In the wings (2)

Well here we go. This one took way longer than I expected it to, and to be honest I’m still not happy with it, but I’ve got other ideas I want to play with so near enough is good enough.

Rell’s reply caught in her throat as she saw Fionn scowl at the press of people. He continued without looking at her.

“This whole enterprise is a foolish risk.”

She smiled. “You think there are assassins hiding in the crowd?” Her tone was playful, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him.

“You must admit it’s possible,” he replied. “Sooner or later, the old men in Ara will tire of sending threats and bribes – if nothing else, Alexei’s made it quite clear that they don’t work. How much longer do you think it will be before they resort to more traditional methods?”

Rell sighed. “Isn’t this precisely why his highness has guards?” It was true, after all; the prince was flanked by two humourless men with swords, and there were at least a dozen more scattered through the room.

Fionn’s dark expression changed to something closer to resignation. “They do their best, I have no doubt, but I’ve yet to see a man move faster than a crossbow bolt.” His frown returned, fierce and uncompromising. “No, I’d be much happier if he listened to the people at greater remove. He has no shortage of pretty faces to do so on his behalf.”

“And to die in his stead, I suppose.” Rell looked sidelong at her companion. “Is that what you hope for, my lord? You make no secret of your dislike for me, but I must say I’m curious as to why. Do you think I carry a dagger for your master’s back?”

Fionn’s face was stony. “I think you carry a torch for him.”

“And that makes me your enemy?”

He shook his head. “It makes you unpredictable. Love only ever leads to trouble.”

“A conclusion drawn from your many years of experience, no doubt.” Rell stepped back and examined him. Short, slight, unremarkably dressed, and still holding a completely neutral expression. “You don’t need to act with me, you know.”

He remained impassive. “I don’t act.”

She laughed. “And I fly off to the moon every night to sleep! Come now, Fionn, be realistic. You’re a very good liar, I don’t doubt it, but I’m not stupid.” She waved at the rest of the prince’s entourage. “You may have convinced that lot, but I make a habit of thinking through life, and I don’t think you add up. But it’s such a wonderful story, isn’t it! The prince’s shadow, coming and going at all hours, sneaking around unseen, living without any friends or family. Quiet little Fionn, a pretty young thing with a heart made of stone, willing to lie, steal and murder so the prince need not get his hands dirty. Such devotion!”

“Do I amuse you?” Fionn narrowed his eyes. “You say I dislike you, but right now it seems that you’re the one trying to antagonise me.” He stepped forward and fixed her with a stare. “What are you hoping to provoke?”

Rell lowered her eyes and smiled. “My words were not intended to provoke you, my lord; I simply wished to gain your attention. And,” she said, looking him in the eye, “to let you know that I’m willing to hear you out if you ever want a real conversation. I’m sure you tire of playing your role every now and then.” She waited for a reaction, but the boy’s face had closed up again. When he spoke, it was with flawless control.

“Thank you for your concern. If you’ve any other advice-”

“I won’t hesitate to share it with you,” Rell interrupted, giving him a smile. “From one pretty face to another.”

She turned and walked quietly from the room. Fionn said nothing.

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In the wings (1)

WELP here we go, two days behind but not completely absent. This one is incomplete but I figured that it ends on at least a vaguely conclusive note, so that will have to do. The prose version of Thursday’s will be happening, just not quite yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Summer had returned quickly. The Dawn Hall had kept the night’s chill, but the wind that blew in from the high windows was hot. The prince, seated near the front where the light fell, must have felt the morning sun acutely. Rell, waiting at the edge of the chamber, did not envy him. At least the crowd pressing into the building had the sun in front of them – their leader would have the heat beating down on his back for the whole morning.

These meetings had been his idea; an opportunity for him to consult with his new citizens and gauge their mood with his own eyes and ears. By a trick of construction, the hall’s windows allowed the morning sun to fall directly upon the front chamber in the summer months. Never one to shy from a grand gesture, the prince had declared that the business of government would begin each day in the light, and spent the morning of every fifth day amongst his people.

“Enjoying the view?”

Rell started, then silently cursed herself for letting her surprise show. She looked deliberately to her right and saw Fionn staring a challenge at her. The boy glanced at the papers she held and shook his head. “He’s not likely to have time to discuss the accounts until he’s done with the day’s theatrics.” All business, as usual. She waved at the circle of light cast on the chamber floor.

“I wished to see the morning light, my lord. A very clever trick of construction, I must admit. Do you think the builders worshipped the sun?”

Fionn snorted. “You would see religion here, I suppose,” he said, turning to face the throng. “You’ve precious little besides your gods below the Barrier, after all. I, on the other hand, suspect the builders had something more practical in mind.”

“Really now.” Rell chose to ignore the slight – it was too early in the morning to bother railing against Imperial parochialism. “And what might that have been?”

“Theatre.” He remained still, but she could see his head tracking a circle around the room. “The light falls into the centre of the hall and blinds audiences to everyone lurking here at the edges. The walls themselves push the sound away, so that we can whisper here without being heard.” He returned his gaze to the prince.

“They must have had their reasons for hiding away,” Rell ventured. Fionn shrugged.

“Similar to our own, I would guess. You can get away with a lot more in the shadows.”

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March Blog Madness

March! Blogs!

Welp, March is here, and I have learned three things!

  1. Other people are doing blogs! Other people who are possibly Thom, Ale, and James!
  2. It’s difficult to make raw dialogue easily readable without context!
  3. I need better formatting options in this blog! What the hell kind of text editor doesn’t allow you to have indents on new lines?

Anyway this is a thing I have been working on. Tomorrow will be a prose version of the same scene, because I damn well need the practice. So hang in there, it might actually make sense by then!

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Nirri. She’s hell-bent on scrambling off East.”

“I don’t see why you’re complaining to me. I always said that girl would be trouble.”

“Don’t try to be coy. From all accounts, you’re the one who sent the damn priest our way.”

“And you really think he wouldn’t have found out from someone else anyway?”

“It might have given us one more day.”

“Would one day really have helped?”

“Every day we’re not North of the Barrier is a blessing.”

“Come now, the man’s not asking you to travel on the roads-”

“He’s asking us to go to Red Landing!”

“So you stay on the river until you hit the coast. It’s only a day’s walk from the mouth.”

“That’s a day too many.”

“You’re… Look, Cedar. I never wanted to say this to you, but you’re just being paranoid. You were taken, yes, but you were being foolish! You were alone, you were far too trusting, and you stuck out like a sore thumb. You were a perfect target, so it’s no wonder you got snatched. If you go in a group-”

“With my wife! With my daughter! With these marks on my arms!”

“Yes! Stick together, travel during daylight, and stay on the roads! Do you think the the whole country will be searching for you?”

“It wouldn’t need to be. It would only take one gang-”

“And I’ve told you a hundred times already: play the odds and you won’t meet any!”

“No, it will just make us less likely to fall foul of them. That’s not the same thing, Nirri.”

“You’re impossible. Why can’t you be satisfied with odds that are as good as certain?”

“Because I know what will happen if they prove false.”

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Here we are again

Well, Blagofest was not a success. I didn’t even participate in the follow-up Blogtember, either (and the less said about the rest of Spring, the better). But that ends now: Decemblog begins today!

In the interests of getting stuff done more often, I’m not going to just do fiction this month – I’m also going to venture into the realm of amateur criticism! I recently picked up a copy of Year’s Best SF 16, and if nothing else have really enjoyed the fact that I am once again reading fiction – it’s strange how quickly you can fall out of the habit.

Let's put that title to the test.

The Year’s Best SF series has been full of ups and downs for me in the past, but this year’s edition was pretty good. Not as many surprises as I’ve had from previous ones, but a lot of good fiction nevertheless.

So, short reviews of short fiction. I’ll be doing the stories in the order they’re printed in the anthology, and to add a little variety to the process I’ll be focusing on three elements picked randomly for me by a program I wrote (it’s surprisingly difficult to write an efficient RNG that keeps track of options you’ve rolled in the past). Since I’d rather provide a self-contained review than a partial one, I won’t make any effort to avoid spoilers – those who would really care ought to know better than to read the review before the story. Today’s review is of Joe Haldeman’s Sleeping Dogs.

RNG results: Concept, Clever Tricks, Nitpicks

I’d never read anything written by Haldeman before this story, although I’d heard his name thrown around here and there on a few SF boards. New territory, it seems!

The setting is fairly straightforward – an FTL-enabled future with evil corporate overlords bent on exploiting the colonies (not that that makes any sense in a setting with the kind of technology you’d need to travel between the stars, but that’s how the subgenre works, I suppose). The central plot device of ‘aqualethe’, a memory-erasing drug that the protagonist is trying to shrug off, is unremarkable, but his profession is a rather neat idea: he works as a ‘thanatopic counsellor’, talking to post-mortals who are tired of life and helping them to plan their deaths and their legacies. Not much was done with the idea, but it worked well as a hook anyway.

Perhaps the most curious part of the story is the fact that we learn almost nothing about the protagonist beyond his profession, gender, and age – he is never named, and there’s no real feel of personality from him in his narration or dialogue. It’s possible that this was a deliberate choice by the author, made to reinforce the issue of memory loss the story deals with, but it strikes me more as lazy characterisation.

My only other gripe with the story is the one I started off with: the setting is really quite silly. For all of the technological difference from the present day and age, society seems to have changed very little; apparently having the scientific and technological know-how to facilitate affordable interstellar travel doesn’t allow for the possibility of a post-scarcity economy or, I dunno, anything that deviates from the Peter F. Hamilton norm of “private industry owns everything, hope you like working your way up the corporate ladder”. So disappointing.

I realise that this has been a pretty negative assessment of the story, which now that I think about it isn’t quite fair; it’s told fluidly and with a great sense of place and time – lots of attention is paid to incidental details that flesh out the feeling of the protagonist being on a journey and living day-to-day. If nothing else, it was an enjoyable read, but it didn’t really leave me with anything to think about. It’s kind of like a reverse Philip K. Dick situation – the execution is solid and workmanlike, but the ideas are dull and uninspired.

Three and a half stars.

  • reviews to date: 1
  • average score: 3.5

That’s it for now – tomorrow I’ll be looking at Kay Kenyon’s Castoff World, hopefully in a little more detail.

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Blagofest #2: better catch up fast

Well, this is pretty terrible! It’s been two weeks to the day since my first blagofest post – just over half of August has gone by and I’m basically without content. Oh well, I guess I’d better get my act together.

So, here we go: words! The character here isn’t named because I don’t actually have a name yet (and he’s not the type to think of himself in terms of the labels other use) – I guess if I get one then I might add it back in here. The piece is a bit scrappy, but at least it’s something, right? :P

I’m afraid that Thom will have to wait on dames for a little longer – this piece isn’t in Tretton City and probably will never connect to it short of some truly horrendous short-circuit in my brain.


Paris confused him. The disorientation itself was nothing new – his life forced him to constantly adapt to the unexpected – but it was coming from the complete opposite direction from the one he was used to. Normally, he had to deal with a sense of loss when places he’d been a mere decade ago had changed beyond recognition – but this city felt like it had gone through a mere thirty years during his absence. He knew better, of course – it had been closer to three centuries since his last visit – and he had to constantly remind himself that those long years had indeed passed on Earth and that he hadn’t somehow cheated Einstein.

The city was not even part of the heritage zone, despite being inland – and whenever he went indoors or looked up to see the sky unobstructed by cables, he got a fresh reminder that the place hadn’t been sealed away from time. Nevertheless, he could count on one hand the buildings he didn’t recognise. If the stubborn attitude he’d seen throughout the city ran as strongly as he suspected, it was likely that many of those were the fault of his ageing memory rather than urban redevelopment.

The architecture wasn’t the only thing left intact from his previous visit – Earth seemed to have hung on to memories that had never taken root among the diaspora. Some of them were common sense – the planet remained politically divided, after all – but others made him feel that the world was going out of its way to haunt him.

There were war memorials everywhere he turned. It was funny how thoroughly he had forgotten while he had travelled; even the wars of other worlds hadn’t triggered his guilt the way these monuments to the dead of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries did. He had visited the battlefields of the world wars and paid his respects to the dead, but when the others had gone to inspect the newer memorials he had been unable to follow. He was afraid he would find his name there.

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Blagofest #1: 24-part story the fourth

So, the month of August has rolled around, and I’ve been challenged to start writing proper-like again! So, this month I will be updating five days a week, doing fiction like I did in May. Here’s hoping I can make it!

Rather than just make it about me, this August has become a big blogging challenge for others, too! I’ll link ’em for your viewing convenience:

Thom Diment, who wouldn’t know a good 500 bid if it hit him in the face, is putting out miscellanea five days a week!

Ale is doing art three days a week!

Jimmy the first is, like me, updating a writing blog five days a week! It’s probably better than mine!

Jimmy the second is coding, although nobody knows how much or if it will be posted for us to see.

Should be pretty neat, I think. My first instalment is the next part of my 24 hour part story – the dialogue is a mess but I think it manages to get the job done anyway.

The Royale was an interesting place. It had sprung up in the first year of the colony – a genuine privately-owned bar set up by someone who had probably been sick of the bland company dives. That alone would have given it more personality than anything else in town, but the owner had gone one step further, as if compelled to somehow balance out the blandness all around with a beacon of individuality. The place had been done up as a kitschy tribute to the early twentieth century; it was filled with neon lighting, big band jazz recordings, and an appalling mix of Art Deco and Bauhaus designs that still made Lloyd’s head spin whenever he moved from room to room. On a more normal world, the place would have been written off as tacky and largely forgotten, but Tretton City was so devoid of human touches that the Royale – or at least its owner’s scattershot approach to nostalgia – had become an icon. For Lloyd, it was simply another workplace; Wills never met freelancers in his office, so the bar had become the lawyer’s de facto rendezvous whenever he wanted something done off the books.

Wills was sitting in his usual place, a hidden corner of the front bar that most people assumed led to a service entrance or the toilets. He was alone, Lloyd noted – it figured that Mr Big couldn’t be bothered showing up in person. Wills motioned for him to sit and snatched a phone up from the clutter on the table.

“Lloyd. Good to see you here. Give me a second and I’ll make sure you’re filled in.” He motioned for Lloyd to wait while he set up a call; subvocal interface, Lloyd couldn’t help noticing.

Someone doesn’t want me listening in.

Lloyd sat back and made a show of inspecting Wills’s face. The lawyer lived on adrenaline, Lloyd knew – every single job he’d done for the man had been treated as a life-and-death situation – but today Wills looked even more highly strung than usual. The man’s perpetual frown deepened as he disengaged from his conversation and covered the phone’s mouthpiece with his hand. He leaned over to Lloyd and fixed him with an icy stare.

“Watch your words, Lloyd. I brought you in because I considered you the best man for the job, but you’ll still need to tread lightly.” Lloyd didn’t need any reminders – Gabriel Rojo wasn’t a man you took lightly. Still, he nodded as Wills offered him the handset. He licked his lips.

“This is Rick Lloyd.”

“I know”. The voice was deep – deeper than Lloyd had expected. With no hooks offered, Lloyd stumbled forward.

“How can I help you, sir?”

He was met with quiet laughter. “Quite straightforwardly, I believe. You are a private investigator?”

“I am that, sir. Missing persons more than anything else.” Plenty of them thanks to you, at that.

“I see. I have a case for you, then. My son has been missing for sixteen hours without an explanation – and I assure you, Mr Lloyd, that there is no good reason for him to be missing. My people are thorough.”

Lloyd nodded despite the sound-only transmission. “I understand, sir. I’m used to colder trails, but I doubt the change will be a problem.”

“Indeed. Mr Wills has the details of your assignment, but I wish to convey the essentials directly to you.” Rojo paused briefly before resuming with icy clarity. “You will find my son. You will find those who have taken him. You will return him to me. And finally, you will tell me who was responsible. You will be thoroughly remunerated. Do you have any questions?”

“No, sir.”

There was a brief exhalation. “Good. Wills will handle further communication. I expect to hear of your progress shortly.”

The call was terminated without ceremony. Lloyd put the phone down on the table and raised his eyes to Wills.

“Didn’t even know the man had a kid.”

Wills shrugged. “You do now.” He shifted several datablocs into the centre of the table and motioned for Lloyd to take them.

“Those have everything else you need to know – recent movements, last known location, even some likely culprits. Your contract is in the leftmost – I assure you it’s worth your while.”

Lloyd had no doubt of that – the Rojos were the only game in town, and while the big man’s voice had promised blood, their M.O. was still “buy first, shoot second”. He swept up the gear and cracked his knuckles.

“All right, Clay. How often does Mr Rojo want his reports?”

The lawyer didn’t blink. “Half-hourly.” Ridiculous, as both men knew – but you didn’t argue with money like that.

“Got it. I’ll key you in at twenty-five and fifty-five of every hour. Don’t call me with anything unless it’s a lead on this or new orders from the big guy.”

A nod was the only reply. Wills knew better than to get in the Lloyd’s way when he was working. Lloyd headed for the exit and called up his car.

There was no time to waste.

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Need a little time to wake up

Righto, here’s something to break the drought. It’s part of the WWN Grand Battle 3; I won’t bother further explaining the context, as I doubt it’d be of much interest to anyone who isn’t up to speed with the whole thing.

Alex couldn’t quite bring himself to hate the ground. There was no doubt that it had betrayed him; the soft earth had given under his feet the instant the robot’s fist descended upon him, leaving Alex quite literally six feet under.

But – and it was always but, in his experience – it really was quite comfortable. He was deep enough to gain some respite from the greenhouse’s heat, and between the cool and what any sane man would have identified as a concussion he felt quite at ease. Part of him nagged away, insisting that he was supposed to be putting on a show, but for once Alex didn’t feel the urgency of the call; perhaps he needed a little time to rest his mind.

Guess I might as well. He watched idly as hyperactive plants clawed their way up the walls of the pit. Busy little things. I wonder how they learn to do that?

Suddenly, the sky was occluded; when light returned to him, the tallest of the plants was missing its flower. Puzzling, really – plants weren’t known to lose bits of themselves out of nowhere.

Something was off here. Alex still didn’t really feel like fighting (a sensation that had yet to lose its novelty), but he acknowledged that he still needed to give the world its due. Perhaps some amateur detective work might be in order – a little time to rest his mind before getting back to the fight.

The earth immediately below him had been packed hard enough to take his weight; he sprung up into the light and landed on the edge of the crater made by the robot’s fist. Made of metal, just as he’d suspected. The robot itself had turned around and was walking away from him, which was a little disappointing. He’d have left it at that if he hadn’t sighted a flash of colour in one of the robot’s massive hands.

Zooming in, his suspicions were confirmed: the flower had taken off with the robot. Terribly convenient, really; he could track the thing down and get its side of events and then launch straight back into the fight. He braced himself to sprint after the pair, but caught himself in time to add a disclaimer for the audience.

“Don’t try this at home.”

He burst into action, running at a pace the enormous robot’s gait could not hope to match. Closing the distance in a matter of seconds, he took a running jump and caught hold of a protruding piece of metal near the thing’s knee joint. The contraption had convenient handholds all over it, so swarming up the back and down the arm was a trivial matter. The robot had even quite considerately extended its arm so he could stand while questioning the absconded bloom.

Deciding that a stern approach would serve him best, he glared at the flower, arms akimbo. “Right!” he shouted. “What’s the story, morning glory?”


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Littorand COs

This one never quite worked out the way I wanted to, unfortunately. I wrote it up in hardcopy a long time ago (partly in response to somebody pointing out that basically all of the AW:P writeups I’d done had been Galacian) – half of it was written while waiting for a bus. The dialogue is clumsy and I don’t think I’ve integrated it very well into the prose.

Oh well.

I feel it’s better off published than simply left to rot, anyway. If you’re wanting to hear more from Rick Lloyd, P.I., then hang tight – Tretton City has not been forgotten!

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

Alexander refrained from commenting. Cassandra – Captain Mason, rather, since he ought to be proper with his officers – had been ooh-ing and aah-ing over the new fighter for months before its manufacture, and her infatuation with the machine had not grown any less over time. He shook his head and tut-tutted quietly as she turned her back to him to get a better look at the craft.

“Amazing, really,” she continued. “At first, I never thought we’d be able to crack the strength-to-weight problem; the guys over in R&D sure proved me wrong, hey? With a fleet of these, Bosca’s air force is smoked.” She turned around and gave Alexander a big grin. “Just think about it, sir! Guaranteed air superiority in every theatre! These jets are just too fast for the empire’s fighters to track. They’ve probably even got an edge on Galacian planes!”

Enough was enough, he thought. “Don’t tempt fate, captain. We’re too close to war as it is.” The junior officer caught herself at that – she hadn’t been expecting a rebuke. “It’s been the same story everywhere I look, Mason. Everyone’s going on and on about the cyborg threat. We’ve had generations of war with Bosca, shouldn’t that have taught you we won’t see any good coming from a fight with Galacia?”

She scowled at him. “I never suggested we start a war, sir! You’re well aware I’ve no patience for conflict that can be avoided.” The girl was right, of course. He gave a sigh and spread his hands to defuse the situation.

“I understand, captain. I just find I’m seeing warmongers everywhere these days.” She seemed mollified by this; at the very least, she was well aware of the politics going on in the capital.

“Yes, sir. I realise that the capabilities this new jet offers could be used to dismiss voices of caution. But still, sir… it really is a work of art. Is it wrong for me to appreciate that?”

Alexander grimaced. “Your place isn’t in the cockpit any more. You’re responsible for the whole third fleet, and part of that responsibility is not getting carried away by a shiny new toy.” A low blow, he realised. He tuned out her objections as they walked out of the hangar together, offering automatic responses. She was devoted to him, he was well aware – the girl had looked up to him for years – but devotion would get her and her men killed.

I need duty, not devotion.

He intended her to live through the war he had seen in Fielding’s briefings. If he had to break her heart in the process, then he wouldn’t shirk.

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24 Hour Story: part 3

The sun was still well below the horizon when Lloyd backed his Ranger out of the apartment carpark. The rain shone in the headlights and made its usual drumming sounds on the car roof, but didn’t cause any inconvenience; Lloyd had the wipers on before he’d even cleared the exit. It was always raining in Tretton City.

The town had been slapped together in the months before operations began on Providence, as somewhere to house transient workers stationed on the moon. The port it grew next to was on the equator, in a rain belt between the mountains and the sea: the weather was consistently wet and warm throughout the year. Tretton itself was at least a little cooler than Earth; the tropical latitudes were only lukewarm. It was all that kept the place tolerable, in Lloyd’s opinion.

He pulled out of the side streets and turned right onto Hartnell. The street lights were doing their job, at least; he’d almost had a crash two weeks ago during a brown-out. Another problem with a town run by mobsters: there were no corners that would not be cut. The infrastructure, barely two decades old, was already falling apart. There was a fair amount of traffic at this hour – heavy freight carriers mingled with commuters, and Lloyd even saw the odd shiny imported vehicle. The contrast between the sleek, self-contained cars and the internal-combustion-engine bombs the locals drove was Tretton in a nutshell, really: deeply unequal but filled with opportunities.

Lloyd certainly owed a lot to that; most civilised worlds didn’t have many niches left for private snoops. “Nice” worlds had police, social security, infrastructure that ticked like clockwork – hell, infrastructure that largely was clockwork – and a million and one little safety nets to help people who fell through the cracks. They were, by and large, run for the benefit of the people living on them. Tretton wasn’t a nice world: it was run for the benefit of its owners, and a world without modern civilisation needed people like him. People would come to him to solve their problems – victims of identity theft, straight cops who couldn’t deal with a cover-up, spouses worried about infidelity – and now, Gabriel Luis Rojo, Mr Big himself. As much as he hated the man, Lloyd couldn’t have asked for a bigger sign that he’d hit the big time.

Pulling into Central, he turned the obvious question over in his head. What exactly did Rojo want him for? The man had an army of relatives, lesser lieutenants, bent cops, tame P.I.s; the only reasons to take Lloyd on were his unique skills (few, bordering on none, he muttered, keeping his ego in check) and his outsider’s perspective. Lloyd knew that outsiders rarely fared well in family matters, but his not-yet-broken kneecaps persuaded him that the risk was worth taking. The Rojos owned half of the spaceport, anyway – the only way to skip town would be to hide out in the jungle.

The Royale loomed at him, garish neon lights forming a skinny, twisting frame set inside the bulky brick-and-mortar one. Lloyd pulled over, checked his pockets twice for his wallet and his Marino, and told the Ranger to head to a local carpark until he was finished. He had credit with several right now; it would figure out which would give him the best deal on the way there. He swung the door open and stepped into the rain.

His hat and jacket deflected most of the deluge, but drops inevitably got through the cracks and got to work soaking through his cotton shirt. The thing was a nuisance, really – everyone else on the damn planet wore waterproof synthetics – but Monica had bought a dozen of them for him when she’d found out how he paid the bills. She’d dismissed his objections instantly; “you look more convincing when you’re a bit disheveled anyway, Rick,” had shut him up fast, and he hadn’t found the spite to dump them in favour of something better suited to the local weather. Sticky shirts were another thing he’d learned to put up with on Tretton.

The car took off, growling with hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, and Lloyd looked up at the neon display in front of him. Six fifty-two, ante meridian: he was early. Wills had better appreciate the fact.

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24 Hour Story: part 2

Gabriel Rojo.

Lloyd shuddered. More than a few of his investigations had come up against a wall the moment that name got involved. The Rojos were one of the biggest drug gangs in Tretton – a family business, naturally – and they’d never once been good news for him. They were responsible for more human misery than any other group he could quickly recall, and they had Wills and a dozen more like him to cover themselves from any repercussions.

Tretton City was a fairly lawless place, really – Tretton itself was a backwater planet whose economic life depended on Providence, its mineral-rich moon. There was no central government, and the system’s corporate masters had no desire to establish one as long as the flow of wealth from Providence continued unabated. The moon itself was locked down tight, but the planet was another story; organised crime had been allowed to flourish, and the huge pay packets being given to the miners and engineers on Providence gave it oxygen. Unfortunately for Lloyd, the city’s rough edges were what gave him work – admittedly, more often in an indirect fashion. Business was business, though. The Rojos’ money was as good as anyone else’s, after all – and he wasn’t interested in having his legs broken.

He skipped the shower, threw on yesterday’s clothes and grabbed his jacket. Five carefully calculated minutes were spent on a slice of toast smothered in honey; he had a feeling he’d need all the tiny morale boosts he could get today. He stepped into the study and set the business phone up to rebuff callers – it seemed a little distressed at the prospect, so he told it to offer to take a message from anyone who was particularly insistent. He took its silence as assent and ran through a checklist in his head.

No cases to delay, Monica’s going to be away for the rest of the week, but I’ll probably have to tell Casey I’m welshing on dinner tonight. Better take the car instead of a cab; don’t want to be late for my meeting with Mr Big.

He put on his hat and grabbed the car keys.

Time to go to work.


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