Thursday, 16 January 2014

Mistakes II

Lord Despeke stepped forward from the audience.  He was elderly too, wearing a top hat and three-piece suit over a stiffly starched white shirt with wing-tipped collar.  There was a glint of precious stone at his wrists as his cufflinks caught the light, and he was was carrying a brass fob watch whose chain fell gracefully down to a bar through a buttonhole of his waistcoat.  He was also, Rafe noticed, sweating copiously.
Lord Despeke stood very still for a moment as though gathering his thoughts, and then threw the watch up into the air.  As it reached the peak of its parabolic arc it froze, and though the audience stared at it expectantly, it hung there.  “It is moved out of time,” said Lord Despeke, his voice gravelly as though it wasn’t used much.  “It cannot fall, or be shifted by physical means.  It is, effectively, an impervium.”
Rafe shivered.  When Lord Despeke had cast his spell he’d felt it like a hooked net drawn over his skin.  Back on his homeworld the man would have been skinned and pinned out under the sun for stealing magic like that from anything and everything around him.  There had been no attempt to find the natural source of the power that he needed, or even to find and adapt another source.  There was spill-over from the spell even now; Rafe could sense the drain of magic around the object that went into maintaining the spell because it had been lazily cast and not tied off, made self-contained.  For him, it was ugly and inelegant.
He picked up the fire again because it was there, so close and tempting, and neatly severed the magic around the watch.  He caught it as it fell, and handed it to the stunned-looking Lord Despeke.  Before he could reprove him though, the white-haired woman spoke.  She was now back on her feet, though the girls who had lifted her were still at her sides, supporting her.
“I am less interested in knowing if you can break a spell than I am in knowing if you are capable of similar spells,” she said.  “Can you create an impervium, child?”
Calling him child annoyed him, so he nodded coolly rather than explain his actions.  If all they wanted was effects then he would give them effects.  Let them find out the hard way what the cost of their profligacy with their magic would be.
He reached out again, seeking the magic that Lord Despeke had used, and found a large source of it somewhere inside the halls that they were in.  He marvelled to himself again that these people had access to such vast amounts of power and seemed to have no appreciation for it, and then he let the magic flow through him once more.  He felt himself youthen as it did so, and he had to struggle not to let him just carry him back into genuine childhood.  He halted it, and then pulled it together, and wrapped it around the air in the middle of the hall, and then tied it off.  He opened his eyes, suddenly realising that he’d closed them, and looked at what he’d done.
A black sphere hovered in mid-air in the dead-centre of the room.  Thin black lines radiated out from it dividing the room into sixteenths.  Already some of the audience were touching the lines, pressing against them and even casting small, careless ugly spells at them.  The spells were absorbed, blows were ignored, and nothing could shift the lines or the sphere.
“Solid impervium,” said a man with only a few wrinkles on his face.  “Dear Gods, it’s solid impervium.  This would make the most fantastic armour ever!”
“It’s a trick,” said Lord Despeke flatly,  “It has to be.  No-one knows impervium as well as I do, and he’s a savage.  They don’t even have proper clothes where he comes from!”
“It doesn’t feel like anything,” said another woman.  Her hand was sliding frictionlessly along a black line.  “I can’t feel anything there, but I can’t get past it.  It’s like there nothing at all there, and you can’t go past it because you’d have to fill up the nothing and there’s not enough of you.”
“Sounds dangerous,” said another man.  “Still want to make armour out of it, Arthur?”
“Hells and Heavens, yes!” laughed the nearly-unwrinkled man.  “Armour that can absorb the enemy!  Amazing invention!”
“Impressive,” said the white-haired woman, ignoring Lord Despeke’s snort of contempt.  “Is this something that was useful on your world?”
“It wasn’t something that could be created on my world,” said Rafe.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Mistakes I

Rafe reached out with his mind and almost recoiled.  He’d grown up on a world that he was starting to understand was a very old world, slowly dying beneath an unforgiving, harsh sun.  This world was so much younger and more active, and when he reached for living rock he didn’t have to drive forcefully down hunting for narrow veins of it.  It felt like it was sitting just below the surface of the world, huge and unquenchable, a roaring force that was just waiting for direction.  He couldn’t believe that people in this world could be so blind to it.  He reached out again, just touching the surface of the fire with his mind, feeling its rage and inchoate anger.  It burned and bubbled and yearned to be free.  There were difference in it as well, that he tended to think of as flavours for want of a better word.  There was, in some way he was still trying to understand, different kinds of fire present in this world, and he suspected that isolating them might prove interesting.
“Rafe?”  The woman who spoke was white-haired and wrinkled, shorter than him and leaned on a stick.  He had been told that she was powerful, but as far as he could tell she couldn’t feel the fires beneath the earth’s surface at all.  When he’d tried reaching for the wind was found the roaring, howling madness that existed in the atmosphere here he’d seen a reaction from her, and he suspected that she was some kind of weather specialist.  He tried not to think too badly of her for that.  “Rafe, can you find anything?  Do you think you can do your… magic here?”  The hesitation before she said magic annoyed him, it was as though she didn’t believe him.
He picked the fire and let it find a path through him, burning along his muscles and through his veins, suffusing and infusing him with its energy, and he felt tiredness burn away, toxins evaporate and a healthy glow form around him.  He opened his hands, letting the fire rush into his fingertips, and shaped it as it let loose.  Only then did he really realise how much of it there was.  Though he’d cast this spell hundreds of times before, he expected it to produce a ball of fire that would fit in the palm of his hand and illuminate the inside of a goatskin tent.  This time he produced a ball of fire twelve feet in diameter that filled the room, forcing the audience to press themselves against the walls.  The heat it gave off was like the desert at noon, and it was so bright that he could see it even through his thin, horny eyelids.
He dropped the spell, feeling the fire subside, and the ball of flame persisted for seconds, so long that he worried that it had taken on an independent existence.  Then it winked out and air rushed into the room to fill where it had been, rustling cloaks and dresses and providing a welcome cool breeze.
The woman with white hair was lying on the floor.  Her stick was a line of ash on the floor and she appeared sunburned.  As two of the younger women gasped and then rushed over to her, she levered herself up onto an arm and looked at him, meeting his gaze.
“That was impressive,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s what you intended.  You will need to learn control.”
Rafe nodded.  He knew that for a fact.

“But it was only fire,” she said.  “There are many other aspects of magic as well.”  She waved one of the girls out of the way because she was blocking the white-haired woman’s view of Rafe.  “I would like Lord Despeke to show you an aspect, I think.”

Sunday, 12 January 2014


The Gunnedar tribes were gathering for one of their convocations.  Across the dry, sandy plains columns of dust rose into the sky, giving away their positions to any observers high enough up.  They were moving steadily, converging to a silver lake that none of them claimed as part of their territory.  The tribes that were already there had staked out long thin areas with a share of the water-front and were setting themselves out within those areas.  Where they abutted against one another Gunnedar would stare with dark, double-pupilled eyes at one another, pausing for a moment to assess the threat and establish their own, and then carry on working.  They kept a tight eye on the edges though, and even the slightest infringement would bring two or three of them over to inspect what had pushed over the invisible property line, and then push it back again.  The Gunnedar on the other side would watch, not interfering, but then check it immediately after it had been moved, and make sure that it was hard up against the invisible line.
Garroush’s tribe arrived a little before midday and took up position a quarter-turn around the lake from the previous tribe.  His territory included one of four large flat rocks on which speakers would stand during the meeting, and if anyone had been incautious enough to try and take this parcel of land before he’d arrived, his tribe would have immediately have attacked them for it.  The other rocks were close by, and three of the tribes would abut against each other like the rest did.  Garroush’s rock was the only one near a tributary that fed the lake and so created a natural boundary of its own; on one side the stream would keep two tribes separate.  Garroush grunted with what might have been pleasure when he saw that he was the first to the rocks.
The other tribes continued to gather during the day.  The convocation wouldn’t be held until sunset, so there was plenty of time.  Though some tribes might leave when the outcome of the convocation was known, for most of the Gunnedar this would be a two or three day event and a chance to meet other tribe’s members, forge alliances and find mates.
Silvaeus, in Garroush’s tribe, unpacked a shelter from his backpack with practised speed.  The poles that supported the waxes cloth roof were slid into pocked in the side of the backpack designed for them, and were strong and extensible.  One end of each was sharpened and pointed to make it easier to drive them into the ground, and in a matter of minutes he had a low shelter up, the roof’s highest point no more than three feet off the ground.  A second waxed cloth descended from the back of the shelter to close off one side.  This was not a standard feature of Gunnedar shelters as the desire for any available breeze to flow freely through was strong, but particular to his job.  Against this wall he built a tiny fire, guarded by stones pulled from the river and initially started with some precious tinder and twigs from another bag that he kept at his belt.  As soon as the first flames had caught he dropped into a practised, meditative state and stretched out his claws.  Almost immediately he felt the balance of life that ran through the world, and he gently and gradually teased out a thin thread of it, pulling it from the dry heat of the ground and connecting it to the bright heat of the fire.  As the connection made he saw a tiny flash in his mind’s eye and felt a tiny jolt run through his body.  He flattened his ears against his head now and concentrated harder.  For the moment the fire would burn because of the link to the plains, but leaving it to do that would suck the life from the ground and create a dead patch that might take years to recover.  He reached down, knowing that what he was looking for was already here from previous visits.  As he reached he felt the ground cool as he moved away from the sun’s furnace heat, and then he felt the familiar chill of rock.  He cast about, seeking heat, and found it quickly.  Following it down again, he found the vein of magma that he was looking for, an old sluggish flow of rock that was heated by something coming up from much deeper still.  Now he made a new connection, between the molten rock and the fire, and felt a second jolt run through him.
He opened his eyes, the spell-casting having taken less than five seconds, and checked on the fire.  It burned strongly, with a dull red colour that seemed more like the colour of sun-burned rock than that of fire, and the twigs and tinder that the fire clung to were unconsumed.  Then he set a clay pot on a tripod over the fire and looked around for his assistant.  Where was the lazy pup?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Elective surgery

“Glass,” said the man in the gaberdine mac.  He paused, waiting longer than necessary for his computer glasses to let him know that they were listening and waiting for further input, so that the people around him could process what he’d said and start paying attention too.  “Glass, get me a taxi.”
A woman a couple of steps to the side of him sighed loudly and theatrically, letting him know how unimpressed she was that he had such a device.  A man standing next to her took her arm suddenly, and they both abruptly turned away from him, acting as though he smelled back.  A little way behind him a small boy looked up in awe, and the boy’s mother’s face fell as she guessed what the child would be talking about all the way home.  In front of the glasshole a teenager pretended not to have heard anything, but he was clearly trying to check the glasses out without staring or being caught looking.  The glasshole smiled smugly, having got the attention that he wanted.
My wrist tingled, and I casually looked down at my feet, turning my hands towards my body as I did so.  Cupped inside them, embedded in the palm of my hand, a tiny screen turned from flesh-coloured to black and text scrolled smoothly over it.  I flexed my fingers carefully, the sequence and speed conveying commands, and the screen highlighted a single selection, flashed once, and then reverted back to flesh-coloured.  I relaxed my hands, and scratched the back of my wrist.  A set of embedded magnetic beads created a braille pattern there telling me the expected delivery time.  I was pleased, but I didn’t show it.
“This is by far the easiest way to travel,” said the glasshole.  He wasn’t talking to anyone in particuarly, but he knew that everyone around him was listening to him now.  No-one said anything, with most people pretending to ignore him.  I looked up, caught his eye, and smiled.
“It does seem easy,” I said.  “Although is a phone call that much harder?”
“No time,” said the man, making a cutting motion with his hand.  “I’m too busy to have to worry about remembering to bring my phone with me, then find it and check that my PA charged it before I left, and then find a taxi firm’s number and order a taxi.  I can just pass the work on, and it’s all done for me.”  A taxi went past, its light on, and I had to stop myself pointing out that it would have been faster still to have stuck his hand out and taken that one.
“You’re probably thinking that I could have taken that cab,” said the man, pointing after it.  He made a point of scanning the street for his taxi, though there were no others visible.  “Well I could, but who could predict that it would have come along here now?  And it’s a public taxi, I could catch anything in there.  Plebs take these taxis.”
The couple who’d turned away earlier now started walking off, the woman walking quite stiffly as though angered by his words.
“I get my personal taxi, hired for me by my Glass,” he said, and smirked at me.
“Don’t you worry that it’s dehumanising?” I asked.  My wrist tingled again, and my fingers found the braille.  Less than a minute.
“I can take it off any time I want!”
I shrugged.
“And it’s not like I’m one of those cyborg freaks,” he continued, warming to a theme.  “They’re building all kinds of crap into them, I bet they can’t go through airport security without being taken aside and strip searched by an electrician.  Hah, maybe that’s why they do it, they’re perverts who get on off on that kind of exhibitionism!  They’re all freaks, not me.  I’m just using the tools that we have available to us, and I’m using them better than other people.  That’s all!”
His Glass beeped to let him know that his taxi was approaching, and my wrist tingled to let me know I should take cover.  I smiled, waved at him, and stepped into the nearest shop entrance, where I stood in the doorway watching as his taxi pulled up.  He reached out for the rear-door, a supercilious grin on his face, and then it changed to a look of puzzlement.  He stepped back, his hands coming up to protect his face, but the bullet broke through them as easily as it tore through his face, lodging itself finally in the back of his skull.  He still stepped backwards twice, jerky, stop-frame motion steps as though he was trying to remember how to walk, before collapsing to the floor, blood pumping out from his ruined face to form a rapidly growing lake around his body.  The screams started then, so I waited a moment and then joined in.
“Oh my god,” said a shop assistant next to me, so I toned the screaming down a lot.  “What happened?”
“He was a Glasshole,” I said, and that was all that was needed.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


“Manumission,” said Jeremy Diseased-Rat, CEO of Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations.  The various employees sat in the conference room with him all looked first at one another and then at him.
“Bless you?” suggested Margoyle, a slight smile tweaking her thin, blue lips.
“I think that might be the name of the new Head of Suffocating Relationships,” said Stephanotte, her eyes not quite meeting Margoyles.  “He’s arriving sometime this week with a mandate to look over out ex-Soviet portfolio.”
“Dimitrion has taken over Suffocating Relationships already,” said Margoyle, her eyes staring at the top of Stephanotte’s head as though wishing her gaze could trepan.  “That does leave some room in Textiles and Bad Potteries, though I would have expected anyone taking them to want to take Soft Furnishing and Pillow Politics too.  Which are your remit, are they not?”
“Manumission is the practice of freeing slaves,” said Jeronica.  Sitting down she wasn’t noticeably taller than the men around the table, though when she’d come in her eighteen inch designer stilettos had left her towering over everybody and left small holes in the carpet wherever she walked.  “It sounds like something many of our clients would be disinterested in.”
Jeremy Diseased-Rat, a fresh bruise on his left cheek-bone and a small cut weeping on his chin, nodded.  “Much of what you all say is true,” he said.  His voice was even and carefully modulated to get people to listen to him, and his voice coach was rumoured to spend hours teaching him to undo what alcohol and nicotine did in the first place.  “We were hiring someone called Manumission, but that has been indefinitely suspended thanks to the reshuffle.  There is an opening for Textiles and Bad Potteries, and…..”  He paused for a moment, steepling fat, coarse fingers in front of his face while he looked over at Stephanotte.  “And,” he concluded, leaving no-one around the table in any doubt that she was in trouble.  “But more importantly, it is the code name for a new project that we will be starting in 2014 that I have high hopes for.  As you are all undoubtedly aware, there is much political tension in the Americas at the moment, with the concepts of universal health-care being a rallying point for various factions.  We have been retained to conduct a study of such health-care initiatives and produce a report on how ineffective they are, and their contribution to overall economic decay.  We will be focusing on the private health-care sector and the efficiencies that a market economy brings, how it improves health-care in the long term, and how competitiveness can result in a patient not being tied into a single primary care-provider, but instead travelling the country and seeing new sights as they are shipped from one expert to another to resolve their issues.  Considering the blind solely as outliers in this scenario of course.”
“Do people actually use public health care?” asked Margoyle.  She made a face. “Can that really be sensible?  Or healthy?  You might have to sit in a waiting room with ill people, for goodness’ sake!”
“Poor people,” said Jeronica.  Her tone of voice suggested that she was speaking from theory rather than experience.  “I think my last cleaner might have seen a government-sponsored doctor about something.  Possibly when her leg fell off.”
“People do,” said Manguy.  He was near the end of the table and had been playing with his pen the whole time Jeremy had been speaking.  “And some of them feel that they have no choice about this either, that they cannot afford private health care or the insurance that would get them access to it.  Part of what we’ll be doing in this study is showing that their estimations of this are actually a false economy.  They would do better, for example, if they abandoned eating fresh vegetables and instead used their health-care insurance to book themselves into hospital twice a year for liposuction and a crash diet.  This, in turn, would then increase the amount of produce available to restaurateurs and stock farmers, which in turn brings down the cost of fast food production and so the consumer benefits all the more by being able to eat more burgers, fried chicken-like protein and faux-fish fillets.”
“You seem to know a lot about this,” said Jeronica.  Her eyes fixed on Manguy, who squirmed a little.
“Manguy will be heading this up,” said Jeremy, ignoring the speed at which Jeronica’s head snapped round to look at him.  “He’ll be taking on the Lead Product Owner role initially until we hire someone suitable, and then they will report into him in his capacity as Product Director.  I’m very pleased that he’s been willing to step forward and pick this up, as I’m expecting it to be high profile for this year.”

The other employees, all very much aware of this, glared at Manguy, who smirked back.  He set the pen down, now perfectly at ease and comfortable with his victory.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Taking care of Ted

The automatic doors slid closed behind Alex and the security guard glared at him.
“They’ve been and gone,” he said.  “Why’ve you come back?”
“Safety check,” said Alex.  Michael spotted the moment’s hesitation, but he’d been hoping for it.  “Safety check is done by a second team to make sure that they’re independent of the team that fixes the lift.”
The security guard stared at him in open amazement, and Michael suddenly realised that he was wearing a name-badge across his breast: it read Ted Allerton.
“You’ve never bloody done that before,” he said.
“New policy,” said Alex, but Michael could see that his cheerfulness was taking on a bit of an edge.  “We had a couple of accidents, unreported you unders–“
“You bloody what?”  Ted roared his question at Alex, who took a step back.  He tried to speak again, but Ted advanced, shouting at him, flecking his face with tiny blobs of white spittle.  “You killed people so you’ve put in a new policy?  But you let people use the bloody lift before the second bloody team gets here?  What kind of maniacs are you, you bloody cu–“
“We didn’t kill people!” yelled Alex, glancing behind him.  The closed automatic doors that were anything but were coming up fast.
“Yet!” shouted Ted.  “Right.”  He stopped advancing and pointed at the couch where Michael was quietly sitting.  “You sit there next to this other suspicious bugger, and I’ll make some phone calls and then we’ll see what you’ve got to say for yourselves.  Both of you!”  He stomped back the way he’d come, his gaze fixed on his desk and the phone there.  As he walked past the couch, Michael stuck his leg out, and Ted tripped over it and flung his arms out to break his fall and especially push himself away from the corner of the desk.  As he hit the floor, Michael dropped on top of him, his knee pushed into the small of Ted’s back, forcing him down to the floor.  Five seconds later Alex had joined Michael and was holding a damp cloth over Ted’s face.  He opened his mouth, drawing in breath to roar something, and then he coughed, choked briefly, and went limp.
“Chloroform?” asked Michael.  Alex nodded. “Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned?”
“Budget cuts,” said Alex.  “It’s a bit unofficial, the QM let me have it but he’s marked it down as mislaid rather than checked out.  Plausible deniability.”
“Oh, well, I know all about budget cuts,” said Michael not bothering to keep the bitterness out of his voice.  “How long is it good for?”
“I don’t actually know,” said Alex.  “I only took it because it was there and it gets used in all the old spy novels, you know?”
“And you had it ready already?”
“I didn’t know if he’d buy my story.”
“He didn’t.”  Michael smiled.
“Sounds like he didn’t buy yours either.”  Michael’s smile vanished.
“It was better than elevator repairman,” he muttered.  “They would have been here right along with the police.”
“Yeah well, what was yours then?  And what are doing with him?”
“Ted?  Is there a cupboard or something we can put him in?”
They looked around, and Alex spotted the metal lock in the middle of the panelled wall that suggested a discreet cupboard.  The keys were in Ted’s trouser pockets, and the lock proved to open a janitor’s cupboard with a plastic bucket for mopping floors inside, two mop-heads without handles, a mop-head on a handle, a bunch of hypoallergenic cleaning cloths and close to five hundred toilet rolls plastic wrapped in bales of 96.
“Stuff a cloth in his mouth,” said Michael.  “That way he can’t shout when he wakes up.”
“He can take the cloth out,” said Alex.  They both looked around for rope, or washing line, but had to settle in the end for taking Ted’s jacket off him and using that to tie his hands behind his back.  Alex stuffed a cloth in his mouth, and they closed and locked the cupboard again.
“Think he’ll be ok?” asked Alex.
“I hope so,” said Michael.  “I’m not authorised to detain or immobilise.”
“Huh,” said Alex.  “Me neither.”
They exchanged a look, and then Michael shrugged.  “It’s done now,” he said.  “Let’s just get our jobs and get out of here.  What are you here for?”
“Rosa Lindenbaum.  You?”


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Ted the security guard

“What do you want?”  A man was coming across the lobby towards him, squaring his shoulders out and stamping his feet down.  Michael recognised it immediately as territorial behaviour and stopped where he was, his hands held slightly down and out in front of him, his palms turned down.  It was a gesture that suggested he could put his hands up and surrender straight-away if it was necessary, but that he was waiting to find out why it was necessary.  He made sure that his face was wearing a neutral expression, and then adjusted that slightly to be worried as the man approached.
The man looked to be in his fifties, probably closer to sixty.  He had white hair that had a few strands of grey left here and there and it didn’t look like it got washed often enough.  He was wearing a uniform, security guard probably, but there was a dribble of something yellowish down the left lapel that Michael was willing to be was egg yolk, and the cuffs were shiny and frayed.  Beneath the uniform jacket was a creased-looked white shirt that looked stretched across the chest and stomach, and the belt around his trousers appeared to be there more for appearance than for utility.  His stomach was definitely large enough to keep the trousers up by themselves, but it was obvious that soon they’d have to sit beneath his paunch, and then the belt would be essential.
“Are you Larry?” asked Michael, remembering the name from the email.  Larry was the guard who’d sent Rosa up in a lift only to have her fall half-out of it, dead, at the top.
“No.  Larry’s off sick,” said the man.  “Now what do you bloody well want?  Speak up or sling yer ‘ook.”
“I wanted to speak to Larry, actually,” said Michael.  He held a hand up to forestall the man repeating himself.  “It’s related to a little… excitement that he had recently.”  There was a pause, and Michael thought that this new guard wasn’t going to understand the understatement.  Certainly he seemed to be thinking hard, and it looked like it was taking effort.
“You mean the dead girl,” said the guard at last, and Michael nodded.  “That weren’t our fault,” said the guard.  “She was fine when she got in the lift, they’ve checked the CCTV and everything.  Nothing to do with us.”
“I understand that,” said Michael, seeing an opening.  “That’s why I’m here, I’m investigating the scene to be sure that there was nothing more you could have done so that we can exclude you from further inquiries.”  He thought he sounded rather smart.
“No-one’s said there’s going to be further hinquiries,” said the guard, frowning.  “Why would there be?  We didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“There won’t be,” said Michael, quickly.  “I’m just making sure that all the paperwork’s done so that no-one makes a mistake and comes back and starts asking questions.”
“But we done nothing wrong,” said the guard.  Michael wanted to sigh, but settled for a tight smile instead.  “I know,” he said.  “I’m with you one hundred percent.  I just need to make sure that everyone else understands that.  That no-one finds themselves stuck and looking for someone to point the finger at.”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” said the guard.  He pointed at the couch.  “You sit there and wait while I call up head office and check this out.”
Michael forced the smile to stay on his face while he sat slowly down on the couch, wondering what was going to happen when the guard got through to head office and found they hadn’t sent anybody.  He would obviously say that he was with the police, but he didn’t want to risk the guard deciding to call them as well.  Would it be easier just to scarper now and come back when a different one was on?
A buzzer buzzed, and the guard looked over at the automatic doors.  Seeing a man in overalls stood outside, he walked back to the desk and pressed a button to open the doors, explaining why Michael had had to wait a second when he’d approached earlier.  Michael’s spirit sank further; now he couldn’t even just nip out of the doors and do a runner.
“What do you want?” demanded the guard, giving Michael a sudden flash of déja vu.

“Elevator repairman,” said the newcomer with an easy smile.  He nodded at Michael, who recognised him as Alex Miller immediately.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014


The journey was uneventful and took exactly 22 minutes by the timer on his phone.  He opened up a notes application and recorded his start and finish, and the time it took.  Then he sat back in his seat and looked around.
He was parked on the top level of a mini multi-storey carpark; there were three floors in total, with the lowest being the ground floor.  The ground floor had been nearly empty, the first floor had looked to be completely full, and this floor was nearly empty again.  He decided that this meant that the entrance to the building that everyone used must be on the first floor; he could see glass paned automatic sliding doors from here though, so there must be an way in or out on this floor.  The car-park was a decent size for the Unreal City, it looked like it could accommodate just under a hundred cars or so, with forty of them taking up the middle section of the tarmac and the rest arranged around the outside.  He’d parked in an outside corner, not too far from the next nearest car, but as far away from the doors as he could get and with the car pointed towards the exit ramp.  Just in case.
Most of the cars looked middle-class to him, but he’d had to have lessons in the subtle classes of the classless society of the Unreal City.  They tended to the boxy, they all had four or five doors, and many of them looked as though they were well-used.  They tended to be clean, though he could see a wheel-arch with some mud-spatters around the rim.  He suspected that there was a teenage boy somewhere who would be being made to explain himself when that was spotted by the driver.  The colours were white, grey, navy blue or black; there were no greens, reds or even metallic hues anywhere to be seen.  Presumably there were on the lower level, but he couldn’t be bothered going down there just to check on something as innocuous as that.  Car colour simply wasn’t an interesting or suspicious thing.
He got out, and strolled to the automatic doors, passing closely enough to two of the other cars to look inside.  The first was definitely a family-owned car of some kind; there was a stuffed toy on the back shelf, the thin moulded plastic that covered over the back-seat from the boot so that you could take the shopping home without the kids reaching over and helping themselves.  There was a box of tissues, Kleenex he thought, on the middle of the back-seat, and the driver’s seat had one of those uncomfortable bead covers on it that were supposed to be good for your back, or posture, or something.  The second struck him as slightly odd though; the back-seat was empty and actually slightly dusty as though it was never used, and though the car was slightly rusty overall, the lock on the boot was shiny and looked as though it had been replaced recently.  He considered noting down the licence plate and running a check on it, and then decided that it was too much effort.  He was only here to find out how a woman had died, not to conduct a full investigation.  If he spent too much time here and couldn’t justify it with results, he’d be paid only for the time that the agency deemed had been spent on the case, and then he’d be put through a ‘debrief’ where the importance of doing what was asked of you and no more was explained to him again.  With Powerpoint slides, just to drive the message home.

He walked up to the automatic doors and noticed that there was a second’s delay before they opened.  He wondered if they were automatic at all, but went in anyway.