Discover more from Write More with Simon K Jones
Rubbish: part 1
Lola Styles learns about the dark side of fantasy land
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: Detective Lola Styles was appointed a liaison officer to Bruglia, a city state on the other side of one of the London portals. She’s been solving cases and living her best life for about six months now, far from her SDC colleagues. Let’s find out what she’s been up to…
Catch up on the whole story by upgrading your subscription and downloading the ebook!
Summers in the northern hemisphere of Palinor were hot. Something about the axis of the planet being tilted ever so slightly differently to Earth’s, or so Lola had read somewhere. She wasn’t sure if that were actually true. It was largely a dry heat, which helped a little but not a lot. Staying in the shade dropped the temperature to the mid-to-high-thirties. Bruglia was powered by two things: coal and magic. The former was fine for larger vehicles but hadn’t been used for power plants like on Mid-Earth, while the latter was of more general use but only if you had a nearby wielder. The richest employed mages to manipulate local air temperatures or generate cooling breezes - everyone else sweated in the streets.
Bruglian architecture helped somewhat, based as it was around shaded inner courtyards. That didn’t help Lola’s office, which sat incongruously in the grounds of the palace on the side of a hill, surrounded by the sizzled remains of that gardens that had bloomed gloriously only a couple of months earlier.
Lola Styles lay on the tiled floor in nothing more than a vest-top and a thin pair of white shorts, the blinds closed and the door slightly ajar. On a chair lay her more official clothes, which were far too hot to tolerate inside the building. She’d put them on when she headed out to meet Captain Rexen later that morning. He’d finally permitted her to accompany them on an inspection of one of the refugee camps. Meanwhile, the ability of the floor tiles to stay cool even in the hottest weather was her only refuge. Every minute-or-so she’d roll to a different area, having warmed up her previous spot.
How had it been half a year already since she’d arrived? The time had whipped past with that slightly unreal aspect of visiting places on holiday as a child, the difference being that she’d lived in Bruglia for about six months rather than a week-or-two. It felt right and correct, like she’d found her true place, but always in the back of her mind was the knowledge that she’d be expected to return to Mid-Earth. The liaison post was to be renewed annually, so she would have to start thinking about that seriously soon. Being denied a renewal at the end of the year would be crushing.
It might be too hot, it might be full of its own unique and wicked problems, but Bruglia felt more like home than anywhere she’d ever lived. She could be herself. There was a guilt there, too, a knowledge that she was running away - going to a place where she was welcome, rather than trying to effect change in her native country. But she couldn’t fight every battle, every time.
Checking her watch, she sighed and sat up. It was time to make her way to town and link up with the Captain’s squad. They carried out regular inspections of the camps outside the city to check general sanitation, watch out for troublemakers and confiscate any contraband. She wasn’t going to be working a case but had developed an interest in the refugee communities ever since attending that talk at the university. Given the people there were all hoping to make the portal crossing to Mid-Earth, it seemed like a community she should better understand.
Captain Rexen was as brusque as ever, not out of rudeness but due to a great many demands on his time. As such, he didn’t like to waste any of it. “I’ll take you to the drop,” he said, “then you’ll need to go with the inspection squad. Much as I’d like to get outside of the city for once, stretch my legs, I’m required in five different places already.” He leaned in close as they left the garrison with a small group of city guards. “Far too many meetings when you get to my position. My recommendation, Detective Styles, is to temper your ambitions. Stop in time for the work to still be interesting.” Brusque, but not without humour.
“I was curious,” Lola said, “as to why it’s taken so long for this visit to come together. The refugees are trying to get approval for passage to Mid-Earth, so it’s definitely within my remit. I worked several cases at the SDC that were related to migrant transit, or which were connected in some ways to the flow of people through the portal.”
“Oh, it’s definitely relevant, Detective,” Rexen said, his voice that kind of deep, masculine loud that cut through the street noise without him even shouting. “It’s a hive. An incubator. People that arrive at the camps might have the best of intentions, but they don’t stay that way for long. Desperation. Hunger. Gangs recruiting.”
“I don’t know if you can tar them all with the same—”
He held up a hand. “I know what you’re going to say. And you’d be right. But my job isn’t to deal with the friendlies. With the patient ones who send in application after application. I can happily ignore them. My purview is troublemakers, and I want to root them out before that start making trouble.”
“Their circumstances should be taken into account, though?”
“There are many ills in society, Detective Styles. I don’t care what these people are running from, or even where they’re going. That’s for the aristocracy to debate, for your politicians to legislate, for the churches to support. My job is to keep the peace and stop bad people. And there’s bad people in that camp, just like there’s bad people in the houses on this street, and bad people in the palace and in the university.”
Rexen wasn’t a conversationalist. He had his opinions and he kept to them. While it was possible to suggest tactical alternatives and be heard, he wasn’t interested in anyone else’s views on the nature of the universe. She’d found that out the hard way. Lola could detail the benefits of investigating and understanding the causes of the migration in the first place, but he wouldn’t be interested. It was outside of his jurisdiction, geographically and philosophically. And hers, mind you.
The city abruptly came to an end at the edge of the mesa. There was expansion on the other side of the canyon, connected by a series of bridges, but their area of interest lay below rather than across. There was a metal structure built onto the cliff edge, providing a lift shaft down to the canyon floor. The sun beat down on them.
Rexen stood right on the edge with his hands on his hips and peered into the gorge below. He sniffed loudly, and for a moment she thought he was going to spit. Instead, he sighed and turned away. “I leave you in the capable hands of these fine men and women,” he said, then made his way back into the warren of streets.
She knew most of the garrison by sight and a few by name. Standing by the lift mechanism was a female guard by the name of Jyna, who she’d first met during the operation to arrest Fred Thomas - one of the escapists from Mid-Earth who had used a handy portal tear in his prison cell. Jyna was a skilled elementalist, which she insisted was the most energy-wasteful and simplest of magic disciplines. Lola had pointed out that any magic was impressive to a Mid-Earther, which had probably come across as faint praise. Still, it turned out that Jyna was skilled in all sorts of other areas as well, as Lola had experienced on numerous evenings over the preceding months.
Bruglia. She couldn’t imagine ever leaving the place. All those years of running away from herself, from anyone else who remotely reminded her of who she was - all that running had led her through the portal, to a different dimension. It was a long way to go to feel comfortable in her own skin.
“Lola,” said Jyna, smiling at her approach. “I heard you were coming down with us today. Mind your belongings. If anyone runs up to you and shoves a newspaper in your face, keep a hand on your wallet.” She reached out and made a gesture with one hand over the mechanism. Through a glass panel Lola saw water begin to bubble, and then the gears of the pulleys began to turn. A few seconds later the lift car had arrived. “All aboard,” Jyna said.
It wasn’t Lola’s favourite lift.
As far as she could tell, ascending was magic-powered, requiring a wielder at the top or bottom to activate up the system. Some sort of hydraulic design, perhaps. Descending was simpler - one simply pulled the lever in the car and it began to drop, its speed regulated by the pulley system. ‘Regulated’ being a generous term. She’d have taken the stairs, except there weren’t any at this location, and it would have taken several hundred to reach the canyon floor.
She initially tried to grip the mesh cage, only to discover that the metal was searingly hot. “Shit,” she said, whipping her hand away to discover an angry red mark.
As the lift dropped below the mesa’s plateau, Jyna hurried over and took hold of Lola’s burned hand. “Don’t move,” she said, and began working on the palm, stroking it in a manner that at first was painful but then gradually felt cooler, like running it under cold water. “I’ve reduced the temperature on the surface and sub-dermally,” Jyna explained. “It’s stopped the burn, so it won’t spread or leave a mark.”
“Thanks. That’s a neat trick.” Lola thought of Yvette Fields, whose body was fixed and put back together after her assault. Palinor had its issues, but at its best it was a place of miracles.
Descending into the canyon was a welcome relief from the heat of the city. The canyon was naturally shadowed, the floor only receiving direct sunlight at midday. Most of the time it was shielded, and Lola could feel the temperature dropping by a degree or two. The lift car rattled and shook as it clonked its way towards the ground and she stared out at the camp below, which seemed to have sprung up around the base of the lift.
‘Camp’ was an inadequate word. It was a semi-permanent settlement stretching as far as she could see along the winding canyon to the south, containing buildings with roofs and fixed walls rather than simple tents - though there were lots of those as well. In the other direction the camp extended through the canyon until it reached a wall of detritus that was piled up between the two cliff walls. Given that the canyon must have been a good 300 feet wide at its narrowest point, that was saying something.
“What is that?” she asked, pointing.
Jyna followed her gaze and frowned. “Rubbish dump,” she said. “They keep appearing around the city. We don’t know who is doing it. Every time we report one and have it cleared, another crops up somewhere else. I get the feeling our reports are starting to be ignored. Nobody can be bothered to clear them.”
They were upstream of the light wind flowing through the canyon, for which Lola was grateful. Squinting, she could see tiny figures clambering over and around the dump.
An abrupt halt signalled their arrival at the canyon floor, and one of the guards unlatched the door and slid it aside. “Here we are,” he said, and Lola noticed him flexing one of his hands - a tell-tale sign of a wielder. It made her think of a police officer checking his weapon prior to a raid.
She took a breath, then stepped out into the camp.
Thanks for reading!
While we’re on the subject of thanking, I’m also very grateful to everyone who has upgraded recently to a paid subscription. I continue to be startled by people I don’t know choosing to support my writing in such a direct manner. We do seem to be on the cusp of a golden age for indie writing. 🤞
This month I’ve been listening to a superb podcast called - wait for it - The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks. It’s a deep documentary examining the cultural impact of the Jar jar character from the Star Wars prequels and it’s absolutely fascinating. In particular, host Dylan Marron delves into how the Jar Jar backlash was the internet’s first big pile-on, and I couldn’t help but draw connections while listening to subsequent internet-powered hate campaigns. As such, it’s as much about culture and technology as it is about Star Wars. Oh, and Ahmed Best (the actor who played Jar Jar) is amazing. Here’s a trailer:
I also stumbled upon and thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of The Cull, a new comic being published on’s newsletter. There’s a generous preview here so you can check out the amazing art:
I am confused about how art that detailed can be completed in time to produce a comic.
I found this article byreally fascinating, in particular its thoughts on how language can shape history. Reminded me of the film Arrival.
In TV-land, I was slightly giddy to watch Babylon 5: The Road Home, an animated return to the show that regular readers will know is a heavy influence on my own writing. Also just started watching The Bear, which is a real tour-de-force of writing and acting. Oh, and I played the short game Subsurface Circular which was a really interesting detective story. I do like short games.
These ebook giveaways are still going if you need to top up your bookshelves:
Lola is back! One way or another, it’s been a while since we’ve properly seen her in action. Such is the nature of big ensemble casts, especially when the author takes one of them and shoves them in another dimension.
I always draw parallels between online prose serials and television. The return of Captain Rexen here makes me think of when a much-loved guest star returns to reprise a character. Not a regular by any means, but everyone cheers when they rock up. That’s how my brain interprets a lot of this, even though there are no actors associated with these characters in Triverse.
Anyway, this is another storyline that I’ve had in my back pocket for a while, waiting for the right point to slot it in. Given that it’s been in my notes for a long time, it’s odd to be writing it at the same time as the Tories here in the UK are tying themselves in knots trying to (not) deal with immigration issues. Obviously I don’t write in a vacuum, and the nature of writing and publishing a serial is that the real world often finds its way into the writing, but it’s still funny how these things align.
There are some obvious themes emerging in this storyline already. Themes that are inherently political, and which most people probably have…an opinion. This is something that sets Triverse apart from my previous books - while I’ve always had a strong core of social themes that I return to, my earlier work perhaps kept it rather more at arm’s length. Triverse goes much harder and more direct.
And to be honest…that’s slightly terrifying. Not only is my writing more open and honest, and dealing with issues that tend to get people heated up - I also now have the biggest, most engaged audience I’ve ever had. Part of me is continually waiting for the other shoe to drop - to bump into people who massively disagree with what I’m putting on the page. I welcome discussion and debate, of course, but I’m always bracing for the arrival of the Twitter hate crowd, and the online controversy-mongers.
Writing is inherently courageous, I think, regardless of what specifically you’re writing. You’re revealing a part of your brain and life, often to strangers, and you’re never entirely sure what the reaction is going to be. There’s two possible responses from my end: I can self-censor, or I can just go for it and clench. At least using Substack for this newsletter’s tech gives me some decent options for handling any potential issues. So, clench it is.
Anyway, thanks for reading. See you next week.
In theory I had ‘more’ readers back in the day on Wattpad, but it was quite a different depth of connection to this newsletter.