CWIN Vol. 1, No. 7
Sam, Cars and the Cuckoo by Garth Nix
Published by Warlock Fighting Fantasy Magazine
Reprinted by Painted
Target and the Seattle
Washington Autoduel Team, September 03, 1998
Updated September 08, 2000 and April 30, 2017
This story was printed in a Fighting Fantasy magazine called
Warlock by Games Workshop (in collaboration with Puffin) and
was supposedly a view of things to come in the (then) forthcoming Freeway
Not all the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks are based in the
traditional world of orcs, dragons and wizards. Steve Jackson's Starship
Traveller journeys to alien planets and peoples beyond a
black hole, while Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter (to be
published in the next few months) will be entering the dangerous
life of a post-holocaust future. Here, to give you taste of things
to come, is a story set in a similar scenario from Australian
writer, Garth Nix.
September 03, 1998
As the clock struck five, I got up from my chair, flicking the
switch which lowered the desk into its armoured nightsafe. All
around, similar desks were in various stages of descent. I glanced
at the clock again -- five oh two, giving three minutes to get to
the locker room.
I marched quickly across, judging it well as the security door slid
shut quietly behind me. Going to my locker, I noticed that Phil, my
neighbour and workmate, was already prepared for the outside world.
He pirouetted for my inspection, as I got out my helmet, flak
jacket, thigh and arm guards and slipped on my steel-shod combat
"Dressed to kill, aren't I?" said Phil, quick-drawing his Browning
9mm from his handy-dandy holster.
"Literally," I replied, "Where did you get the holster?"
"Collected fifteen coupons from the Soyawheat breakfast food box."
My mumbled reply of scorn was interrupted by the scream of a siren,
and an amber flashing light over the exit door. "Better hurry, Sam.
I believe that is the five minute warning."
I hurried, reaching into the locker for my webbing gear and ammo
pouches. Overhead, the light went red, and the siren rose several
decibels to the category of ear-blowing annoyance.
"OK, I get the hint," I shouted, grabbing an M-18 assault rifle and
my favourite S & W .65 rocket pistol as I simultaneously dived
through the rapidly closing door on to Phil's armoured feet.
"Hi," he said brightly, helping me up as I took a mental inventory
of my bones.
Finding them all there, I rearranged my equipment, holstered my
pistol and cocked the M-18. Next to me, Phil had likewise resorted
to his main armament, a 10-gauge, pump-action riot gun. He pumped a
round up, just as the outer doors began their timed opening
sequence. My firm, needless to say, is fairly heavy on security, so
we weren't too worried about finding the car-park overrun with
gun-toting skinheads, car bandits or any other members of the
lunatic majority. Even so, when those outer doors open, you find
yourself playing with the velcro fastenings of the old flak jacket
and twitching at heavily oiled safety catches. I heard Phil breath a
sigh of relief as the familiar sights of the car-park came into
view. No flames and dark shadows -- just the steady light of the
"Want an escort home?" Phil said, as we ran down the steps towards
"Only if it's out of your way," I replied. "I live at A55."
"What a coincidence," Phil broke in, "I live at A56. We must be
"Well, golly gee whiz!" I exclaimed in my falsetto schoolgirl's
tone, as we reached our cars, parked as usual side by side. I've got
a nearly new Jaguar-Ford Hunterkiller 7 and Phil has just bought a
McKinley Nuclear Destroyer, the new jet-powered death machine that
gives me nightmares. I mean, if Phil's got one, then someone else
could have one too, just waiting to blow away a poor unsuspecting
Sam in his old runabout.
Anyway, enough of that. Before slipping into the ejector seat, I
quickly ran a check with my Trandy booby-trap detector. I also had a
look, because Trandy don't really have a good reputation. Satisfied
that no deviant had strapped a nasty device on somewhere, I keyed in
the door-opening sequence and thumbed the fingerprint analyser. A
slight moment of panic then ensued as nothing happened, but after a
perceptible pause a slight click announced that the door was
unlocked. Carefully avoiding the dummy handle, I used a pocket
electromagnet to open the door, thus avoiding a 15,000 volt thief
Minutes later, I was all strapped in, had checked my personal
weapons into their clips and was running through the car's
armament. I couldn't afford one of the new lasers, but the
76mm autocannon in the retractable turret was okay. Both grenade
launchers checked out green, as did the two side-mounted rocket
tubes. One-shot launchers but a 120mm HEAT round will do most
non-government cars. All the secondary stuff was all right, but I
hardly ever used it. Machine guns and tear gas are all very well for
clearing pedestrians, but you hardly ever see a real pedestrian any
more -- just dummy tourists and kids for target practise.
Since the armament was complete, I activated my computer and
Electronic Counter-Measures package. As per normal, the screen lit
up like a Christmas tree with red lights, and a message came across
the audio in that sepulchral tone EMI like, "ECM countered by
superior system." Seconds later, Phil's leering face appeared on the
"My ECM seems to be superior, Sam. Stay under my umbrella?"
"All right," I replied, as I always do. Also, like always, I left my
ECM on -- just in case. I knew that Phil knew it was still on, but
hell, it always makes me feel more secure, like a blanket or
favourite teddy bear.
The ECM done, I went over to the information mode. It took a couple
of seconds to come on-line but as expected there wasn't much around
anyway. A couple of stationary cars, a food convoy and a lot of
hulks and rubble.
Just for fun, I pressed the target selection and acquisition button,
and the computer informed me that the rear vehicles of the food
convoy were in range of the 76mm. It also told me that I was in
range of the food convoy guards, and that they had me
targeted. Hastily, I reverted to information mode, retracting the
turret as well, just in case they got the wrong idea.
"You ready, Sam?" my speakers said, as Phil subverted my internal
sound system with his superior electronics.
"Couple of minutes," I replied, using the inter-car radio, even
though Phil's spy mikes would pick up the conversation anyway. At
the same time, I pressed the ignition button under the seat. The gas
turbines roared into life and the final row of green lights went on.
I tuned down the turbines with my elbow switch, sealed the car
waited until the tell-tale hiss of the air renewal system came
It worked, so I punched out the code for the BBC telefax road
service report. It was fairly short today, only about thirty pages
or so of accidents, minefields, ambush sites and the rest. Only one
BBC helicopter had been lost in my area, so it was really pretty
Typing in my route, I was rewarded with two possible ambushes and a
definite AA blockade. So that way was definitely out. Nobody tangles
with the AA, not since they wiped out the RAC a couple of years ago.
I was a member, but in a blockade they stop everybody, either
peacefully or by high explosive. I was trying to figure out another
route from the computer's maps, when the screen did a sort of flip,
coming back with a course Indicated in red, courtesy of Phil's
computer. I knew that McKinley's computer was infallible (after all,
I had seen the advert), but I checked out the route anyway, ignoring
the revving sounds coming from Phil's direction. There was one
ambush site, but not a good one, and a minor gang had claimed about
a twelfth of the route. Nothing at all really, at least nothing that
would take on two well-equipped vehicles plastered with the insignia
of Lloyd-Barclay Global Bank.
Lifting the throat mike to a more comfortable position, I reported
to Phil, "All systems go, mon Capitaine," simultaneously throwing
power to the wheels and rocketing for the entrance gate. Phil, a
millisecond later, shot out of the car-park and rapidly caught up,
competing for first place at the exit.
Gauging the moment exactly, with a little help from the computer, I
threw the turbines into reverse, slamming on the four-wheel
power-discs at the same time. Had it been a normal car, the rubber
would have shredded off the tyres as the car careered uncontrollably
the exit checkpoint. It wasn't a normal car, and whatever they make
tyres out of these days doesn't shred. The car slid gently up to the
gate, just in front of Phil. The gatekeeper gave me his "boys will
be boys" look, dimly perceived through inches of armourglass, and
the gate opened on to the streets of death. That's what the video
reporters call them anyway -- generally, people just call it the
road or the lane, or whatever.
Anyway, I pulled out on to it, and let Phil go first. His car has
much mine detection equipment and can take bigger blasts. Besides,
I'm a coward. We maintained a speed of about 140 kilometres per hour
for about 30 klicks, then the road began to get a little crowded
with burnt out hulks, bits of concrete and general rubble. We were
also nearing the ambush site identified by the computer, so I
extended the turret and went Into the target acquisition mode. Phil
had slowed down to about 60, so he was probably on autodrive,
watching the radar. I went over to autodrive too, but there was
nothing on my radar or the other detector gear. I hadn't buttoned up
fully yet, so I was looking out the windscreen when a whole lot of
apertures began to open on Phil's car. At the same time, a blip
appeared on the radar screen. As it appeared, the view disappeared,
steel shutters up, blocking the windscreen.
However, as I had a full 360 degree view on my outside observation
video screen, I wasn't worried. I didn't need to see on autodrive,
so I looked back to the combat display. The blip got to about
a kilometre away, and Phil still hadn't blown it up, so I
locked the 76mm on to it and waited for the target evaluation.
It got to about 800 metres, when the combat display printed up, "One
combat vehicle, black, gang insignia unknown, mostly light weapons."
It had only got up to gang when I pressed the kill button, and
activated the maximum evasion circuit. At least that's what I
thought I did, when a massive explosion shook the car, the flash
leaking through the supposedly flash resistant shutters. For a
second I thought I'd pressed the self-destroy by mistake, when
Phil's voice came through my earphones.
"I used a new rocket," he said proudly.
"A rocket," I mumbled stupidly, "I thought it was an H-bomb."
"Naw," echoed in my ears, "Only a big rocket."
"How big?" I asked suspiciously.
"Oh about the equivalent of a tonne of TNT," came the nonchalant
"Equivalent?" I asked, even more suspiciously.
"Yup, equivalent, Sam. It was a nuke -- a clean one. I just bought
it from the armourers. They're AA approved, and . . . "
I shut him off, ignoring the dialogue continuing via my sound system
in the cabin. A nuke. Hell, if Sarietta hears about this, I'll have
to buy one at least, and I only just finished paying off her Saab
A nasty thought crept into my mind as we accelerated back up to
about 120 kph -- a nice slow cruise. So Phil had a clean nuke -- who
else had one? "Hey, Phil," I croaked, "Can just anyone buy a nuke?"
A chuckle trickled back over the airwaves, closely followed by
Phil's voice, now in quadrasound; "No way, Hose -- I mean Sam. You
have to have about thirty-six clearances from the AA down -- even
the Church of England."
The Church of England! I was impressed. Practically nobody
gets clearance from them unless they're related to a Bishop or
something. Come to think of it, Phil probably was related to a
Bishop. My train of thought (such as it was) continued along this
path, and I was trying to remember whether I had made the compulsory
three-month visit to Church (and/or donation) when a red light came
on in a recessed, forgotten portion of the dash.
I looked at it out of the corner of my eye, hoping it would go away.
It didn't so I looked at it with both eyes. Luckily the car was
still on autodrive so nothing came of my eye movements. "Red light
in recess A1-CX45 indicates . . . indicates . . . " the dealer's
voice droned. I ran that through the possibilities several times
before abandoning it as being rather pointless. Taking up another
tack, I tapped in an interrogation on the computer. A small whirring
noise indicated that EMI had deemed recess A1-CX45 worth a voice
answer as well. Whenever I hear that voice, I find myself arming the
ejection seat. This time was no exception.
"Recess A1 -CX45 houses Alarm Signal Light A1 -RASD. This ASL will
only be activated by the effect of a weapon or weapons of unknown
type upon the vehicle. The weapon in use is not a projectile,
radiant, bacteriological, chemical or light-based attack within the
knowledge of your EMI 'Insane Stout' computer system. The attack is
upon item 36Q7 Windscreen Shield Panel Two. EMI would like to remind
you that the warranty is void where . . ."
I turned the voice off, and tried not to panic. A beep indicated
that Phil was talking to me, normally for a change. In my panic, I
hadn't heard, so he'd turned up the volume.
"Hey, Sam, you've got a bird on your windscreen."
A bird? My God, I thought, what's that? A BIRD -- Blast Intensified
Radioactive Device? A Bad Infra-Red Destroyer?
"I think it's a cuckoo."
A Big Irradiated . . . cuckoo? A real bird! I hadn't really
panicked, I told myself as I lifted the blast shield. Sure enough, a
small lump of feathers was plastered on the bonnet, unable to move
due to the slipstream having wedged it into a tear gas duct.
I toyed with the idea of turning the gas on, but the RSPCA might be
watching. Besides, I could get into The Times with this cuckoo.
After all, it was early cuckoo season, and The Times always
publishes a little story about the guy who gets the first cuckoo
plastered across his bonnet, or sucked up a jet intake. That would
enhance my promotion prospects no end, getting first cuckoo in The
Times. I quickly typed out a message to The Times, citing Phil as my
witness, and zipping it through to Fleet Street. Sarietta will be
pleased, I thought, I might even get back into her good books -- I
told her yesterday that her name was invented by a hybrid Graeco
Arab with a hangover.
The Times moved fairly quickly, and I was talking to a journalist in
about eight minutes. Yes, it was the first cuckoo of spring, and
would be reported. "Was the cuckoo alive?" the reporter wanted to
know. A reasonable question, I thought, glancing over the dash for
any signs of life. "It looks a bit dead," I answered hesitantly.
After all, when doesn't an amorphous blob of feathers look a bit
"Are you sure?" the reporter continued, 'After all, it could have
some bearing on the story."
"Well, I don't know. When I get home, I'll call you with the
"Actually, we'll be sending someone out to get a short interview
fairly soon. M . . . " the voice trailed off as the reporter turned
aside to other business, his omni-directional mike not being as omni
as hoped, obviously.
I turned off the phone system and shifted back to manual,
accelerating up to 180 kph as we reached a relatively clear
expressway. Phil hadn't said a word for a while, so I was wondering
what he was up to.
When Phil is silent, Phil is thinking. When Phil thinks, strange
Suddenly in front of me, Phil's afterburners cut in (nearly roasting
the cuckoo) and he took off fast, like a jet-propelled car, which it
was. Sighing, I leant back into my seat and pulled the boost handle.
I only just managed to get both hands back on the wheel when the car
shook and burst forward in hot pursuit.
"Hot Pursuit!" I muttered to myself, aping this AA inspector in a
corny video series. Looking back to the dash, I noticed that it was
hot pursuit -- the turbines were overheating. Ahead, Phil was
continuing his merry way at 280 kph, so I cut in the emergency
cooling circuit and lowered the cabin's extra firewall. Glancing at
the radar, I noticed Phil's reason for haste: two vehicles were
parked outside our flats, in our car-park! Quickly looking at the
household alarm, I was relieved to see that they hadn't breached the
flat's defences. However, I couldn't raise Sarietta on the
radiophone, which meant the enemy had pretty sophisticated jamming
This, in turn, meant a rival company or a top gang was trying a
hostage grab or retaliation for some lost deal. This, in its turn,
meant Sam pressing the Company Police button.
At least, in theory, that is. Have you ever tried unlocking a button
whilst traveling at 280 kph down a rotten expressway with a slightly
bent key? Well I hadn't, and the lack of experience showed. I
finally solved it by going on autodrive, unlocking the button and
going back to manual before the computer ran me into something EMI
hadn't included in its memory.
I pressed the button with my left knee, knowing that even the
Company police jetcopters wouldn't reach the apartment before the
enemy had blown up Phil and me, dragged us out, poured gasohol on us
and got electric saws . . .
What was I thinking about! That sort of thing hadn't happened since,
well, about last month, now that I thought about it. To get my mind
off the subject, I blew away a passing dog with a nicely projected
Just after that, Phil came into the enemies' range, and vice versa.
I lowered all my blast shields and prepared for combat. About three
seconds later, I came into range. However, both of the enemy seemed
to be concentrating on Phil. I watched the tactical display as six
rockets sped towards his car. All were intercepted by the shrapnel
clouds of the anti-rocket missiles. Close behind this, some sort of
missile had been launched. It got through the anti-missile missiles
by launching its own anti-anti missile missiles but got blown away
by Phil's super-rapid Gatling gun about 80 metres from the car.
I couldn't get a clear shot with my rockets, so I was giving Phil
covering fire with the 76mm. I was glad he was in front, as the
enemy opened up with rapid-fire guns of 85mm or larger -- big enough
to punch through my front armour if they got near the windscreen.
They were interspersing this attack with rockets and missiles, when
Phil scored a direct hit on the larger vehicle with a Romulus
The explosion tipped the other car on its side, and the tac display
went crazy as it tried to show all the crew running away in every
direction, and all the ammunition going off from the burning first
car. I opened up with grenades and machine guns on the crew, but
most of them got into cover. Meanwhile, the car on its side was
still firing, presumably on automatic. I laid down a grenade barrage
around it, to prevent anyone getting back in, and Phil moved in for
I had moved round to the side, and was trying to lob 76mm shells
into enemy personnel, but they had got into some really nice cover
Consequently, I was watching my target displays and didn't see what
happened to Phil, until I heard him shout disbelievingly, "I'm hit,
I quickly ran the car into cover and got the hydraulic hooks digging
into the concrete. Anything that could blow up a McKinley was bad
news, so I kept one eye on the target screen as I flicked to an
outside camera. It took a couple of seconds to locate Phil's car,
especially with all the smoke and the remaining gunfire. As I
watched, I saw the roof slide open and, a split second later, a
capsule fired into the air. I panned up after it, and was relieved
to see it blow open into a mass of anti-radar chaff, and the
ejection glider with Phil hanging underneath. Phil was heading for
the roof of the apartment block, so he was out of the blast.
I wasn't so sure I would be. I was pretty certain that Phil had been
got by a chance shot from the upturned car, so I was safe there. But
those McKinleys have a micropile in them, and Phil's probably had a
ton of unused munitions. True, I was hooked in behind a slab of
concrete the size of four elephants, but you never know.
At least I'd never know . . . but the computer might. Hastily, I
typed in the situation and waited for good old EMI to figure it out.
I shouldn't have asked. I began to think it was a stupid question
when the familiar sounds of the voice warming up penetrated the
cockpit. Then, in the "death is near/undertaker's voice" the
computer pronounced. "Estimated probability of survival within given
parameters approaching zero." I wondered whether the computer would
have liked to eject as I pulled back the lever and pressed the red
I was still wondering when the Company rescue team dug me out of the
rubble six hours later. The car had been destroyed when the concrete
block toppled on it. I had ejected about eight seconds earlier, and
the rush of air had carried me, the glider, and a fair heap of junk
into the city organic waste dump seven miles away, hotly pursued by
the Company's jetcopter and The Times, who had come to do the cuckoo
It's not too bad in hospital actually. The Times ran four lines on
the cuckoo, but it was The People's Sun Bring the True News of The
Globe that really covered it, under the headline, "Cuckoo Driver vs.
Insane Bandit Murderers," with full-colour glosses that Sarietta
took from the roof. There's a really good one of my glider being
caught by the explosion, and Sarietta wants to make it into a poster
and sell it. At least the interview payments will keep me out of the
clutches of the National Euthanasia service, and I can have my two
fingers replaced with real ones instead of plastic.
I'll even be back at work on Monday -- Phil's bought a new car and
said he'd give me a lift. Apparently it's a Mercedes Hyperassassin
with solid fuel rocket boosters and a 15 megawatt laser with . . .