The Joy Device
by Justin Richards
Cover Blurb
The Joy Device

'Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes... it's worse than Samuel Beckett.'

Benny has had enough. Enough of the angst and the heartache. Enough of Jason and the others. She needs a holiday, and so she's heading to the Eastern Rim, a part of the galaxy where there is still a frontier, and adventure to be had. She's packed her trowel. She's off.

Her friends are concerned. Drug barons, war lords, criminal cartels and outlaws have fled to the Rim from authority and order. There's a distinct risk of getting into trouble, not to mention life-threatening peril. It's not so much that Benny might come to harm; she might find she likes it out there.

But Benny finds the Eastern Rim almost suspiciously ordinary: no violence, no action, no excitement. So when she is asked by a shady curio dealer to help him find Dorpfeld's Prism, it seems just another cursed relic to recover before retiring to the bar. In a place this dull, nothing dangerous can possibly happen. Can it?

  • Another book in the new series of The New Adventures featuring Bernice Summerfield
  • Released: October 1999

  • ISBN: 0 426 20535 9

Benny, Jason, Cwej and Clarence are staying with Irving Braxiatel on his new asteroid, while Benny tries to come to terms with her recent memory loss and to decide what to do with her old diaries. Eventually she tires of introspection, however, and inspired by the autobiographical works of adventurer Dent Harper, she decides to take a holiday by herself on the galactic frontier. Her friends are worried; the frontier is a dangerous, cut-throat place, and what if she likes it so much she decides to stay? Jason tries to talk her out of going, but once again their conversation degenerates into a violent argument -- and when Benny learns that Dent Harper has been confirmed as her tour guide, there is no stopping her from going. Braxiatel, however, comes up with a plan, and thus Jason and Clarence rush to the planet Virabilis ahead of Benny. By the time she arrives they are ready for her, and as she and Dent set off to see the sights, Jason and Clarence are always one step ahead of them, using threats, bluffs, bribery -- and as a last resort, Clarence's appearance as an angel -- to smooth her way. As a result, Benny finds her holiday terribly dull, and when a snatcher actually returns her purse to her, claiming it was all just a terrible misunderstanding, she comes to suspect that Dent's tales of his own adventures were greatly exaggerated at best. Dent is utterly bewildered by events, especially when the infamous Heath Canley, head of one of the most notorious drug cartels on the Rim, actually apologises to Benny when she bumps into him in the pub and spills his drink.

Meanwhile, criminal kingpin Rula Winther is looking forward to her retirement, and her not-entirely-loyal assistant Nikole Medak is looking forward to taking control of the Cartel from her. All that remains is one last operation -- the theft of Dorpfeld's Prism, a worthless trinket which Winther is certain will ensure her future happiness. Cartel agent Powlo Vertutes breaks into the art gallery where the Prism is kept, only to find that a petty thief named Miklos Frunt has beaten him to it by mere seconds. Frunt evades his angry pursuers and contacts his employer, curio dealer Jericko Klench, to warn him that the Cartel is after the Prism as well. Klench claims he is unable to help Frunt escape, and the desperate Frunt apparently calls him trash before cutting the connection and fleeing. Upon learning what has happened, Winther sends her loyal bodyguard Luggar to lead the pursuit, and as morning breaks he traces Frunt to his hiding place in the Xcelsior Hotel. Benny, staggering to the hotel dining room for orange juice and coffee, passes by Frunt in the lobby without realizing that the man is afraid for his life, and without noticing as Powlo and Luggar enter the hotel behind her. Frunt ascends to the mezzanine, but Powlo, desperate to prove himself, shoots him with an anaesthetic dart -- causing him to keel over the rail and fall to his death. Powlo and Luggar search the body before they are forced to flee -- and find that he did not have the Prism on him...

Klench's young associate Linn Sekka witnesses Frunt's death, but also learns that the adventurer Dent Harper and archaeologist Benny Summerfield are staying in the hotel. She thus contacts Klench, who orders her to hire them to track down the Prism for him. Jason and Clarence plant a bug in Klench's office and listen as he explains to Dent and Benny that Dorpfeld's Prism is reputedly cursed; the man who discovered it lost his hold on reality and died raving mad. Hoping for a little excitement, Benny listens to Klench's last conversation with the "courier" who was to bring the Prism to him, and accepts his job offer. But after she and Dent leave, Jason and Clarence overhear Klench and Linn discussing the possible danger posed by the Cartel, and realize that Benny will soon have a murderous criminal syndicate on her trail. Jason decides to consult Braxiatel for information and infiltrate the Cartel, posing as an expert on the Prism, in order to discover their plans and lead them away from Benny. Braxiatel learns that Dorpfeld's Prism is a relic of the Smermashi civilisation, and has the power to affect the holder's perception of reality, making their surroundings appear wonderful; as a result of their technology, the Smermashi died out when they failed to notice the serious social and environmental problems affecting their civilisation and planet.

Jason manages to convince Winther of his credentials, and is allowed to watch when Doctor Creer is called in to scan Frunt's dead brain and develop the nascent perceptions within. The last person whom Frunt ever saw in his life thus appears on screen -- and it's Benny, who passed by him in the lobby. Jason, realizing that he has no choice, identifies her and convinces Winther to have her followed at a distance to see what she does. Meanwhile, Benny deduces that when speaking to Klench, Frunt did not say "you're trash", but "your trash" -- he was not insulting Klench, but telling him where he had hidden the Prism. Klench's rubbish has been collected and taken to the landfill, but fortunately his skip has not yet been emptied and Dent and Benny soon locate the Prism. Winther and her thugs then show up, and Dent warns Benny that Winther is the dangerous head of the Cartel -- but instead of having them killed, Winther congratulates them on their discovery and lets them go. Benny and the increasingly confused Dent depart, Benny now firmly convinced that Dent has been exaggerating his exploits -- and unaware that in fact Jason was hiding in the car behind Winther, holding a knife to her back. Jason escapes, and the furious Winther vows revenge. Nikole, meanwhile, has tired of chasing after a worthless bauble, and tries to convince Winther's followers that it's past time for someone else to take the reins of the Cartel.

Benny and Dent drop off the Prism with Klench, who is surprised by the speed of their work and promises to pay them the next day. Benny and Dent thus depart for Virabilis' twin world Prevoria -- where, much to Dent's continued bewilderment, Jason has bribed the savage natives to give them a friendly reception. Back on Virabilis, meanwhile, Klench gives the Prism to Linn, telling her that this has all been for her benefit, and when the surprised Linn places the Prism around her neck, she instantly sees the world as a beautiful place. Under the spell of the Prism, she admits that she's always loved Klench -- as a father. As Klench's hopes come crashing down around him, Winther and her thugs arrive, having traced the last call made from Frunt's communicator. Winther's thugs begin torturing Klench, and eventually kill him and summon Creer to develop the images in his brain. Unaware of the significance of Linn's placid demeanour, they throw her out of the office before Creer arrives -- and discover too late Linn was wearing the Prism. Linn, realizing that Benny will not be paid now, finds her at the starport terminal and gives her the Prism as a reward -- and then flees in horror, realizing what has happened to Klench. Benny, however, has fallen under the Prism's influence and notices nothing odd about her behaviour, and she and Dent return to the hotel for drinks at the pub.

Winther's thugs catch Linn, who tells them about Benny and directs them to the Xcelsior. Powlo ambushes Dent and Benny in the streets outside the hotel, but Jason and Clarence distract the thugs, enabling Dent to get the oblivious Benny to shelter in the hotel pub. Once safely inside, Benny proceeds to order drinks, completely unaware that Dent is now involved in a firefight with the thugs outside. Powlo orders all of the innocent bystanders to evacuate and prepares to attack Dent and Benny in force, but before he can do so Jason is captured and suggests just asking Benny to hand over the Prism; after all, she has no agenda of her own, and no reason to keep it for herself. Winther agrees to try this, but as she still has a personal score to settle with Jason she orders Nikole and Powlo to take him back to her villa. She then enters the pub, where Benny has come to the conclusion that it's best to put aside her lost memories and go on to make a new life for herself. She is so pleased about her decision that she gladly gives the Prism to Winther, who seems to want it very much. Winther thus falls under the spell of the Prism and is so grateful to Benny for giving it to her that she promptly returns it, telling Benny that she's realized she already has everything she needs out of life. Benny, however, doesn't want the nice old lady to go away empty-handed, and surreptitiously drops the Prism back in Winther's jacket as she leaves. Dent is entirely unable to understand what's going on.

Back at the villa, Nikole and Powlo tie Jason up to the torture equipment and await Winther's return -- but when Winther arrives she orders Luggar to release Jason and begins discussing profit-sharing measures and health benefits for Cartel employees. Nikole finally snaps and attacks Winther, furious with her for wasting time and money on a pointless quest and in keeping Nikole from her rightful position. Jason, unaware that Winther's kind demeanour is caused by the Prism, tries to save her -- and in the confusion the Prism drops out of her jacket. Jason kicks it aside as a distraction, but kicks it in the wrong direction, and when Winther lunges for it as Jason tries to flee, they become tangled up together, tumble out the doors and drop off the balcony into the chasm beyond. Fortunately, Clarence shows up at the last moment, grabs the Prism out of Winther's hands and saves Jason as Winther falls to her death. Following Winther's death, Luggar agrees to support Nikole in her bid to become the new head of the Cartel.

Thanks to the influence of the Prism, Benny still does not realize the extent of the firefight which took place in the pub. Still hoping for one night of passionate abandon, she accompanies Dent to his hotel room, but Jason and Clarence intervene again -- sabotaging the lifts, faking a phone call to Dent from a woman called Tabitha, switching room numbers and sending room service to interrupt them -- until the exhausted Benny falls asleep. Dent, irritated and tired by the fight, also falls asleep -- and when Benny wakes moments later, unaware that she had nodded off, she assumes that he did so first. She finally decides to go home, both she and Dent having concluded that the other's tales of adventure and excitement were at best exaggerated, and more likely completely invented. Once Benny is safely back on Braxiatel's asteroid, her friends breathe a sigh of relief -- and Clarence agrees to destroy the Prism, proof if any be needed that it is better to live a real life than to retreat into an imaginary world of one's own.

Source: Cameron Dixon

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