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Rubbish: part 4
When it's too hot to concentrate
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 is assigned to be liaison to the city state of Bruglia, on the other side of the London portal. Having witnessed the immense garbage piles next to a refugee camp, she’s continuing to investigate who is responsible for the illegal dumping…
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The factory floor manager took Lola through to his office, a ramshackle shed constructed in the corner of the warehouse from paper-thin walls and small glass panes that was almost entirely unsuccessful at blocking out any noise from the work going on in the rest of the building. She couldn’t help but wonder what the point of it was, other than a failed attempt to assert some kind of authority over the rest of the people working there.
“I’m pleased you’re here, officer,” he said. His name was Quan and he was an unusually large aen’fa. “We’ve been reporting thefts for some time now without much response from the city guard.”
“It’s ‘detective’,” she corrected. If he was going to swing his power about by inviting her into his man shed, she’d at least demand the correct title. “What thefts are you referring to?”
He looked confused. “Sorry, detective. I assumed that’s what you were here about. It’s affected the entire district for a while now. Break-ins, entire shipments going missing. It’s bad for business, I’m sure you understand. Nothing’s being done about it. It’s not just us - I’ve heard from other facilities having the same problems. Probably the same gang.”
“Let’s rewind,” she said, realising as she said it that it was probably a meaningless term on Palinor. “Tell me what exactly it is you do here.”
“Ah,” he said, smiling broadly and tucking his shirt a little tighter into the waist of his trousers. “We’re a storage partner for several shipping firms that come through the portal. In both directions. A lot of cargo comes through every day, too much to actually process. Sometimes there’s a queue this end when it’s on its way to London, and sometimes we get a build-up in the other direction. It only takes one caravan to be late and we have a backlog. It’s a round-the-clock operation. Very important. That’s what we help with, otherwise the streets would be full of those things.” He pointed to the shipping containers stacked in the warehouse.
“So you look after stuff that arrives from Mid-Earth, then send it on its way to wherever it needs to go on Palinor?”
“So you’re the post office?”
The man sucked air through his teeth and tilted one hand from side to side. “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But if that’s the easiest way for you to understand it, then sure.”
She stared at him. Took a breath. Moving on. “What’s gone missing, then?”
“All sorts. Random stuff. That’s what makes it hard to predict. Sometimes it’s specific items. There’s been occasions when we don’t even know until we open up a container and there’s nothing in it. Once, the entire container disappeared overnight.”
“You said this facility works round-the-clock?”
“As in, twenty-four hours a day?”
“That’s what it normally means, yes.” He smiled.
“So how could an entire container go missing if there are always staff on shift here?”
Quan nodded, took a deep breath, nodded again. “Yes, well, it’s a mystery, isn’t it? I’m not the detective here, detective.”
The garrison was baking in the mid-afternoon sun. That didn’t seem to bother the guards, who were focused on a complex training session that appeared to involved coordinating various wielding techniques to produce a more powerful end result.
“They’ll be fine!” Captain Rexen grinned as he stood with Lola off to one side of the courtyard, her in the shade of the roof and him standing needlessly in direct sunlight. He turned and winked. “Besides, we have several highly skilled elementalists. They can cool down one of the changing rooms and help everyone cool off.”
“Magical air conditioning? Clever.”
“Wasteful and tiring for them, but the others appreciate it.”
“Amazing what wielders can do. I’ve been here all year and still haven’t got my head around how it all works.”
Rexen laughed. “I challenge you to think of a single piece of fancy technology from your world that we can’t replicate on Palinor with a bit of lateral thinking and wielding skill.” He straightened up. “Max-Earth, though. They’re a bit more advanced than the both of us, I’m thinking. Makes me glad they’re always two portals away from wherever I am.”
Lola consulted her notebook. “So what do you think? The guy at the storage facility gave me the shipping numbers for the ones that went missing, or had stuff stolen. I think it’s been going on for a while. Even said they’d been reporting it to the city guard.”
Moving back into shadow, Rexen put one hand to the hilt of his sword and grimaced. “I’ve not seen any of those reports. Which means either your man at the facility was lying, or someone in the city guard has been making these robberies go away.” He spat onto the sandy ground. “Either way, not good.”
Someone back home was getting paid a lot of money to dispose of unwanted waste. “I think the whole thing is a scam, from end to end,” she said. “Shipment gets brought over legally, supposedly to go to some landfill, but instead of that happening it just get dumped wherever. Cheaper and quicker. The people back on Mid-Earth still get paid for their trouble, split the profits, everyone’s a winner. Except the people living in the canyons.”
“Pile this crap high enough, it’s going to tip over onto the streets of the city,” Rexen said, his voice low and quiet. Somehow that made him even more imposing. “You people on the other side of that damned portal haven’t brought us much to be happy about. Always making life difficult for the rest of us.” He glanced at her. “Present company aside.”
The captain wasn’t wrong. Disposing of waste by making it someone else’s problem was very Mid-Earth. Especially the Kingdom of Great Britain, which had built an empire from the core concept. Still, if the updates she had been receiving from Clarke and in imported newspapers were true, it might not be a problem for much longer. They’d clamped down on AI transit through the Max-Earth portal. Was Palinor next?
Rexen shook his head. “It’d have to be a gang,” he said. “To pull something like that off you’d need to be organised. Disciplined. It’s not going to be some amateur operation. The cross-portal communication required rules out most of the small fry.”
She thought back to earlier in the year. “Think the Collins gang is back in town?”
“Perhaps. I’ll see what I can find out.”
Sat with her feet up on her desk, Lola stared out the window at the sun-bleached gardens of the palace. That view was a not-insignificant perk of the job. She had the run of the grounds, too, and could wander as she liked when she had a spare moment. That could mean bumping into Daryla, though, and things had been weird between them for months, ever since that aborted evening in her chambers. An awkward professionalism had fallen over them both, which made every encounter and exchange feel forced and more about what was unsaid. Lola hated it. She wanted to go back to how it had been at the start: that thrill of a new place and new people, of being in the company of a princess.
She flicked through her notes, looking at them but not reading the words. The heat was sapping her concentration, and she was distracted at any rate. The illegal waste dumping case was a dead end so far, with whoever was responsible being far too effective at covering their tracks. Perhaps Captain Rexen would come up with something useful.
The attitude of Jyna at the refugee camp had been disappointing. Lola had avoided thinking about it for as long as she could, but there was no getting past it. Jyna had been dismissive of the plight of those people. Sure, she was city guard, which meant having a certain detachment. Sure, she’d seen it all before and would see it again. But it reminded Lola of Clarke when she’d first met him. Worse, it reminded her of Frank Holland. And that was never a nice thing to be reminded of.
She took a sip of water. A sip, because water was an expensive commodity at this time of year in Bruglia. The elementalists were able to pull it out of the air, but there was always a cost attached. She sighed at it all. The realities of Palinor were impinging on her fantasy of it, which seemed decidedly unfair.
Everything was getting harder.
What had Rexen said? Making life difficult for the rest of us. Sounded about right.
Lola slid her feet off the table and sat up a little straighter. She’d just had an idea.
Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying Triverse, please do consider a paid subscription. It helps! New chapter every Friday.
In case you missed it, there’s avideo meet-up happening on Monday! I’ll be hosting us (ulp) and it’s at 2pm UK time. The idea was to find a time slot that wasn’t in the middle of the night for those of us on the eastern side of the Atlantic.
Of course, the middle of the day can be equally inconvenient if you’re at work, so we can hopefully try some alternative times for future meets. Full details here:
A couple of random observations from popular culture:
Anybody else watching Ahsoka? We watched Clone Wars and Rebels with our son when he was about 7, so those shows and Filoni’s work in general are quite special to us. Ahsoka has had its moments but also feels a bit workmanlike, as do many of the Star Wars and Marvel TV shows. A weird kind of pacing that feels at once too fast and too slow. What I did find interesting was the online excitement and discourse around who the mysterious new antagonist could be.
(some spoilers incoming if you’re not up to date)
Marrok was a cool warrior with a mask:
Who could it be? Was it actually Ezra Bridger from Rebels? Was it Cal Kestis from the video game? Was it Darth Maul, somehow? SO EXCIITTIIIIINGG!!!!!
Nope, turns out it was a green fart cloud.
Which is fine, but it also highlights the perils of streaming and intensive online chatter. In the 80s or 90s this would have just been A Baddie. A bit like how Boba Fett was just A Baddie in Empire Strikes Back. But in the 2020s everything is a mystery box. Everything has hidden meaning (as in secrets, not actual storytelling depth).
Filmmakers have backed themselves into a weird corner of fandom, where the enthusiasm they nurture serves to undo their storytelling pacing.
I blame JJ Abrams.
Only halfway through the Netflix live action adaptation of this, but cor, it’s good. At points, I would go as far as saying exquisite. It’s not often anime gets a live action adaptation that actually works.
Ahead of release, I thought the trailers made it look awful. Bad acting, bad visual effects, weird world building. It’s a good example of how a concept is so unusual that it’s difficult to package up into a generic US-focused trailer. The show is tonally unique, and I think the trailers tried to disguise some of that - as a result just coming across as odd.
More thoughts when we’re done with it, I’m sure.
These freebie ebook promos are still running and have lots of fun things up for grabs, if you’re looking to expand your bookshelves:
I love that I’ve now spent four weeks on a story about garbage. This is how you can tell I write Triverse because I love it, rather than out of any kind of calculated newsletter growth strategy.
Anyway: lots of Lola. That’s what everyone wants, right? I’m enjoying covering her realisation that Palinor is more complex than she’d anticipated. That her Big Fantasy Adventure isn’t going to be what she expected. Or not yet, at least.
What we’re about to see is a more canny Lola. Someone who has to figure out how to get what she wants, while holding on to her ethical core. How to exist within a framework that doesn’t really support her.
Something I continue to enjoy about Triverse is that it’s primarily about adults. The core cast are all grown-ups with jobs and grown-up concerns. My previous books all had younger casts, so this is a bit of a novelty for me. It creates a very different overall vibe, and even affects aspects such as pacing. Lola is a character who at the start of her arc still existed slightly in her younger self - she was the newbie cop who only recently stopped being a teenager. Her time in Palinor has been about making those final, painful, slightly regretful steps into adulthood. Even while these are vital, important and positive steps for her, there’s still an inherent loss. She’s losing the simplicity of what was before. She may have spent most of her life running away from who she was, pushing down on her queerness and hiding it in a box where nobody would see it, but she got used to living within the defined prejudices of Earth.
The rules weren’t good, but they were clear. Palinor isn’t like that. She’s free to be herself. She IS being herself. That’s great. But it’s complicated. She’s having to figure out what ‘being herself’ even means.
MEANWHILE: we get another excellent middle-manager in Quan, who has a good line in weary put-downs. Lola did well not to punch him. I do enjoy writing these guest stars - maybe I should start suggesting some fantasy casting options?
Right, will leave it there. Hope you’re all keeping well. See you next week.
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