The Bakerloo Incident

A meme on Facebook asked me for page 54 from “The Bakerloo Incident”, a conspiracy thriller set on the London Underground. So:

As we exited Stonebridge Park, I looked at the display on the screen. My oyster card was clear, but Jane’s was infected, just like Roy’s had been.

I couldn’t get off this train yet. For all I knew the person who sent that email really had my daughter, and could see the cameras, but Wifi was working at Wilsden Junction, and I pulled up a text conversation with the duty manager at HQ.

Richard: Hey, John, we’ve got a problem.
John: Richad! How’s retirement treating you, mate?
Richard: Been a rough first day. Someone’s kidnapped Kate, and they’ve said they’ve put a bomb in the network.
John: Tell me your joking.
*connection lost*

The train pulled out of Wilsden Junction, and couldn’t connect to the wifi at Kensal Green. There was a delay at Queen’s Park, and I could connect to the wifi network again:

Richard: By my life. No.
John: Where is it? Can we stop it?
Richard: I’m looking for it. He’s sending me email. I think it’s triggered by something spread though Oyster cards. 
*connection lost*

Jane had been running some tests on her laptop, and whisperered urgently to me.

“Rich? I think I’ve got it”, she said breathlessly.
“What have you found?”
“The cards, there’s an esclation exploit on them. I… I think it spreads the virus from the card to the gate, and from there to the other gates on the same barrier. There’s a counter on there too.”
“A counter?”
“Something central is keeping track of how many oyster cards are infected.” said Jane.
“Why?”
“I don’t know” she said, helpless.
“Find out.”

One swipe though a gate, and that station would catch it, and every card of every person who entered or left that station would be just as infected. It was still early, and the Overground was down for the day, but as our empty train rattled though Kilburn the cogs and gears in my mind started to think though the consequences.

Maida Vale.

Richard: I need you to shut down everything north of Paddinton on the Bakerloo before the train with carraige LL24601 gets though
John: That’s a big ask, Richard. You’re not on the PTP anymore, I can’t just do it on your say so.
Richard: If it gets to Paddington it will be impossible to stop the spread of the virus. There’s just too many interchanges.
*connection lost*

Warwick Avenue

The train slowed in the tunnel and came to a stop, and for a moment Richard thought they might have made it though.

“One million” said Jane, suddenly
“What?”
“That’s what the counter’s looking for. When 1M cards are infected, that’s when the signal goes out.”
“Signal to what?”
“I… can’t tell. I think it might be the bomb.”
“How long until it spreads that far?”
“Infection isn’t my strong point, Rich, but if I’ve got my numbers right… about two hours after it hits Kings Cross. I think… maybe lunchtime.”

The lights flickered and went out, only to return some seconds later. The train started back up again, and slowly picked up speed to the next station.

Paddington.

Paddington was a nightmare at the best of times, but as a nexus point for the virus, it was terrifying. Jane looked briefly up at the emergency cord.

“I’m not sure enough. Do you think I should pull it?” she asked me.
“Do it.”

Jane pulled the cord, and I hoped to hear the squeal of brakes. I should have known better. A voice came over the radio:

“We’re nearly at the station, whatever will have to wait until then.”

True to his word, the florescent lights began to flood though the window, lighting the grimy tiles of Bakerloo Paddington. The doors opened, and hundreds of infected cards poured out with their carriers, to spread across the tube network, relentless and unstoppable.

The tannoy at the station fussed and blared briefly as a microphone was turned on.

“Inspector Sands to the Station Master’s office, please. There is a package for you.”

Me and Jane exchanged a look. The code-phrase. We got off the train and hurried up to the main ticket barriers before I realised. In order to get out, I’d need to put my ticket though the machine. I’d need to infect myself.

I was saved from this terror for the moment by the Station Master’s office being on the right side of the barriers. I knocked, and they answered quickly.

“Hi,” I said, “My name is Richard Sands. I believe you have a package for me.”

The Station Master handed me the item, ashen-faced. It was little more than a bundle of tissues, and one end was clearly dyed a bright and liquid crimson.

September 18, 2014  Leave a comment

EOTE2 – London Town

I awoke from dreams of a blue plague, on a train out of the city.

I returned to London this weekend.

The letter from the doctor said I was clear, my infection wasn’t fatal, and that I was cleared to return for periods of not more than twelve hours.

Jenna also got a letter, which was harder.

The guard at the station took my letter and checked it against the registry, and let me inside. I was surprised to find that the Underground was still operational – some kind of early version of the entirely automated network they turned on – and rode the train, the journey a strange mix of the familiar routines of travelling though London and the alien silence of the abandoned and dirty carriage. The lights flickered off between stations occasionally, not picking up until minutes later, and the only lights into the carriages then were the bright fluorescence of an approaching station. Sat in darkness, waiting for the blinding light. Again.

My shoes clattered and echoed though the abandoned station when I got off, the routine whirr of the elevators and constant announcements conspicuously absent; though the irony of a voice reminding us to Take All Your Belongings With You has echoed though my mind from the day we evacuated to this. All our belongings in the bags beside us, that little we could grab.

The cornershops and kebab places were trashed and looted, and any house nearby, and this made me fear for my own small flat. I needn’t have bothered. Those who had stayed to systematically loot the area were just as infected as those who stayed to defend, and their short and pointless war was eventually an unscored draw a few days later. My flat was sufficiently far from an obvious target to be low on the list, and my windows were intact and the locks on the doors still hale.

The levels of the toxigen have fallen now, to the point where it is likely to be possible to stay within the bounds of the capital for nearly a day before you are liable to die. “In twenty years…”, they say publicly. In fifty, they might risk themselves. Walking into the flat we’d shared, I doubted I could ever return. Memories battered me as I looked around, from the day we moved in, to the day we got the alert to pick up and move. Our bags held clothes, and toiletries, and technology. We took the things we’d need for a few days away, maybe a couple of weeks. As ignored as our house had been, it still looked looted.

Now, I picked up things I’d missed. My headphones, paperwork, a few books I couldn’t bring myself to replace. A couple of soft toys as old as I am. Jenna’s jewellery box, a few things she’d prized that her parents would want to remember her by.

(We’d left, and our neighbour had thrown us his second car’s keys. “I don’t drive” I’d called out to him “Learn fast, mate. You’ve got my number for when you can get it back to me”. He’d almost certainly saved my life)

I left the flat, locking it concienciously behind me. I was intending to post the keys back to my landlord. For all that the flat was probably mine now, I didn’t think I could cope with owning it. It wasn’t worth a lot, anyway.

(We’d got to a screening point on the way out – good little citizens – and her cough had just got worse as we slept in the car and waited for our queue. They passed us as non-infectious, but the looks they gave Jenna as she coughed and rasped her way though the interview were pity).

I travelled back down. The station took my bag of affects to be tested and decontaminated. I’d get an invoice in a couple of weeks, and decide whether I’d pay the decontamination fee. I walked down into central.

Once, many years ago, I walked here on Christmas Day, when the trains weren’t running. Then, London was eeire and quiet. The occasional car wandered the streets, the occasional pedestrian walking around, but I had still never seen Picadilly Circus without people sitting on the statues, without being lit by the neon glow of a coke advert. This October day was bleak and silent, like it was blanketed in a foot of snow. After millennia of being the best city in the world, we had broken London.

When I got home, I went directly to the hospital. They tested me for further infections, but would have let me in anyway. I wasn’t going to make it any worse.

I tried to explain my day to Jenna, and I think she heard me.

By the time I got the decontaminated items back, she was gone.

The last confirmed fatality of the first incident.

July 8, 2014  Leave a comment

Red Snow

In increasing order from my door:

The doorway, where you stood and you told me it was over. Where we kissed, and it had within it the subtle but unavoidable knowledge that this was a kiss of the class “goodbye”.

Two holes in the snow, where I stood and watched you leave me, dumbstruck.

The footprints, each double-impression pointing unavoidably away.

The two that are reversed, as you stood and looked one last time.

Some snow, stained darkest scarlet, where the witch’s curse finally struck you.

A cairn, until I can return.

My own footsteps.

Me.

My target.

Your avengement.

March 12, 2013  Leave a comment

Red Hell

A far back as I can remember, I have lived in the cities of Hell.

There’s nothing wrong with me, really. I wasn’t damned, or condemned. I’ve not sold my soul, if I have one, and my dad hasn’t either, but you have to go where the work is, and my dad’s work has always been for the lords of Hell, so it makes sense to live here, I guess. The civilian area of the city’s not so bad, it’s too hot and a bit loud, but after twenty years or so I’m pretty much immune to the smell of sulphite. The schools, though, are mixed. Civilian kids alongside the children of the damned, a bunch of mindless brats who occasionally come into power before their time.
One of these, Larnestode, is the one who cursed me.
The problem with giving a demon with the mental age of an eleven year old the powers of dark magic is simply that they’re not capable of handling them sensibly. They lash out with feet, fists, tails and curses, and it’s all fine within their own family – attempting to curse a demon is very much like attempting to flood the Atlantic using a bucket and a faucet – but if they don’t learn the restraint that they need when dealing with humans, accidents can happen.
Accidents, obviously, happened. On the plus side, my family will never really have to work again. Turns out Larnestode senior is quite the high-muckity muck in the the department of people who deserve to spend eternity face down in manure. To be honest, that department has quite a lot of muckity-mucks to its name, but this one was special and, to keep it out of the papers, was happy to basically fund my entire existence several times over, including that of both my parents.
I’m still bright red, though, with a waxy shine like a ripe tomato. My skin is tougher than it was, but otherwise I look identical to how I’d look anyway, save the bright red skin, from the soles of my feet to the roots of my hair, red as fresh blood. The questions that would be asked if I ever tried to leave the place now prohibit me from ever being able to do so, so I am bound to hell until I can break the curse.
This is where you come in.
The Magicka council of Hell have tried to reverse the spell, but only by fulfilling the conditions will it ever be broken. Fortunatly, maybe, the conditions are traditional, set by the spell itself rather than the moronic demon who cast it (Which is grand, for otherwise I’d be suffering an 11 year old’s whims. “You can only be returned to normal if you…. EAT A THOUSAND TOADS! HAHA!”. Could be a lucky escape), but the conditions are clear, I must be honoured of my home city.
The city is a capital of hell, though. It has no honour. But hell is a place of exceptions, of the rules, of the specifics you find to work your way around them. So to satisfy the letter of the law, I must do the opposite. I will cheat at duels, and I will break my word.
And eventually, I will become as I need to:
Brigspike Thine. The Dis-honoured.

December 19, 2012  Leave a comment

The Multivarious Uses Of Dodgeson’s Fulcrum

The Douse led them to a loading yard in a run-down industrial estate, where two huge buildings stood at right-angles to each other. CT and Annode took the south warehouse, leaving Daisy and Stark to take the one to the west.

The warehouse was dark, full of metal shelving loaded with cardboard and wooden boxes, not unlike the Warehouse base. It was all very quiet. Daisy unpopped the holder on the pistol at her belt, Stark took a jewelled stick from his shoulder-bag and held it like a very small quarterstaff.

“There is going to come a time, Demetri”, said Daisy under her breath “When you are going to need to either find an Artefact that works for you, or give in and get certified for actual weaponry. With any luck, neither of these will involve my being on a mission with you carrying a sparkly stick. What is that?”

“Dodgeson’s Fulcrum. In theory, it creates an equal balance between two indicated objects by pointing either end of the Artefact at them.”

“I remember that. We got it from the physics department of the university of … Earth Delta Twelve? One of the earlier ones. This is not a physics demonstration, Demetri. This is a mission.”

“Linear thinking, Daze. This end is currently calibrated to a six hundred pound anchor I saw on the way over.”

“And?”

“It’s like a seesaw. When I activate it, the anchor will be on one end, and the target on the other. More accurate than your gun, and less lethal.”

“You think catapulting someone a hundred feet in the air is going to be less lethal than my shooting them?”

“Your point is taken. What’s that?”

“Apart from a handy distraction from your losing the argument?”

“The light, Daisy, around that door.”

“Seen. You open, I’ll cover. You’re left, I’m right.”

“Agreed.”

Demetri readied to open the door as Daisy stood to one side. He looked at her, she nodded, Demetri pulled open the door quickly and several things happened at once.

Demetri saw that the room was brightly lit, washing out the non-thaumantic effects of the candles, which were at the points of a non-equilateral hexagon that had several symbols at the intersections with the circle that contained it. There was nothing inside the circle, and these were the first things Demetri noticed.

Daisy saw that there were two figures in grey nondescript but tactical clothes, both were watching the door when it opened, standing the other side of the ritual circle thing, who both raised their guns. The shorter of the two – female, bobbed blond hair – got halfway though a demand for identification before her partner – female, black hair, gathered at the back – was squeezing the trigger. These were the first things Daisy noticed.

Deborah saw Mercue go though the circle when suddenly the door burst open. Both she and Jane pointed their pistols at the source of the noise. Jane demanded the pair identify themselves, but Deborah recognised the woman who had been in the car behind them during the chase and pulled the trigger. These were the first things the guards noticed.

Daisy had the blonde on the left, so Demetri prepared for the brunette who appeared to be about to fire. He stuck the image of the gun in his mind and activated the Fulcrum, seeing a strange ‘fizz’ around the memory as the Artefact read it. Instantly nothing happened, and Demetri quickly realised that, to extend his metaphor, he’d just dropped a pistol onto a seesaw that had an anchor on the other end. Fixing an image of himself – the thing that the other end of the Fulcrum was pointing at, and the only thing reachable before she fired – and activated again. And that was the second thing Demetri noticed.

Daisy saw the black-haired woman fire, but as she did so her aim was shattered and her gun dropped to the floor. Demetri’s stick appeared to work, then. The gun fired as it span upwards around her fingers on the trigger guard, and the bullet embedded in the ceiling. “Drop your weapons” began Daisy. Demetri appeared to be spinning his baton like an inept cheerleader.

Demetri pointed the stick at the Blonde’s pistol, and activated. He felt a faint tug upwards as the spell hit (Gun dropped on sea-saw against Demetri), and then span the Fulcrum to point the other end at the woman herself. Her image fizzed in his mind as he activated the Artefact, and her gun clattered to the floor.

Deborah felt her grip slip, and then her gun was abruptly massively heavy. She couldn’t extract her fingers from the trigger guard as it dropped, and felt them pull from the sockets where they didn’t break. As it fell, her fingers pulled back on the trigger and fired uselessly into the ceiling. The man tossed his sparkling stick into the air and pointed it at Jane, and her gun fell likewise. Glancing at each other, they stepped forward.

Daisy saw both pistols fall, and stepped towards the guards to subdue, but Demetri shot out his arm to stop her before she stepped into the circle. Both the guards stepped forward, and as they entered the circle both abruptly vanished into a white afterimage. A second later, the candles went out, apparently of their own accord.

“They got away. If you hadn’t stopped me, I could have followed them” said Daisy.
“No. First, we don’t know where that goes yet. Second, that’s a single person circle. I’ve no idea what happens if you try to send two people though at once, but it’s not going to be good for them, and it would be worse with three.”
“Where do you think it goes?”
“I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure the pattern is for this Delta, but I’ll need to run it though. I’ll send some pictures back to the Warehouse.”
“I didn’t think you could make circles that worked inside the Prime”
“Generally, you can’t, which means they’ve probably got an Artefact that means they can. Which means Stack will want us to recover it, on top of everything else.”

Daisy found her phone and called Annode, who answered immediately.
“We found them” she said, “It’s done.”

“Really?” said Annode, “So did we. Did yours have the books on them?”
“What? No.”
“Ours did. I’m not sure this isn’t two cases after all.”

November 30, 2012  Leave a comment

EotE1 – The Plague

This time, I’m a doctor.

I’ve been a doctor for thirty years, and this is the worst month of my life. Usually, I’d suffix that with “So Far” but given current circumstances, assuming the future is unwise.

(Simultaneously, I’ve only been here a couple of hours. It’s like that feeling when you’re daydreaming, and then you jolt yourself awake, and realise you actually have been listening to the teacher, and you know what they said, but before right now you were somewhere else entirely? It’s like that, except with fifty years)

The city is under quarantine, the roads blockaded by soliders on the exists, and surrounded by highly accurate snipers for anyone who tries to avoid the roads. Houses have been demolished to provide the blockades.

(Or sometimes it’s the reverse of a dream, where I start with a fragment of what I know and blossoms into an entire world with characters and history and stories. I’m almost positive it’s not a dream, though. Almost)

The hospitals are loaded, overflowing, bursting at the seems with presentations of the first symptoms. People with a blue rash on their limbs, circling their wrists and ankles like the chaff-marks of invisible restraints. Spotted at first, and then speckled and filled in as the disease takes hold, until the dark circle is complete.

I may have seen the first. A young boy carried in by his mother, who had found a strange rock (of a deep and beautiful blue) in a cave while on holiday, and was now presenting this strange rash…

Only the first stages end up in the hospitals, before the virus seems to hit the brain and the compulsive wanderlust kicks in. The streets are full of the infected, walking around, conversing, working, and for a little while it would look like the city has returned to normal, until you could see the changes of behavior. The couples walking along, touching at the wrists. More people greeting by kissing the back of the hand, but shifted towards the body a few inches. The absence of long trousers or skirts, or shoes or socks, and the faint blue marks at ankle or wrist height on walls and bushes, on dogs and doorhandles, on faucets and lips, on the edges of the city, and washed out by the rain, into the drains and the sewers.

Some people think the world has overreacted, that the disease rarely kills, that it should be accepted as a new fact of life.

But then spring came, and with it the flowers. The blue flowers, from trees that had been drinking the blue groundwater.

And the blue was lovely, everyone in the city said so. The flowers bloomed and their pollen flew on the wind, and it too, was the same deep and beautiful shade of blue, and the soldiers on the baracades started to notice that under their uniforms a blue rash was forming on their wrists.

Soon, the island country was under quarantine as the city had been.

Somewhere, an idea came up. A new concept out of nowhere. The infected seemed to agree, it was the new future, they could devote their lives to. They could build a space ship, the technology was almost here. Wasn’t someone saying they nearly got warp drives working? The top of the infected all agreed, and set to work immediately. Those who couldn’t help seemed content to die, starving themselves so the food would last for the others. They would take tickets to the coast, and lay down on the beaches.

The entire country, with their blue bracelets, began to work with a focus and drive beyond humanity. Metal was salvaged from buildings, no other industry existed. All the infected were either working to feed the ever shrinking population, or working towards the grand dream. The dream to get into space.

Those who died on the beaches didn’t decompose normally. Internally, the virus took over their organs and internals, recasting and rebuilding and breaking down anything it couldn’t use to produce energy it could. When the skin finally split, huge amounts of dust drifted into the wind, into the sea, and carried out over the waves.

Within a few months, other countries began to offer their assistance with the space program.

Leaves on trees across the world the next year were strange and crystaline, and a beautiful shade of blue. A gust of wind, a drop of rain would shatter them into dust.

The spacecraft was a large project, years in the making, even with all the humans on the planet dedicated to its production, or to their death if not possible. Billions shrank to millions as they sacrificed themselves, and with the trees and flowers turning to dust, the world began to darken with a constant and eternal cloud of deep and beautiful blue.

With drive and focus humanity worked together, advancing on their dream to cross the stars.

But with the trees turning to dust, and the darkness choking the plants from the sun, the food became scarce.

They never completed their goal, and the last of humanity, with the blue rash still encircling their wrists and ankles, died of starvation, slowly turned into bloated, crystalline forms, and crumbled to dust.

The world was incredibly quiet for a very long time after that.

Soon I was someone else.

September 27, 2012  Leave a comment

1 – The eastern gate

The city of stone was used to rain.

The spring was always the rainy season, where for weeks on end the unceasing drizzle would occasional whip itself up into a frenzy of excitement, of thunder and lightening and deafening bellows that shook the sky, before pattering down into the faithful rythem that asked the very simple question “is my roof waterproof”.

The giant gate that lead out of the city to the east had many properties. The gigantic counterweighted doors designed to stop anything short of an imperical army, and ideally that as well, were large and stone. The gatehouse itself, hewn from the rock of the mountain that protected the northern border of the metropolis, was imposing. The small hut built into the gatehouse walls to shelter the guards from the wilds of nature was light and friendly. None of of the properties listed, however, involved waterproofing. In fact, Watch Sargeant Richard was compelled to wonder at the nature of a city guard who, faced with the yearly monsoon that flooded anything not protected every year for the five hundred it had stood, still did not have an annual note in its budget to ensure that the roofs of the damn buildings didn’t leak. Watch Sargent Richard was of a mind to do something about it, something decisive and compelling. Watch Sargent Richard decided to attempt to shift from cold and wet to cold and wet and having a smoke, and with any luck the kid would have fixed the tea by then.

Standing in the lee of the archway out of the wind, Richard located his last remaining pre-constructed rollup and set fire to one end of it, almost daydreaming. When the girl landed in front of him, he nearly swallowed his smoke. After coughing and spluttering to a standstill, he recovered his voice and presence enough to ask
“Who the hell are you?”

“I am Sapphire Elise of the Academy.”
“Well, it’s after curfew, so you’re going to have to… wait. I’m sorry, miss. Did you say Sapphire? of the Academy?”
“Yes.”
“Sorry miss, but I’ve met Sapphire, and you’re not him. For starters, you’re a her. For a second, you’re at least a foot undertall and underwaistband.”
“That is my associate, he is Sapphire Kael. I am Sapphire Elise.”
“It’s not his name?”
“It’s his title. And mine. These papers say I should report to the palace on arrival?”
“Miss, it’s just past three in the morning. The palace is locked up tighter than a maide… tight. I can let you in, but the palace – at the end of this road, you could see if if not for the rain and the fact it’s still just past three in the morning – won’t let you in until daybreak at the least. Do you have somewhere to go before then?”
“Yes”
“Then welcome to the city of stone.”

The winds in the city were unpredictable, and Elise opted to walk down the rutted streets, her memorised map of the city pointed into the merchants district, indistinguishable from anywhere else in the dark and rain in its current closed and locked state. Elise took a turn down a less well-used street towards her destination, but hadn’t got far down it when a dark figure detached itself from the wall and stood in the road.

There was silence, briefly, aside from the soft white noise of rain on cobblestones.

“Good evening, my lady.” the dark figure twisted in a mockery of a bow, not shifting his eyes from hers.
“I don’t think I am your lady. Please get out of my way” Elise spoke politely.
“Ah, but you will be. A bad night to be alone, I think.” said the the figure.
“You mistake yourself”, said Elise, her eyes flashing like lightening.
“I believe the mistake was yours.” The man drew a knife and pointed it at her menacingly.
Elise looked at it, and then back to the man’s face.
“Are you entirely sure that is a good idea?” she spoke in a voice that carried distant thunder.
“Entirely.” he advanced and swung the knife. Elise drew her own dagger from her belt and pointed it like a teaching aid.
“Then may the storm take you” said Elise, reaching her arm to the sky. And it did.

Lightening hit her upraised hand and travelled down to the dagger, sparking over to the brigand’s own and sending him into spasms of electric shock, but instead of the brief strike of a storm, this was a continuous line. From the sky, to the sorceress, to the man whose bones, skin and mass burnt to mud before he had time to scream. Nothing remained but a small, steaming stain.

“Miss Elise, I presume?” The voice was ahead of her, and male, but any details of the figure it came from were obscured by his waterproofing.
“Stand back, or you will suffer as your friend.” retorted Elise sharply.
“Not my friend, but I do hope yours.” he kept walking. “I am Mister Clockwork, and I’ve been told to expect you. I run the Kael’s business here.” Closer up, he was an older man of average height, a little shorter than Elise, cleanshaven and with an honest face.
“Your identification?”
“Here? I suppose it is necessary.” Clockwork fumbled with a zip until he presented a broach whose back featured the symbol Elise remembered from the paperwork. She shifted her perceptions until the broach glowed softly, covered it with her hand, lifted it, and it was gone, back in Clockwork’s hands.
“That will do for now”. she said. “I should report this…” she gestured to the empty space where the altercation had been.
“Not really. I don’t expect he’ll be much missed, and the watch are wet enough as it is. Come back with me and we can talk. I’ve never really understood that identification thing, anyway. Surely any tin-pot hedge wizard could move it?”
“The gems feel different. Specifically so, and we’re trained to recognise the signature. How far is your place?”
“Not far. Impressive display, by the way.”
“I think I overreacted. The storms are so.. energising, and it’s hard to resist overpowering a spell.”

Silence reigned, the storm rained, and the patter of raindrops washed the bandit’s remains into the cracks of the cobblestones.

June 14, 2012  Leave a comment

Souls

We operate on an 18 point sliding scale. The more worth a soul has, the more we will concentrate on making sure it goes where it is supposed to.

At the top, you have the A souls, heading straight for the green pastures. There are, if we are lucky, two people with A-Grade souls alive at any one time, and we will do our absolute darnedest to ensure their proper collection.

Below that are B souls, of which there are maybe ten. Failing to collect one of those will be a major black mark on your record.

C’s… D’s… all are worthwhile. The volume of souls fills out around I/J/K, most people being basically Good. I know we only really advertise the top levels of what comes after, but it gives people something to aim for, you know? J’s will be perfectly happy for their own eternity, if not in the blissful absolute peace and bountiful glory of an A or B grade soul.

Down lower and you start to reap your sewn seeds. Graft, labour, torture all start to flow in as you head though the alphabet. It’s possible to work your way up – eternal torture doesn’t actually benefit _anyone_ in the end – just as it’s entirely possible for higher grades to Fall – capital F, double hockey-sticks. But the lowest of the low, and just as important to catch as the A-Grades, so they don’t get away, are the dark souls at the far lowest point of the scale. None of them have ever redeemed a single grade, and they sit in their pit suffering the worst we can offer. The most evil, blackest pits of humanity.

R Souls.

April 14, 2012  Leave a comment

Chapter 3 – Train Station

And so Monday came, and within the boundries of the store was found a smaller store. A department, far away from any of the myriad that seperated the main shop, long walled off and compartmentalised. This used to be Steam and Pressure, but now had a different purpose: Training.
continue reading »

December 10, 2011  Leave a comment

Chapter 2 – Gain-fail employment

Silence rolled over the sleeping store like a really, really quiet blanket. The slam of the door echoed and faded into the gloom of the emergency lighting, and Alice was alone on the shop floor.

Pools of yellow-white light fell in cones from the ceiling, illuminating the department like the points of a grid. Some kind of furnishings area, she supposed, all lush blue carpetting and expensive sofas around idealized coffee-tables topped not with the rings from badly placed mugs, but with books of colorful illustrations, bright and shining birds, and inexplicably painted cats. She wandered around for five minutes or so, not noticing the door reopen and the suit emerge from it.

“Miss?” it said.
“Yes? Are you here to let me back out?”
“Soon. My boss would like a word with you.”
“Soon’s not really good enough, Richard. Is this likely to be quick, or do I need to phone the police?”
“Five minutes with my boss, and then I’ll walk you out. Promise”
“Five minutes. Just a second.” Alice found her phone and tapped out a message.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m telling my sister to call the police if I’m not back in the square in ten minutes. No offence, Richard, and you’re probably a nice guy, but right now I’m locked in an unfamiliar place with a guy who’s reacting really strangely, and I’m not feeling at my most trusting.” Alice pressed Send, “So lay on, Macduff.”
“What?”
“Lead on.”
“Oh.”

They went back though the door Richard had escaped though, which appeared to lead though more white corridors with blue and white tiles on the floor. Alice activated the thing on her phone she’d downloaded to track a theoretical morning run, in the hope that she could use it to get back out again if necessary. Eventually they got to a lift, the decor abruptly changing from the stark white of the corridors to a deep and comforting red carpet, wood-panelled walls, and regular pictures of similar looking men and women. One final door led to an impressive room with a desk piled with paper. A door from that led to an even more impressive room, lined with bookshelves and filling cabinets, and a huge desk with nothing on it save a silver laptop, behind which a man on the far end of middle age sat in a large leather chair.

“Dominic Maliceson” introduced Richard.
“Charmed”, oozed Maliceson.
“Alice Chatterton” said Alice.
“Please sit down” asked Maliceson, “That will be all for now, Richard. Please wait outside”

Richard left the room quietly.

“Look,” said Alice, “If you don’t want me to tell anyone about your christmas department, I won’t. I know Christmas isn’t something you usually do, and if it’s that big a deal, I’ll keep quiet”
“That’s… not it”, said Maliceson, “There are reasons we don’t generally do Christmas, and they’re quite important. Actually, I was going to ask you if you wanted a job.”
“What?”
“Well, you saw someone who you had no idea about lose something, and you went out of your way to help them. While doing so, you attempted to help keep the store orderly despite it being of no consequence to you whatsoever. That’s impressed me.”
“Okay, yes, I’m looking for work at the moment. I wasn’t actually considering retail as a career, though.”
“Give it a try, until after the holidays? Two month contract? You’ll be helping customers find things, nothing too taxing. Also, I’ll need you to report to me if you see any of the departments sneaking in Christmas displays.”
“How much does it pay?”

Dominic wrote down a number on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk.

“Per week.” he clarified. It was quite a large number. “Week in arrears, two weeks notice either side after a week’s trial period. I’ll give you a full contract when my secretary gets in.”
“Subject to that… all sounds fine, I think.”
“Great. Happy to start on Tuesday?”
“Tuesday will be fine”
“Good. Pleasure to have met you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”

They shook hands.

“Richard will show you out”, said Maliceson, “Leave your address with him and I’ll send the contract tomorrow morning.”

Richard showed her out.

The contract arrived tomorrow morning.

At 8am on Tuesday, she started the job, or at least the training.

It was two weeks before anything exploded.

December 4, 2011  Leave a comment

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