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Electioneering: Part 1
Man of the people
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: The Specialist Dimensional Command was set up to investigate portal-related criminal activity. For decades it has been under-funded and ridiculed. That’s now changed, following successes the previous year, and the political fallout continues…
The town hall was in the centre of town, which made it a short tram ride to the train station. Nigel Maxwell MP checked his watch as the previous constituent stood and left the room. He clicked his fingers and waved at his assistant, an especially comely eighteen year old whom had proven most capable during the most recent campaign.
“Make sure we’re all packed up and ready to go. Don’t want to miss the 10.30, as that reporter’s on board for the Empire Times, plus we’ve got that walk-and-talk in London to be at. Remind me what time that’s booked in for?”
She consulted her notes. “Your tour of the Specialist Dimensional Command offices is at midday, Nigel.”
He nodded. “Very good.” Smiling, he got to his feet and held out his hand to greet the new arrival: a woman who looked to be in her sixties but was probably middle-aged, with a curly perm and an absolutely fucking terrible jacket and skirt. Meeting constituents, he was always stunned at the sheer range of human faces. There were a lot of most peculiar shapes in Buckingamshire.
“Oh, hello, Mr Maxwell,” the woman said. She grinned toothily and shyly.
“Why, hello,” he said, “it is so very good to meet you. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”
“No, well, I’ve never thought I had anything much of importance to say. Not to a member of parliament like yourself.”
“Pish-posh nonsense. What’s your name, my dear?”
“Lorraine. Lorraine Witty.”
“Lorraine, wonderful, please - have a seat.” He pulled the chair out and gestured to it. “My great aunt was a Lorraine. Stunning lady. Absolute firestarter.” He winked at her. “Must be something in the name, eh?”
She turned crimson and waved a hand. “Oh, Mr Maxwell! You are funny.”
“So, then,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk, “what can I do you for today?”
She took a deep breath and clasped her handbag on her lap. “It’s a difficult thing. A difficult thing to talk about. A bit uncomfortable.”
“Well, we’re all friends here, Lorraine. And what is said here stays here, if that’s what you’d like. Pretend you’re talking to a priest. This is confession.” He threw a laugh at his assistant, who dutifully returned it in a supportive fashion. “Can we refresh this water, please, Alice?” He turned back to Lorraine, with her pudgy face and bad dye job. “I’m all ears, Lorraine.”
Composing herself, the woman nodded. “Right. The thing is, this town, it’s changing. Used to be it was a real, classic English town. But recently, well - have you been to the corner shop at the end of Brackley Road lately?”
This was going to be something petty and pathetic, he could already tell. “I can’t say I have, Lorraine.”
“Well, the owners, Mr and Mrs Bakshi, they ran that place for thirty years, never missed a day, never went on holiday. Could always rely on them for whatever you needed.”
“They sound like my kind of people.”
“You’d have liked them. Last year they retired and sold the shop.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“The shop is still there, but it’s not the same. The new owners are not from around here.”
This was getting interesting. “Not more Londoners buying up property, I hope?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I wouldn’t have minded that, even!” She sighed and lowered her voice. “No, these are Palinesians. Those aen’fa elfy types. Three of them, running the place.”
Nigel sat back in his seat and breathed out, slowly, being sure to equip his face with a disgruntled expression. He shook his head. “Do you know what, Lorraine? I hate to be coarse, but that really pisses me off.” She tittered and he held up a hand. “No, I’m sorry, but I have to say it how I see it. I’m not going to sugar-coat my words. A shop like that, which has been in the community for decades - probably even before the Bakshis were here, I’d wager - and now, just like that—” He clicked his fingers. “And it’s all gone. Piece by piece, from under our noses.”
“Exactly, Mr Maxwell, exactly. I knew you’d understand.”
“I understand only too well, Lorraine. And unlike those other namby-pambies in London, I’m going to actually do something about it, you mark my words.”
The tram was on time and they made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. The London train was ready to go, steam gushing from the engine on the front. They found their seats in the first class carriage and Nigel looked out of the window while Alice stowed his bags overhead.
Coming to Buckingham was part of the job, of course. Pressing flesh, meeting the plebs, doing the rounds. It was a necessary part of the plan. He needed the votes. Still, he always looked forward to getting back to London. The provinces always felt so…provincial.
“Nigel,” said Alice, interrupting his thoughts, “the reporter from the Times is here. Owen Smith.”
The interview began before the train even left the station. He didn’t recognise Smith - the name or the face, and he knew most of the regular staff on the Empire Times. Someone new, perhaps. Smith was young, mid-twenties perhaps, and had that eager bloodhound glint in his eye of a journalist trying to find his first big story.
“Mr Maxwell,” he said, scribbling into his notebook, “perhaps we could start with your record on law and order.”
Nigel nodded firmly. “That sounds like a very good starting point indeed, Owen.”
“You recently helped to vote through the new executive powers for the Specialist Dimensional Command, granting them greater Joint Council access, wider jurisdiction and increased resources.”
“I did indeed. It was the right thing to do, and I’m very pleased that the bill passed with such a clear majority.” He leaned forwards. “Let me tell you, Owen, and you’ll know much of this because you’re in the press, which means you hear about what’s really going on. The truth is, we had a lot of close calls last year. If you can even call that monster attack a ‘close call’. Let us not forget the terrible loss of life and property damage. But that’s not the half of it. For every disaster that comes through those portals, there’s ten more that the public never hear about. That’s thanks to the heroic efforts of our boys and girls in the Met and at the SDC in particular.”
“As you say, the expansion of the SDC powers was voted through almost unanimously. For a department that’s always had a reputation of being underfunded, or even a bit of a joke, it was something of a coup.”
“I don’t know if I’d phrase it exactly like that, Owen. It’s long overdue, that’s for certain. That’s the problem with having had this government in power for so long - they’ve taken their eye off the ball. That’s why I went independent ten years ago, and why I’m now Earth First’s first MP.”
Smith licked his lips. There was something about him that Nigel didn’t like.
“Some would say that the SDC’s new powers are an overreach.”
“Yes, but some always say that about anything the police are doing, Owen. There has to be a balance, but at the end of the day do you want the scales of justice to tip towards the criminals, or those tasked with protecting us? More powers for the police means more safety for us. It’s common sense, it really is.”
“How does this square with your voting record, though? Especially with regards to the SDC. You spent the first half of your political career in the 50s campaigning to have them shut down.”
Nigel nodded, slowly, considering the question, stalling for time. The little shit, bringing up that. He’d done his homework, the fucker. “Yes, well, that was a different time. You probably weren’t even born? But it’s 1974 and we are where we are. We have to react to the hand we’re dealt, not what was happening decades ago.”
“Moving on, then. Let’s talk about your voting record on portal immigration.”
The Joint Council tower was as impressive as ever: steel and glass slicing into the London sky, entirely unlike the surrounding architecture. An eyesore, to be sure, but Nigel couldn’t help but admit its ambitions.
“Any other surprises, Alice?” he asked as they walked through the foyer towards the lifts.
“I’m sorry again, sir. When he said he was from ‘The Times’ we assumed he meant the Empire Times. Not the Worker’s Times.”
“Yes, well, don’t make such fuckingly idiotic mistakes again. I’m not paying you to cause me problems.”
“You’re not paying me at all, Nigel.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “You’re getting what you need, for fuck’s sake. Be grateful. You’re going to have a lovely CV and a direct route into whatever civil service department you want.” He stopped walking and held a finger close to her face. “But not if you fuck things up for me. Understand? No mistakes this year.”
After a pause, he turned away and continued walking. “What a fucking little prick he was. Barely out of school. Lefty wanker, thinking he’s going to change the world by writing a bloody column.”
The lift dropped them down to the lower floor, the doors opening onto the bright, open plan SDC offices. It smelled like new carpet and glue. There was a lot of glass, several partitioned offices around the edge of the space, and smart desks in the centre.
Nigel recognised the man who came out to greet him. “DCI James Miller, as I live and breathe,” he said. “How are you?”
“I am very well, Nigel,” the policeman said, shaking his hand energetically. “It’s been a while. Thanks for all your support getting this up and running. Having friends in parliament helps immeasurably, as you well know.”
“My absolute pleasure. That’s why I’m here for the grand tour.”
“Of course, of course.” Miller gestured to the office. “Come on in, and I’ll introduce you to the team. The old timers and the new recruits.”
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Thanks for reading!
This week was a busy one, as I delivered my installment for the Great Substack Story Challenge on Wednesday as well as today’s Triverse story. It was a significant challenge, getting two completely different pieces published in the same week. I’m so used to my weekly cadence of output that temporarily doubling it was easier said than done.
If you missed it, you can read it here:
I’ve also been continually tinkering with the new Triverse front cover, since its reveal last week. It now has coloured line work (instead of black) and the titles have been significantly reworked following some ace feedback from.
As for today’s story, ‘Electioneering’ has been a long time coming. Plot seeds have been planted about Earth First and the background political tensions for a while, so it’s been fun to finally get into it. As for Nigel Maxwell, the parallels there are not exactly subtle. I’ll get into his origins, and the political influences of my writing, below the jump…
I started writing fiction consistently around 2015. That’s when A Day of Faces was coming out in weekly form. The Mechanical Crown published between 2016 and 2019. No Adults Allowed was 2020.
In that time we’ve had Brexit, Trump, the endless Tory government in the UK, the pandemic, the rise and fall and rise and fall of strongmen around the world, the continued rumblings of alt-right/Nazis, the so-called ‘culture wars’, BLM, #MeToo…
It’s been a tumultuous time, to say the least. And all of that has filtered through my brain while writing these stories. A Day of Faces was intended to be a bit of a fun romp about super-powered beings, with a teenage shape-shifting protagonist. As I was writing it, Brexit happened, and the story adapted to the real world - it ended up being about tolerance and community and the efforts of vested interests to drive us apart.
The Mechanical Crown was always designed to be a more political story, but writing it during the Trump and post-Brexit era turned all of that up to 11.
No Adults Allowed I wrote during the pandemic, which wasn’t in the plan but it ended up informing the sense of loss and isolation and apocalypse in that story.
So, now we have Tales from the Triverse. In the UK we’re in a very different place than we were pre-pandemic. Brexit is no longer a raw wound, driving division in society. It’s now a failed Tory experiment, with people on both sides of the 2016 vote finding a weird form of common ground in a collective despair at how badly it’s gone. We’ve had an embarrassing slew of awful prime ministers. The economy is in tatters, and looking like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Shops are closing, nobody can afford to heat their homes, food is astronomically expensive. Trump is - for now - gone, but the strongmen continue to fuck things up: Putin being the obvious poster boy for now.
That’s the environment into which Triverse is forming. As much as it’s a procedural detective show, as much as it’s about cool fantasy monsters and sci-fi spaceships, it’s primarily about the ability of old men to really mess things up for everyone else. The ‘Electioneering’ story is the first time we really start to dive into that thread, with the introduction of Nigel Maxwell.
Ordinarily I’d be wary of falling into stereotype or broad caricature with someone like him, but to be honest - look at the real life figures we’ve been dealing with for the past decade. It’s a frequent assertion that reality has overtaken fiction, especially satire. Where does a political comedy like The Thick of It fit in a world of Trumps and Johnsons?
We’ll see where Triverse takes him. And whether the real world once again overtakes fiction in terms of absurdity and drama.