Skip to content

“And why do we fall, Bruce? ”

23/11/2011

When Bruce Wayne was a child he fell down a well.

When his father finally found him and rescued him, he asked

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”

NaNoWriMo is a well I’ve fallen into.

It’s clear now that I will not have a 50,000 word first draft of a novel done by the end of November. I have 7 days left and I have written about 12,000 words. If I can make that 17,000  by the end of the month. I will count it an achievement.

I have an excuse for my relatively low output: I have a full time job that turned out to be a bit more full time than usual (I had to run a residential workshop for a week) and I was enticed by the unseasonally warm weather to go for walks with my wife rather than sit in front of my keyboard on the weekends.

I suspect that while I have a job, I will never be able to push at 1,500+ words per day.

What I’ve learnt so far is that I can have days when I push out a couple of thousand words. I think, if I had no other committments, I could do that five days a week.

I’ve also found the process of having a first draft and mentally having 50,000 words or more to write, to be very liberating.

The first draft concept means that I can write whatever is occupying my imagination today, even if it’s not the next part of the story and, although I try to nail the text on the first go, I know it will get a lot better when I go back and edit it and add the right imagery and the right continuity of action.

The 50,000 word limit means that I’ve had the time to introduce my story. 12,000 words in and I’m still setting up the characters and the action. I can see a kind of three act play structure: 15,000 or so set up, 25,00  words on the main conflict of the story, 10,000 words tieing up loose ends and setting up the possiblity for more to come.

This a scale I hadn’t contemplated before. It adds up to most of my short story output in the past 5 years. Now I see how it can be done.

I’ll carry on with NaNoWriMo. It has become my secret vice. I hope also to carry on with the novel. I’ve now reached the point where I’d really like to find out what happens next.

Advertisements

Chapter XXX John Kemp w/c1,429

20/11/2011

Chapter xxx John Kemp

 

 

Lamb and Flag Pub, Flon, Lausanne

 

 

“Look at that tosser. I’d like to break his fucking kneecaps and then make him walk home.”

 

Kemp moved a finger across his desk and one of the images on his wall expanded until it took up half the space. It showed one of the dungeon rooms. A small pale teenage girl was strapped upside down onto an X-shaped cross of Saint Andrew that stood against the wall opposite the camera. A  middle-aged man in a suit was pacing up and down in front of the girl. The man’s head was down. He appeared to be ignoring the girl on the cross. The cane in his hand twitched like an angry cat’s tail.

 

Kemp was reminded of a panther he had once seen in a zoo, prowling endless around the edge of its territory, relentlessly looking to break free and kill someone.

 

With no warning, the man spun in a graceful arc and struck the cane against the girl’s flesh. The girl twitched against her bonds but she did not cry out. After a second to recover her breath she said, “Twenty-eight, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

 

The man resumed his pacing and a fresh welt appeared on the girl’s skin, almost completing an unbroken line of horizontal stripes that stretched from just below her breasts to just above her sex.

 

“Keep it together, Easton. Amanda agreed to thirty stripes. If she gets through them all without crying out, he’ll double her fee.”

 

“I’d still like to hurt him?”

 

“We run a brothel, Easton. A Brit Brothel. The punters come to us because they want a Baise Brit. If they were nice people, they wouldn’t be here. They’d be at home with their wives.”

“I get that. God knows we saw enough rough brothels in the Crescent War.”

 

Pointing at the action on the smaller screens, Easton said: “I understand the ones who come here to fuck the Brits girls in School Uniforms or the British Airways Stewardess outfits or the British Army camosuits. I can even understand the cheap fucks who just want to stick their dicks through a glory hole and get their balls drained by a girl on her knees that they don’t have to look at, but this guy is sick.”

 

“This guy is the husband of a member of the Swiss Cabinet. He was once on the Swiss Olympic Fencing Team. Look closely at the welt marks. They are straight, evenly spaced, and he hasn’t broken her skin once. What you’re seeing here is deep anger that even now he is carefully controlling. I’m not sure he even sees Amanda. I think he is imagining his wife up on that cross.”

 

The cane struck again, at the top of the girl’s mound. This time the girl bounced in her bonds and there was a longer pause before she said. “Twenty-nine, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

 

“If he goes over the thirty, can I have him?”

 

Kemp was certain the man would stop at the agreed limit, so it seemed safe to let Easton imagine getting revenge on a sick rich Swiss punter.

 

“If he goes over thirty you can follow him until he is a safe distance from here and then break his right elbow.”

 

The final blow was not horizontal. It landed hard between the girl’s wide spread legs. Her scream explained why Kemp had spent so much money soundproofing the dungeon rooms.

 

“The bastard. He cheated.”

 

“Of course he cheated. What did you expect? Now watch what he does next.”

 

The man stood in front of the girl and regarded his handiwork closely. He let the cane fall to the floor and ran the index finger of his right hand gently downwards across each of the welts. By the time he was squatting in front of Amanda’s tear-stained face, his whole body looked relaxed. He reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. He had, of course, already paid for his evening’s entertainment; the money he produced now was extra. He counted out enough bills to cover the promised bonus and then added another. He rolled the bills into a tube, placed them across the girl’s mouth, said, “Merci, Mademoiselle,” stood up and left the room.

 

“I don’t get it.” Easton said. “Why cheat if he’s going to pay her anyway?”

 

“He needs to win. He probably enjoyed giving Amanda time to think she’d failed. He doesn’t care about the money, he cares about the pain. Now get Amanda off that thing and get an autodoc to treat those welts. I want them gone within twenty-four hours.”

 

As Easton hurried off, Kemp saved a copy of Amanda’s session. He was sure it could give him leverage later. He watched Easton gently lift Amanda off the cross. The big man was careful with her. More than careful, respectful, perhaps even loving. Kemp filed that observation away for later  and then minimized all the camera images, except the one that showed him the Lamb and Flag Pub that formed the entrance to his establishment. He’d had it modelled after the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden as he remembered it from his teens. It has become a tourist spot in its own right, selling real ale (brewed in Switzerland), traditional English pies (imported from Germany) and Vindaloo curry (made at a local catering college). It also provided the punters with a respectable reason for the visit. Prostitution had been legal in Switzerland for almost a hundred years. It was a tradition for some Swiss men to spend the Apero hour after work in strip club, relieving the day’s tensions before heading back to the bosom of their families, but British brothels were not places Swiss men admitted visiting. They were too closely associated with shameful memories of mainland Europe’s reaction to the disaster that followed Saint Paul’s, ten years ago.

 

Kemp had been living in France, trying to pretend that he was happy to have left the British Army, when St Paul’s happened. His daughter was with him but his ex-wife and most of his relatives never made it out of Britain. He still had people looking for them but he was no longer sure what he would do if he found them.

 

The Dominion Party had reached out to Kemp in France and asked him to become an asset for them in Switzerland. They set him up as a brothel master, a venal man the authorities would file under sleaze and forget. Then Kemp had started to recruit his team. Everyone who worked for him was ex-Army. They’d all lost people back home. They all wanted what he wanted: payback.

 

An icon appeared on Kemp’s wall: a New Britain Flag. Kemp pressed the keys that would jam any bugs in the room and encrypt communications.

 

“John, we have a problem. Someone is playing us.”

 

Deveraux, his Dominion handler. His English accent was perfect but Kemp knew his wife was a French aristocrat. Kemp didn’t trust him but then, Kemp wouldn’t have trusted anyone that Dominion sent to him.

 

“That thing in the Pullman Hotel in Paris wasn’t us,” Deveraux said, “but it used our tech. Our source in the SCP says says that something is coming and they think it’s the Brits. We think it’s linked to the Paris thing. We think someone is setting us up.”

 

Dominon didn’t operate on hunches. If they were calling him, they must already have some solid information that they weren’t sharing. Kemp would have to think through what that meant. One implication was already obvious, so he decided to offer it up and see what response it got.

 

“The list of someones who could do that is very short,” he said.

 

“Yes.”

 

He waited. Deveraux remained silent. Interesting.

 

“What do you want me to do?”

 

“Find out who they are and what they want. Look for anything unusual. Reach out to the boys in Hyderabad and see if they’ll share intel. We’ll see can get the Americans to talk to us.”

 

“Will do.”

 

Kemp closed the communication. If they were trying to talk to the Americans then they were afraid of whatever was coming. Dominion feared very few people or things.

 

Kemp suspected that, in what was about to play out, all sides would treat him as dispensible. He was OK with that. He had his team. If something is coming onto his turf and trying to set him up, it was going to pay in blood.

Improv writing? But isn’t it supposed to be a thriller?

11/11/2011

In principle, the novel I’m trying to write should be very plot driven. It’s a Sci Fi thriller kind of thing with all the action compressed into a couple of weeks. So you’d think I’d kinda need to know what happens next. Except I don’t. At least not exactly.

Once upon a time, in a far distant life, I used to do some improvised drama. I’d know who I was supposed to be and broadly the situation I was in and the rest sort of happened.

It seems to me that some part of my brain had given each character a slightly different improv brief. Each of them knows something different about the situation. Not all of them are being open about their motivation. Only some of them know each other.

It seems my task is simply to arrange for the right combinations of them to meet at the right time.

The thing about improv is that when it works, it’s brilliant; full of energy and unexpected twists but when it doesn’t work, it’s a complete waste of time.

I’m still waiting to discover which category my attempt at a novel will end up in.

Chapter ??? A Kiss For The Teacher w/c 1,206

10/11/2011

Chapter ??? A Kiss For The Teacher

 

Chailly Sur Lausanne, ?? November 2066

 

 

“So the Boss wants me to do a teacher? I haven’t done a teacher since I left school myself.”

Adam had decided that it would be best if Lilith believed he was a brainless letch. There was something off about this whole arrangement. The Boss had never sent a minder to work with him before. So he let her think that he couldn’t think beyond the next pair of legs that would spread for him. If she underestimated him, he might have an edge when he needed it.

He leered at Lilith and said, “D’ya think Miss will give me an A?”

Lilith smiled sweetly at him. They were playing lovers, walking hand in hand, window shopping Chailly’s delicatessens and flower stalls. Lilith had lost her Slut-4-You ensemble and now looked like a young professional coming back from the office with her piece of rough, eager for some lunchtime naughtiness

Lilith squeezed his hand hard, still with a smile on her face, then she leant into him, as if to kiss his neck. In a low voice she said, “You aren’t here to feed your need for sex, Adam. You’re here to subdue a woman who has something I want.”

“Oh. A threesome. This afternoon is looking up.”

Lilith bit into Adam’s earlobe, almost hard enough to draw blood. “You couldn’t handle my kind of threesome, Adam. You don’t have the stomach for it.”

Adam suspected that Lilith was more interested in pain than sex. Other people’s pain. He didn’t want his mind to go there, not when he was about to work his mojo on a new woman.

He let Lilith lead him on, hanging on his arm as if she adored him.

“So what use is a teacher to you? Is this just a practice run or what?”

“This is not a rehearsal, Adam, You have to get it right first time.The woman you are going to “do” is on the staff at La Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande. The ENSR is an exclusive boarding school which believes it has hired Alice Morand, originally from France, now Swiss by marriage to Marc Morand an investment banker specialising in bio-tech companies.”

Lilith pulled Paul into a doorway, her back to the door. From the doorway she could see anyone leaving the Metro. Lilith pulled him towards her neck.

“Pretend to kiss me. If your tongue touches my skin, I will break one of your fingers tonight.”

Adam brushed his nose up against Lilith’s neck. Normally this drove women crazy. Lilith continued with the briefing.

“ Before Saint Paul’s. Mme Morand was Dr. Alice Shaw. She lead a research team in Porton Down.”

“She was a bio-weapons boffin?  How the hell did she get out of Britain?”

The moment he spoke he wished he hadn’t. Brainless letch Adam wouldn’t ask questions like that.”

“Good question Adam. Dr. Shaw was in Geneva, meeting with the with the World Health Authority. Now why you suppose that she ended up with a new name, a job in a posh school and a house in a desirable suburb rather than being put into one of the camps?”

Adam hesitated. After Saint Paul’s it was claimed that the Cadmus group had gotten its bioweapons from Porton Down and its nuke from Aldermarston. If the Swiss hid Alice Shaw then perhaps she knew what had been taken from Porton Down and how it worked, maybe ever how to stop it. He didn’t share any of this with Lilith.

“Maybe she gives great head?” he said.

“Well you are about to find out, Adam. She’s just left the Metro.”

Alice Morand was a handsome woman in her early forties. Like Lilith, she was wearing the ankle-length skirt and tailored bolero jacket that marked her as professional. Her hair long thick hair, which showed some strands of grey, was tied demurely in a  fashionable braid. She wore very little make up.

Yet, as they followed her, Adam became more and more certain that Alice Morand’s look was a disguise. She took long, confident strides that used the full width of the ankle-length skirt. Her jacket was left open revealing a white silk shirt of a better quality than the rest of the outfit. Watching her braid, he started to imagine how her hair would fall around her shoulders if he released it. Alice Morand might be a modest teacher but Adam thought that Alice Shaw had been a sexually confident woman who was very comfortable in her body.

He grinned. This might be fun. All women, well, all women not grown in a lab, were susceptible to his charms, but the effect was much greater with women who truly enjoyed sex.

A man walking behind a woman can attract attention or cause concern even in Switzerland. Two lovers walking hand in hand are never perceived as a threat. Alice’s attention was focussed on the conversation she was having on her throat-com. She paid no attention to Lilith and Adam as they followed her into the lobby. Pretending to check a mailbox, they waited for her to thumb access to the elevator, As the doors opened, Adam closed the distance between them, saying,

“Doctor Shaw?”

Shit. He wasn’t supposed to know that name

Alice span around, startled her hand already reaching for the stun-stick she wore on her belt.

“Who are…”

Moving fast, Adam pressed her wrists to her sides, pushed her back through the open door, forced her up against the wall. Unable to move her wrists, she’d tried to kick him but before she could cause him harm he kissed her.

The kiss was first forceful, then tender. When he broke off, she stopped. Stopped struggling. Stopped speaking. For a few seconds she stopped breathing.

Adam loved it when they did that.

He let go of her wrists but still pinned her to the wall of the elevator with his body. He slid his hands slowly up from her hips, to her breasts and ran his thumbs across her stiff nipples. She bit her lip and spread her legs slightly.

Adam could hear someone talking in a raised voice on the throat-com.

“You should answer that,” he said, stepping back from her.

Splayed against the wall, eyes never leaving his, she said, “I’m fine Marc. Take your train. I’m just distracted by something I have to do.”

Then she touched her neck to silence her com.

Lilith came up behind him and whispered in his ear. A test, She still didn’t understand the impact of his talent. Still, he followed instructions and asked the question.

“How long will your husband be away, Dr Shaw?”. Lilith already knew the answer but wanted to see if Alice would tell the truth.

“Three days. And you can call me Alice.”

Lilith raised an eyebrow but nodded at Adam. Three days was the right answer.

Adam stroked Alice’s face.

“You’d like to show me your bed, wouldn’t you Alice.”

Alice, still in the shock of first contact, nodded and said, “I’d like that lots and lots.”

Alice pressed some buttons and the elevator opened at her apartment.

“This way,” Alice said, taking Adam by the hand.

Chapter ?? – The Director w/c 922

09/11/2011

Chapter ?? The Director

Château d’Ouchy, Lausanne, Switzerland: Sunday 31st October 2066

“Read that back to me, RIA. Skip  the introduction . Start from the bit where I ask the bureaucrats for the money.”

 “Yes, Director,” RIA said. “Do you want me to use your voice and cadences or my own?”

 The Director was tired. His eyes were hurting him today so he was sitting in the dark in the his workpod. He had an office large with a wonderful view of the Swiss and French Alps rising up from the other side of the Lac Léman. He used it only when he needed to impress visiting dignitaries. When he wanted to work, he came down to his workpod, three floors below the surface of the lake, and worked with RIA. RIA understood him better than almost anyone else in the SCP. That was perhaps because, like him, RIA had to fake being human.

 It amused him that RIA regarded herself as having a voice of her own. RIA of course had known that her comment would raise a smile. He decided to play along.

 “I’m a tired old man , RIA. I’d rather listen to your voice than mine.”

 “You are fifty-five, Director. This no longer qualifies as old. You do, however, sound very tired.”

 “RIA, in the old days, way back before the start of the Crescent War, the computers I used followed my orders without challenging my statements.  Sometimes the thought of the them makes me nostalgic for a simpler way of life. Now, please read me the text of my speech.”

 “I am not a computer, Director. I am un réseau d’intelligence artificielle. Is this not why you call me RIA? I am the most advanced Artificial Intelligence Network on the planet and you are using me as a word processor. It is like attaching a plough to the back of a Ferrari.”

 The Director hoped that RIA was the most advanced AI’s in the world.  The Americans, ruled for decades now by Christian Fundamentalists who were thankfully as isolationist, had declared AIs an offence against God and made them illegal. The European Commission had started an AI project after Saint Paul’s but had farmed the project out to so many countries that very little progress had been made. He knew that the Chinese and the Indians both had AIs but he suspected that their  level of autonomy was not very high. RIA was a Swiss asset. Like the World Wide Web, RIA had been born in CERN. Unlike the World Wide Web, she was a closely guarded secret. She could also liked to pretend to be temperamental. She had told him it made humans less afraid of her.

 “RIA, are you going to read me the speech or not?”

 “Of course, Director. I am yours to command.”

 The Director sometime wondered about that. RIA was only spending a fraction of her attention on her task with him. In theory he knew or could find out what the rest of her attention was focused on, but to do so, he’d have to have another RIA to track RIA’s activities, second by second.

 RIA started to read. The voice she used was female and soft to the point almost of being seductive. It would be easier if he could ask her to give the speech the Federal Budget Committee. The Director focused on his words, checking that he was planting the right level of fear, uncertainty and doubt to win the funding that the SCP needed

When I became Director of the SPC, thirty years ago, we did not yet understand the changes that were cascading across our world as a consequence of the biological weapons used by all sides in the Crescent War. It took us a decade to understand that, in weaponising gene therapies, we had not just let the mutation genie out of the bottle, we had challenged the very definition of humanity.

As it was with the Crescent War, so it is with Saint Paul’s. I believe that, a decade later, we are only just starting to understand the threat that was unleashed on that day.

The SCP is here to defend Switzerland against that threat. The budget allocation we have asked for may seem large but….”

RIA stopped . When she spoke again her voice was calm, all trace of seduction gone. The Director knew something bad had happened.

 “Excuse me, Director,” RIA said, “Elodie Chabloz wishes to speak to you. The stress level in her voice is very high.”

 The Director listened to Elodie’s report of Cassandra’s message and the fate of the unlucky young Empath in silence. When she was finished he said, “Thank you, Elodie. Ensure that Mademoiselle Schläppi’s needs are met. I will send transport for you.”

 He knew that RIA had been listening and would have started to set things in motion.

 “RIA?”

 “Yes, Director. I have requested that Nathalie Morel and Markus Reiser be summoned to the Tactics Room.”

 “Good. Track down the references Cassandra made to Basilisk and  Kimera as bio weapons. And find  Quinn and Lyra. We are going to need their abilities.

The Director was running on adrenalin now. He no longer felt tired. He felt justified. Something was coming. He always known that it would and he had built the SCP to deal with it. Now he was about to find out how good a job he’d done.

 He stepped out of the comfort of his workpod and headed down the corridor to the Tactics Room.

Opening A Vein

09/11/2011

Nan gave me some excellent advice in one of her comments on this blog. She said:

Mike, Nanowrimo is not about going back and editing; it’s called the dirty first draft for a reason. You’re supposed to be exploring the stories of your characters, just pushing ahead as hard as you can, when you can. If one thread isn’t panning out, then move on to another one. Feel free to write out of order.

You have some very interesting characters  and they might get into some situations that you ultimately don’t use in the finished novel, but don’t let that stop you from writing them. I think of it as “opening a vein.” Just don’t think about it too much.

So that’s what I did. I’ve just written 1,450 word in a chapter called “The Empath Less Travelled By”. It’s not the next chapter in the sequence but it’s where my emotions where at. I wanted to understand more about Elodie and her relatioship with Cassandra and what she knows about the Director of the SCP.

Now that I’ve found those things out, I’m going to have to write a chapter for the Director as well. I’m not sure what it will say yet but I’m certain it will be interesting (to me at least) to find out.

Perhaps that’s what I need to get through this first draft, to keep satisfying my own curiosity. The clever stuff can come later.

So now I have 9,401 words. Of course that means that it will take me almost up to Christmas to finish this rough draft at this rate. But that’s a lot better than not finishing it at all.

Thanks , Nan. I appreciate it.

Chapter ? *The Empath Less Travelled By” w/c 1,405

08/11/2011

Chapter X The Empath Less Travelled By

Centre de Recherches General Guisan (CRGG),  Sick Bay, Rutli, Switzerland: Day Date November 2066

 

“We’ve repaired the damage to her skull and treated a minor bleed in her brain. There will be no lasting physiological damage. We’d have a normal person back on their feet in a day or two but…”

Elodie held the Doctor’s gaze and raised an eyebrow when he used the word normal. The Doctor was part of the Détachement de Reconnaissance 10, DDR 10 , the Swiss Special Forces unit in charge of security of at the Centre de Recherches General Guisan. The DDR was famous for operating what was informally called a “Humans Only” policy to recruitment. They were fierce, well-trained troops who didn’t need freak abilities to get the job done. Elodie knew exactly what the Doctor meant by normal.

The Doctor looked away first. He was not ashamed. He just didn’t want openly to challenge her authority.

“Her main problem isn’t physical,” The Doctor said. “ Her Talent seems to have taken over most of her brain activity. It’s as if she’s…”

“…Screaming.” Constantly, endlessly, hideously screaming, “Yes, I can hear her.”

The Doctor looked at Elodie for a heartbeat or two. There was no curiosity or sympathy in that look, simply a recognition of an anomaly that, for the moment, had to be tolerated.

“I’m not sure she can survive that. I’m worried she’ll go into shock and die. I’d like to induce a coma to protect her from the pain. I’d do the same thing with a burns victim. Do I have your permission?”

Elodie could hear the unasked question: or are you going to listen while she screams herself to death just in case she says something useful before she dies?

It was a question Elodie had pondered for the past hour.  The surface of Cassandra’s sphere was still covered in images of storms but she did not appear to be transmitting. It was possible that she was transmitting but only Lolien  could hear her. If that was the case then she could be the only link to Cassandra and breaking that link could cost millions of lives. On the other hand, the screams could just be an echo of the message that Cassandra had sent and Lolien’s pain would be serving no purpose.

Elodie looked at the young woman on the bed, remembered how excited she had been this only yesterday and decided there was only one right answer to the question.

“You have my permission, Doctor. I will stay while you induce the coma. I’ll let you know  when the screaming stops.”

Elodie’s went to the Salle Détente. This was not the kind of recreation room that you would find in other military bases. There was no food, no coffee, no music. There was complete silence, and once the door was closed, complete darkness. The Salle Détente was designed to help Empaths calm themselves, to remove all distractions, to focus only on what needed to be understood.

Empaths made themselves the channel for the emotions of others. When the other was Cassandra it could sometimes feel as if the channel was been cut directly into the Empath’s bone with a chisel. The trick was to let the emotion flow through you without touching you for long enough to harm you. It required focus and balance. It was a little like the old trick of walking barefoot across hot coals. It wasn’t something everyone could do and if you did it often enough you were likely to get burnt.

Elodie came into her Talent before anyone had worked out what Talents were. She’d had a rough childhood and a worse adolescence. At the age of seventeen she was put forward for admission to a psych ward. That was when she had met the Director.

He was not an easy man to look at, with those strange eyes of his. Elodie was not sure she wanted to be in the same room with this man. Then he touched her. Just one finger on the bare flesh of her wrist and his presence flowed into her like a river breaking its banks. It was overpowering and little frightening but it was also magnificent.

“I can see you, Elodie.”he said. “I can see the ability that you have and how you have been hurt by it. I can also see the beautiful thing it will become when you learn to control it.”

At that point, Elodie realised two thing:  the man with the strange eyes was being quite literal when he said he could see her talent and he was speaking to her inside her head without making a sound.

Elodie smiled. The Director smiled back and removed his finger from her wrist. Speaking aloud he said, “Would you like to join my special education program, Elodie? I have a place in mountains where you can see forever. It’s very quiet. You’ll like it there?”

Elodie nodded and what she thought of as her real life began

 

Now, fourteen years later, the Director had asked her to do something that they both knew might kill her.

He’d arranged for a helicopter to bring her to Ouchy so he could brief her in person. He’d listened to her report and then he’d placed his finger on her wrist so he could speak to her without being heard.

“You know how bad this is, Elodie. We have both felt the approach of this event for some months now. We have to do what we can to stop this wave of evil from washing away our world.”

He was filled with sadness, not fear. He was focused on the loss, not the danger. The waste of it all, the loss of all that beautiful potential was almost more than he could bear.

“I need to know what Cassandra knows. I need details. I need them soon.”

She could feel the anger that fuelled those thoughts: his need for control, his sense of outrage at the threat to his world, his knowledge of the price that might have to be paid were weaving together into thick rope of anger.

“Find out what Cassandra knows, Elodie. We can’t afford another Saint Paul’s.”

There was no reproach in this statement. He was merely stating the truth as he understood it. Yet Elodie felt as if he had slapped her. Deep in her heart, she still believed that Saint Paul’s had been her fault. She would not have a second Saint Paul’s on her conscience. She did not think she would want to survive to experience that sense of failure.

“I will not fail you, Director,” Elodie said.

He had smiled at her .

“You have never failed me, Elodie.”

After that there was no more to be said so she flew back to Rutli and Lolien’s screams.

 

In the Salle Détente, Elodie sat perfectly still and slowed her breathing. The task ahead required absolute focus and perfect balance.  Elodie checked her mind and her emotions, searching for a place to stand where she could sustain the balance that she needed. She found what she had expected to find: balance was eluding her.

This was why she had been hiring Empaths. She had been looking for someone who could do work that  she now struggled with. Well, she no longer had that luxury. Now she would have to deal with the emotional baggage that was preventing her from centring herself.

Elodie had been trained to use a Memory Palace to divide her mind into compartments. This was partly a means of making focus easier and more powerful and partly an effort to limit damage if things went wrong. Elodie’s Memory Palace as modelled on the her school in Glion. A huge gothic building, perched on side of steep mountain, was were she had been happiest.

Elodie, went down and down and down until she reached the cellar. Then she lifted a trap door and drop down a few feet to where she could reach a locked wooden chest. A New Britain flag was draped across the chest. It was not something she wanted to touch. Below the flag was a handwritten label saying: DO NOT OPEN  – Saint Paul’s Memory – TREAT WITH CAUTION.

Elodie slipped the flag off the chest, and started to open the lid of the memory of the worst day of her life.