Fantasies: part 1
This party is just getting started
Hello there. A big wave and ‘hello!’ to everyone who subscribed to Write More after watching my What is Substack? video on Monday. I did not expect that to blow up in the way it did, but I’m very glad it has been useful!
I’m aware that if you came here for no-messing-about Substack tips, today’s newsletter might be a bit of a surprise. You see, on Fridays I publish a new chapter of my ongoing fiction serial Tales from the Triverse. It’s a science fiction and fantasy detective thriller that’s been going for a couple of years (and is a lot of fun).
If you’re thinking “that sounds amazing!” then read on (or catch up from the beginning - it’s all free to read). Today is the start of a new storyline, so is a pretty good jumping-on point.
If, on the other hand, you’re wondering how to back out of the room quietly without anyone noticing, don’t worry: you can very easily adjust which bits of this newsletter you receive. Just click here to customise what’s going to pop up in your inbox. Simple! And I’ll be back on Monday with more of those Substack tips. 😉
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 is the dramatically-named part of London’s Met Police that was established to handle portal-related criminal activity. The SDC detectives have a wide remit, with more cases to handle than there are hours in the day…
Catch up on the whole story with the exclusive ebook edition by upgrading your subscription
On duty: DC Zoltan Kaminski & DC Nisha Chakraborty
Nisha Chakraborty’s jaw practically dropped through the floor. Kaminski thought he heard it bounce off the carpet in the office. If the SDC wasn’t already stuck in the basement, there would have been people coming up from below to make sure everything was alright.
“What do you mean you’ve never voted?” Her disbelief was palpable. She stared at Frank Holland as if he was an idiot child.
For his part, Holland shrugged, in that non-committal, doesn’t-give-a-shit manner he was so good at. “It’s never seemed like my place,” he said. “I mean, do you really want a guy like me casting a vote, Chakraborty?”
“That’s not the point—“
“No, but it is,” he said, holding up a hand. “You’re all about democracy, but you’d much prefer it if only the right people voted.”
“I’d rather more people voted, if that’s what you mean.”
Holland grinned. “You know that’s not what I mean. And it’s not what you mean.” He took a bite from his sandwich. “It’s a no-win situation for you, Chakraborty. You’re annoyed that I don’t vote, but you’d be even more annoyed if I voted in a way you disapproved of. Must tear you up.”
Robin walked past and dropped a stack of case folders onto Kaminski’s desk. “Well, I’ve always voted,” she said as she passed. “My mum took me every time when I was a little girl, even before I could vote. It’s just a normal thing to do for me. Like going to the shops. And even if you don’t win, you get another chance a few years later. It all works out in the end.”
Nisha pointed. “Exactly! You see! That woman knows what she’s talking about.”
“I agree!” Holland held up his hands in mock surrender. “I’m with Robin. It all works out in the end. Doesn’t matter what happens in the small print. Long enough timeline, it all smooths out. What Frank Holland does is irrelevant.” He took another bite of his lunch. “Now, being a detective. Being in the police. That’s where I choose to make my difference.”
Kaminski was sorting through the case files, looking for something that would be interesting. He and Chakraborty had hopped from one minor case to another for most of the year and he was ready for something meatier. With a bit of bite. Anything to get out of the glasshouse that was the SDC office and onto the streets. Keep his mind occupied, so he wasn’t thinking about his mother’s death, or the impending election, or him and Nisha. Or that he was in the middle of a conspiracy he didn’t understand which had already tried to kill him twice.
There had to be something in the stack.
The penthouse apartment required riding two lifts to access. At street level the foyer was immediately a sanctuary from the noise and stink of the city, lit by warm orange lights and every surface marble or bronze. Luscious green plants overflowed from pots, ferns and palms and weird exotic species from Palinor. The first lift took Timothy halfway up the building. That was as high as the plebs were allowed to go. The second, more exclusive lift could only be accessed with a special pass or with permission from an upper resident. As it whisked him up, the outer wall dropped away and the glass of the lift revealed London spread-eagled below, glittering in the night.
He’d not been at the firm for long - a couple of weeks only - but it had proved a good move. Slightly higher pay than at the previous place but the perks were significantly upgraded - such as being invited to a party on the top floor of the Lighthouse, the most exclusive skyscraper in the country. Timothy had stared at the place on his way to work for a decade, sat on a tram, jostling with all the other hustlers, gazing at the top floors without ever thinking he’d actually get to go there.
It was Patrick’s place. The CEO. Once a month he picked employee names out of a tombola and invited them to a party. Everyone called it ‘the lottery’. If fast promotion up the ranks was what you wanted, then getting on the lottery list was the way to go.
And Timothy wanted that promotion.
He checked himself in the glass reflection. Suit perfectly in place. Open collar but not too open. Hair where it should be, save for that little curl he liked to cultivate. His shoes were clean and shining. He was a smart motherfucker. At last, his career had the momentum he had always deserved.
The doors opened straight into the hallway entrance and the party was on. Timothy stepped out to excited shrieks: a couple of the girls in the office beamed at him, one came up and gave him a big hug. Jean was her name, if he recalled correctly. She was dressed very differently to in the office, her dress so low cut it may as well have not been there. He saw Craig across the room, who waved and gave him a thumbs up. Craig seemed like an OK guy, if a little dull.
“Come find me,” he said to Jean. “I need to go say hi to our glorious leader.”
“He’s outside,” she said, pointing.
Outside. Shit, the penthouse had a rooftop garden. Of course it did. Timothy weaved his way through the party-goers, some of whom he recognised from the office while others were unfamiliar. Hired for the night, perhaps.
The lounge was something else: probably three times bigger than Timothy’s entire shitty apartment, with a sunken fire pit, an indoor water feature and long couches that wrapped themselves around the room like a snake. Paintings lined the walls and weird artefacts were held in glass displays like at a museum. He grabbed a bottle of beer from a table, then headed out through a wide opening that had been revealed by one entire wall of the apartment concertinaing away.
Noises of London returned, but at a distance. The late-summer air was still comfortably warm. The chaos of the city was far below, like it was someone else’s problem. Patrick lived in the clouds. This was Timothy’s pilgrimage to Mount Olympus.
He climbed a small set of metal steps up to the rooftop, which turned out to be an exquisitely detailed garden complete with swimming pool, extensive patio and seating and a huge barbecue that was smoking into the night sky. There were another thirty revellers dancing to music that pumped out of hidden speakers.
Spying Patrick in the midst of it all, Timothy made his way through the crowd.
“Ah, Timothy!” Patrick turned and flashed that trademark smile. Wide, all sharp teeth. “Welcome to the Lighthouse.”
“Boss man,” Timothy said, nodding and extending his hand.
The CEO began a complicated series of hand shakes, ending with a fist bump. “You almost got it,” he said. “Something we’ll have to work on at your six month appraisal.”
Timothy nodded, took a sip of his beer.
Patrick punched him on the shoulder. “Joking! I’m joking.” He draped an arm over Timothy’s shoulders and started directing him through the party. “Come on, you’re doing great. Look at this.” He gestured towards a sculpture about the size of an arm. “You see this? Koth art. Brought it all the way from Palinor, from beyond the Appilan Abyss. I’ve got shit like this all over. I’m a collector. It’s important, you know? If you want to understand a culture, you have to immerse yourself. When I own things, they become part of me.” He drank from his champagne glass. “It’s about understanding. Connecting. You know we have one of the most diverse workforces in the city? I’m proud of that.”
He hadn’t noticed it until then, but Timothy couldn’t see any of his koth or aen’fa colleagues at the party. They were definitely notable in the office, but the party was only humans as far as he could tell. He looked at the sculpture, all twists and turns and jagged edges. “What is it? What does it mean?”
“What, this?” Patrick looked surprised. “Fuck knows. Looks good, though right?” He punched Timothy on the shoulder again, then pointed to a raised terrace. “Up here is where the real magic happens.” He winked.
On the covered terrace was a table, upon which was an ornate metal box. Patrick put a hand on it. “You’re new, which means you need to be accepted into the fold. We’ve all been there.” There were others sat around the terrace who cheered at their arrival. Timothy spotted Paul and Evelyn, two of the department heads. With a ceremonial flourish, Patrick unlatched the box and lifted the lid. Inside were small, white packets, which he began to remove and hand out to those on the terrace.
“What is this?” Timothy accepted the small paper sachet.
“Magick,” Patrick said, his wolf smile on full display.
“With a K, my friend. Fresh from Palinor, and cut with the best coke this side of the portal. Seriously, how did you get a job here and not know this?” He looked at the others in disbelief, then back to Timothy. “I’m joking. I’m joking!” He tore open his own sachet and looked expectantly at Timothy.
Carefully, Timothy ripped open the sachet along its top edge. Inside was a white powder.
“Down the hatch,” Patrick said, pouring the contents of his sachet into his mouth. He worked it with his tongue, and rubbed a finger along his gums before swallowing. “Now we’ll really get this party started,” he declared. One by one the others on the terrace opened their sachets and took the substance.
Timothy was no stranger to the odd hit here and there. He’d enjoyed his teenage years, and working in the city brought with it certain benefits, even at his old place. A night on the town invariably meant taking something. At the previous job he’d once encountered a senior colleague snorting quite openly in the conference room, right before a meeting.
He’d heard of magick, but had never encountered it. It was way too expensive for his tastes. It had a certain rep. But it wasn’t like he could decline in front of management, and in front of Patrick.
Tipping the sachet into his mouth, copying what Patrick had done, Timothy felt an immediate rush. The noise of the city grew louder, and he could pick out every conversation on the rooftop. He could feel the thrum of the building through his shoes, could sense every person at the party, even through the floor and into the apartment below. No, not just the apartment: the entire building, all the way down. He was connected. So connected. He looked up at Patrick and could see more than just a person - the man was a cluster of cells, finely woven and loosely held together. Veins and arteries were clear, as if he could see through the skin. Timothy felt that if he could just reach out and pinch he’d have the man by the heart.
Looking down at his own hands, Timothy felt a warm flowing through his left arm. He clicked his fingers and flame erupted from his fingertips, forming a ball of fire in the air.
“Wow,” he said.
Patrick clapped him on the back and laughed. “Good shit, huh?”
From his other hand Timothy formed an icicle, blue and translucent, which he held above the fire until it melted. Extinguishing the flame and turning to the rooftop, he jumped from the terrace and glided down to the poolside. Everyone was cheering and laughing, thrilled to see him. He tentatively put a foot onto the water, then another. His weight supported, he moved across the surface, staying perfectly dry. He turned and danced backwards, clicking his fingers at the other partygoers. “I am the messiah!” he shouted. He could already tell this would be a legendary night. Everyone would be talking about him. The promotions would come fast.
Up the metal steps came Jean, the hem of her dress rippling gently in the wind. As it had been with Patrick, he could see all of her, inside and out. Her hair flowed against the mix of oxygen and nitrogen and argon that surrounded them all; her blood coursed through her limbs on its endless cycle. Timothy could sense it all, feel it all.
“Jean,” he said, approaching her.
“Hi, Timothy. I was hoping I’d find you.”
“Look what I can do,” he said, summoning another ice shard.
“You’re amazing,” she said.
He pressed the shard below her neck, melting droplets slinking down her skin, inside her dress. Using the shard like a sharp blade, he gently and precisely ran it down the front of her dress, slicing it in two until it could no longer support itself. He spread fire over himself, the flames burning away his suit.
He could buy another one.
“Come with me,” he said, and lifted both of them off the floor, into the night sky. They were entwined, as one, floating naked above the party. Everyone below waved and cheered. Jean’s body was warm and she laughed. He took them out, away from the party and the penthouse, out over the city. It would be their city now.
The streets drifted by far below, Londoners going about their mundane lives. Timothy had ascended to a new understanding and a new reality. He was so pleased that Jean had chosen to come on the journey with him.
An hour later their bodies, crumpled and broken from a high fall, were found sandwiched between two industrial bins out the back of the Lighthouse by a homeless koth.
Thank you for reading!
It’s been an exciting week. For starters, the newsletter on Monday was unexpectedly popular. Here it is again in case you missed it:
This was actually a very good example of how trying to predict or second-guess your audience is a waste of time. I almost didn’t post that video and the accompanying newsletter because I wasn’t convinced it would be of use. Turns out I was very wrong.
Often the things you expect to be big turn out to flop entirely, and vice versa. In fact,covered it beautifully in this extract I quoted a couple of days ago:
This week I was also interviewed by the lovelyfor her brand new podcast. Upon listening back I did discover that I talk for a ridiculously long time after Natalie’s opening question. Apologies for that. Apparently I went into lecture mode? I need to not do that next time.
Other than me wittering on for too long, it was a really interesting chat:
Did you hear that there’s a brand new version of the Substack app? It’s actually pretty nifty - although extremely buggy on Android, but I’m sure they’ll fix that soon. It’s an elegant way to find and read what really interests you.
If you’re short on things to read, I’m still taking part in a couple of giveaways where you might find some ebooks to add to the pile:
If you like urban fantasy, in which my Tales from the Triverse has at least one foot, you’ll probably find something of value in this Urban Fantasy Freebies giveaway.
Prefer something more overtly fantastical? Check out this Fantasy Realms free reads giveaway instead.
OK, let’s get into this one. Bonus points to anyone who can name the famous book/film that is obliquely referenced in this chapter via the character names.
Starting a brand new storyline in Triverse is always a fun time. Anything could happen! Well, anything that my notes allows, at least. I hope that excitement is there for readers, too, in wondering what’s going to happen, who the guest characters are going to be, what the crime element will be this time round. Triverse is much more episodic than anything I’ve done before, so that continual ‘fresh start’ feel is not something I’ve been able to play with before.
As of the end of this chapter it’s not entirely clear what just happened. I do love a good subjective point of view. You can bet Kaminski and Chakraborty will be all over it next week, though, and trying to unpick the sequence of events.
Actually, talking of subjective narratives. The bulk of this chapter is from Timothy’s perspective as he arrives at and explores the party. Everything is filtered through his thoughts, from the vocabulary to the pacing and what is observed. It’s still me writing it, obviously, but the weighting is shifted towards Timothy. If Clarke or Kaminski had been going through the exact same scene, the prose would have had a different feel. That’s one of the things I love about this narrative form: it means that the writing always feels fresh. I’m not writing entirely from a single first person perspective, or a single limited third person. Each week I have the opportunity to subtly shift the style of Triverse depending on who is doing the talking.
What was fun here was the abrupt break away from that subjective point of view for the final line of the chapter. In a way it betrays the narrative rules of what’s come before, and isn’t something I’d do frequently, but in this context I think it makes the ending all the more violent and unexpected. Not only has something gone wrong, but it’s gone so wrong as to break the structure of the book itself. The fourth wall temporarily shatters and the narrative shifts into a more omniscient form. Rather than being ‘in’ Timothy’s mind, we’re suddenly observing from afar. There’s a violent shunting of the reader’s point of view, which feels uncomfortable and slightly upsetting.
At least, that’s what I was going for. Let me know if it worked.
There’s other stuff buzzing around in the opening section with the SDC crew, but that’ll come to the fore in a week-or-so. Exciting times.
Hope you’re all good. See you next week.
If you know someone who might enjoy Triverse or the Write More newsletter, do pass it along: