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Wednesday, 7 July, 1999, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Cyberlimbo - our interactive short story
Here is the complete story put together over the course of one day by BBC News Online users.
Starting with just one sentence, successive contributions were sent in until the whole story built up.
Thanks to everyone who took part.
Mercedes fidgeted uneasily in the doorway, eyeing the empty chairs at the far side of the room.
They were so far away; and the eyes of the few people in the room focused relentlessly on her. She lifted her chin and smiled.
"I'm sorry, Madam, these seats are reserved." The polite words did not mask the underlying insolence. "Lord Barraclough's party." She turned, stumbling slightly on her elegantly high snakeskin heels. "I'm sorry," she began, but was courteously interrupted.
"Lord Barraclough would be honoured if you would join his party during the show. His assistant has been detained."
"Why, thank you!" Mercedes stammered, spared another voyage in the glare of the assembled eyes. "His lordship is most kind."
"Well, it's my lordship, actually, but let's forget that. I only use it
because it's so good for trade. We rag-merchants need all the edge we
Jake and Celia were late, as usual, probably squeezing in a last morning-after lunch before tearing themselves away from London for the weekend. She knew they would have a good time - they were her closest friends, after all, the ones who stood by her through the tortuous split with Alex, sympathising with her painstaking accounts of dance-floor treachery.
But they also liked Alex, a fast-talking
and dangerously-charming DJ, the man who still got them into the
hottest clubs and parties, effortlessly managing to see more of them
than she had since May, when she'd fled London for a seaside house
Mercedes was now delighted to have finally got close to the man she had admired for the past 10 years. At the orphanage she had heard many stories about the great Lord Barraclough and his textile empire. In the dark cold nights in Liverpool's worst home she had imagined what it would be like to be one of his seamstresses, practicing on a scrap of cotton until her fingers were numb and stiff.
However, what was she to say to him now they were together, would she be
able to put her humble origins behind her, would he fall in love with her as
she had imagined, or would he simply cast her off like so many other women
she had heard about?
But since attaining her degree from Oxford and the five years she had spent in MI5 hunting down KGB infiltrators, she felt much more self assured.
She could feel the reassuring bulk of the Heckler and Koch sub machine pistol tucked into her garters. Since her new assignment at airport security she carried it everywhere.
Suddenly she heard a voice behind it. It was somehow
familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. Beirut? Ankara? She turned to
face the man who had spoken.
"I can't take any more of this Celia. I'm a cynical, narcissistic, pessimist with overtones of depression . . . I don't know if I can go through with this."
"Calm down Jake. We have to get you out of this Brit Lit pack thing before the bubble bursts. Look, I'm your agent, trust me. There is staying power In romances, all you need to do is churn these out. But you need to get your head into it."
"Head in to it. Yes. But to live it. And you won't even let me pop something to make this less real."
"Come on, its not that bad, a world of heaving bosoms and bodices, better
than living in that poor man's Anglo-Kerrocracy. Any way don't you want to
see if Mercedes gets off with that bloke?"
Lord Barraclough slipped his hand into his trouser pocket and fetched out a gold coin. He laid it on the table. "Cognac!" He shouted. "Cognac!" The old count got to his feet and staggered a little. He grabbed a waiter's collar. The young man eyed him with disdain and said, "Yes of course sir," and snapped his hand up to break the count's grip.
"They're dogs," Barraclough said to Mercedes, falling back into his seat. She pulled her hand back from the table and glanced at the gold coin.
"Yes, I despise them all!"
"I love you," said Barraclough, his damp eyes resting their gaze on her nose for a moment before focusing on the blazing candelabra behind her.
The waiter approached the table carrying a small brown bottle, which he
thumped down on the table. Barraclough raised his hand again, his arm
swayed like a tree in a gale. "An opener, you dog!" Mercedes saw that his
finger tips glistened with patches of gold.
"I've been a long admirer of your work Miss Hopkins, your designer clothes company has really taken off" remarked Lord Barraclough, looking deeply into her dark brown eyes.
"Thank you Lord Barraclough, but please call me Mercedes," she replied with a strong upper class accent hidding her humble roots.
"Only if you call me Will," he replied with a broad smile that made Mercedes' heart miss a beat. "All my friends call me Will".
From the left came a loud whistle which made Mercedes cringe with
embarassment. She knew who it was before she even turned
around. Standing in front of her, with a chain swinging
from between his noise and ear was Alex.
"Why, it's Alex," laughed Lord Barraclough, "haven't seen you in ages, you old drunk. Where've you been keeping yourself?"
Mercedes was dumbfounded. How did Alex, a typical low-life she had been trying to divest herself of for months, know someone like Lord Barraclough?
"That surprised you, didn't it?" Alex laughed at her consternation. "Didn't know I had family connections in the aristocracy, did you?" He seemed to find the situation a huge joke.
"This reprobate is my nephew," explained Lord Barraclough. "Can't think why
a lovely young thing like yourself is mixed up with him."
"All right, Merc? Couldn't lend us a fiver for a beer, could you?"
Immune to the effect his outrageous body piercing and dirty, ripped clothes were having on the stylish assembly, Alex grinned cheekily at Mercedes and she felt her heart flutter.
But she knew that she must not give in to this weakness: she remembered how this man had hurt and humiliated her, remembered how, desperate and suicidal after he abandoned her, she had dragged herself from her depression to build up the designer clothes company that was now her life.
Her face hardened and she turned away, but he grabbed at her arm. Lord Barraclough stepped forward, his arrogant self-confidence and physical presence forcing Alex to back off.
"If you will excuse us, sir, the lady is with me," stated Lord Barraclough in tones that brooked no argument and placed his hand on Mercedes' arm to guide her away.
The physical contact sent electricity sparking between them, their eyes flew
to each other's faces and for a long, intense moment it was as if they were
the only people in the crowded room. As Lord Barraclough bent his handsome
head towards her, Mercedes soft lips parted and she was trembling
The lights dimmed. A spotlight hit the runway. The techno music came on. Everyone who had remained standing milled about attempting to find their seats. Lord Barraclough clapped and soon most of the others joined into the rhythm.
Then the first of the models strutted out. The silver green fishnet was nearly fleshtone, draped over her shoulders and clinging loosely over her body and around her hips.
From there it hung in several trailing pieces down the rear of her left thigh. More applause filled the room. Someone raised a glass towards Barraclough and he responded to the toast by raising his own.
The next model came out, behind the first. She had short cropped blondish brown hair, and was as thin as a rail. She wore a metallic blue halter top and what looked like a futuristic metallic blue sarong hanging below her waist. She carried a long gold spear in her right hand. She joined the first model near in the spotlights that played upon them near the outer edge of the stage.
A third came out after another round of applause. This one had raven hair, cropped to a little below her ears. A sizeable silver ring pierced through her naked navel, with a chain looped from it to a pin that was fastened to the fabric at her hip. Her outfit consisted of a loose fire engine red metallic dress, with a cutout exposing her abdomen and some of her upper back.
Her right arm descended deep into an open slit at that side. She waved her left hand, and with a deft motion slid that arm into the opening at the other side of the loose tubular, very opaque garment.
She looked straight at Mercedes as she did so. The music reached a crescendo, merging with a new round of loud applause, as this model joined the first two in the play of lights. As the applause reached its loudest, she positioned herself directly in front of Lord Barraclough. She drew her right arm out from her dress.
Mercedes noticed the dark object in the model's hand, but thought nothing much of it. The applause increased. Suddenly a rapid burst of staccato explosions sprayed across the area where Barraclough was sitting.
Mercedes watched in a moment of horror as Barraclough clutched
his chest and crumpled over. Several others in his retinue screamed, and
crumpled up beside him. Mercedes instinctively dived for the floor and
pulled her automatic from the holster on her leg. She fired two shots,
at least one of which struck the raven-haired assassin below her
shoulder, in her left chest. The second shot struck the left arm. The
raven-haired model stood there for a few moments, with an expression of
shocked surprise frozen on her face and then fell to the runway. The
blood merged with the red metallic colour of the dress. The assassin's
weapon lay beside the red stain.
"That's torn it," thought Celia.
"Mercedes will never convice the masses that tank tops are back in for this season."
At the same moment Alex was spurred into action, at the sight of his uncle slumped at the table, and he dashed over to steady Mercedes who was staggering back from the sight, pale and shocked.
Models were running screaming from the runway. Alex caught Mercedes by the shoulders, shouting as he did so for a doctor and some calm. The music blared on.
As they watched, the assassin whispered to them from the runway, but the
message was lost in the last ear-splitting reverberations coming from
the sound system.
Mercedes struggled to remember her lip reading classes from spy school - she caught one or two words ". . .revenge. . . devil. . .next".
before anyone could move the woman had moved her hand to her lips, swallowed
a small capsule and collapsed, her eyes locked in an unseeing gaze on
"Good work Mercedes," said Alex, "It was a tough mission, going under cover at such short notice, but I knew you could do it." "Thanks chief," said Mercedes. "You didn't look too bad yourself in that disguise."
"Any ID on the assassin?" asked Alex, changing out of his torn clothes and pulling out the piercings with a nasty sucking noise.
"Looks Like Tanya Rubitonya" said Mercedes. "We've crossed swords before now. Remember that bomb in the Ukraine they passed off as an accident? That was her."
"How's Barraclough?" said Alex.
Mercedes looked at the paramedics busily attending the stricken Lord.
"The wound looks deep, but I think he'll pull through. He was an unwitting dupe. They hoped to smuggle the diamonds into the country using his textile business as a cover."
"Yes," said Alex, "a clever plan." He faced her, looking down into her upturned face, "And they would have got away with it if it hadn't been for airport security."
"By the way," he said, "what did she whisper?"
"She said she was sorry," lied Mercedes, her lower lip quivering for a moment.
Alex hugged her and she closed her eyes. Suddenly feeling butterflies rising in her stomach, she said: "I love you Alex."
His steely eyes stared straight into hers.
"Sorry, he whispered, "I'm gay."
What sort of ending is that? We're stranded out here in some post-modern cyberlimbo. Do you have no obligation to us?
06 Jul 99 | UK
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