Categories
23 in 2013

#23in13 – Chapter 7 – Dinner and a Show, part 1

As an aside before we continue…  This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here.  It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words.  It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft.  The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around.  File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.

If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…


It was a beautiful evening, perfect for a stroll through the gardens. Normally closed at this time of day, one of the gold-badged gophers unlocked the gates and led the delegates through, keeping up a constant pattern of vaguely interesting facts about the city around them. Sarah tuned him out, instead trying to look through the delegates for the group she had spotted in the welcome meeting.

As they passed in front of the stage she thought she spotted movement up on the side of the Castle mound, below the stage set for the Tattoo which was in full and noisy swing. Blinked and it was gone. I must have been a trick of the light.

Nigel hovered nearby throughout the walk, attentive and cute in a clumsy way. He’d clearly decided she needed looking after and every few seconds he’d ask if she was alright, if she needed a drink of water, some paracetamol, anything? She took his hand and squeezed it.

“I’m fine, ” she said. Then stumbled as another wave of not-quite-vertigo washed over her. Two of the group from the back of the hall walked out from behind the rock sculpture. She was certain they hadn’t been there a second earlier, certain! Nigel put his hand on her shoulder – a warm, comforting weight that soothed and eased… What would a massage from those hands feel like? She remembered watching two of the delegates walk around the rock to examine it, not a grey-haired man in a grey greatcoat and a too-thin woman in faded denim, both of whom she was certain she knew.

Dinner was superb. Through the years she’d been living in Edinburgh, Sarah had heard people tell of Atrium and it did not disappoint. It didn’t look big enough from the outside to seat everyone but somehow the space inside seemed to fit just right. The waiting staff occasionally seemed confused that there was a table – or an entire room – there, but the food was nothing short of excellent and the wine flowed.

Categories
23 in 2013

#23in13 – Chapter 6 – What Has Gone Before, Part 3

As an aside before we continue…  This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here.  It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words.  It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft.  The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around.  File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.

If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…


At first glance they could be standard-issue teenagers, white hoodies, baggy jeans, trainers. There’s ten of them, each pair carrying a large wooden crate between them. At second glance they move wrong, their legs appear to have a few too many joints. They took a convoluted route through the closes and alleyways, working towards where the Museum of Scotland stands on Chambers street. For the most part they stay in Prime, occasionally dipping in to other Aspects to avoid larger groups of people. Their pace never varied, uphill or down.

At the end of the street they cross into the Frozen North, now moving directly towards the bleak fortress standing where the museum buildings would be. They move without fear of interception, the few guards around watching them pass with bored disinterest. Not the first time these ten have been through here.

Once inside the fortress they walked steadily to the main hall, depositing the crates on one of the huge trestle tables that ran the length of the room. Like Darkwater’s palace, the building is positively medieval inside, a huge open fire burning at the far end of the hall.

“Right on time,” rumbled Murdoch from his vantage point next to the fire.

One of the ten produces a crowbar and begins to open the first crate as Murdoch strolls towards them. Inside, packed in a cocoon of foam balls, a slender, cruel rifle. Large enough for Murdoch to wield comfortably, far too large for a normal man. Murdoch lifted it almost reverentially from the packing, hefting it in his large hands.

“zzz – Payment – on – delivery – zzz” whirred one of the ten in a flat, artificial voice. Murdoch trained the rifle on it, took aim, pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

“zzz – Power – cells – on – payment – zzz” If a robot could indicate smugness in it’s tone of voice, this one would have.

Categories
23 in 2013 NaNoWriMo

#23in13 – Chapter 5 – Enter The Thirteenth Department

As an aside before we continue…  This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here.  It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words.  It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft.  The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around.  File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.

If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…


As Sarah Huntingdon got on her London train that morning, Inspector Staneck smiled jovially as he strode into the Department 13 buildings on George Street.  Packing crates lined the corridors, signs of a move either recently undertaken or about to happen, he wasn’t sure which.  Picture a slim, red-headed Santa Clause and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.  Department 13 was one of the branches of Lothian and Borders Constabulary that people didn’t know about.  He stuck his head around the tea room door.

“Minions!  Consider yourselves summoned.  Briefing room, five minutes.  Someone bring me a coffee.”

Five minutes later, with a steaming mug of standard-issue-almost-but-not-quite-coffee, he stood in front of a blank whiteboard.

“Righty.  Locutian arms smuggling.  Who’s got what?  Someone give me a starter for ten.”

A hand was raised at the side of the room, a young blonde woman in jeans and T-shirt.

“Olga Antonova, yes.”

“Locutian?  Please explain.”

“Sorry, you’ve not had your welcome briefing yet, have you.”  Inspector Staneck waved a hand over the rest of the room.  “Everyone, this is Olga Antonova, on loan from Moscow.  We’ve had some very successful liaisons with the Watches recently and she’s the first of our exchange staff.  You lot work hard and I’ll send one of you back to Moscow with her in time for winter.”

Inspector Staneck picked up a marker pen and started drawing interlocking circles on the whiteboard.

“Righty.  Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.  This big circle here is Prime.  It’s what everyone thinks is the ‘real world’.  All these other circles represent other realities, or Aspects, that are based off Prime and connected to each other through Gates.  Gates can be one-way or two-way and all the known Gates are monitored and traffic through them controlled and policed.  Locutia is one of the Aspects, one where high technology has run rampant – according to one nineteeth century record, the Aspect we now call Locutia used to be Steamtopia.  Think of the Aspects as ‘what if…’  Botanica, for example, is best described as ‘what if the botanical gardens mutated and overtook the whole city?’; Salaam is ‘what if Edinburgh was actually the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights’;  Neverwas is simpler – what if Edinburgh had never existed.  Things like that.  There are new Aspects popping up all the time as people imagine them, most of them don’t hang around very long.  No one has a very complete map of the Aspects, one man I know has a sort of guidebook that he’s compiled over the years, but that’s as good as it gets.  Happy?”

Olga nodded, a confused look flitting across her face.

“Good.  Now, the Closed Gate have been asking serious questions…” Olga’s hand went up again.

“Closed Gate?”

“Sorry, the Closed Gate are an organisation of people loosely connected to lady Sophia Rocksilver of the Frozen North – that’s an Aspect where we’re locked into a perpetual ice age but otherwise largely unchanged.  They want to restrict traffic between the Aspects completely.  They’re opposed by just about everyone but unfortunately they’ve got friends in high, low and most places in between.  If they get their way, they’ll have the final say over who gets to go where, many of the Aspects will stagnate and simply cease to exist.”

Olga nodded.

“I believe I understand.  So someone is smuggling high-technology weapons from Locutia and using them to…?”

“Murder two people, so far,” said Inspector Staneck, wiping the board.

“Three, sir.”  DC Munroe held a job sheet up for Staneck to see.

“Three?”

Munroe nodded.  Staneck counted names off on his fingers.

“Three people, sorry.  There have been a number of other crimes committed that could be connected but at the moment the murders are our concern.”

“Why are they not being handled by the regular police?” asked Olga, taking notes in a small black book.

“Because two of the victims were not found here in Prime and the one that was is definitely not native to this Aspect.”

“Thank you.”

Inspector Staneck looked down at his empty coffee mug.

“When did I drink this?”

“While you were drawing us a diagram, sir,” said Munroe.

“Of course.  Of course.  Thank you for volunteering to fetch another.  This time, try to bribe the canteen staff to give you something that actually is coffee?”

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to Emerging Technologies in Virtual Reality Simulations,” Stephen Shaw paused, glanced at his hand-written notes again.  “Yes, ETVRS.  You know, we really must come up with a better acronym than that for next year.  Pause for laugh.  Oh, no!  I wasn’t meant to read that part!  Can I start again?”

Professor Stephen Shaw was dishevelled, his nondescript suit slightly crumpled, his short brown hair stuck up at odd angles, bags just visible beneath his eyes.  He’d been working for the past forty-odd hours getting everything ready for Gabrielle, out from under the prying eyes of the Closed Gate and whoever they had working within Locutian Central Processing.  He looked around the room, hoping the nervous mad professor act was fooling everyone it needed to, nodded.  People dutifully laughed at his apparent stumble and then again as his first slide came up – out of focus, upside down and back-to-front.

“It’s not my day, is it!”  More laughter.  “Anyway, welcome to our little conference.  A special welcome to those who were in San Antonio, I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about that conference and was thrilled to be invited to open this one. We’ll be covering a lot of ground over the next three days and I hope we can all keep up.  Firstly, a bit of good news.  My team have been working solidly at the Suthana Simulation and I can tell you that we’ve got three rooms kitted out downstairs ready for you to explore.  I’m not going to tell you where you’ll be going when you enter there, but you should have fun.  We can comfortably take a party of ten and have all of them going in different directions.”  A cheer from several people.

“Secondly, we’ve got a special control room set up so that anyone who wants to have a look at how it’s programmed can get hands-on.  That’s assuming anyone’s interested in code here.”

He waited until the roar from the geeks who had already been in the bar quietened down.

“Finally…”

As Professor Shaw said “Finally…”, Sarah felt a wave of not-quite-vertigo wash over her.  He seemed to be delivering two speeches at once and she couldn’t focus on either of them.  An odd group of figures near the back of the room caught her eye, that was where he seemed to be concentrating his gaze for one of the speeches.  The group looked familiar but…

“Ow!” A sharp, stabbing pain shot through the front of her brain.  Nigel appeared at her elbow.

“Are you alright, Miss Huntingdon?”

She removed the hand she’d clasped to her forehead, took the glass of water he was holding and drained it.  Looking around, she couldn’t see the group she had been looking at.  Professor Shaw was talking exclusively about the conference dinner.

“Thank you, Nigel.  Just a bit of a headache.  It’s been a long day.”