Why this site exists

These characters have been living in my imagination for the best part of 20 years. They’re not going away, so here are their stories. Maybe they’ll leave me in peace once I tell them.

Note: these are very much first drafts and as such may be riddled with errors: spelling, grammatical and continuity. Don’t @ me…

Evie

Evie woke, confused, groggy, panicked. She rolled over towards the middle of her bed, teetered on the edge of what was actually a sofa, grabbed to save herself, and just kept her balance with the help of a multitude of cushions. This wasn’t the first time she’d woken up, confused, surrounded by cushions. She must be at her sister’s place. Usually she had more of a hangover than this, she must be growing…
Reality crashed into her. Jack! Jack was missing. She’d been to Authority yesterday. She’d spoken for hours, it seemed like. Round and round, over and over the same events, probing, digging for something that wasn’t there. The detective had only really seemed interested in what she could tell him about the Resistance. And she could tell him next to nothing about the Resistance. And then she had come here.
Miriam! Evie scrambled up from the sofa, Sarah didn’t seem to be around. She scuttled across the carpet to the spare room. It was dark inside, shutters drawn, but she could hear the quiet, rapid breaths and gentle gurgles. Evie smiled to herself, closed her eyes an inhaled the soft smells of her sleeping daughter.
“I’ll find your…” she began to whisper.
“Daddy,” she heard Sarah say. Evie span around, it had come from the kitchen. Sarah was talking to someone. Well, someone, no guesses as to who. Evie was not in the mood to deal with her father. She rarely was but right now she really wasn’t. She crept back across the living room to listen at the door.
“You have to keep her inside,” she heard, “or I can do nothing for her. I can do nothing for you, either, unless you do as I have asked.”
Silence. Sarah never did have the nerve to stand up to him.
“Do you know where he is?” Sarah was saying. Of course he knows where he is. Nobody moves in this city without him knowing about it. Especially when someone is moved, forcibly, on his orders.
“Stay inside,” her father barked, impatiently. Evie knew what she needed to do. She had never been able to talk her sister round, never been able to get her to see their father for what he was. There was no reason that she could expect today to be any different. But she couldn’t risk being trapped inside all day. She just knew that if she hesitated, held back for even a second, then Jack was lost and she would never see him again.
She considered, momentarily, whether Miriam would be safer left with Sarah. Safer, undoubtedly, but not where she needed to be, at her mother’s side, in her mother’s arms. By the time Sarah heard the door slam, Evie was already at the top of the stairs, her baby girl still asleep in her arms, wrapped tight in every blanket she could scoop up from the cot.
“We’re free, little girl,” she whispered, as she took the stairs down two at a time. “We’re going to find him, I promise.”

Estrel

Dawn was breaking, Estrel was perched on the corner ledge where the outside wall of the Keep met the Courtyard perimeter. Somewhere, someone was ringing a bell. Estrel expected that it was designed to attract his attention in some way, so he had been making a concerted effort to ignore it. He wasn’t sure how long it had been now. Quite a while, he considered. Given how easy this job is, I really ought to try harder to be better at it. He could hear the noise of the novices gathering in the Courtyard for morning routines, voices raising, sticks clacking against each other by way of warm-up sparring. Someone would probably spot him soon. He should be getting on. Might as well answer that bell.
It turned out to be Onu Castor’s bell, which actually made Estrel feel slightly guilty. Estrel had no time for most of the Monks in the Citadel, certainly none of the novices who all thought they were so much better than they were, few of the elders and certainly not any of the Wizards, with the exception of Onu Castor who always had time for Estrel, which was all Estrel really asked in order to have any time for anyone in return. The old Wizard’s rooms were at the back of the castle, down several very long, dusty, corridors that saw more spiders and rats than they generally saw people. By the time Estrel was banging on his door it was some twenty minutes later. He really did feel quite bad now. He also couldn’t breathe properly any more.
The door swung silently open. Inside was dark, with a faint green glow. Out wafted the usual smell of damp moss and pipe smoke, mixed with toasted crumpets and butter, and that was present and correct today. Estrel focused on the crumpets and butter, he found that if he tried hard enough he could get to the point where that was the only part that he could smell.
“Onu?” he called, and stepped inside. He stood still for a moment, to let his eyes adjust to the light. This was normal, even though daylight had pretty much now washed across Toun and the city was started to wake. Wizards seemed to have an aversion to normal light. This green was pretty usual. He could now make out a figure in the rocking chair underneath the shuttered window. He waited.
“Well, come in then, if you’re coming in,” said a croaky, ancient voice, curtly.
“You called?” asked Estrel, moving further into the room and closing the door behind him.
“Hours ago,” replied Castor. “I’ve sobered up now. Can’t remember what I wanted. It was probably another drink, but I’m making do with the contents of this instead.” He waved an elaborately carved pipe, the length of Estrel’s arm. Thick smoke curled from the bowl. Estrel was fairly certain that this was where the aroma of butter was coming from.
“So… should I go?” asked Estrel. He’d never had a problem with Onu Castor, but he was always nervous not to overstay his welcome with someone who could probably transmogrify him without a second thought. Although… not without his stick. Staff. Which was leaning against the fireplace, out of reach. So maybe he could relax. Slightly. Didn’t do to let his guard down too much. “Is there anything else I can do? For you?”
Onu Castor shook his head.
“Sit down,” he said, waving at a wooden bench along the wall. Estrel sat down, tried to make himself comfortable. Castor had form, this could be a long visit. “I think you could be helpful to me.”
“If I can…” This was interesting. What could he possibly be helpful with, that wasn’t fetching intoxicating drinks or clearing used trays of crockery and glassware.
“I need some… information,” continued Onu Castor. “Some information from people that I don’t know, and don’t know how to initiate contact with. People that I believe you know. Dangerous people. Criminal people.”
“I know some criminal people,” admitted Estrel. “Which criminal people did you have in mind?”
“There is a man named Emer,” said Castor. “Do you know of him?”
“Know of him? Emer? Everyone knows of Emer!” laughed Estrel. “But you’re right, most people stay as clear as possible. They might drink in his club, or gamble in his alleys, but it’s generally considered bad luck to actually encounter him in any… personal capacity.”
“But you have encountered him in a personal capacity?” Castor asked.
“I have, indeed, encountered him in a personal capacity,” laughed Estrel, “more frequently than many would consider to be wise.”
“Then I think you can help me,” concluded Castor. “That is good. You may go.”
Estrel was taken aback. He had expected this conversation to go… somewhere. This was quite an abrupt stop.
“Is that it?” he asked, confused.
“For now,” confirmed Onu Castor. He sucked a large lungful of smoke from his pipe and held it deep within, before slowly releasing it into the room, in a giant cloud of butter. “I would like you to come back, however. Tomorrow, as the sun sets, if you please. And this time I don’t want to have to ring a bell until it sends me deaf before I get your attention. Now, begone!”
He snapped his fingers on this final utterance. Estrel could have sworn he saw blue sparks fly from his fingertips. He hurriedly got up from the bench, and bolted for the door.

Legrange

The sky was just beginning to grey into morning. Legrange sat alone, in his office on the fourteenth floor of the Authority building. He didn’t use his office for much, preferring to work where there was noise and activity, just for reprimanding Cadets and, as now, for thinking. He stared out across the city, taking none of it in, his mind a whirl of competing thoughts and theories. He needed to thin all of this down, get some focus.

“Leetle HaffHaff? Ease you mind?” he muttered, mimicking the street dealers. If he really was looking for a handful of White Nights it would be easy enough to swipe some from Evidence. He pulled open the lower drawer in his desk and pulled out a bottle of clear liquid. He wasn’t one for chemicals. He poured himself a large drink into the paper coffee cup that sat to his right. The liquid went cloudy and brown as it mixed with the dregs. Hobo’s Screwdriver. He took a gulp, then winced, then took another, winced a bit less, took a third and then settled back in his chair with his feet on the desk.

Legrange sighed.

“So, Mrs White,” he said to the ceiling. Mrs Evandra White hadn’t been particularly helpful when it came to the Resistance, she hadn’t even been certain that was who she’d met in the aftermath of the explosion. She’d been lucky. Stumbling into the arms of Resistance operatives and asking to be taken to Authority didn’t usually result in being taken to Authority. It was more likely to result in your body being dumped in The Alleys.

Apart from that, nothing. Well… Legrange flipped open the brown leather wallet in his hand for the seventieth time, glanced again at the Citizen’s License inside, then flipped it closed again. He shook his head. I don’t get it.

Evie White had been at work, in the early evening, in the Administration building, when she’d received a message on her ComN. It was text only and told her to check under her desk. A Com unit – a customised ComL. She knew enough to know what that meant – Black Knights. It bipped in her hand and the voice at the other end told her that, if she wanted to see her husband again, she had to go to a specific flat in one of the Blocks. She had called her sister to beg her to collect her daughter from childcare and immediately left for the Blocks. She had travelled on foot as the time of day meant that she would have waited hours for a cab. She had been concerned about being followed, but was certain that she hadn’t been. On arrival, the flat was open. It had been filled with a strange, weblike substance that she struggled to describe and had not had time to examine, before the flat exploded. She had stumbled out and into the arms of Agent Jones, miraculously unharmed and clutching the wallet that Legrange held in his hand. He flipped in open again, flipped it closed again.

He’d sent James to the location, with a team, but the flat had been bare, gutted. They had taken a sample of the web, which was now in the lab. Legrange didn’t know what to make of that. He took a drink. It turned out that it wasn’t really helping him think, but it was making him feel better. He sighed, flipped the wallet open one more time, took in the details one more time. It didn’t matter how many times he saw them, he still didn’t believe his eyes.

This belongs to a man who doesn’t exist. How had it been there? How did it exist? He read the name again. BJORN BARLOW. The man who Sergey made up, the decoy they’d provided to waste Resistance time. Did they know? Was this a message? Legrange drained his drink. The involvement of Chaguartay’s daughter troubled him. Especially this daughter. If you’d wanted to get to the Mayor on a personal level, why target the daughter he never spoke to? Especially via her blowin husband?

It didn’t fit. It didn’t feel like Resistance. Unless the explanation was Jones. A new Agent, shaking things up? Was Toshock losing her grip? Legrange groaned. Can’t think any more. He drained his drink and, as dawn poured over the cityscape before him, he allowed himself to drift off to sleep.

Toshock

“Take a seat, Mr Dawkins,” said Toshock, as the door slid shut behind him, “please.”

Dawkins looked around at the lack of furniture, before taking the general’s lead and perching on top of one of the many metal boxes that we stacked haphazardly around the room.

“Maybe not that one,” suggested Toshock. She smiled, as Dawkins looked startled and moved to the right, before looking up to check if he’d made a better choice. “That’s better,” she reassured him. “Ordnance,” she explained, indicating the box he’d originally picked. “Best avoided.”

Dawkins nodded. He looked so nervous, like a frightened child, observed Toshock. Not like the man she knew. He was so young this time. She’d been told to expect it but, even so, it was striking and unsettling.

“I, uh…” began Dawkins.

“Let me stop you there,” said Toshock, gently. This was a speech that she’d had time to rehearse, years in fact. It was tone-perfect. It needed to be.

“You’ve been through a lot,” she began, leaning across to him and putting her hand on his wrist. He flinched, looked shocked. That hurt. She ploughed on, it wasn’t his fault. “I don’t know exactly what has happened to you, but it’s best not to try and explain. For two reasons: one – although the squad may refer to this store cupboard as my sanctum it is far from that and I have no idea who might be listening; and two – it’s not something you’re going to understand for a long, long time. Probably not until you’ve grown into that face of yours.”

Dawkins flinched again, and put his hand up to a weathered cheek. He opened his mouth as if to try to speak again, but Toshock cut him off before he started.

“We met before,” she said, “a long time ago. When I was a much younger woman. I don’t expect you to remember, because you aren’t yet the man you were then. You’ve… jumped, I think is the best description, in time. You wouldn’t tell me why, or how, and I don’t even know if you know…”

Dawkins started to shake his head.

“…but at some stage it will happen again and it’s after that happens when I will meet you. When I met you…”

Toshock paused. This part was going to be hard, but not as hard as she had anticipated. He looked the same, but he was a boy, she wanted to mother him, not fuck him.

“We were lovers,” she explained. “Will be lovers. If it’s OK with you, I’m going to approach tenses from my point of view.”

Dawkins looked shocked. She laughed.

“Don’t worry, I don’t seduce you, it’s very much a mutual thing. You’ll be a lot older and I was a lot younger. And whilst, right now, you might not look it, I do.”

Toshock ran a hand through her cropped, white hair, and sighed.

“That’s your story,” she finished. “Our story. That’s what you told me to tell you when you turned up at my bunker. There’s more, but we can get to that once you’ve rested a bit, I think. All I will say is that it is very important that you do now exactly what you remembered doing when I met you before, if that makes any kind of sense. I’ll help you, but I can’t tell you what that is. You’re going to need to rely on your instincts, and behave like the most authentic you there has ever been. I can’t emphasise that enough…”

She could see she was starting to lose the young man sat in front of her.

“…but for now, you can grab that blanket and get some sleep.”

Toshock nodded her head towards a sleeping roll and coarse blanket in the corner of the room. Dawkins’ shoulders slumped, betraying just how tired he was. He nodded.

“One more thing,” said Toshock, standing up to leave. “You never tell me your name. Not your first name. Everyone you will meet knows you as Dawkins. I don’t know why that’s important, but it seemed to be.”

Toshock moved toward the door, but bent as she passed Dawkins, kissing him gently on the cheek. The door slid open and she paused and turned in the doorway.

“I called you D,” she smiled, with the memories. “Night, D…”

Evie

The first time that Evie had met Jack, they had both been drunk, and laying eyes on him for the first time was the only thing that Evie could clearly recall from that night. It was his first night in Toun; he’d arrived that morning for a job interview and was supposed to be on the last train home when Evie bumped into him in Emer’s. But the vagaries of the Toun public transport system, ironically the very public transport system that he’d interviewed to fix, had conspired to keep him trapped for the night. His luggage had gone missing and all he had were the clothes he stood up in.
But he wore them well. She’d spotted him from across the bar, face screwed up in puzzlement, hair untidily ruffled, that funny wave he did singularly failing to attract the bartender’s attention. She’d smiled, then he’d smiled back and then it was all over for her. They’d talked and drank through most of the night, she’d offered him somewhere to sleep, that had ended up being her bed, and by the time the following afternoon came around and they woke up, their fates were set. They were going to be together.
From that day she’d ceased to be Evie Chaguartay, months before she’d actually changed her name on her wedding day. She’d never been comfortable living in her father’s shadow, and now she had a reason to free herself. The Administration job she’d taken but never really needed had suddenly taken on a new importance. She had built herself a career, lived her life in the daylight and now they had a daughter who would never have to bear the weight of that name. She hadn’t just freed herself that night, she realised now.
In all that time she hadn’t so much as spoken to her father. She knew the day would come; she and Jack would often joke about the battles they would have when she eventually, inevitably, became Controller of Administration, but the Mayor of Toun rarely concerned himself with Junior Directors so for now she was left in peace. Peace. Until…
Evie shut down the thoughts that were forming in her head, the pictures that flashed before her eyes. It didn’t bear thinking about. It hadn’t been her choice, but she was here now. She would let the proper authority, which was to say Authority, investigate and find Jack. Then this would be over and they would move on. There was no point in speculating, she had nothing to go on, it all happened too fast.
“Can I get you anything, Mrs White?” The gruff inspector reentered the room. He was dressed in a dark shirt, set against the interview room that was so so white it hurt her eyes. Looking at him was some relief, for a moment.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. She indicated the ill fitting but admittedly warm jumpsuit that she had been given to wear. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
“That’s perfectly all right,” went on the inspector, “but please say if you change your mind. You’re here to help us, Mrs White, and we want you to feel comfortable.”
“Evie, please,” she asked.
“Evie,” repeated the inspector. “Evie, is your daughter…” he lifted the cover of the file that he’d carried into the room with him, “…Miriam… Is Miriam being cared for?”
Evie nodded, vigorously. Miriam was with her sister. It was closer to her dad than she would prefer, but Sarah was sensible enough, and she certainly knew how Evie felt. In general, as well as about this. She shut down those thoughts again.
“Yes, yes she’s fine,” she mumbled. “I’m sorry, it’s all been a bit…”
“You’ve had a difficult day.” The inspector smiled. He was gruff, but his eyes suggested a kindness that reassured Evie that she wasn’t caught in the machine just yet. I’ll have to remember you, Inspector Legrange, she thought. Just in case. She caught herself thinking about work. What was that? Was it a defence mechanism? Because if it wasn’t then this wasn’t the appropriate time and she needed to get her priorities straight.
“My husband is missing, inspector,” she went on. “They… someone… some people came to our house, armed. They burst in, firing shots. We hid. They took him. I want you to find him.”
“Of course, Mrs… Evie.” Legrange put out what he probably thought was a reassuring hand. “We will do everything we can to find your husband. Now, it’s been a tough day, and it may be tricky to recall everything that has happened clearly. I often find it helps to work backwards, in situations like this. From now. So, Evie, can you tell me a bit about how you got to us, here, at Authority? I believe you were brought here by a member of the Resistance?”

Clara

The small, plastic horse left the hand of the weasel-faced assassin, spun through the air and rebounded off the dirty brick wall of the alley. The spin was perfect, the flick of Mishka’s wrist perfect and the horse stopped dead and dropped, falling no more than an inch from the wall. Clara stepped forward and trapped it under the toe of her boot. There were howls of complaint from the assembled gamblers.
“You can’t do that,” snarled Mishka.
“Just did,” shrugged Clara. “Tell me what I need to know.”
It was a cool response, but Clara felt anything but cool. She felt like she was sweating inside, her breath short, every sense on high alert ready to run. This alley, running to the side of Emer’s bar, was not a safe place for her to be, and these were not safe people for her to be talking to, especially not Mishka. But safety was rarely high on Clara’s list of priorities. Getting the story, on the other hand…
Mishka was actually bearing his teeth now, showing off the fangs that, on occasion, he’d been known to use to gouge the flesh of his victims. His fists were clenching and unclenching, sweat was popping out all over his brow and his eyes were wide and wild. Clara calculated that she had about twenty seconds left before she would have no choice but to move her foot.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” grinned Mishka, the grin looking as much like a threat as any grimace.
“Just give me a sign,” said Clara. “None of these fine gentlemen,” and at this point she gestured to the huddle of gamblers who were many things, but not a single one would be considered a fine gentleman, “will be any the wiser as to what you told me, or why. Hell, they didn’t even hear the question, did you fellas?”
There was a rumble of agreement from the group. They hadn’t heard Clara’s question, because Clara hadn’t asked it, not here, not today. She had been pursuing this piece of information for some time, it was possibly the final piece in the jigsaw that would allow here to write the damned piece. Or maybe it was the opening of a further can of worms, she didn’t rightly know and didn’t completely care. She just hated roadblocks like this, and Mishka’s silence had proven to be quite a roadblock. Hence she’d taken her life in her hands and come here to piss him off.
“Fine,” spat Mishka. “You really want to know? Yes.”
“All I needed to know,” grinned Clara, removing her boot from over the horse. It sat upright, on its hooves. There was a yelp of delight from Mishka and a grumble of complaint from the rest of the crowd. “Nice throw, by the way,” she said, as she turned and left.
A hand grabbed her arm before she could take more than three paces. She looked down into the grubby face of a familiar snitch.
“Mouse,” she sighed. “What?”
“He’s lying,” sighed the diminutive snitch, simply.
“What? Why? There’s no… How do you know?” she spluttered.
“Because that was the wrong answer to the question,” explained Mouse. “He’ll give up Emer, just did, to protect the person who really asked him to kill that family.”
Clara shook her head. But this explanation made so much sense. It was Emer’s style, shutting down people who owed him money and weren’t about to pay. And Konoroz had owed him a lot of money, and had no way of paying it back. He worked on a doughnut stand, for goodness sake, a loyal husband and father. Who else could possibly want him dead?
“What do you know?” she demanded, turning and pinning Mouse against the wall.
“Eww,” complained Mouse, “do you know what’s smeared on these walls? What did I ever do to you?”
“You’re being oblique,” Clara explained, “and I’m tired. And I have to be clever about how I get Mishka’s attention but you’re easier to push around.”
Mouse shrugged, he couldn’t deny that.
Look,” he squealed, “I don’t really know anything. I just hear whispers. People talk and they forget I’m there. And I spend a lot of time in Emer’s.”
“Get on with it,” snarled Clara. Mouse was right, this wall stank of something unpleasant.
“It wasn’t Emer.” Mouse started to talk more rapidly. “I’m certain of that. Ninety percent of Mishka’s work comes from the fat bastard, but not this time. There’s a web, and I don’t know who’s pulling the strings on this one, but I do know that Konoroz isn’t… wasn’t who you think he is.”
Clara groaned in frustration.
“Get to the point! Who was he?”
Mouse only mouthed the answer to that question, each syllable soundlessly and exaggeratedly enunciated.
Re-sis-tance.

Legrange

Borate’s office was plastered in campaign posters. It wasn’t exactly making Legrange’s job easier, having the Chief of Authority challenge the very man that the Resistance existed to resist. But Chief Gerstley Borate seemed to be the only man in Toun who Mayor Chaguartay wasn’t several steps in front of, and the move did seem to have unsettled him. Authority reform, outlawing Black Knights, Tree preservation… none of these were usual platforms for Chaguartay and yet all were part of his manifesto once Borate had announced his candidature. Not that it appeared to be making a difference to the Resistance, who were as determined as ever to resist.
Legrange looked around.
“I assume I’m not here to talk politics?” He didn’t want to talk politics. Borate was, as far as Legrange was now concerned, a dead man, both metaphorically and soon, probably, literally. Legrange was not an ideologue.
“No, I’ll keep it brief,” explained Borate, leaning far back in his seat. His brow was slick, his usually robustly glowing skin pasty, his dark hair slicked to his scalp. He didn’t look well. “I seem to be a busy man,” he chuckled, without humour.
Legrange nodded. He didn’t want to catch whatever his boss had contracted. Keeping it brief was fine with him, and he didn’t need to extend the encounter with unnecessary words. Borate lifted up a file, an actual, physical, cardboard folder, and tossed it across the desk towards Legrange. Interesting.
“Missing person,” he said, simply. “Jack White. Only been in Toun three years, came from… somewhere. It’s probably in the file. Married, one kid already. Seems to like it here. We have his wife here for you to talk to. Seems like there may have been some kind of altercation, which she claims involved other parties. You need to get to the bottom of that and, if it’s true, who those other parties might be.”
Seemed simple enough but… Legrange didn’t need another distraction. He was good enough at distracting himself.
“Who’s the Cadet?” he asked, wracking his brains for the most useless junior member of Population. “Rumston? Stolzinger?”
“No, no cadets,” Borate shook his head. “Too sensitive.”
“Sensitive?” Legrange was intrigued. “So who has spoken to her?”
“Me,” replied Borate. “Only me.”
He shook his head again. Legrange scratched his. He was intrigued, that was an unorthodox turn of events, but he still didn’t want the case.
“Why isn’t this going to Population?” he asked. “I don’t see how this concerns Resistance.”
“She was brought in by a Resistance Agent,” explained Borate. This didn’t, actually, explain very much.
“Brought in by a Resistance Agent?” asked Legrange. “Are you sure?”
“I got the recs checked,” Borate confirmed. “Definitely Resistance. An Agent Jones.”
This made more sense. Agent Jones again.
“OK, so you want me to ascertain the extent of Resistance involvement in the disappearance of this Jack White?”
Legrange lifted the file and opened it. The front sheet had a pic attached to it. Young woman, blonde, attractive. Slightly familiar.
“Evandra White, Junior Director in Administration,” he read. He tossed the file back on the desk. “OK, I’ll talk to her. I need to find out more about Agent Jones. She might be helpful. I still don’t get, though…” He indicated the file, balanced precariously on the edge of the desk. “Why the secrecy? I’ve not seen an actual file in years.”
“Evandra White,” repeated Borate, rubbing his pasty face, looking more concerned than Legrange had ever seen the Chief look before. “Nee Chaguartay.”
Evie Chaguartay! Suddenly Legrange understood.

Kap

“I’m sorry Kap, he came up behind me, he was on me before I could do anything…”
Snivelling. Wright was snivelling. He was a useless lookout, as this incident was ably illustrating.
Kap raised his hands until the palms faced the intruder. He moved well for a guy of his age, and had a firm grip on Wright’s neck. Kap didn’t want him getting nervous and making any sudden moves. Not while he was waving Wright’s firearm around like that. Kap wasn’t afraid of the gun, but that wasn’t the only dangerous thing in this bunker right now.
“I would stand up, but,” Kap nodded towards his useless legs, “I can’t.”
His ComH crackled. A muffled voice. Jones. She was going to have to wait.
“Toshock!” shouted the man with the gun. That was unexpected.
“What do you want with General Toshock?” Kap was spooked now. This guy seemed to know what they were doing out there. Must do, if he knew Toshock was in the bunker.
“Just get him here!” insisted the intruder.
Kap breathed a sigh of relief. He lowered his hands. The stranger had given himself away. He didn’t have anything apart from a name. Kap was back in control, and he was used to being in control. He knew control.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, calmly. The panic was gone from his voice, the urgency had died. He could manage this.
The old man grunted, and brandished the firearm. Kap shrugged.
“It’s not functional,” he scoffed. “We’ve barely enough weapons as it is. We wouldn’t waste one on Wright. He’d blow his own foot off before he hit anyone useful…”
The man looked at him through slitted eyes, apparently weighing up whether to believe him. Kap was sure he would, he was generally very persuasive.
The man threw the firearm to the floor with a clatter and slumped back against the wall, releasing his hold on Wright, who slithered out from under his arm and disappeared back up the tunnel to his post.
Kap’s Com crackled again. He was starting to get concerned. This was taking a while and he’d been trying to locate Jones ever since he lost her earlier. She should have been back hours ago. She might be in trouble, and it didn’t do to lose personnel so soon after recruitment. He should check in with her. But the coast wasn’t entirely clear here yet, the threat not entirely neutralised. He was still wary of this intruder who was looking for Toshock, even if he didn’t appear to actually know who Toshock was.
He glanced down at Wright’s weapon on the floor. It had landed close to him; he wished he could just stick out a foot and drag it towards him. He had been relieved when it didn’t go off, when it fell to the floor. He’d lied. It was fully operational and more than a little loaded. Wright might be an idiot, but any idiot could fire a gun.
He looked across to the man, who now had his head in his hands. He seemed to be sobbing. That wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He thought it made him easier, but he wasn’t sure that it should.
“What’s your name?” he asked, gently. This guy was unpredictable, best not to antagonise him with the wrong question, or the right question asked the wrong way.
The stranger looked up, face tear stained, eyes red.
“I saw myself die,” he moaned. “I’ve seen how I die. I’ve seen…”
His head dropped again.
“I’m not as old as I look,” he mumbled into his chest. “I shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. Not with this face. They told me to come here. They told me to ask for Toshock. I don’t even know who that is…”
Kap just stared. This wasn’t making any sense.
“What’s you name?” he asked again.
“My name,” sighed the man, “is Dawkins.”
He fell silent. Kap raised his eyebrows.
“Is that meant to mean something?” He asked.
Dawkins shrugged.
“It means something to me,” said a woman’s voice, from behind him.
Kap spun around in his chair. Toshock was framed in the doorway to her sanctum, light silhouetting her. She was a tall, lean, athletic woman, with a wild shock of grey hair that stuck up and out to the right.
“Mr Dawkins,” said Commander Toshock. “Come with me.”
Dawkins struggled up from where he had slumped and obediently followed Toshock into her quarters. The door slid noisily shut behind them. Kap let out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.
“Who was that?” came a voice from the doorway. Jones. “I couldn’t get any sense out of Wright. Is it really sensible to have a gibbering wreck on guard duty?”
“Where have you been?” snapped Kap, relieved to see her and irritated at how casually she’d reappeared.
“Getting back here,” she shrugged. “Had to stop off at Authority on the way.”
Kap spun around and stared at her.
“You had to what?” he demanded.
“Long story,” shrugged Jones. “Remind me to tell you about it some time.”
She was pissing Kap off now.
“I’ll give you a full debrief after you’ve completed your guard duty,” he instructed.
“My what?” Jones looked genuinely horrified.
“Your guard duty,” repeated Kap. “You’re right, it isn’t remotely sensible to have a gibbering wreck on guard duty. You can relieve him.”

Lagrange

The cadet became slowly aware of the shadow being cast across the Refec table. He turned his head, half an eclair to his lips, to register whose shadow it was. On his list of people he was really hoping that it wouldn’t be, one name came out easily on top.
“Inspector Legrange,” he spluttered, in cream, scrambling to his feet.
Legrange inclined his head. It amused him the way the cadets reacted to him. It wasn’t fear, but there was no one they were less keen to disrespect. He didn’t mind, it was useful. It meant that he could always guarantee the same table in the Refec.
“You’re sitting at my table,” he pointed out. “But it’s OK. I’ll wait while you clean it.”
The cadet was already on his feet and halfway to the cleaning station. Legrange wasn’t entirely sure why he was held in such esteem. It was something, he supposed, to show for all the years he’d worked in Authority but it wasn’t as if he could make or break careers, or that everyone was clamouring to get into Resistance Intelligence. The young cadet finished wiping the table with a flourish of the cloth.
“Vete, Matador!” he barked, with a smile. The cadet looked confused. Legrange sighed. Nobody went Outside any more.
He sat down as the cadet scuttled off, clipped his ComX unit to the side of the table and tipped the wink to Pablao behind the service hatch. The Com lit up the surface of the table, creating a mobile desktop with, because it was Legrange’s desktop, a pile of files in the far left hand corner, and an empty space everywhere else.
Legrange drew a circle with his finger on the right hand side, and a placemat appeared, onto which Pablao wordlessly placed a double stuffed chillidog. It was his speciality and Legrange’s favourite. Without really looking up, Legrange barked a thank you, pulled down his first file, grabbed the dog and took a large bite. He wiped the chilli from his hand and his mouth with the napkin Pablao had left and started to read.
“So, Toshock, let’s see what your brigade is up to this week,” he mumbled, under his breath and through a mouthful of chillidog.
The first report was a personnel update. New recruit, Agent Jones, seemed keen, they all were when they started, agitating for an escalation in hostilities, no appreciation of the art of urban warfare. She’ll learn, won’t she Toshock? Nothing by way of background, although she must have one, to join as an Agent. Toshock generally liked to train and promote for within. He closed the file, whipped it from the table to the trash. Nothing of worth in there, apart from the parts he could make up from have seen dozens of similar recruits. He sighed. He was probably getting too old for this, he’d definitely been here before. You and me both, eh Toshock? Next file.
He almost laughed out loud when he started to read it.
“Well I never,” he chuckled, “I owe James a sandwich. Kap, you old fool…”
He’d been so confident that young James’ fake intelligence was a waste of time that he’d happily bet that it would be disregarded as soon as the Resistance had decoded the stupidly simple cypher they’d used to transmit it. Secretly, he hoped that they’d see it as a sign that Authority was being complacent, didn’t regard them as worthy of too much effort, and lull them into a false sense of security that Legrange could exploit. But even better than that, it seemed that Kap, trusted lieutenant of the great General Toshock had taken the whole thing at face value and sent a team out on a wild goose chase, hunting down a man who didn’t exist, other than in the childish imagination of Sergeant Sergey James.
Legrange sat back and polished off his chillidog. He felt a lot better now. Good news, good food…
His Com bipped, which meant, given the mode he was in, that the entire table top suddenly flashed up an image of the caller. Chief Borate’s ruddy face glowered up at him. Legrange pushed his chair back. That was too much.
Fortunately it wasn’t a visual call, and rather than the face starting to talk to him, it was quickly replaced by a meeting invite. In Borate’s office, starting now.
Legrange sighed, wiped his face once more and stood up from the table calling his thanks and Deleon to an unseen Pablao, somewhere inside the kitchen. It was as well he stuffed his food down, or he’d never have time to eat anything around here.
A cadet was already hovering, waiting to take his table. He unclipped the Com and vacated it, although he left his empty plate. Perks of seniority. There had to be some.

Estrel

Estrel was on the minitram across Toun for his evening shift in the Citadel. He had only been awake for half an hour but he was tired. The world seemed distant, cut off from him by a fog. There were two other people on the tram, both of whom appeared to be on their way back from somewhere, which didn’t help his general sense of not being with it. He was operating under different conditions from these people.
He checked his ComN for the time. Nearly seven. The Wizards would be drunk by now. Hell, even the Novices would be drunk by now. He hated the twilight shift. He hated all of the shifts, but he particularly hated the evening shift. Midnight wasn’t too bad. But the rest were just painful, and that’s before the havoc they played with his body clock. He coughed something from his throat into his mouth, then swallowed it back down. His mouth now tasted of bitter, dank moss. I wouldn’t do this if the Citadel wasn’t where I was meant to be, he reminded himself. It would be helpful if I remembered to believe that.
He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and slid forward in his seat until his knees were jammed painfully under the guard rail in front of him and his spine had to bend at right angles in the middle of his back. It wasn’t at all comfortable but like that but, with his chin tucked into his chest, his head didn’t roll around with the lurching of the minitram and he had a chance at grabbing some more sleep.
Or he would have, if the tram didn’t immediately lurch to a halt at the latest stop – Apt Nodding he thought – to let a crowd of new passengers on. Damn those other people. He kept his eyes stubbornly shut, so he didn’t realise at first but after a minute or so he become aware of a musty presence on his left hand side. He tried to breathe more deeply, mimicking sleep, ignoring whoever it was, but he gradually became aware of a damp pressure against his arm as whoever-it-was lent into him. He managed no more than a further fifteen seconds of pretending he hadn’t noticed anything before he felt a blast of warm air in his left ear.
“Would you like a biscuit?”
Disgusted, Estrel slid himself back up, hands still trapped in pockets, shaking his head, looking shocked and trying to appear as if he’d actually just been woken. He wasn’t sure why it was important, but he felt like he didn’t want the stranger to know he was trying to ignore him.
“Wha-?” he asked.
“Biscuit?” the man asked, holding up a packet of what Estrel could swear were hog-biscuits.
Estrel grunted, hoping that this would be accepted for the universal signal of “no, leave me alone” and pulled his right hand out of his pocket, bringing my ComN with it.
The stranger seemed to get the hint, for now at least, and leant the other way. Estrel dragged down the Com screen to see what was going on. He needed to concentrate on something that wasn’t the creeping miasma from his neighbour. Mouse had been posting vids again, but it was never wise to watch them for the first time in public; there were a whole host of motion alerts from home, which were probably also Mouse related; his comms were stacking up but the first four were all junk and he lost his enthusiasm for wading through them before he got to the fourth…
He tried to play a bit of MooKa’ching but he couldn’t really concentrate and the motion of the minitram kept causing me to tap the wrong pod with his thumb and blow himself up. He sighed, blanked the screen and closed his eyes again, this time remaining upright. He could hear the dull buzz of the minitram radio below the murmurs of conversation. He’s not supposed to have that on…
“…and immediately caught the assembled press by surprise with the announcement that his number one priority would be to crack down on the illegal activities of the so-called Black Knights… despite persistent rumours of high level involvement in the Black Knight gangs within his administration, the Mayor’s new stance might be enough to guarantee another six-year term when the electorate goes to the polls next month…”
“Chaguartay out,” mumbled Estrel, under his breath.
The brakes hissed to a halt. He opened his eyes, it was Ogre Awarded so he hadn’t lost count after all. The stranger next to him got up to leave, although not without slapping a hand down on Estrel’s shoulder to lever himself up. Estrel waited until he’d taken a step down from the raised rear of the carriage before he dusted whatever residue of crud he may have left behind off with the back of his hand. He couldn’t help himself but sniff it afterwards as well. That made him gag something horrible. Serves me right.
“…Begrade score three times in their latest victory over local rivals Academy but the game ended in controversy as their captain was stretchered off after a vicious tackle by Academy defender Le Singe…”
They’re not kidding it was vicious. I saw the game in Emer’s. You could see the hatred in his eyes as he jabbed the pike through his ankle. Estrel shuddered.
“…and the schedule for this evening is rain, so make the most of this afternoon’s late autumn sunshine – this might be the last we see of it until next year…”
The sign Barley Omen, for Tunnel Terminus flashed past the window and Estrel got to his feet.