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 banged hard on the solid metal door. In her arms, Miriam squirmed and grouched. She was probably getting hungry.
“Shhh,” Evie soothed. “Just let me get us inside, sweetheart. Mummy will sort you out then, I promise. Just let’s get…”
The door opened a crack.
“What?” It was Mouse. Damn it.
“Hi, Mouse,” she smiled, trying to keep things light. She didn’t want to scare him off. “I’m looking for Estrel…”
She couldn’t see Mouse’s shoulders, but she could still sense their shrug. Mouse said nothing. She realised she hadn’t actually asked him a question. He could be so difficult about stuff like that.
“Is he in?” she asked, directly.
“No,” replied Mouse, moving back as if to shut the door.
“Wait!” She tried not to let it come out in her voice but Evie was feeling a bit desperate. “Wait, Mouse, please. Do you know where he is?”
“Should be back,” shrugged Mouse, opening the door wider. “He was at the citadel overnight, he usually comes back to sleep.”
Evie felt a pang of doubt.
“Do you think he’s OK?” she asked.
“’Strel? Sure, why not?” asked Mouse, seemingly unconcerned.
“No, you’re probably right,” accepted Evie. She was getting jumpy. She nodded towards the baby in her arms.
“Can I come in? She needs a feed.”
Mouse visibly flinched at this news but, nervous and suspicious as he was, he accepted basic facts of human survival, and stepped back to let her through the door.
“Thank you so much Mouse,” Evie sighed, with relief. “I don’t know…”
She could feel the tears welling now, and fought to keep them back. She knew how uncomfortable that was going to make Mouse, so she hurried into the kitchen and sat down, facing around from the doorway so that she could hide her face and her breast which Miriam, who was indeed hungry, latched on in seconds. Momentarily, Evie felt like she was in control, able to do at least one thing right, provide at least one aspect of support to someone dependent on her. Then, with the let down of her milk, she felt a wave of emotion that swept everything away and she couldn’t hold back the tears any more.
She heard Mouse shuffle in behind her.
“Can I get you a drink?” he offered. “I mean, we’re a bit limited just about now, what with the water still being disconnected. But we have beer. It’s too early for anything stronger. You think?”
Evie couldn’t help but laugh, which did help.
“I’d better not, Mouse,” she coughed. “You know, the baby and everything.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” mumbled Mouse. She could sense his embarrassment, picture his boyish cheeks reddening. “So… what do you need Estrel for?”
“I need someone to look after this one, while I look for Jack.” Too much effort to explain. Let him ask questions. He won’t.
“Jack’s missing?” asked Mouse, suddenly sounding surprisingly interested.
“Yes,” replied Evie, simply.
“OK,” said Mouse, evidently satisfied at this response.
“So you don’t know when Estrel will be back?” asked Evie, looking around the kitchen as she switched Miriam over to the other side. No surface was visible under dishes and boxes, which themselves were covered in grime, or crumbs, or unidentifiable masses of burnt… whatever. Why was she even thinking of leaving her baby in this hellhole? She must be crazy. Or desperate. And Estrel was… well, Estrel was a lazy fuckwit most of the time but he tried really hard and he cared and she trusted him. So where the fuck was he?
“I could…” began Mouse.
Evie’s head shot round, to stare at him open mouthed. What was he about to offer? She didn’t think she’d ever heard Mouse volunteer for anything to do with her. Not fetching her a drink from the bar, not walking her home when she was drunk, not offering a spare slice of pizza. But here it came.
“I could watch her,” he shrugged.
“You could..?” Evie half-confirmed, half-questioned.
“If you, I dunno, gave me a list or something,” said Mouse. “Don’t worry, I’d take her around my mum’s.”
At this point he looked around the kitchen with a look of vague disgust on his face. Oh right, thought Evie, he realises.
“I wouldn’t keep her here,” he confirmed, doing a fake shudder for added effect.
Evie weighed up her options, which appeared to number exactly one.

Clara

“That’s a lot of fruit,” Clara exclaimed, squinting at the porter’s name badge. “Argie.”
“Would you like me to take some away?” asked Argie, keenly.
“What? No, I…” Clara looked again at the table at the far end of the conference room, laden with exotic fruit of pretty much every colour. “Other people might want some. This isn’t all for me. Is it?”
“If you want it to be,” smiled Argie, pleasantly. “Or if you prefer I can remove it. Would you like pastries instead? Or if you’re not hungry, a floral display, maybe.”
“It’s fine,” she said, “leave it there.”
“If there is anything else, anything at all I can do, please do not hesitate to call,” continued Argie. “My name is, of course, Argie, and you can contact me via your Com device for the duration of your time at The Grand.”
With that, Argie scuttled out, leaving Clara alone in the vast meeting room. She looked around. Apart from the massive pile of fruit, there was already a floral display, so she wasn’t sure why she would need another. There was also an area to dispense hot drinks, a cocktail cabinet that it was probably too early for, however weird today was already getting and, on the closest table, a small selection of cosmetics, with a pile of what looked to be the fluffiest looking face towels Clara had ever seen.
She picked one up. It was, indeed, breathtakingly fluffy. In one corner, in deep blue, were embroidered the initials CT. No. That stands for something else. They haven’t monogrammed towels just for my visit…
Clara had assumed, when she’d initially been ushered in, that this was some sort of Green Room for journalists waiting to interview the Mayor. That was the audience that she had been granted, and she hadn’t presumed that her access was exclusive. Increasingly she was starting to think that it was. In which case this was way over the top, especially for a journalist who wasn’t even agency attached. Yes, these days that was by choice and she would always argue, did always argue, that he audience was infinitely more engaged and had far higher levels of trust in her, stemming from the fact that they’d chosen to consume their media direct, unfiltered and without state attachment or business affiliation. But she didn’t think that was the way that Government viewed her. She knew, from many a press conference battering, that wasn’t how the Mayor viewed her. So what was all this about?
She wandered across the vast room and picked up what she assumed to be an apple. It looked fairly apple-like, although it was a brighter red than she had ever seen, and had a deeper shine than seemed entirely natural. She turned it over a few times in her hand. This was wrong, every instinct she had was telling her that something wasn’t right. She needed to get out. Screw the access. Screw the exclusive access. God, that sentence hurt to think. But I feel like I’m about to lose something. Either my journalistic integrity or my life. Not sure I’m quite ready to give up on either.
Clara put the apple down and turned to collect her bag. A man was standing in the doorway. This was a man who, in her head, was slimy and grotesque, an obese cesspool of a human being, greasy and slick with the spittle of a thousand lies, smeared in the blood of a thousand victims. It surprised her every time, therefore, when she encountered Mayor Chaguartay in the flesh. He was tall, lean, an athletic frame clearly holding up the expensive suit he wore. Today his hair was slicked back. Or still wet?
“Excuse me, Ms Triebel, for sneaking up on you like that,” he spoke softly, and had obviously noticed Clara startle when she saw him, “and for coming straight from the gym.” He indicated the wet hair. “The facilities here are excellent. Feel free to avail yourself of them after our conversation.”
Clara swallowed hard. She wasn’t leaving, then.
“Mr Mayor,” she said, feeling like she blurted it out, although she suspected that in fact she came over as calm and collected. She usually did. That was her thing. “Shall we?”
Clara indicated a chair, and moved to draw one up herself. The Mayor didn’t move from the doorway.
“Ah, you’re keen to get started. That is excellent. I am pleased to see that. However, this room is a little… public for me.”
Is it? thought Clara. I was just thinking that it wasn’t public enough.
“Come with me,” he said, turning and starting down the plushly furnished corridor. “I keep a private suite here. We will be more comfortable there.”
“Of course you do, of course you will,” mouthed Clara, eyebrows raised, silently at the Mayor’s retreating back. She should bail now. If there was one thing she was certain of right now it was that she should not, under any circumstances, get into the lift that was so conveniently opening as Chaguartay approached it. Probably a private lift. I’ll probably never come out again.
It would be career suicide to pass the chance to interview the most powerful (only powerful?) man in Toun. It would be career suicide to snub the most powerful and most vindictive man in Toun in such a direct and personal way. There was something very strange going on here. Who was she, if not someone who would, without a second thought, abandon all concern for her own, personal safety, when a puzzle was presented, when a story was begging to be told. She was Clara Triebel, and Clara Triebel didn’t run away.
Clara picked up her bag and strode after Mayor Chaguartay. By the time the lift doors slid closed and she caught her reflection in the gold wall in front of her, she had that look in her eye. She wasn’t leaving until she had her story.

Legrange

Heads turned as Legrange strode into the Operations Room. Of course they fucking do. I’m the hard-drinking, bear-with-a-sore-head, just-woke-up-in-my-office bastard who runs this place. I’m the boss. And I will not be taken for a fool by an upstart Sergeant.
James was in the Conference Room at the far end. It meant that Legrange had the entire length of the floor to stride, marching with purpose, scattering nervous Cadets as he passed. His trenchcoat flapped and billowed in his wake. The conference room blinds were drawn, so James was left in no doubt that Legrange was on his way, and who he was coming for. From twenty paces he could see the Sergeant start to wind up the meeting, shooting nervous glances at his superior. From ten paces Legrange saw the three Cadets push back their chairs and hurriedly stand, scooping up paper cups and plastic cartons and Com devices. From five paces the door had already been opened and within a stride of the door the last of the Cadets scuttled out leaving the way clear for him to enter.
Legrange swept in and slammed the door behind his with a flourish. He saw James swallow nervously. Good.
“Who the fuck is Bjorn Barlow?” he demanded.
“I… You… We…” James seemed to be having trouble with where to start. “I thought you’d signed off on this, sir. I made him up, he doesn’t exist. It was a test of the Resistance’s intelligence capabilities.”
“So you say,” nodded Legrange. “So maybe you can tell me what the hell this is?”
He slammed the wallet onto the large, oval table. James peered over from his side. He went white.
“I… I have never seen that before,” he stammered.
“You didn’t get a Citizen’s License made up? Maybe to add some substance to the fiction?”
“No, I, I thought about it, but I hadn’t… I didn’t get that far. All I did was put out the dispatch that you saw!”
“And yet, who’s picture is that?” demanded Legrange.
James looked again, although both men knew that he’d recognised the picture instantly.
“It’s mine,” mumbled James, quietly.
“It’s what?” shouted Legrange.
“It’s my picture, sir,” James said, louder.
Legrange stood up straight and tall. He towered over his junior.
“Who else knew?” he snarled.
“No-one, sir, literally no-one,” James had his hands out, his eyebrows raised, virtually every piece of body language he could pull out to protest his innocent was in play. “I brought the idea straight to you, told no-one, executed it myself, told no-one.”
“Then this is, what, a lucky guess?” Legrange stabbed his finger at the table, on the opened wallet. James pulled the most demonstrative shrug that Legrange had ever seen.
“I have no idea,” he said, then, seeing the thunder in Legrange’s face: “No, I mean no. Not a lucky guess, obviously. Someone must know, somehow. But I have no idea how. Or who.”
“This is a shambles,” announced Legrange, “and a dangerous shambles at that. You will find out what happened and how, and you will make it right. But you will have to stay out of sight while you do so. If this was the Resistance then it’s a message that they know and you need to lay low. If this wasn’t the Resistance, then you’ve got other problems. Maybe even bigger problems. And just because it might not be the Resistance doesn’t mean that they don’t now know, in which case your troubles just doubled. That’s before you even get around to thinking about how I might react to this little shambles…”
James was looking down now, shoulders slumped, head bowed. If this was bullshit then he was really good at it.
“Understood, sir,” he said, simply.
“Right,” Legrange sighed. “Hand over your caseload. You need to get busy without other things. You can start by sweeping my office for bugs. If that’s how this got out then I’m in all sorts of trouble.”
James fiddled with his ComX, and Legrange felt the bip of data received in his pocket. He took it out to double check, just as another transfer landed. He didn’t see James slope out of the room, quietly, behind him. He was too busy staring at his screen, and swearing under his breath.
“Got to go,” he muttered, to no-one.

Kap

Kap swung his chair around to face the General, and scowled. There was only so much respect he was prepared to pay when he knew he was being lied to.
“That makes no sense,” he complained. “It’s a barely coherent accident, let alone a plan!”
Toshock shrugged, infuriatingly.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she sighed.
“Tell me the truth,” insisted Kap. “Don’t tell me that this is all part of some elaborate plan that you cook up in the future.”
“I didn’t cook it up,” she said, “at least, not from my point of view. I’m only doing what I’m doing now because he told me to. Future him. And I’ll only send him back in the first place because he’s already told me that’s what I have to do.”
“But that’s insane!” cried Kap. “How was he ever there to tell you to send him back in the first place, if you never sent him back to start with. And then, presumably, sent him back again, after he’s done whatever he’s meant to do now?”
“No, that’s not me,” Toshock shook her head, slowly. “Not as he told it. I don’t know how he jumps back again but… You can’t tell him, either. That it was me that sent him back in the first place. He seems to have lost a chunk of memory and doesn’t know who I am…”
“That much was evident when he burst in here looking for a man,” interjected Kap.
“It seems to be important that he doesn’t know. I don’t know why. He never said…”
“Or it never happened,” muttered Kap.
“Then how do you explain him turning up, just as he told me he would?” demanded Toshock, angrily. Kap reflected that he might have tried her patience as much as was advisable for now. He didn’t say anything more. Kap had only survived this long by knowing when it was time to shut up.
“Are we done?” asked Toshock.
Kap shrugged and nodded. He swung his chair back to the console and stabbed at a Com button. There was a crackle as the H fired up on the other end. Behind him, Toshock opened the door back to her sanctum. Kap heard it slide shut behind her as Wright’s voice came through the tinny speaker. Shit, what’s he doing out there?
“What are you doing, Comrade?” demanded Kap. He rubbed his eyes. He was getting a headache. “I thought I had you relieved?”
“I… no, Kap?” stammered Wright.
“Start again, Comrade,” sighed Kap, getting an anxious chill down the back of his neck. “You were relieved…” he looked at the clock, couldn’t do the sums, if anyone needs a break…
“No sir,” Wright said, confirming Kap’s worst fears. “I’ve been on all night. Now you come to mention it, when do I get a break?”
“We all get a break when we die, Comrade,” snapped Kap, cancelling the Com channel. He picked up the nearest thing to hand, which unfortunately was a grubby bandana, and threw it at the wall. It flopped through the air and fell, disappointingly, to the ground on the other side of the console, where he couldn’t see it.
Fucking Jones. I told Toshock that you can’t just pick up Agents off the street.

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.