Why this site exists

These characters have been living in my imagination for the best part of 20 years. They’re not going away, so here are their stories. Maybe they’ll leave me in peace once I tell them.

Note: these are very much first drafts and as such may be riddled with errors: spelling, grammatical and continuity. Don’t @ me…

Clara

The small, plastic horse left the hand of the weasel-faced assassin, spun through the air and rebounded off the dirty brick wall of the alley. The spin was perfect, the flick of Mishka’s wrist perfect and the horse stopped dead and dropped, falling no more than an inch from the wall. Clara stepped forward and trapped it under the toe of her boot. There were howls of complaint from the assembled gamblers.
“You can’t do that,” snarled Mishka.
“Just did,” shrugged Clara. “Tell me what I need to know.”
It was a cool response, but Clara felt anything but cool. She felt like she was sweating inside, her breath short, every sense on high alert ready to run. This alley, running to the side of Emer’s bar, was not a safe place for her to be, and these were not safe people for her to be talking to, especially not Mishka. But safety was rarely high on Clara’s list of priorities. Getting the story, on the other hand…
Mishka was actually bearing his teeth now, showing off the fangs that, on occasion, he’d been known to use to gouge the flesh of his victims. His fists were clenching and unclenching, sweat was popping out all over his brow and his eyes were wide and wild. Clara calculated that she had about twenty seconds left before she would have no choice but to move her foot.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” grinned Mishka, the grin looking as much like a threat as any grimace.
“Just give me a sign,” said Clara. “None of these fine gentlemen,” and at this point she gestured to the huddle of gamblers who were many things, but not a single one would be considered a fine gentleman, “will be any the wiser as to what you told me, or why. Hell, they didn’t even hear the question, did you fellas?”
There was a rumble of agreement from the group. They hadn’t heard Clara’s question, because Clara hadn’t asked it, not here, not today. She had been pursuing this piece of information for some time, it was possibly the final piece in the jigsaw that would allow here to write the damned piece. Or maybe it was the opening of a further can of worms, she didn’t rightly know and didn’t completely care. She just hated roadblocks like this, and Mishka’s silence had proven to be quite a roadblock. Hence she’d taken her life in her hands and come here to piss him off.
“Fine,” spat Mishka. “You really want to know? Yes.”
“All I needed to know,” grinned Clara, removing her boot from over the horse. It sat upright, on its hooves. There was a yelp of delight from Mishka and a grumble of complaint from the rest of the crowd. “Nice throw, by the way,” she said, as she turned and left.
A hand grabbed her arm before she could take more than three paces. She looked down into the grubby face of a familiar snitch.
“Mouse,” she sighed. “What?”
“He’s lying,” sighed the diminutive snitch, simply.
“What? Why? There’s no… How do you know?” she spluttered.
“Because that was the wrong answer to the question,” explained Mouse. “He’ll give up Emer, just did, to protect the person who really asked him to kill that family.”
Clara shook her head. But this explanation made so much sense. It was Emer’s style, shutting down people who owed him money and weren’t about to pay. And Konoroz had owed him a lot of money, and had no way of paying it back. He worked on a doughnut stand, for goodness sake, a loyal husband and father. Who else could possibly want him dead?
“What do you know?” she demanded, turning and pinning Mouse against the wall.
“Eww,” complained Mouse, “do you know what’s smeared on these walls? What did I ever do to you?”
“You’re being oblique,” Clara explained, “and I’m tired. And I have to be clever about how I get Mishka’s attention but you’re easier to push around.”
Mouse shrugged, he couldn’t deny that.
Look,” he squealed, “I don’t really know anything. I just hear whispers. People talk and they forget I’m there. And I spend a lot of time in Emer’s.”
“Get on with it,” snarled Clara. Mouse was right, this wall stank of something unpleasant.
“It wasn’t Emer.” Mouse started to talk more rapidly. “I’m certain of that. Ninety percent of Mishka’s work comes from the fat bastard, but not this time. There’s a web, and I don’t know who’s pulling the strings on this one, but I do know that Konoroz isn’t… wasn’t who you think he is.”
Clara groaned in frustration.
“Get to the point! Who was he?”
Mouse only mouthed the answer to that question, each syllable soundlessly and exaggeratedly enunciated.
Re-sis-tance.

Legrange

Borate’s office was plastered in campaign posters. It wasn’t exactly making Legrange’s job easier, having the Chief of Authority challenge the very man that the Resistance existed to resist. But Chief Gerstley Borate seemed to be the only man in Toun who Mayor Chaguartay wasn’t several steps in front of, and the move did seem to have unsettled him. Authority reform, outlawing Black Knights, Tree preservation… none of these were usual platforms for Chaguartay and yet all were part of his manifesto once Borate had announced his candidature. Not that it appeared to be making a difference to the Resistance, who were as determined as ever to resist.
Legrange looked around.
“I assume I’m not here to talk politics?” He didn’t want to talk politics. Borate was, as far as Legrange was now concerned, a dead man, both metaphorically and soon, probably, literally. Legrange was not an ideologue.
“No, I’ll keep it brief,” explained Borate, leaning far back in his seat. His brow was slick, his usually robustly glowing skin pasty, his dark hair slicked to his scalp. He didn’t look well. “I seem to be a busy man,” he chuckled, without humour.
Legrange nodded. He didn’t want to catch whatever his boss had contracted. Keeping it brief was fine with him, and he didn’t need to extend the encounter with unnecessary words. Borate lifted up a file, an actual, physical, cardboard folder, and tossed it across the desk towards Legrange. Interesting.
“Missing person,” he said, simply. “Jack White. Only been in Toun three years, came from… somewhere. It’s probably in the file. Married, one kid already. Seems to like it here. We have his wife here for you to talk to. Seems like there may have been some kind of altercation, which she claims involved other parties. You need to get to the bottom of that and, if it’s true, who those other parties might be.”
Seemed simple enough but… Legrange didn’t need another distraction. He was good enough at distracting himself.
“Who’s the Cadet?” he asked, wracking his brains for the most useless junior member of Population. “Rumston? Stolzinger?”
“No, no cadets,” Borate shook his head. “Too sensitive.”
“Sensitive?” Legrange was intrigued. “So who has spoken to her?”
“Me,” replied Borate. “Only me.”
He shook his head again. Legrange scratched his. He was intrigued, that was an unorthodox turn of events, but he still didn’t want the case.
“Why isn’t this going to Population?” he asked. “I don’t see how this concerns Resistance.”
“She was brought in by a Resistance Agent,” explained Borate. This didn’t, actually, explain very much.
“Brought in by a Resistance Agent?” asked Legrange. “Are you sure?”
“I got the recs checked,” Borate confirmed. “Definitely Resistance. An Agent Jones.”
This made more sense. Agent Jones again.
“OK, so you want me to ascertain the extent of Resistance involvement in the disappearance of this Jack White?”
Legrange lifted the file and opened it. The front sheet had a pic attached to it. Young woman, blonde, attractive. Slightly familiar.
“Evandra White, Junior Director in Administration,” he read. He tossed the file back on the desk. “OK, I’ll talk to her. I need to find out more about Agent Jones. She might be helpful. I still don’t get, though…” He indicated the file, balanced precariously on the edge of the desk. “Why the secrecy? I’ve not seen an actual file in years.”
“Evandra White,” repeated Borate, rubbing his pasty face, looking more concerned than Legrange had ever seen the Chief look before. “Nee Chaguartay.”
Evie Chaguartay! Suddenly Legrange understood.

Kap

“I’m sorry Kap, he came up behind me, he was on me before I could do anything…”
Snivelling. Wright was snivelling. He was a useless lookout, as this incident was ably illustrating.
Kap raised his hands until the palms faced the intruder. He moved well for a guy of his age, and had a firm grip on Wright’s neck. Kap didn’t want him getting nervous and making any sudden moves. Not while he was waving Wright’s firearm around like that. Kap wasn’t afraid of the gun, but that wasn’t the only dangerous thing in this bunker right now.
“I would stand up, but,” Kap nodded towards his useless legs, “I can’t.”
His ComH crackled. A muffled voice. Jones. She was going to have to wait.
“Toshock!” shouted the man with the gun. That was unexpected.
“What do you want with General Toshock?” Kap was spooked now. This guy seemed to know what they were doing out there. Must do, if he knew Toshock was in the bunker.
“Just get him here!” insisted the intruder.
Kap breathed a sigh of relief. He lowered his hands. The stranger had given himself away. He didn’t have anything apart from a name. Kap was back in control, and he was used to being in control. He knew control.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, calmly. The panic was gone from his voice, the urgency had died. He could manage this.
The old man grunted, and brandished the firearm. Kap shrugged.
“It’s not functional,” he scoffed. “We’ve barely enough weapons as it is. We wouldn’t waste one on Wright. He’d blow his own foot off before he hit anyone useful…”
The man looked at him through slitted eyes, apparently weighing up whether to believe him. Kap was sure he would, he was generally very persuasive.
The man threw the firearm to the floor with a clatter and slumped back against the wall, releasing his hold on Wright, who slithered out from under his arm and disappeared back up the tunnel to his post.
Kap’s Com crackled again. He was starting to get concerned. This was taking a while and he’d been trying to locate Jones ever since he lost her earlier. She should have been back hours ago. She might be in trouble, and it didn’t do to lose personnel so soon after recruitment. He should check in with her. But the coast wasn’t entirely clear here yet, the threat not entirely neutralised. He was still wary of this intruder who was looking for Toshock, even if he didn’t appear to actually know who Toshock was.
He glanced down at Wright’s weapon on the floor. It had landed close to him; he wished he could just stick out a foot and drag it towards him. He had been relieved when it didn’t go off, when it fell to the floor. He’d lied. It was fully operational and more than a little loaded. Wright might be an idiot, but any idiot could fire a gun.
He looked across to the man, who now had his head in his hands. He seemed to be sobbing. That wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He thought it made him easier, but he wasn’t sure that it should.
“What’s your name?” he asked, gently. This guy was unpredictable, best not to antagonise him with the wrong question, or the right question asked the wrong way.
The stranger looked up, face tear stained, eyes red.
“I saw myself die,” he moaned. “I’ve seen how I die. I’ve seen…”
His head dropped again.
“I’m not as old as I look,” he mumbled into his chest. “I shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. Not with this face. They told me to come here. They told me to ask for Toshock. I don’t even know who that is…”
Kap just stared. This wasn’t making any sense.
“What’s you name?” he asked again.
“My name,” sighed the man, “is Dawkins.”
He fell silent. Kap raised his eyebrows.
“Is that meant to mean something?” He asked.
Dawkins shrugged.
“It means something to me,” said a woman’s voice, from behind him.
Kap spun around in his chair. Toshock was framed in the doorway to her sanctum, light silhouetting her. She was a tall, lean, athletic woman, with a wild shock of grey hair that stuck up and out to the right.
“Mr Dawkins,” said Commander Toshock. “Come with me.”
Dawkins struggled up from where he had slumped and obediently followed Toshock into her quarters. The door slid noisily shut behind them. Kap let out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.
“Who was that?” came a voice from the doorway. Jones. “I couldn’t get any sense out of Wright. Is it really sensible to have a gibbering wreck on guard duty?”
“Where have you been?” snapped Kap, relieved to see her and irritated at how casually she’d reappeared.
“Getting back here,” she shrugged. “Had to stop off at Authority on the way.”
Kap spun around and stared at her.
“You had to what?” he demanded.
“Long story,” shrugged Jones. “Remind me to tell you about it some time.”
She was pissing Kap off now.
“I’ll give you a full debrief after you’ve completed your guard duty,” he instructed.
“My what?” Jones looked genuinely horrified.
“Your guard duty,” repeated Kap. “You’re right, it isn’t remotely sensible to have a gibbering wreck on guard duty. You can relieve him.”

Lagrange

The cadet became slowly aware of the shadow being cast across the Refec table. He turned his head, half an eclair to his lips, to register whose shadow it was. On his list of people he was really hoping that it wouldn’t be, one name came out easily on top.
“Detective Legrange,” he spluttered, in cream, scrambling to his feet.
Legrange inclined his head. It amused him the way the cadets reacted to him. It wasn’t fear, but there was no one they were less keen to disrespect. He didn’t mind, it was useful. It meant that he could always guarantee the same table in the Refec.
“You’re sitting at my table,” he pointed out. “But it’s OK. I’ll wait while you clean it.”
The cadet was already on his feet and halfway to the cleaning station. Legrange wasn’t entirely sure why he was held in such esteem. It was something, he supposed, to show for all the years he’d worked in Authority but it wasn’t as if he could make or break careers, or that everyone was clamouring to get into Resistance Intelligence. The young cadet finished wiping the table with a flourish of the cloth.
“Vete, Matador!” he barked, with a smile. The cadet looked confused. Legrange sighed. Nobody went Outside any more.
He sat down as the cadet scuttled off, clipped his ComX unit to the side of the table and tipped the wink to Pablao behind the service hatch. The Com lit up the surface of the table, creating a mobile desktop with, because it was Legrange’s desktop, a pile of files in the far left hand corner, and an empty space everywhere else.
Legrange drew a circle with his finger on the right hand side, and a placemat appeared, onto which Pablao wordlessly placed a double stuffed chillidog. It was his speciality and Legrange’s favourite. Without really looking up, Legrange barked a thank you, pulled down his first file, grabbed the dog and took a large bite. He wiped the chilli from his hand and his mouth with the napkin Pablao had left and started to read.
“So, Toshock, let’s see what your brigade is up to this week,” he mumbled, under his breath and through a mouthful of chillidog.
The first report was a personnel update. New recruit, Agent Jones, seemed keen, they all were when they started, agitating for an escalation in hostilities, no appreciation of the art of urban warfare. She’ll learn, won’t she Toshock? Nothing by way of background, although she must have one, to join as an Agent. Toshock generally liked to train and promote for within. He closed the file, whipped it from the table to the trash. Nothing of worth in there, apart from the parts he could make up from have seen dozens of similar recruits. He sighed. He was probably getting too old for this, he’d definitely been here before. You and me both, eh Toshock? Next file.
He almost laughed out loud when he started to read it.
“Well I never,” he chuckled, “I owe James a sandwich. Kap, you old fool…”
He’d been so confident that young James’ fake intelligence was a waste of time that he’d happily bet that it would be disregarded as soon as the Resistance had decoded the stupidly simple cypher they’d used to transmit it. Secretly, he hoped that they’d see it as a sign that Authority was being complacent, didn’t regard them as worthy of too much effort, and lull them into a false sense of security that Legrange could exploit. But even better than that, it seemed that Kap, trusted lieutenant of the great General Toshock had taken the whole thing at face value and sent a team out on a wild goose chase, hunting down a man who didn’t exist, other than in the childish imagination of Sergeant Sergey James.
Legrange sat back and polished off his chillidog. He felt a lot better now. Good news, good food…
His Com bipped, which meant, given the mode he was in, that the entire table top suddenly flashed up an image of the caller. Chief Borate’s ruddy face glowered up at him. Legrange pushed his chair back. That was too much.
Fortunately it wasn’t a visual call, and rather than the face starting to talk to him, it was quickly replaced by a meeting invite. In Borate’s office, starting now.
Legrange sighed, wiped his face once more and stood up from the table calling his thanks and Deleon to an unseen Pablao, somewhere inside the kitchen. It was as well he stuffed his food down, or he’d never have time to eat anything around here.
A cadet was already hovering, waiting to take his table. He unclipped the Com and vacated it, although he left his empty plate. Perks of seniority. There had to be some.

Estrel

Estrel was on the minitram across Toun for his evening shift in the Citadel. He had only been awake for half an hour but he was tired. The world seemed distant, cut off from him by a fog. There were two other people on the tram, both of whom appeared to be on their way back from somewhere, which didn’t help his general sense of not being with it. He was operating under different conditions from these people.
He checked his ComN for the time. Nearly seven. The Wizards would be drunk by now. Hell, even the Novices would be drunk by now. He hated the twilight shift. He hated all of the shifts, but he particularly hated the evening shift. Midnight wasn’t too bad. But the rest were just painful, and that’s before the havoc they played with his body clock. He coughed something from his throat into his mouth, then swallowed it back down. His mouth now tasted of bitter, dank moss. I wouldn’t do this if the Citadel wasn’t where I was meant to be, he reminded himself. It would be helpful if I remembered to believe that.
He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and slid forward in his seat until his knees were jammed painfully under the guard rail in front of him and his spine had to bend at right angles in the middle of his back. It wasn’t at all comfortable but like that but, with his chin tucked into his chest, his head didn’t roll around with the lurching of the minitram and he had a chance at grabbing some more sleep.
Or he would have, if the tram didn’t immediately lurch to a halt at the latest stop – Apt Nodding he thought – to let a crowd of new passengers on. Damn those other people. He kept his eyes stubbornly shut, so he didn’t realise at first but after a minute or so he become aware of a musty presence on his left hand side. He tried to breathe more deeply, mimicking sleep, ignoring whoever it was, but he gradually became aware of a damp pressure against his arm as whoever-it-was lent into him. He managed no more than a further fifteen seconds of pretending he hadn’t noticed anything before he felt a blast of warm air in his left ear.
“Would you like a biscuit?”
Disgusted, Estrel slid himself back up, hands still trapped in pockets, shaking his head, looking shocked and trying to appear as if he’d actually just been woken. He wasn’t sure why it was important, but he felt like he didn’t want the stranger to know he was trying to ignore him.
“Wha-?” he asked.
“Biscuit?” the man asked, holding up a packet of what Estrel could swear were hog-biscuits.
Estrel grunted, hoping that this would be accepted for the universal signal of “no, leave me alone” and pulled his right hand out of his pocket, bringing my ComN with it.
The stranger seemed to get the hint, for now at least, and leant the other way. Estrel dragged down the Com screen to see what was going on. He needed to concentrate on something that wasn’t the creeping miasma from his neighbour. Mouse had been posting vids again, but it was never wise to watch them for the first time in public; there were a whole host of motion alerts from home, which were probably also Mouse related; his comms were stacking up but the first four were all junk and he lost his enthusiasm for wading through them before he got to the fourth…
He tried to play a bit of MooKa’ching but he couldn’t really concentrate and the motion of the minitram kept causing me to tap the wrong pod with his thumb and blow himself up. He sighed, blanked the screen and closed his eyes again, this time remaining upright. He could hear the dull buzz of the minitram radio below the murmurs of conversation. He’s not supposed to have that on…
“…and immediately caught the assembled press by surprise with the announcement that his number one priority would be to crack down on the illegal activities of the so-called Black Knights… despite persistent rumours of high level involvement in the Black Knight gangs within his administration, the Mayor’s new stance might be enough to guarantee another six-year term when the electorate goes to the polls next month…”
“Chaguartay out,” mumbled Estrel, under his breath.
The brakes hissed to a halt. He opened his eyes, it was Ogre Awarded so he hadn’t lost count after all. The stranger next to him got up to leave, although not without slapping a hand down on Estrel’s shoulder to lever himself up. Estrel waited until he’d taken a step down from the raised rear of the carriage before he dusted whatever residue of crud he may have left behind off with the back of his hand. He couldn’t help himself but sniff it afterwards as well. That made him gag something horrible. Serves me right.
“…Begrade score three times in their latest victory over local rivals Academy but the game ended in controversy as their captain was stretchered off after a vicious tackle by Academy defender Le Singe…”
They’re not kidding it was vicious. I saw the game in Emer’s. You could see the hatred in his eyes as he jabbed the pike through his ankle. Estrel shuddered.
“…and the schedule for this evening is rain, so make the most of this afternoon’s late autumn sunshine – this might be the last we see of it until next year…”
The sign Barley Omen, for Tunnel Terminus flashed past the window and Estrel got to his feet.

Jones

“Kap? Kap?”
The ComH crackled. The was no response. Agent Jones smacked the communications unit’s earpiece~with her glove.
“Kap?”

Crackle.

She would have to go it alone. She stepped out of the service elevator and flattened herself against the concrete wall. A gust of air whistled down the corridor blowing dust and dead leaves into her face. There was a storm kicking up outside. She needed to get in and out quickly or she’d never get away. Jones flicked up the screen on the Com.
“Profile,” she barked.
The unit bleeped cooperatively, and showed her the face of a clean-shaven, dark haired, apparently young man, although it was always hard to tell when the image was made up of green pixels.

BJORN BARLOW
NO FURTHER INFORMATION AVAILABLE

She read the meagre information that passed for a profile. Intelligence was evidently lacking on this one. It was Kap’s lead, as well, and now he’d gone AWOL on her.
“Kap?” She tried again.

Crackle.

She pushed herself off the wall and leaned over to the corner in front of her. She peered down. Grey, concrete nothing, stretching all the way down to the steel door at the far end. It was more than a hundred feet, maybe two. She checked in her belt. The flash bomb wouldn’t roll that far. If she threw it, it would probably bounce off. She would have to get closer. That wasn’t feeling very comfortable, with this little cover.
She flattened herself against the next wall, pushing her back hard against it, willing it to consume her, hide her. Why was this so nerve wracking? She knew nothing about this target. Maybe there was nothing to be worried about. Maybe he was crack ninja material. Sweat ran into her eyes. She blinked it away.
The Com burst into life.
“Jones?” Came the voice. Faint. Panicked? Crackling.
“Kap?” She was flooded with relief. Her eyes welled up. She told herself it was more sweat.
“Jones, where the fuck are you?”
That was better, that was the Kap she was used to.
“I’m outside the target’s front door,” she whispered, hoping the mic would pick it up. “Where the fuck have you been?”
“Touché. But get out of there.”

What?

Something was up. Something was wrong with Kap, he wasn’t saying something that she needed to know. Or he was saying something that she needed to ignore…
“Didn’t get that Kap. Any further instructions?” She asked.
“Get out!” Kap screamed. “Get out now!”
Jones opened her mouth to protest.
The steel door slammed open with a crash. Behind it, the flat exploded. The Com went dead.
Agent Jones lowered her arms from her head, around which she’d wrapped them to protect herself from the shards of flying glass and metal from the explosion. The floor was littered with glittering debris and a dust was settling. Through the now open doorway there seemed to be smoke hanging inside the flat. She stood up from the crouch she’d cowered into and tentatively approached.
The smoke was thick and not flowing the way she would expect. It was eerie, as if the interior of the flat was frozen in time. Come to think of it, everything on her side of the doorway was so silent and still that maybe time had stopped for everyone. She took another few steps forward.
It wasn’t smoke. It was too dense, too solid, like a veil or a mesh or a… web. It was. Thick sheets of, presumably, spider web hanging from the doorframe and strung behind, making it hard to see much further than a few feet into the hallway. Agent Jones stopped in her tracks.
How did anywhere get like that? There couldn’t be any people inside, certainly not the person she was expecting to find in there. And there had to be spiders. Who knew how many to spin that amount of web? Or spider. So how big would it have to be to…
Agent Jones shuddered. She should find a functioning Com, check in with Kap. There was a P in the stairwell, she could hack that to create a secure channel. If the target wasn’t in there then there was no point in going in, was there? Except she needed to search the place, there might be something that would point to where he was now. Except that trail would now be so cold as to be useless? She wasn’t in the mood to argue with Kap, she had to get a plan straight and try to railroad him.
There was some movement in the veil. Jones took a step back. She raised her weapon and took a stance. Something was coming through, the web bulged and stretched as it pushed from the inside of the flat.
“I’m armed,” she shouted. “Come out slowly, with your hands up.”
She trailed off. Who was she shouting to? A giant spider? Which hands was it going to put up?
The silence was bearing in on her now. She licked a bead of sweat from her upper lip. The web tore.
It was a young woman. She came out slowly, as instructed, with her hands up.
Jones was flabbergasted. She lifted her helmet from her head. She shouldn’t be too careless, but the look of confusion and hesitance on the face of the woman spoke to her gut and told her that there was no threat here. Compared to the stale air that had been circulating inside her armour, the air tasted cold and sweet. She breathed it in, it helped to counter the nausea she felt from too much adrenaline sloshing about her bloodstream.
“Who are you?” she asked. “What were you… Is there anyone else in there?”
The woman shook her head. Her blonde hair was tangled with web and she seemed to be wearing rags that hung indecently from her slight frame.
She opened her mouth and said something, but her voice was too weak for Jones to hear. She took a step towards her, holding out a hand as the stranger tottered.
Suddenly she fell, just as Jones came within arms reach, and the soldier caught her in her arms and lowered her gently.
“Evie,” the woman whispered. “My name is Evie. I need to talk to Authority.”