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Fantasies: part 4
Meanwhile, down at the morgue...
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: Two bodies have been found in an alley behind an exclusive, very expensive high-rise apartment complex called The Lighthouse. Detectives Kaminski and Chakraborty have arrived at the morgue to talk about the case with the chief coroner, Dr Steven Wong…
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On duty: DC Zoltan Kaminski & DC Nisha Chakraborty
The city in August was a dirty oven, cooking all the pieces of meat as they went about their daily business. Kaminski couldn’t help but think of Boorman’s rooftop terrace with its clear views and clean air. Cleaner air, at least. Nobody breathed anything that was actually healthy in London, didn’t matter your altitude. Which is what made it OK to smoke. In fact, not smoking was the stupider move. Everyone was eating toxins, but Kaminski was the one enjoying it.
Stepping inside and down the stairs to the morgue was a blessed relief, the temperature dropping with each step. The meat down there had to be kept more chilled. Kaminski chucked the dregs of his cigarette into an ashtray before walking through the metal doors. Dr Steven Wong greeted them enthusiastically, as if they’d just joined him for a pleasant evening out. “Nisha! Zoltan! It’s been a while,” he said, pulling off medical gloves and throwing them into a bin before shaking their hands.
“Not needing to see you is probably a good thing,” Kaminski said.
“True. If I want more visitors, I need more people to die. Ha.”
Kaminski exchanged glances with Chakraborty, who was smiling.
Wong ushered them over to the examination tables. “Oh,” he said, “Robin called ahead from the office. Says she’s ‘got the list of party attendees’, if that means anything to you?”
“It does,” Kaminski said.
Chakraborty laughed. “Damn, she’s fast.”
“We’ll take a look at that before end of shift and get some invites out,” Kaminski said. “Meanwhile, what have you got for us, doc?”
Sheets were placed over two operating tables. “Took a while to untangle them,” Wong said. “The impact had somewhat merged the bodies in places. Fortunately the woman had slightly paler skin, which helped with the separation.” He lifted one of the sheets, revealing a bruised and mangled arm. “Some limbs were more intact, but torsos and heads were pretty far gone. The question is whether they died from the fall, or something else.”
“Dropping someone off a very tall building is a good way to disguise other trauma. A bludgeoning impact, or strangulation, even puncture wounds. In this case, though, I think they were alive up to the point of impact. Blood coagulation and distribution is consistent with that, at least.”
“OK,” Kaminski said, “so we’re talking an accident or a deliberate act.” He turned to Chakraborty. “Pushing two people off a rooftop seems unlikely, though, right?”
“Especially when it would be so easily traced back to the penthouse.”
“Unless it was a party got out of hand. Might not have been deliberate, or pre-meditated.”
Wong held up a hand. “Hold your horses, detectives. I haven’t told you the best part yet.” The man had that gleeful glint in his eye, which meant they were dealing with a particularly intriguing death. “It’s hard to derive much from bodies in this state, in terms of what happened prior to impact. The tissues are too damaged. However, that doesn’t stop us from running various tests on blood samples.”
There was a pause, presumably for dramatic effect. Kaminski raised his eyebrows expectantly. “And?”
“High concentration of alcohol, especially in the woman. And in the male, drum roll please, there was something far more interesting and insidious.”
“Have you heard of ‘magick’, detectives?”
Kaminski blinked. “Is that a trick question?” He looked to Chakraborty. “Sounds like a trick question.”
“Magick!” Wong repeated, with a wave of his hand.
“Doc, you’re looking and sounding like a performer at a kid’s birthday party.”
Slightly disappointed, Wong cleared his throat. “’Magick’, with a ‘k’, is a designer drug straight from Palinor. It takes a mix of natural spices and herbs from Palinor that have a big hallucinatory kick and cuts them with highly addictive substances from closer to home.”
Chakraborty crossed her arms and frowned. “I think I saw a report on it a few months back, but I didn’t get a chance to read it. What does it do?”
“In short, it makes you think you can wield magic. I read a paper that theorised how exactly it works, acting on the parts of the brain that deal with imagination. There’s a linked theory that actual Palinese magic is about connecting the neocortex with that dimension’s unique metaphysical quirks. Scientists here and on Palinor still don’t really understand the fundamentals of how it works, so it’s all observed guesswork. These herbs are sometimes used to temporarily enhance wielding abilities over there. Here on Mid-Earth it’s all illusory. Taking the drug doesn’t give you any abilities or special powers, obviously, but it makes you think it does. It triggers excited activity in the brain, especially the thalamus.”
Leaning down to look at the bruised arm, Kaminski grunted. “And they’d taken this stuff?”
“No,” Wong said, “not both of them. As best we can tell, just the male.”
“Shit,” Kaminski said, straightening up.
Chakraborty moved around to the other side of the table. “So he was high on this stuff, but she wasn’t? What does that mean?”
“It means he’d have likely been perceiving the world very differently,” Wong said. “Something nobody has worked out is why magick causes such specific hallucinations. This isn’t like LSD or other hallucinogens where it’s random and highly specific to the individual, and context, and so on. Magick’s hallucinations are very specific to the main magical disciplines on Palinor. Even if the person taking it has no particular knowledge of those disciplines.”
Sounded like magic alright. Also sounded made-up. “How the hell does that even work?”
Wong shrugged. “I’ve read some papers on it. Lots of fascinating theories, nothing proven. Some think it’s tapping into some latent power even on Mid-Earth. Or that the drug is somehow bridging dimensions on a cognitive level. Or that there’s some kind of limited telepathy going on.” He shrugged again, then gestured towards the slabs. “It all sounds a bit too crazy to me, but there’s no denying the actual effects.”
“What about identification?” Chakraborty asked.
“Ah yes,” Wong said, holding up a finger and moving over to his desk. “I have their files right here. One Timothy Westview and one Jean Adams. No records to speak of. Mr Westview lived north city, and Miss Adams south-east near the river. Both worked at Boorman Enterprises, which is presumably how they knew each other.”
Kaminski nodded and looked over at Chakraborty. “We’d better get those interviews set up.”
She nodded, and walked over to Wong’s desk. “Mind if I make a call, Doc?”
Staring at the two covered bodies, Kaminski felt an odd urge to whip away the sheets and reveal the unpleasantness beneath. He didn’t want to see it - once, in the alley, was enough - but the temptation made his hand twitch. Like the compulsion to jump off a high bridge rather than prolong the vertigo, or to extinguish a cigarette on the palm of his hand.
Both of them, Timothy and Jean, would have families, somewhere. Possibly complicated, or estranged; or close-knit and loving. There’d be connections, people waiting to hear news, wondering already where they had got to. There’d be no open casket for these two. He thought of his mother in the coffin, of seeing her made up to look normal. Of the box going into the ground. His father watching his wife be hidden below six feet of dirt. The urge to dig her back up for one last look. It could’ve been Kaminski, his body bloated and floating in zero-g in a cargo container on the far side of a portal, or lying on a pavement in Addis Ababa with a bullet hole in his chest. It could have been Chakraborty with poisons running through her veins. He wondered what they’d done with Callihan before his cremation.
“The little motherfucker!” exclaimed Chakraborty, startling Wong who was standing just beside her and snapping Kaminski from his thoughts. “No, we’ll come in. Be back in an hour.” She slammed the telephone back onto its rest.
Kaminski spread his arms out wide, palms up, questioning silently.
She glared, eyes angry. “That fucking receptionist from the Lighthouse just filed an official complaint against us.”
Thank you for reading!
This week I have mostly been grimacing through a deeply unpleasant cold, which appeared over the weekend and has stuck around ever since. I even took a sick day from work, which is highly unusual.
There was a moment when I thought this chapter might not happen due to my fuzzy head, but I got there in the end. It’s always a tricky balance between wanting to deliver on schedule and maintaining some semblance of quality.
Keeping up withhas been a challenge, but I’ve just about managed it. Rather pleased with the ‘wander’ result:
I’ve leaned heavily on photo reference for some of these. I’m a reference-heavy artist in general, but especially when trying to keep up with a daily prompt habit.
This week I thoroughly enjoyed’s latest:
It’s funny because it’s true.
On the same subject,explains very simply why AI generated material is so….boring:
AI has amazing potential in other areas. I just hope we can get off this silly hype train around text and image generation so that proper attention can be paid to its more interesting and productive applications elsewhere.
Meanwhile, here’s a couple of new ebook giveaways that might be of interest:1
This was absolutely a case of a chapter being chopped up for timing reasons. In my original notes, there were a couple of extra scenes before the end that carried on the story further. For timing and pacing reasons I decided to stop it here, and we’ll pick it up next week.
Decisions around where to start and stop bits of story fascinate me, especially in a serial format. In a singular book there are still important structural decisions to be made around pacing, but ultimately the reader has the entire thing in their hands and can read at whatever pace they choose. A chapter break doesn’t mean a hard stop - the reader can effectively ignore it and keep going.
A serial such as Triverse, however, has real world temporal pacing on top of the narrative structure. Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying that it’s a weekly episodic show. It’s an interesting additional ingredient, though - I’m not only introducing a narrative pause, but a real world pause in which the reader has to wait seven days for the story to continue. This is completely normal in lots of mediums, of course - TV, radio, comics - but it’s not as common in prose fiction now as it once was.
I enjoy it. There’s a certain mischievousness to deciding “I’ll just stop…there.” Storytelling is often manipulation, after all, and denying the reader any further satisfaction is an especially powerful move.
Those space in-between episodes are fascinating, too. For me, that’s often when I come up with new ideas. I know where the story is going, both the ‘Fantasies’ storyline and the wider Triverse plot, but the specific beats are all up for grabs. At the same time, readers spend that time filling in the gap with their own imaginations. That’s where the intersection between writer and reader occurs, which is both an exciting opportunity and a risk. Every week there’s a landing to stick from the previous chapter.
Thanks for reading. See you next week, for hopefully a safe landing.
If you know someone who might enjoy Triverse or the Write More newsletter, do pass it along:
I’ve used BookFunnel promos to help find new readers and subscribers for several years, but it’s definitely a case of diminishing returns in 2023. I’m not sure whether this is due to me saturating my potential readership over there, or because the implosion of social media has made the BookFunnel model less effective. Anyone else experienced this?