by Michael Bollen
ISBN: 978 0556105 3 0
"A funny, charming, inventive comic novel. Michael Bollen’s warmth, sharp wit and eye for satirical detail reminded me of Douglas Adams. Quite possibly the best work of fiction since The Bible."
Stephen Merchant, The Office, Extras
Extract 3: Introducing Professor Ruck
In the centre of London, shiny new buildings reached up into the sky, leading the way to the future. The pre-Takeover structures had been completely swept away, creating an arrogant bubble of modernity. The new buildings came from a variety of architectural schools, some of which presumably accepted entrance papers written in crayon. There were dizzying spiral towers, triangular blocks, asymmetrical egg shapes, fins, turrets and revolving crow’s nests. The only common aim had been to look futuristic; practicality had been thrown out of the window, or in some cases out of the flip-top skylight-cum-helipad.
The richest of the rich lived and worked here; there were no ivory towers, but only because ivory was so last decade. Yet one building was more nondescript than its younger, thrusting neighbours. It was shorter, less colourful, easily overlooked. This was intentional. The building hid a massive Softcom laboratory, the vast majority of which was underground.
Down below the streets, Professor Alec Ruck was having a bad day. A short man in his late fifties, Professor Ruck was a curious figure with an enquiring mind and a questionable appearance. He had a lengthy nose, an ugly protuberance that might have been described as cruel, although the Professor was its only victim. It leapt crazily forward, seemingly desperate to escape from Ruck’s face, an attitude it shared with the man’s bulging eyes and the tufts of hair that sprang from his ears. His large discoloured teeth revealed rather too much about last night’s dinner, while his scalp told sorry tales of self-inflicted haircuts.
Fortunately Ruck’s clothes distracted attention from his currently livid visage. While his face was as black as thunder, his trousers were as green as grass, his shirt was as yellow as buttercups, and his tie was as red as a strawberry. A passing poet would doubtless have tried to compare Ruck to a summer’s day. This would have been difficult however, as Ruck would have been trying to kick the poet up the arse. The Professor thought poetry was a stupid waste of words, words that belonged in technical manuals or telephone directories. Ruck considered many things to be stupid: fashion, poetry, television, his secretary, fancy food, sport of all kinds, greetings cards, playing cards, supermarket loyalty cards, loyalty, the Eiffel Tower, doing the hokey cokey, everyone he’d ever met, going on holiday, making your bed, making endless lists…the list was endless.
The unfortunate creature currently at the top of Ruck’s twit parade was staring from the screen of the Professor’s lifePod. Visible behind her was a bright white laboratory. People assume that laboratories need to be bright and white for reasons of hygiene, and that is often the case. But many laboratories are bright and white simply because scientists aren’t very imaginative when it comes to interior design. In this instance, the lab could easily have accommodated some nice scatter cushions, a stencilled border or a tribal throw. A bit of extra colour would have been useful, as the scientist was an albino, with white hair and pale skin. Wearing a white coat in a white room, she was practically invisible. Her nose twitched nervously. ‘Sorry to disturb you Professor,’ she said, her voice squeaking from the speakers in Ruck’s ears. ‘But, er, it’s done it again.’
Ruck tried to control his temper. ‘Who has done it again?’ he boomed.
The scientist looked down meekly. ‘S-s-s-orry,’ she stammered. ‘He. He’s done it again.’
‘And did you stop him again?’
‘…No. It…he sent out a virus before we could cut him off.’
Ruck glared at his wrist. ‘He’s supposed to be in a secure environment,’ he said threateningly.
‘He is,’ quavered the scientist. ‘But he’s got round it somehow. He’s too clever for us. He knows how powerful he’s supposed to be.’
‘Isolate him,’ snapped Ruck, and he disconnected. ‘Idiots!’ he shouted to no one in particular. ‘Why am I surrounded by idiots?’ He pulled at his hair in frustration, ripping out a surprisingly large clump. ‘Ow,’ he mumbled plaintively, rubbing at his new bald patch.
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