The high tech avenues of Akihabara, Japan The high tech avenues of Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo

ELEPHANT&CASTLE TUBE STATION, LONDON: Spores puffed out over the city from the floating Zeppelin balloons, endlessly, like it was some kind of coral mating season in the sky. Reproductive space spores everywhere, miniature HG Wells Martian death squads, as omnipotent as smog. Hurling himself to the pavement, Cassius Croon (aka: Pet Store Napolean) literally had to stop breathing to avoid them. Shalom intuitively sealed his armour, confiscated his wind organs, commenced filtering and recycling his internal air supply. He was sealed, airtight, but pissed off. What the fuck was going on?

This is the story of the pet store Napolean and the woman who could walk through walls. Or rather, walk past security cameras without ever being filmed -- which is probably even harder than walking on water these days. Wells' Invisible Man revisited, given the cyber treatment. No wonder Big Brother was so scared! Croon had been stalking her for six months to work out exactly how she did it -- instantaneous wireless hacking on the fly? lots of nanomirrors? ESP? Everybody at MI6 had their own pet theories. He'd chased her across Europe on this mad hunt, from Berlin to the casinos of southern France and the wastelands of the Middle East. He was loving it! In fact, Croon was getting close to cracking her ultimate secret when suddenly those alien blimps appeared, sprayed shit into the atmosphere, and ruined absolutely everything.

Pulling his cloak around his head, Croon ducked down behind a pile of newspapers, fired Abraham II high into the everdeadening gloom. Make that bloom. The flare flowered a mile or so up, a brief lightning sheet behind the fungal clouds, Armaggedonic. Abraham II faded as if it had never existed. Down on the ground, you couldn't see more than 10 metres in front of you now, the smoke was that thick. Croon realised there was a family sheltering behind a nearby newspaper stand, near the subway mouth. They were hyperventilating.

「There's been a terrorist attack」 he informed them, finding a couple of gasmasks in his Zion knapsack. They knew the drills, had the masks attached in a sec. 「Oh my God, it's a gas attack!」 the father said -- he had a subcontinental accent, though Cas couldn't be sure with the gasmask muffle effect and all. 「Is it Anthrax? mustard gas? We're going to die!」

「Negative」 Croon said, studying his Casio wristwatch. He was dismissing specifically the anthrax and mustard gas theories, but he might just as well have been knocking off the imminent death prediction as well. Casio was optimistic. 「It appears to be a cloud of condensed fungal spores」 he said. 「Didn't you notice the smell? It smelt like the mildew in my old council flat.」

Somewhere from across town, Croon's clubbing partner Blitz was calling him on the keitai. A window opened on Casio's face, between the atmospheric plume results and the latest news from CNN. DEATH BLIMPS HIT LONDON...POP STARS CAUGHT IN PANIC Croon flipped open the receiver, spoke urgently through the speakers in his elegant Israeli mask: 「Blitz, this is no time for jokes, but I'm afraid we've been blitzed...」

Blitz ignored the jest, offered him a weblink to the BBC. 「A radical green group has claimed responsibility」 he said, grinning. 「My bet: it's something to do with GM food. Either that or drug laws.」

Something clicked in Croon's mind, and he relaxed enough to peel off Shalom (which quickly retreated into the collar, ready to wait for the next Arabian gas attack.) 「That makes sense」 he said 「it's just prank.」 A couple of undergraduates from the biology department with some modified magic mushroom genes and Judea inflatable gel membranes, trying hard to get the entire city high. Croon could appreciate the humour (and the chance to get stoned for free, and without legal hassles because technically he was an innocent victim -- a terror casualty no less!). Nonetheless, he was mature enough to know which way the shit was going to fall on this one. 「Poor bastards」 he said 「they'll get the death sentence for scaring everybody like this. When they get caught.」

「If they get caught」 Blitz said.

Just then there was a loud roar in the sky, and a scrambled HeadHunter jet fired off a couple of air torpedoes into the hearts of the bubble gum blimps. The Judeas imploded one by one, thunderously, farting what was left of their cargo into the air as they deflated. Miniature mushroom clouds appeared in the sky. The torpedoes fell to the ground coated in a thick layer of bubble gum, detonated against the first hard surface they came into contact with -- playing field, council flat, whatever. To be honest, who cared?

「Idiots」 Croon said, aghast. 「They destroyed the evidence!」

「It kind of makes you wonder whether the Government wants to kill a couple of people, just to reap the electoral dividends」 Blitz said. It was a typical thing for him to say, but not on camera, and Croon became concerned. What was going on here? Had he swallowed too many mushroom spores? But magic mushrooms took more than five minutes to take effect -- even if they were modified, Croon himself was still sober now (but how he was looking forward to the onrush!) 「I didn't get that, can you repeat?」 he said.

A flicker passed across Blitz's face -- the concrete walls which had hitherto been concrete behind him seemed to glow green for a second, as if they had been fungified. Some figures wandered on to set, Dr Who-like: green humanoids with eyes on protruding stalks, humming cicada wings. They seemed to be sticking bits of organic rubbish onto the wall (clothing, plastic bottles, foodstuffs, newspapers and so on). 「What are they doing?」 Croon asked, wondering if he was stoned himself.

Blitz stared back with his solid jet black eyes. 「Fucking fool. They're feeding it.」

CASSIUS CROON and other characters copyright Rob Sullivan 1996-2001.

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