had been optioned for production on Praxis IV; unfortunately, it turned out that said production was being overseen by Oinky Pete, a criminal Piglet Person who was forcing his female “actors” to participate against their will. Jason naturally vowed to put a stop to this, and enlisted the help of his associates, who bear absolutely no relation to the criminal organisation known as the Plague Dogs with whom you may or may not be familiar. In any case, they smuggled themselves into the production inside an animatronic Shoggoth, or Lovecraftian space goat, and successfully rescued the girls, despite complications arising when an emergency message caused Jason’s communicator to go off. Jason later managed to reconstruct the emergency message, which had been overwritten by virulent spam offering to sell him the secret of turning old printer cartridges into Viagra, and thus learned that Peter, the innocent young son of his good friend Bernice Summerfield -- who bears no relation whatsoever to that other Professor Bernice Summerfield you may have heard of, who is well-known for being the subject of a number of jokes involving the consumption of large amounts of alcohol -- had been kidnapped. Again.

Despite Jason’s urgent need to depart, he selflessly allowed his associates to use his ship to take the rescued maidens back to their own homes. Corrupt police and government officials then conspired to issue warrants for Jason’s arrest, leaving him with no choice but to seek some illegal means of getting away from the planet. In an insalubrious drinking establishment of the type he would never frequent under ordinary circumstances, he encountered a group of pirates, or possibly bandits, led by a man named Buggering Barnabas Jimmity Jim-Bob Hullabaloo (although he usually goes by Barney, except when someone needs to bump up the word count in a story without much plot). Despite his natural abhorrence for all things criminal, Jason swallowed his pride and asked to join their crew. All of the good positions were already taken, but the pirates decided that they were in need of Jason’s skills at macramé, and thus drugged him and shanghaied him aboard their ship, the Black Pig. The important thing here is that Jason was definitely drugged and didn’t just pass out stone cold drunk.

Upon awakening, Jason was disturbed to find that the ship lacked several important structural components, such as the Pointlessly Exploding Console; nevertheless, he concluded that it would be easy to seize command from this inept group of criminals. Before he could do so, however, they encountered a derelict passenger liner, and Jason was forced to accompany the pirates aboard for a spot of looting despite his aforementioned distaste for criminal activity. He was forced to assure the superstitious pirates that the mysteriously deserted liner had not in fact been attacked by space weasels, but then they found out the hard way that the truth was much worse: it was bait in a trap set by the evil Clan of the Elevated Star Goat, otherwise known as the Jumping Shoggoths (no relation to the animatronic monster from the film set). Jason had encountered the Clan before, and, retaining his presence of mind and his great manly manliness in the face of this threat, he helped the pirates to escape by making a series of random jumps through infraspace, shaking off pursuit. Once Captain Barney had pulled himself together, he accused Jason of trying to usurp his command, and took action -- by resigning his position and naming Jason as his successor. This explains any scurrilous rumours you may have heard about Jason being a captain of the Plague Dog band, who definitely bear no relation to those associates that he mentioned earlier.

The Black Pig eventually emerged in the Dagellan Cluster, far from the Braxiatel Collection and in need of extensive repairs. Fortunately, it had arrived near a junkyard world covered with all of the shipwrecks the crew could eat; unfortunately, this fortune was too good to be true, as this world turned out to be the lair of the evil Dr Gaylord T Demento, who was building an army of Cyclopotron cyborgs with which to conquer this sector of space. Although Demento soon determined from Jason’s manly and noble bearing that his arrival here was sheer happenstance, he also determined that the noble and manly Jason could never stand idly by and allow Demento’s nefarious plans to succeed, and thus decided to strip his captives of their brain matter and use it to animate more Cyclopotrons. However, Jason was able to use his great mental wherewithal to calculate the weak point in Demento’s force field prison, and his even greater strength of character to force himself through and escape.

Since Jason is such a noble and righteous man, he found he couldn’t abandon his despicable criminal cohorts to the clutches of the evil Demento. Fortunately, he has unaccountably forgotten to mention one aspect of his story, which is that shortly after arriving in the Dagellan Cluster, he and his crew found another abandoned ship and rescued its occupants, the five members of an all-girl pop band known as the Glitta Bitchas. Jason offered them passage to their next gig aboard his ship, but when they began to practice, the equipment aboard the Black Pig began to explode. Jason thus discovered rather too late that the Glitta Bitchas had been given sonic implants to help the natives of the planet Squaxabobulus Prime hear their singing, and that the implants were interfering with his ship’s systems. This is what had damaged the girls’ ship in the first place, and this is why the Black Pig itself was in such dire need of repairs that it had to set down on Demento’s planetoid, and the Glitta Bitchas remained safely in the ship because Jason had ensured that they were securely locked in their cabin away from the leering innuendos of his criminal crewmates, so it all holds together and it’s not as if he’s just making this up as he goes along. Anyway, after escaping from Demento’s prison, Jason returned to the Black Pig and convinced the Glitta Bitchas to start singing again. As he’d hoped, their implants destroyed the advancing Cyclopotrons, enabling Jason to rescue the pirates and escape from Demento’s clutches. After returning the Glitta Bitchas to their manager, Jason was finally able to set course for the Braxiatel Collection -- but then he and his fellow pirates ran into the Jumping Shoggoths once again...

This was just the start of a series of apparently implausible and yet not in the least bit contrived adventures, which culminated in the Black Pig’s eventual arrival on a private asteroid that Lord Trolltrundler, owner of the largest slunk-processing concern in the Ithica Secundus outpost of the Proximan Chain, had set up as a private resort for his daughter Shamanthra. Shamanthra, quite innocent in the ways of the world beyond her sheltered and incredibly rich existence, was only mildly concerned at first when the Plague Dogs touched down in her private area with the intention of burying their ill-gotten booty. Upon catching sight of Shamanthra, the ne’er-do-wells announced their intention to subject her to certain improprieties, but this was just too much for the noble and manly and just plain damn sexy Jason to tolerate, and he thus gave his former colleagues a dashed good seeing-to until they retreated, cowed, like the ruffians they were. The exhausted Jason collapsed in Shamanthra’s arms, and the grateful heiress took him straight back home to recuperate from his exertions, which is why Lord and Lady Trolltrundler found him in their nubile daughter’s bedroom and not for any other reason at all.

Once Jason has told his story, Shamanthra and Lady Trolltrundler are agog with admiration and gratitude. Lord Trolltrundler is rather less so, and in a private audience with Jason, he notes that the Plague Dogs are well known to be a dangerous and organised criminal enterprise with a shadowy leader, and not a pathetic band of scurvy misfits in a single clapped-out spaceship that should never have made it past the security satellites around Shamanthra’s asteroid. He also notes that, rather than go to the trouble of kidnapping a rich heiress and holding her for ransom, it would be much easier to stage such a kidnapping, pretend to rescue her, and then claim a reward. Jason insists that he is seeking no reward and only wants to get back to the Braxiatel Collection as quickly as possible; however, it just so happens that Trolltrundler’s contacts in the aerospace industry have recently developed a prototype vessel capable of making the journey in less than half a day, and without such a transport at his disposal, Jason will have little choice but to remain on Ithica Secundus looking for another way off -- and, in the meantime, continuing to spend time in the company of the adoring Shamanthra and Lady Trolltrundler. Lord Trolltrundler thus offers to lend Jason the experimental ship out of the goodness of his heart.

So that’s why it took so long for Jason to get back to Benny. Or at least that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

Parallel Lives (IV) by Simon Guerrier

Benny, Jason, Bev and Adrian finally locate Ms Jones and Peter in the suburbs of the planet Thuban. Bev remains on surveillance while the others break into Ms Jones’ home to await her return; however, when she does return, she shoots Jason, stunning him, and holds off the furious Benny and Adrian at gunpoint. Ms Jones confirms Benny’s growing suspicions that she is in fact from the future and knows what is going to happen on the Collection; however, she insists that she didn’t steal the security plans as Braxiatel had claimed, and implies that the Occupation may not have surprised him as much as everyone thought. She also claims that, like Benny, she’s seen what Peter could become unless he’s given a stable home and a parent who puts his welfare first. Benny swears that she’ll make more time for her son in the future, and Ms Jones, seeing that Benny is genuinely upset, gives in and allows Peter to return to his mother. But once Peter is clear, Adrian attacks Ms Jones in a fit of rage, she turns her gun on him -- and Bev, watching from outside, shoots and kills Ms Jones to save Adrian’s life.

The subdued survivors return to the Collection, where Braxiatel assures Bev that she did the right thing. He also sets in motion plans to alter the Collection’s security systems in case the missing plans do fall into the hands of their enemies. Meanwhile, as Benny mourns Clarissa Jones’ death and wonders whether she can keep her promise to make more time to Peter, Hass approaches her with bad news: there’s been another death...

Source: Cameron Dixon

Continuity Notes:
  • The third story is titled Jason and the Pirates in the book's table of contents, but Jason and the Bandits on its own cover page, which is presumably a clever trick meant to reinforce the theme that this story is being told by an unreliable narrator. Or it's a typo.
  • Ronan McGinley's disappearance, briefly touched upon here, is fully explained in The Crystal of Cantus.
  • The Collection's potential enemies include Draconians, Phaidon, Monan, Grel, and Galyari -- and Martians, specifically Hass' brother, Sset. The trouble with Sset continues in the next book, Something Changed.
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