Rubbish: part 5
Lola actually has a fun evening
Hi! Simon here. I just realised that we have hit the two year anniversary of Tales from the Triverse. The first chapter - the prologue - went out in September 2021. That’s two years of weekly chapters pinging out on this newsletter, originally to a handful of readers and now to over 2,000 people each week. Yikes.
I owe each of you a huge thanks for supporting the story and the escapades of Lola, Clarke, Chakraborty, Kaminski and Callihan. Well, maybe not Callihan. This story has been a huge challenge for me, quite unlike any of my previous projects, and you never know if something is going to work for readers until you put it out there.
The best thing you can do to celebrate and help Triverse is to tell people about it! It’s free to read, so if you have friends who enjoy scifi, fantasy, crime fiction or a bit of all three, let them know! Forward this email (or a story of your choice) or hit the share button and let’s spread the word.
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 as liaison to the city state of Bruglia, on the other side of the London portal. She has been working tirelessly to prevent the illegal dumping of Mid-Earth waste into the canyons around the city, where it has been accumulating near the refugee camps. We catch up with her a month-or-so later…
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The lush villa compound that contained the Baltine residence in Bruglia was surrounded by more typical buildings for the region. The streets were dusty and brown, the walls red and orange. The Baltines had carved out their corner of Bruglia a century earlier in tandem with their rising power at the university. Lola approached the gatehouse and waved at Drauk, the koth that was on duty. Koth made for effective security; nobody messed with them, among other skills.
“Detective Styles,” Drauk said, their voice reverberating in the evening air. “Either you’re working late or you’re here for the party.” They exited the guardhouse and walked closer, the iron gates separating them from where Lola stood outside. “Looking at your attire, I’m thinking party.”
Lola could tell she was blushing. Walking through the city in an evening dress had already proved awkward, drawing stares and hollers from other pedestrians and people enjoying the relative evening cool while sat outside cafes. Drauk opened the side gate and approached.
“Let’s take a look,” they said, snout wiggling as they sniffed the air. Holding out a hand, Drauk touched their palm to Lola’s shoulder, then walked in a circle around her. “All clear,” they said, “as I expected. But you can never be too careful. Especially with a fancy do like tonight with all the great and the good.”
“Thanks, Drauk. Have a good evening.”
“Not as good as yours, I’m sure.”
She entered the compound and Drauk locked the gate behind her, before returning to the gatehouse. The strange quirk of Palinese physics that meant koth couldn’t directly manipulate magic but were nevertheless sensitive to it somehow made it all even more wonderful. Also meant they were excellent at sniffing out illusions and passive spells.
The path wound its way from the gatehouse towards the palace, which sat upon a hill in the middle of the grounds. If she angled off to the right she’d eventually arrive at her small office, nestled in the gardens. Her morning commute. During breaks she’d walk the waterways and the palm groves, darting from shade to shade. There was an actual swimming pool somewhere, but she wasn’t permitted to access it. Family only, plus the occasional guest from the university.
Along the route up to the palace were small lamps, glowing faintly in the early evening twilight. Lola was evidently not the first to arrive: there were already couples milling on the terraced balconies, groups of friends huddled in corners. Life in Bruglia was perfectly civilised but far from easy; despite the best efforts of the city wielders there were always shortages over the summer months. Water was constantly scarce, crops withered in the glare of the sun, there was never enough housing to put proper roofs over the head of all of those coming and going through the continent’s primary trading city state.
None of those hardships were evident in the Baltine compound and especially not tonight. The assembled guests appeared to have not a care in the world. She wondered where they lived, what they did, when they weren’t luxuriating in such abundance.
Lola reminded herself that she was also invited to this particular party, and therefore should not judge too harshly.
The invite had arrived two days earlier.
Lola. I am holding a party. It will only be good if you are there.
I’m sorry for before.
I’ll be better.
Wear the dress I gave you.
It was still Daryla. Still that slightly patronising, controlling tone. She didn’t even know she was doing it. Well, probably didn’t. Months had passed since they’d seen each other properly, not counting formal events and obligations. It had shifted at some point from Lola making a point to Lola starting to feel petty. She didn’t like holding grudges. And, besides, what was she really angry about? That Daryla came on too hard? It had been as much about Lola freaking out at arriving in Palinor as it was about Daryla misreading the situation.
And after all, really, deep down, Lola knew that she’d come to Bruglia partly because Daryla was here. Princess Daryla, who she’d met on that airship and had fallen instantly in love with. Not exactly love, though. Not really. In love with the idea of Daryla - of the story of the princess and the detective, of being whisked off her feet in an unknown land, taken away to where there was no discrimination, no judgement, no little England politics. No being found out.
It had been one of her childhood fantasies, lingering into adulthood.
Fireworks exploded above the house, startling her from her ponderings.
Inside there were layers of chaos. The entrance was relatively normal, save for gratuitous displays of magic that were continuously sucking light from the lamps and chandeliers. People floated across the room on slabs of ice, plumes of fire burst from mouths, drinks were suspended in the air without the need for glass containers. Canapés were brought round on platters, wine was refilled instantly by waiting staff who stealthily appeared and disappeared. Lola accepted a glass gladly and took a sip; the liquid was dark and red, while the glass had an exquisite crystal structure that reflected the light of the room in every direction. The two together were probably worth more than her entire year’s pay.
Venturing further in, the next room featured tables of games, with guests throwing absurd amounts of money at each other in an attempt to raise the stakes. The inebriation increased noticeably.
The next room had a live band playing on a stage, a dance floor and a long bar serving food and drinks. Everything was free, somehow. She grabbed herself a set of skewers of something she presumed was lamb or chicken. Tasty, either way.
“You came,” said Daryla, walking up from behind and touching Lola’s elbow lightly.
Still sporting a mouthful of previously skewered meat, Lola tried to chew and smile at the same time. Unable to speak, she nodded like an idiot.
Daryla laughed. “Enjoying the food?”
Finally, Lola finished her mouthful. “Yes! Hello! Good food, yes. Tasty. Hello, Daryla. How are you?”
“How am I?” Daryla frowned and looked off to the side. “Why so formal?”
“It’s not so much formal as just very British,” Lola explained. “I’d comment on the weather, but it’s been the same for months.”
“Dry and hot.”
Lola nodded. “Dry and hot.”
Leaning in close, Daryla whispered. “That’s why I always try to go to Mid-Earth during Brightsun. It gets quite insufferable here. Not this year, though. Too busy.”
Daryla pursed her lips and grimaced. “Gods, no. Boring. My father would love me to follow him there, but I have other plans.”
“Plans are good. Good plans.” Lola noticed Daryla’s dress for the first time: ‘dress’ being a rather rather generous term given the lack of actual material. It was a white, web-like design as if she’d been wrapped into it by a giant spider. There were numerous conspicuous gaps that didn’t leave much to the imagination.
“You like it?” Daryla spun around on the spot.
“It’s very subtle,” Lola said, nodding.
“You wore my dress,” Daryla said, pointing.
“It fits rather well.”
“You look beautiful.”
“Thanks? I feel very out of place.”
The band struck up a new tune. Slower, more soulful.
“You should see what’s happening in the room next door.” Daryla took Lola’s arm and pulled her towards the dance floor, giving her only a moment to leave her plate on the edge of the bar. Daryla pulled her in close, wrapped an arm behind her back, and led her movements.
“I don’t really do this sort of dancing,” Lola said. “Or dancing, generally.”
“It’s OK, I’ll show you. Copy me. Forward a step. Left a step. That’s it.” She laughed, her face close to Lola’s. She was wearing the same jewellery she’d had on the airship: strings of glinting stones arranged in patterns on top of her head and down past her ears, one strand curving elegantly down to where it linked with a stud on the side of her nose. It matched the wispy fibres of her dress. Lola couldn’t help but notice that nobody in the room was paying them any attention, all too preoccupied with their own evenings.
“Talking of plans,” Daryla said, “I heard what you did.”
“What I did?”
“Oh, come on. You know what I’m talking about. Stopping the illegal dumping of all that waste outside the city. Very clever, Lola. I didn’t know you could be so…political.”
“Somehow that sounds like an insult coming from you.”
“Oh, it was. Convincing your government to raise import taxes and custom check fees so that the whole scam becomes financially unprofitable? Devious.”
“Those involved were too good at covering their tracks for me to stop them. I couldn’t arrest anyone, because everyone had kept their hands clean. So I made life difficult for them. It’s too expensive for the company on the Mid-Earth side to send all their shit through the portal, so that’s that.”
“How did you get the rules changed? I didn’t know detectives could dictate policy.”
Lola sighed. “That was depressingly easy. There’s a lot of nasty rhetoric back home. It’s all about making it as hostile as possible to try to dissuade people from going there from here. Earth for Earthers. You’ve heard it.”
“And how did that help?” Daryla changed direction, pulling Lola a little closer. Their bodies were connected from shoulder to knee, though Lola was concentrating too hard on not falling over to pay much attention.
“I mad a few off-the-record comments to some tabloids. My colleagues back home worked some of their magic. DCI Miller is very good at working the papers. The tabloids get weird about Earth products going off-Earth. Anything made on Mid-Earth should stay on Mid-Earth. Resources shouldn’t be wasted on the Palinese. It didn’t take much to push ministers to tweak the rules to restrict certain key materials.”
“Which just happened to include items in the waste that was being moved?”
“Just happened to include them, yes. I mean, it’ll take a while to be fully implemented, but it seems to be having an effect already.”
Daryla leaned in and kissed her on the lips. “I’ve missed you.”
No freaking out this time. No freaking out, Lola. Also, no being led around by the hand. Lola smiled. “Why are we wasting time on this dance floor?”
“Come with me.”
They walked into the adjacent room, where there was no music but a lot of moans, grunts and shrieks. The guests were mostly naked, entwined with one another. Human and aen’fa alike, every skin tone and hair colour imaginable, men and women in every combination enjoying each other in ways Lola had never quite ever imagined.
“Oh,” she said.
Daryla raised her eyebrows. “Want to stay here?”
Lola stared at two human men and an aen’fa woman making imaginative use of the table next to where she stood. “This is a bit public for me,” she said, pointing a thumb at the gyrating trio. “I mean, I don’t even know these guys.”
One of the men waved jovially.
“That’s part of the fun,” Daryla said, “but fine. Let’s go.”
They moved past the partygoers and up the stairs, the hallways lined with more guests, until they reached Daryla’s bedroom. “Here we are,” she said, unlocking it and ushering Lola inside.
She closed the door and locked it, leaving the key in the lock. “There we go. Nobody can bother us. Just you and me.”
Lola unfastened the clasp at her neck and let her dress fall to the floor.
“This is a different Lola,” Daryla said, her eyes going a little wide. She seemed actually surprised. That pleased Lola. Daryla wasn’t someone who was easily ambushed.
“I don’t even know how you get that off,” Lola sad, pointing at the webbed dress.
“I’ve no idea,” Daryla said, looking down. “I had my girls help me into it. I didn’t think to ask about getting out of it.”
“Was it expensive?”
Lola raised her eyebrows and grinned.
“Go on, then,” Daryla said, raising her arms.
Tentatively at first, Lola pulled at an arc of the material on Daryla’s chest. It flexed, like webbing. She took hold of two pieces and pulled them apart, the strands separating. “There we are,” she said, pulling at more of the dress, which disintegrated beneath her fingers.
They stood before each other.
“You know, you might not be able to wear that again,” Lola said.
“I didn’t like it anyway.”
Lola pressed herself to Daryla and kissed her.
“Wait, Lola,” Daryla said, pushing her gently away, but only a little, their skin still touching. “Is this OK? I don’t want to make a mistake again.”
“Oh, shut up,” Lola said, and pulled Daryla towards the enormous bed in the centre of the room.
The canyon was cooler, with the sun being ever so slightly lower in the sky with each passing day. The shadows were longer and deeper. Come the winter, the nights would be cold, much more so than up on the mesas and in the city. There was less of a putrid stench coming from the rubbish mountain, which had reduced to a small hill. Lola was glad for that, given her headache. Palinor parties weren’t quite the same going to the pub with the SDC crew.
She kicked at an empty can, the label looking oddly familiar. She’d seen it on shelves in London grocers. Jyna and the guards were a little way off, dealing with a bunch of young kids who had been fighting.
She heard soft footsteps behind her. “Is this because of you?”
It was the mother of the injured child from her first visit. “How is your daughter?”
“She is well again,” the mother said, eyeing Lola with suspicion. “Thank you for trying to help.” She waved a hand at the waste. “But this is not helping. Soon there will be nothing left.”
“That was the idea. It’s dangerous. It creates disease. The materials degrade and are unsafe—”
The mother held up a hand to interrupt. “We know all these things. É ena. You know nothing. Where are we to get items to sell? To then buy food with?” She pointed at the camp. “Where do we get materials to build our homes? Once this is all gone, we will have nothing again.”
Lola didn’t want to argue with the woman. “It was doing more harm than good.”
“You know nothing. You’re not from here. I used to have a good job. Teacher. They didn’t like what I teach, so now I’m here. Trying to get to your world, where my family will be safe. But you come here, you meddle. You are not helping.”
“I’m sorry.” Lola looked up at the crack of blue sky above. “I’m not going to give up on you.”
The mother scowled and spat on the floor. “We will see.”
Thanks for reading! This one is coming in a little late today. I’m never sure if there’s a good time to send out the latest chapter. Do you tend to read in the morning, at lunch, in the evening? Does it even matter?
My favourite Notes this week was this by:
I’m tempted to stick that in the header of all my Monday newsletters. I’ve written a lot of newsletters about writing, and Matt’s Note made me wonder if all that does is serve to delay people from actually doing some writing.
But, then, if you’re a writer, you’ll be writing, right? Writers write. We can’t not write.
Talking of which, I’m always curious about how many people who read this are also writers. So - poll time!
Meanwhile, those freebie ebook promos that I’m taking part in are still running and have lots of fun things up for grabs, if you’re looking to expand your bookshelves:
At the start of this week I hosted avideo call with a whole bunch of lovely people. What a privilege! Great turn-out, and interesting and valuable chats about the Substack app and working with audio. Recording coming soon on the Fictionistas newsletter. Big thanks to and for helping to make it happen.
The phrase ‘É ena’ means ‘idiot child’ in the Pi’aian language. Just so you all know exactly what the mum was saying to Lola.
There’s a time jump with this chapter, which was necessitated by Lola’s solution to the illegal dumping problem. I also quite like unexpected time jumps as a way to slightly unseat the reader. As Lola had found a bureaucratic answer to the problem, it needed enough time to have actually happened - or started to have happened, at least. I rather like that just as the companies were exploiting dodgy loopholes, Lola then used red tape to thwart what they were up to.
It’s probably just a temporary patch fix, rather than a permanent solution, but it’s better than nothing. And Lola would have learned a lot along the way: about how there aren’t always perfect solutions and happy endings.
This chapter is also, in a way, a direct sequel to ‘The Escapists: part 3’, a chapter from way back in February. That was seven months ago, according to time, which seems crazy. Writing and publishing a weekly serial is a strange experience: it sometimes feels like I’ve lived two lives, one in the real world and one in a sort of liminal fictional space. I have memories of events from Triverse that sit in a similar part of my brain as actual memories. That’s compounded by Triverse playing out in sort-of real time, with the general pacing of the story matching the passing of time in the real world.
We also get to see some Palinor Fun Times in this chapter. Figuring out where to place the point of view and where to draw the line with sex in my fiction is something I’m still figuring out, as my previous books were intended for a broader YA-ish audience. I mean, I’m not quite ready to go full-onwith this stuff yet. (have you been reading Spectators? It’s quite the thing)
The trick, at least for me, is embracing the perspective of the chapter’s narrator, and focusing on it being their story rather than the reader’s. We’re here with Lola’s position, after a fashion, which dictates a lot of the focus and description, and sets the tone of the scene. I’m still working this stuff out, but hopefully it worked for you.
See you next week. I’ll try not to drop the chapter so late next time!
This was the final part of ‘Rubbish’, so we’ll be back with the rest of the crew in London next week.
If you know someone who might enjoy Triverse, do pass it along: