Lola Styles has a new job
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: Detective Constable Lola Styles has been transferred. She’s no longer based in London, having been tasked with setting up a new outreach office in Bruglia, one of the major city states in the parallel dimension of Palinor. As a Met liaison officer she has many new responsibilities, although her first challenge will be finding a desk…
The nights got cold, but winter in the day in this part of the northern hemisphere of Palinor generally stayed warm. Despite Bruglia theoretically sharing the same geographical position on the planet to London, there was an evident difference in climate - one of the many changes that separated the two dimensions more dramatically than those of Mid-Earth and Max-Earth.
Lola Styles stood in the bare office, a couple of average-sized rooms in a small building on the edge of the Baltine palace estate. The space had been provided for free and as a gesture of goodwill. She was the first liaison officer to be permanently stationed on Palinor, which was a big deal for a place that always prized its independence. The office was constructed from the same red-orange sandstone as most of the rest of the city, with a fine layer of umber dust coming away on her finger if she ran it over a surface. A furniture delivery had been promised for later that day, so that she could actually do some work. A desk and chair would be useful.
She pushed open the shutters on a window and leaned her elbows on the sill. The bright morning light flooded in and she drank in the scene: the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, the sweep of the palace grounds, the ornate beds, fountains and topiary, the palace itself perched on a hill. Princess Daryla would be in there, somewhere.
The office was a very modest presence in otherwise extravagant surroundings. It was an incredible place to be based - she had run of the grounds and had spent the previous day wandering the gardens - but it was also a reminder that she was there at the convenience of Daryla and her father. Lola felt a little like a dog in a kennel. Although there was a swimming pool. That would be fun once summer arrived. Or Brightsun - needed to start using the local terms.
Language was a complicated thing across the Triverse. The closer to the portal hubs, the more likely one was to encounter English, Chinese or Hindi - Mid-Earth and Max-Earth dominating linguistically due to sharing so many forms. There was a supposed common Palinese tongue, but it was complex and dialectically diverse. The koth languages were impossible for other species to reproduce orally. Lola would be fine in Bruglia, but if she ventured any further from the portal city it would become increasingly difficult to communicate without a translator. She’d started taking lessons halfway through the previous year, even before securing the new role, but had known it wouldn’t take hold until she was able to immerse herself in the real culture.
She wasn’t properly alone, of course. There was the Kingdom of Great Britain embassy in the city, plus diplomatic presences from other Mid-Earth countries. She’d had the option of taking an office at the embassy, but being stationed at the palace seemed like a wise symbolic gesture: that she wasn’t in Bruglia to spy on the locals, or to exert any kind of additional control, but instead intended to work with them on issues of common concern. The Kingdom had an entirely founded reputation for aggressive colonial action, and Lola was keen not to give that impression.
Plus, she already knew Princess Daryla. That would make the first few weeks easier, she was sure. It didn’t hurt that Daryla was the daughter of Chancellor Baltine, possibly the most powerful person on Palinor. Being chancellor of Fountain University also meant being Lord of the City State of Bruglia, which in turn brought with it command of the two portals. Bruglia was the centre of Palinor, as London was of Mid-Earth.
The first thing she would do once she had a desk, a pen and some paper would be to write a letter to Clarke. She already missed him, and wanted to keep him fully informed of all her adventures. There’d been a leaving do, of course, at The White Horse. Everyone had got exceedingly drunk, even Lola a little bit. He’d said something strange that had stuck in her mind. “Every time you do anything, it might be the last time you do it,” he’d said. “Last time we’re having a drink together. Last time we’re working on a case together. Last time we have coffee. Last time you tell me off for being a grumpy sod.” He’d taken a long drink of his beer. “Thing is, Styles, as you get older, you get more and more of those. When you’re young, you think you’ve got all the time in the world. Infinite time! Nothing’s ever final, because you’ll always have time for another one. Another chance. Later on, when you’re as old as me, it’s the other way around. Everything you do has a pretty good chance of being the last time you’ll do it. Less time in front of you than there is behind.”
“You are a grumpy sod,” she’d said. “This is supposed to be a celebration!”
“It is,” he’d said, smiling. If this is the last time we see each other, then I’m glad we’ve had what we had. I’m glad you’ve got all this time stretching out before you. I’m glad you gave me some of that time. Those moments. Not everyone gets as much as they deserve.”
She breathed in the air of Bruglia. It smelled different. Everything on Palinor was slightly off, a little twisted and different. Plants were the wrong colours. The sky was a subtly different shade of blue. There was an entire universe between them, now, but she could still rely on the post office.
Bakker had given her some advice, too. Whatever was going on, whatever conspiracy Callihan had uncovered, it extended beyond London and Mid-Earth. Having her on Palinor could only help to reveal more of what was going on. They’d determined hidden phrases she could insert into her letters to Clarke, should she need to discuss matters delicately.
She’d made it, though. The childhood dream realised, somehow. She was living on Palinor - the place she’d dreamt about visiting, where she’d imagined forging a different life, and now it was actually coming true. The little girl in her felt like she had stepped into one of the storybooks she’d loved as a child.
As if to emphasise the point, that night she’d be dining with Princess Daryla. The morning would bring her first real day on the job, assuming that the furniture arrived and she wouldn’t be sat scribbling notes into the dust on the floor. There would be meetings: with the British ambassador, with the head of the local police force, with portal security and Joint Council officials, with university representatives. She was going to be busy. Lola felt that she’d finally arrived in her actual life, having been living the wrong one for her first two-and-a-bit decades.
She wondered what her first case would be.
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Thanks for reading!
Next week will be more back to business-as-usual with an actual case! Should be fun.
I’ve spent much of this week planning out an ambitious publishing schedule for 2023. I’m setting the bar quite high and don’t expect to meet all the targets, but having them there should mean I at least accomplish some. Part of this is having some collected ebook and print editions of Triverse - a bit like how comics are bundled up into trade paperbacks after a certain number of issues.
More on all that soon.
OK, big thanks to all of you for taking the time to read today’s chapter. Extra special thanks to paid subscribers for supporting the work, and let’s jump into the
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