This is going to be complicated, indeed, I hope it’s going to work. Reblog of a reblog. But Lisa Williamson, Gumbee, has a new book out and these links will take you to the details… I hope.
Author Archives: M T McGuire
Hmm…. I notice a couple of my esteemed colleagues mentioning car chases. So here I am with a book which largely features car chases because the hero is a getaway driver thinking ‘hmm… do I have a bit that is not a car chase?” My main character is absolutely yellow so he’s running fast, in the opposite direction to danger, most of the time, especially in the first book. So yeh, pursuit. Pretty much the whole book including a nice one on foot… but then, with all that talk of car chases I thought I might as well. Spot the petrol head.
This is where I should also fess up he lives in a parallel reality where the cars are all James Bond cars and they fly and they’re called Snurds. And I want one. Yeh.
To set the scene. The Pan of Hamgee, our hero, drives for a gang of bank robbers. They give him some junk items which are of religious significance and Lord Vernon, K’Barth’s despot ruler, wants them. Some members of the security forces have questioned The Pan about it, luckily, not too closely because while his getaway antics are famous, nobody knows it’s him. After their next robbery, things change.
Because there’s a lot of boring information to jemmy into my books along the way, I try to impart it while my characters are doing something interesting. I think this is probably quite a good example of my attempts to dump facts on the reader subliminally, so to speak, while they’re too busy being interested in something else.
The robbery went without a hitch, despite all The Pan’s fears, and the Grongolian police were even dopier and easier to shake off than usual. Maybe that was what aroused his suspicions. Glancing behind him he thought he caught sight of another snurd cutting swiftly through the traffic. It might be somebody in a hurry, he told himself. There was no reason for anyone to be following them, they had thrown off all their pursuers, but The Pan wanted to be sure. They were travelling through one of the newer parts of the city, which was built in a grid formation, so he turned swiftly down a side road and zigzagged onto a parallel street.
Behind him, in the distance, was a glint of light as a distant snurd pulled out of a similar side street and continued to follow them. It was black, with the same anonymous dark tinted windows as the MK II. The Pan pressed the button labelled ‘wings’, waited while the MK II transmogrified itself into aviator mode and took off. Almost a mile back, half concealed by the traffic in between them, he could make out the shape of the other snurd taking off, too. He increased his speed, flipped up another side street and continued on his way. Behind him the other snurd mirrored his manoeuvre.
“The robbery’s over. What are you doing?” demanded Big Merv.
“Trying to spill himself some loot,” said Frank. The Pan sighed. He was used to Frank’s digs. The two of them didn’t get along. In fact he suspected that, left to his own devices, nothing would please Frank more than cutting his throat.
“We’re being followed,” he said.
Frank turned round in his seat and surveyed the road behind.
“I don’t see nothing,” he said.
“That’s why you rob and I drive,” muttered The Pan.
“What did you say? You little piece of—”
“Shut it!” warned Big Merv.
Frank and Harry fastened their seat belts – any chance of a chase and they knew the drill. They craned their heads through the back windows. The Pan waited while Big Merv scrutinised the view in his wing mirror. He was glad that his boss was suspicious, not to mention cautious, enough to check.
“’What’s it look like?”
“Black, low slung, fast. It’s not a shape I’m familiar with.”
“Nah,” said Big Merv. “Me neither. Tinted windows though, like ours. If it ain’t another gang, it must be Grongolian. Either way, I reckon it’s bad news. Lose it.”
Far away in another dimension of space and time the pursuing snurd was a 1955 Mercedes prototype, the Uhlenhaut, with gull-wing doors.
The MK II morphed back into aviator mode and doubled its speed in two stomach-lurching seconds, as The Pan floored the accelerator. He flew upwards, skimming the rooftops of the adjacent buildings and down into the next street in the opposite direction. Slowing up he checked his surroundings carefully.
Surely it wasn’t going to be this easy?
The Pan shuddered. He hadn’t lied to Big Merv, the shape of the black snurd was unfamiliar, but it did fit with rumours he had heard. The kinds of tales no getaway man would want to dwell on. Stories of desperate flights, of the finest drivers relentlessly pursued through the darkness of the night and downed in a boiling fireball. Stories of an invincible shape, a legend, a ghost, a mechanical banshee that came screaming out of nowhere to do its lethal work and disappeared as quickly. It was called the Interceptor and nobody was sure it existed but then hardly anyone who’d seen it had lived to describe their experience – certainly none of the people who had been chased. If the anonymous black snurd was the Interceptor, The Pan realised he and his colleagues were as good as dead and there was nothing he could do about it.
He decelerated to normal speed, landed among the rest of the terrestrial traffic and carried on as if he and the Mervinettes were a group of normal people going about their business.
They had gone almost a mile and there was still no sign of their pursuer.
“Have you got rid of it?” asked Big Merv.
Whoever was driving that black snurd had been very subtle and The Pan suspected it was still out there. He took his hands off the wheel to make a ‘search me’ gesture.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not like the others. He knows what he’s doing.”
They were driving along one of the main thoroughfares of the city and as usual, it was busy. The Pan was sick with nerves. If anything happened, the presence of other traffic gave him little room to manoeuvre and although he could remain inconspicuous more easily with other snurds around him, so could his pursuer. He turned into a side road and pulled onto a narrower, less frequented street one block over that ran parallel to the one they had been on.
They were going in the wrong direction and he would need to turn around, but he wanted to be doubly sure they had lost their tail before he did. Although he could see nothing, he had an instinctive belief they were still being followed. He had learned to trust his instincts but as yet for his fellow Mervinettes – especially Frank and Harry – trust was still a work in progress. They were getting restless; he was going to have to turn round soon or they were going to get irritated and Big Merv was going to vent his irritation on him the only way he knew how – physically. Big Merv never hit him hard, but he still didn’t want to get thumped. If anyone was behind them he would have to draw them into the open by going so fast they had to concentrate on keeping up rather than concealing themselves. He accelerated, and as he did so the black snurd pulled out of a side alley ahead of them, turned towards them and stopped in the middle of the street. The Pan screeched to a halt, engaging reverse. As the MK II’s backing lights came on, a flotilla of police snurds pulled out side roads and garages up and down the street, behind him, about 40 of them.
“Arnold!” said Big Merv. “It’s a trap.”
“Mmm,” said The Pan, selecting first gear.
We join the driver of the black snurd for an instant just to find out who he is – I’ve edited that out for brevity – and we rejoin The Pan just as his colleagues are jumping to the inevitable – though wrong – conclusion.
“You little scrote! You’ve set us up!” shouted Frank, and Big Merv glared at The Pan.
“Well? Is that what’s got into you? Have you been disloyal to me?” His voice had an ominous tone and The Pan realised, with horror, that he was close to believing Frank.
“No, no I promise,” he whimpered.
“If you have, we’re going to be paying a visit to the river later,” Big Merv continued, “It’ll be just like old times.”
“N-no,” stammered The Pan. “This isn’t about us. It’s something we stole.”
“Have you been keeping information from me?” asked Big Merv.
The engine of the black snurd revved and with his foot on the clutch The Pan revved the MK II back.
“Yes,” said The Pan distractedly before realising the gravity of his admission, “I mean no,” he corrected himself quickly, “not on purpose.” He turned to his boss who was glaring at him. The antennae were moving but only just, and they were standing up straight, which meant Big Merv was on the brink of blind rage. The Pan glanced down the street at the black snurd, which was still revving its engine aggressively and at the same time, sneaked a look behind at the ranks of police snurds blocking his retreat. This was not a good time for Big Merv to lose his rag, The Pan needed him to be able to listen, answer questions and more to the point think. Better make the explanation fast.
“Remember that stuff you gave me? The junk?”
“Yer,” said Merv, “we remember.”
“It might have belonged to Lord Vernon,” said The Pan. He said it quickly in order to lessen the impact.
“What?” bellowed Big Merv.
“Some Grongles came to the Parrot and they said it belonged to—”
“I heard you the first time, you twonk,” shouted Big Merv, “Why in Arnold’s name didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it mattered,” lied The Pan who’d spent several wakeful nights wondering how on earth he could bring the subject up and had chickened out.
“You’re not here to think, I THINK, you drive. Anything, ANYTHING you hear, you tell me, right?”
“Yes,” squeaked The Pan. The snurd ahead of them revved its engine again and he glanced nervously about him, checking his escape options.
“Can you get us out of this?” asked Big Merv.
“I don’t know,” said The Pan. He could feel himself going white, he was shivering with fright, cold sweat running down the side of his face. A big part of his job was appearing to be in control, in this instance it was vital. It would be testing enough coping with the chase, let alone if the gang lost their confidence and he had to contend with any back seat driving. He smiled, with what he hoped was a devil-may-care demeanour, rather than the rictus grimace that would more truly reflect the way he felt. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
“You’d better,” said Big Merv, “an’ if you don’t, they won’t catch you alive because I’ll kill you myself. You get me?”
“Oh yes,” muttered The Pan, “I get you.”
He checked the MK II was still in gear and pressed the accelerator pedal as far down as it would go. As he did so, the driver of the black snurd in front of them did the same thing and they hurtled towards each other. The two snurds were on a collision course. The Pan moved the MK II left and the Interceptor moved right. He swung the MK II back to the right and the Interceptor moved left.
“What are you doing you great plank?” shouted Big Merv. “I said get us out, not take him out.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hit us.”
It was Lord Vernon against him, it had to be. It was a replay of that whole sidestepping incident again, only on wheels. He abandoned any effort to avoid contact, selected aviator mode and carried on accelerating. The Interceptor was yards away now but The Pan was going fast enough to take off. Both snurds left the ground at the same time. As The Pan saw the front of his opponent’s vehicle looming ahead, he moved the MK II sharply upwards and as the other snurd followed, he yanked the wheel downwards. The underside of the Interceptor filled the windscreen, blotting out the light, and there was a bump as it, too, moved lower and clipped the roof of Big Merv’s snurd. The MK II hit the ground with a massive crash and bounced into the air.
“Mind my suspension you pillock!” shouted Big Merv angrily as they accelerated upwards.
“If you don’t shut up the suspension’s going to be the least of your worries,” said The Pan, who was beginning to feel more in control, and therefore at liberty to be lippy, “this is going to be difficult enough.”
The police snurds didn’t follow, they were pursued solely by the black snurd and The Pan could only view this as a bad sign. It was the first piece of Grongolian technology he had seen which measured up to the MK II, more than measured up. The Pan couldn’t match the acceleration of the Interceptor and after ten minutes it was as close as ever. After fifteen minutes it tried to ram them and it was only by jinking sharply to the right that The Pan was able to avoid contact. Instead of passing them and cutting them off, it hung back waiting for an opportunity to repeat the manoeuvre. Big Merv was scared and reacted the only way he knew how, by hiding his fear behind a façade of anger. The Pan could forgive him that – nobody was perfect and on the few occasions it happened, he saw it as a bond, a tiny patch of common ground in the vast desert between them.
“I thought you could drive,” Big Merv growled.
“I can and you know it,” The Pan raised his hands and shrugged, “unfortunately, so can he.”
“Keep your hands on the wheel you great pranny!”
“Then, keep your hair on,” muttered The Pan, “you trust me to do this, remember?”
“Don’t get arsy with me you wimp, just get us out of this,” shouted Big Merv, “NOW!”
The Interceptor fired a snurd-to-snurd missile. The Pan wove in and out of lamp posts, buildings, chimneys and trees with the missile in hot pursuit until, finally, he managed to corner so sharply it continued onwards and exploded harmlessly against the side of a nearby office block. Having failed to obliterate its quarry the Interceptor reappeared and made another attempt to ram them. At last The Pan could see a way out, but it wasn’t one Big Merv was going to like.
“I think I can lose him,” he said, “but the MK II—”
“Just do it,” shouted Big Merv, “and for Arnold’s sake get a move on before you make me throw up, you spotty little Herbert. I have some pride, unlike you, so don’t make me humiliate myself in front of the boys here because if I do, YOU will be valeting this vehicle from top to bottom. Got it?”
“Merv,” began The Pan, wearily, oops too wearily, “sir,” he added quickly, “you know my aim here is to keep us alive, not to make you ill. Concentrate on looking straight ahead, or the view out of the window or something. If it’s that bad, there’s always a plastic bag in the glove compartment.”
Ahead of them was the financial district of Ning Dang Po, complete with skyscrapers. The Pan, hotly pursued by the Interceptor, skimmed over the parapet of the Quaarl Futures Building. He flew low over the roof garden full of resting traders in a selection of bizarre striped and coloured blazers, who scattered in all directions, flattening themselves to the green plastic lawn. As the MK II swooped over them and reached the parapet on the other side, The Pan yanked at the wheel. The bonnet dipped and the front bumper clipped the stonework with a loud thud. The impact flipped the MK II upside down and immediately, The Pan accelerated. As Big Merv’s snurd had somersaulted its back bumper had hit the bottom of the Interceptor and thrown it forward causing the driver to lose control for a few precious seconds. Not long, but enough time for The Pan to fly away as fast as he could. After a minute or two he realised he was still flying upside down.
He righted the MK II and descended swiftly into the nearby Goojan Quarter where the streets were narrow and the houses close enough together to mask a snurd from the air. By the time their mystery pursuer had regained control and turned round the MK II had disappeared from sight.
The Mervinettes sat in stunned silence as The Pan drove them back to the lock-up.
Reading back through the posts in this series, I notice Will Macmillan Jones said, “MTM has been a proper comedienne, and is probably much better qualified than I am to write a piece on being funny.”
Right then. I suppose I’d get my finger out from up my arse and do mine.
First of all, I should probably qualify the description, ‘proper comedienne’. If having a ‘spot’ somewhere is ‘proper’ I was. If getting paid in actual money, as opposed to beer , food or… well… peanuts, is ‘proper’ then I’m very much not. I don’t think I ever saw any cold hard cash for my efforts. Then again, I was only doing it because I thought I had more chance of being a writer, or at least getting published, if I got famous for being funny first. And yes, I really, truly believed I had more chance of making it in big in stand up than I did of persuading a literary agent to take me on. Even then. In the 1990s.
Actually, I still do. And that’s not a dig at agents, it’s pragmatism about my ability to self sell. Which is negligible. You see, to get ‘noticed’ by the establishment, an author has to be able to write a good query letter. I can write a half decent novel but I’ve always been useless at applying for jobs. That’s why I self published in the end, because I know my limitations and the time had come to be pragmatic about them and try a different path.
So, massive tangent finished, where was I? Ah yes. Humour.
It’s really difficult to do this. I have no idea what people find funny about my books, or me, and I have long since given up on trying to find out. All I’ve really learned is that when they laugh, I should smile and pretend it was deliberate. What I mean is, picking a funny bit out of one of my books has been really difficult because, I’ll let you into a secret, I don’t really know where they are. Yes, I could be the archetypical tortured clown but luckily I have a sense of humour.
As for types of funny, well, I suppose I tend to indulge in a few stalwarts. I’ve listed them, below, with illustrative excerpts. The thing that jumps out at me, when I read them, is that they’re really not very funny on their own, which is a bit embarrassing. Though it does eloquently demonstrate my firmly held belief that humour, the humour I write, at any rate, is accumulative. The minute I start snipping out bits and pasting them on their own they die somehow.
The sheer joy of using words that sound funny together never palls, even if no-one else notices, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me. It won’t get an out-and-out laugh, but I firmly believe it helps build comic tension and make whatever lame joke it is that follows seem much funnier. It’s a particular joy inventing invective when the characters are arguing with one another.
Tick over comedy.
What I mean by this is stuff that isn’t that funny on it’s own but keeps things light by going on in the background, once again, the sole purpose is to make the comic denouement, when we get there, seem a bit less lame.
There’s an element of slapstick, or at least comedy capers, in my stuff; people slipping on banana skins and falling down, stuff like that (although nobody has actually slipped on a banana skin anywhere in my writing so far).
Making the characters funny.
I have to confess that most of the characters I write are much funnier than I am. Sometimes they do things which are amusingly ditzy, sometimes they can be quite witty, especially, Ruth and The Pan of Hamgee, although, in his own style, Big Merv is quite sharp.
The icebreaker moment.
Lastly, there’s what I call the icebreaker moment, when something happens in a serious bit that relieves the tension and makes… well… it makes me laugh. I like those a lot because they let me make the tense bits so much nastier.
So, I’ve posted two excerpts, the first is a brief demonstration of what I mean by an icebreaker moment, quite a light one from the first book in the K’Barthan Trilogy. The Mervinettes, the gang of bank robbers The Pan of Hamgee drives for, have just agreed to try and rob the world’s most impregnable bank. Things are tense, because although they’re going to be paid a lot of money, they are being blackmailed into it by a contact The Pan introduced to them.
“Alright, we’ll do it,” said Big Merv sullenly, “we’ll rob your bank for four million Grongolian.” He swung round and glared at The Pan: “And as for you,” he strode over to him, shouting, “you stupid, snivelling—” Without warning, he punched him in the face. The Pan saw the fist approaching his nose but didn’t have time to duck before it hit home. The impact tumbled him backwards over a chair and the pain erupted like a firework. He hit the floor, sprawled on his back and clamped his hand over his face, rolling onto all fours. Big Merv stepped smartly round the chair and pulled him to his feet. “That’s for getting us into this!”
The Pan had had enough.
“Now who’s the stupid one?” he said nasally as he clamped his handkerchief to his bleeding nose, “Thumping the assets you’re supposed to be protecting.”
Big Merv let go of him.
“I’m sorry, mate. I was out of order, but I couldn’t bring myself to punch that old relic,” he said, glaring at the old man. It hadn’t been a hard punch; The Pan’s nose was already beginning to stop bleeding, and although it was bruised and swollen it didn’t feel broken.
This second excerpt covers pretty much everything else. It’s from The Wrong Stuff, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 2. The Pan of Hamgee is suffering a certain amount of narcotic inconvenience after having been in Grongolian custody. He rescues Ruth, who he had become besotted with from afar, but when he tries to explain himself, all he can say, is ‘I’m a little teapot’. We see this from Ruth’s point of view and join a few hundred feet above the London skyline, in The Pan’s snurd, just as the drugs are beginning to wear off.
“There might be a police helicopter if it’s not busy somewhere else,” she said. “Otherwise, I expect we’re set, we don’t have too many flying cars here in Britain.”
“It’s not a little teapot,” he began. “Ruth,” he said excitedly, “I’m… not a little it’s teapot… wearing off… I’m a…”
“Are you all there?” she asked.
“Little… nearly… teapot…”
“It’s not a little… car… teapot,” he said, “I’m a… it’s a little… snurd… teapot.” His eyes rolled in exasperation.
“Are you on drugs?” she asked.
He turned in his seat, put one finger on his nose and pointed at her with the other hand, charades style.
“Yes!” he said, turning his attention back to the business of driving with a great deal of relief.
“And you want me to know that?”
“I’m a little… not… teapot… self administered.”
“Somebody else drugged you?”
“Mmm hmm.” A nod.
They were flying over the City now and below them, Ruth could see a large office block with a helipad on top. She pointed downwards.
“OK. I think it’s time you landed this thing so we can have a chat. You have a great deal of explaining to do.”
He managed to say, ‘mmm’ without any mention of teapots and landed the Lotus smoothly on the helipad. For a moment there was no sound but the ticking of the engine as it cooled and the muffled roar of the traffic rising up from the street below. Then he got out of the car and leapt over the bonnet, except she felt the car dip and, if it hadn’t been an inanimate object, she would have sworn that he’d failed to leap high enough and had only cleared the bonnet in one piece because the car had ducked. He opened her door with a flourish and she undid her seatbelt and climbed out.
He put out his hand and without thinking properly about what she was doing, she took it and let him lead her over to the edge of the helipad. It was raised a few feet above the roof of the building and below it a couple of yards of concrete ran to the edge of the roof proper, where there was a safety fence. It was there to stop the unwary from falling off, Ruth supposed, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop somebody who really wanted to from throwing her off – this man, for example. That said, she was pretty sure his intentions were friendly and that she wasn’t in any danger. He seemed too pleased to see her for that, he could hardly stop smiling. He sat down with his legs dangling over the edge of the helipad and she followed suit making sure she kept a few feet’s distance between them. He appeared utterly at ease with her which made her relax a little despite stern warnings from the sensible part of her brain about the dangers of running off in space cars with strange men.
He raised an eyebrow and waved a hand at the view in front of them.
“I’m a… nice city you… little tea… have here… pot.”
“Thank you,” she said, “nice Zorro hat. Your wheels aren’t bad either.”
He chuckled and took a breath as if to speak but inclined his head in a sort of bow instead. Well, there are only so many ways you can tell somebody you are a little teapot, after all, Ruth thought and he’d probably run out of them. He took his hat off and ruffled his hair with one hand. It stood up. Naturally spiky. No sign of gel. Cool. No, not cool at all, get a grip Ruth. The two of them sat in silence for a moment while she tried to work out what to say and what was going to happen next. She felt disconnected from reality, as if her life was a film and she was sitting in the audience watching, a dangerous sensation because it was stopping her from taking it seriously. He cracked first.
“I’m a little… Arnold when is this… teapot… stuff going to… I’m a little… wear off… teapot?” He stopped. “I’m a… I should… little teapot… explain why I’m a… here little teapot.” He grimaced and shook his head.
“It would help,” said Ruth, “but I can see it’s going to be difficult.”
He was exasperated and angry with himself, too, by the looks of it.
“OK, I have lots of questions, so why don’t I ask the ones which only require ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers?”
A relieved sigh, “I’m a little… alright.”
“Good, and when I’ve asked my questions, you will be driving me home, won’t you?”
“I’m a… I will take you… little teapot… wherever you want to go.” Another smile. She looked into his eyes. They were dark blue, so dark they looked almost black, the way normally only brown eyed people’s can. He maintained eye contact for just that little bit too long before blushing and looking down at his hands. Hmm. Ruth wasn’t super-confident about her looks, but in this case the signs were obvious. He fancied her. Oh well, it could be worse. He wasn’t a giant and he hadn’t shot at her and she had to hand it to him, as smiles went, his was pretty engaging. And he had a kind face – those blue, blue eyes had the type of crow’s feet round them which suggested he smiled a lot. Perhaps it was time to try and discover what he wanted?
“You know, my life has become very weird of late,” she said, “Those guys, the no-no ones,” she waved her hands backwards and forwards the way he had done and he nodded, “They’ve been following me for months now.”
“I know,” he said.
“I don’t think you do, not unless you’ve been following me as well. Have you?” she asked him sternly.
He cleared his throat and couldn’t meet her eyes any more. Result! She’d got him bang to rights.
“You have, haven’t you? You’re another scary stalker! You’re just better at it than them!”
“No. I was… I’m a little… Arnold’s Y fronts!” Deep breath. “Sorry. I have to explain and this stupid… teapot… Truth Serum is making it difficult.”
“I’m sorry. When you say, ‘Truth Serum’ that makes me think Secret Police.”
“Then you’re a little… right … teapot.”
“So. I’m guessing that means you’re in trouble where you’re from, does it?”
He nodded. She eyed him quizzically.
“With the police or someone else?”
“The… teapot… police.”
“And I suppose they’re not very nice because nice policemen don’t tend to use things called Truth Serum.”
“And I’d guess they gave you that black eye.”
“Are you a revolutionary?”
“No, that would make me an idiot.” Oh, a whole sentence in one! Sarky, too. She was impressed.
“OK then, are you some kind of criminal where you’re from?”
He shrugged and spread his hands when he nodded this time.
“Well, you’re obviously a really crap one. I’m not scared of you at all.”
“I’m a… little… teapot… getaway man,” He looked affronted, “I’m… not… a little… meant to be… teapot… scary. I’m meant to be… a little teapot… scared. Otherwise I’m a little… I won’t be any… teapot… good at running away… I’m a little… will I?”
Ruth giggled, the teapot thing clearly got worse when she wound him up. She shouldn’t be sitting here talking to him like this but amazingly, trapped as she was on the top of a London skyscraper, with no way off and no hope of help, she felt utterly unafraid.
“Is that how getaway men dress?” His outfit was intriguing; elastic sided boots, dark blue canvas jeans, loose paisley silk shirt, tucked in at the waist and unbuttoned at the top. He was wearing a greeny-blue velvet jacket and over the top, a thick dark cloak and the hat. How to sum that up? Mostly back-of-Revolver, a dash of front-of-Help, a modicum of pirate and a sprinkling of Zorro. An odd look, but one that was all his own and one Ruth liked.
“No, I’m a little… that’s how I dress.”
“I see. It’s not a bad look and you’re correct, it’s not scary. So, are you telling me that, right now, you’re meant to be frightened?”
“And are you?”
A nod and a disarming smile.
“I’m the one with no clue what’s going on, I thought that was supposed to make me the frightened one.” He shrugged. “Are you scared of me?”
He laughed, put one hand out and wiggled it in a way that was clearly sign language for maybe.
“I don’t think you are.”
More smiling, he raised one eyebrow.
“Quite obviously, no.” Another shrug. “But you are a getaway man?”
“That’s a criminal.”
“Then why do I trust you?”
“You are evidently a little—” a deep breath, “a rubbish judge of character… teapot.”
“Not usually,” she gave him her best don’t-mess-with-me stare. There was that smile again. A small part of Ruth wanted to go out of its way to make him smile as much as possible. That was not good. Time for a reality check. He had swept her off her feet, literally – if not figuratively – and driven her through the best bits of London in the soft dusk light, in a flying car, with the top down. There was more than a bit of glamour appeal to this experience and Ruth suspected that the fact the Lotus was the car of her dreams might be clouding her judgement about the man inside it.
“Right then. I know you are probably here illegally, that you have a way cool set of wheels which flies and that you have a very amusing speech impediment.” He chuckled and she was unaccountably pleased to have made him laugh. “Anything else you’d care to tell me?”
He took another deep breath.
“I’m,” Ruth watched with interest as he waited for the urge to declare himself teapot-shaped to subside. “…not from around here,” he finally said.
“Yes. I guessed that. OK, let’s start somewhere simple. What’s your name?”
“I’m The Pan of Hamgee,” he inclined his head to imply a bow, “and I am at your service.”
“I see.” Ruth frowned. The ‘I am at your service’ bit was quite charming, in an old-world way, “What’s your first name?”
“I don’t have one.”
“You mean that’s it?”
“That’s not a name, it’s a title. What do people call you? ‘The?’”
“No. Usually it’s ‘Oi you! Stop! Teapot! Thief!’” Another long pause, “‘Pan of Hamgee’ translates slightly differently, so I suppose in your language, you’d call me ‘The Hamgeean’.”
He was looking shifty again. She knew it! He was lying.
“That sounds like a wrestling hold and it still doesn’t give you a first name. I’m not an ‘oi you’ kind of girl. I can’t say ‘Hi, Hamgeean, how are you?’ It doesn’t go. I’m Ruth Cochrane – don’t you dare laugh at my surname or make one reference to Eddie – so when you want to get my attention calling me ‘Cochrane’ is plain weird. I’m fine with ‘Ruth’ and it follows that, barring cultural differences, there must be something I’d use to talk to you; which you are not fine with, presumably.” She waited but he wasn’t biting. She sighed. “OK, Mister Pan of Hamgee, we’ll have it your way, for now and keep it formal but don’t think you’ve got away with not telling me. I know you’re lying and that means you do have a normal name. Let’s try something else. Why are you here?”
“I’m a… the big guys with the… little… Arnold in the skies! …teapot… guns are not your friends. I came here to find you before they did.”
“Well done, and thank you – I don’t think the people who run the Festival Hall will be very keen on you, though. In fact, I expect you’ll be had up by the police as soon as they see your car – I should imagine somebody took your number plate.”
He smiled, raised an eyebrow, put one finger up in a wait-a-moment gesture and stood up. She watched as he walked coolly over to the Lotus, leaned in and pressed a button on the dash. There was a gentle electronic whining sound in stereo from the front and back of the car and the number plates revolved. He strolled back and sat down again, closer to her this time, with the air of a man who knows he has done something fairly impressive.
“You just revolved your number plate.”
How annoying was that! She was trying to play it cool, trying very hard not to appear overawed, and to her irritation, it wasn’t working.
“Are you sure you’re not a spy? You have a spy’s car.”
He laughed and, again, she was glad; such a bad sign.
Peril and tension, This scene is the moment when the main female character in the K’Barthan trilogy first sets eyes on the super-villain of the piece, Lord Vernon. She doesn’t know who he is at this point, only that he’s following her. He’s not the first person she’s noticed following her but it’s the first hint she gets as to why she’s being followed. Anyway, here you go, I hope you enjoy reading.
She walked on a little way, until she could hear the footsteps start up again before stopping a second time. Once again, they stopped when she did.
More than a coincidence then? Maybe and that was grim.
OK. One last try. She walked on, the footsteps walked on.
Hmm, an echo? Possibly. She tried tap dancing a yard or two but the accompanying footsteps continued their measured, one, two.
Or maybe not.
As she reached the end of the road and turned the corner she ran fast along the next street. It was a long row of three-storey terraced houses with small, walled gardens in front, many of which were bounded by privet hedges.
Hoorah! Somewhere to hide, thought the irresponsible, frivolous part of Ruth which treated existence as a glorified spy movie.
Running as fast as she could but at the same time trying to make no sound so her shadowy pursuer, if there was one, wouldn’t realise what she was doing, she decided to try to reach one of the hedged-in gardens and hide there, before the person making the footsteps got as far as turning the corner.
Not the first one. That’s exactly where he’ll look, she thought as she made to duck through the nearest entrance. She ran on to the third enclosed garden and nipped in through the open gate. It was a completely mad thing to do, she knew. Behind the hedge were a pair of bins.
That was a stroke of luck.
She ran over and found that, a little way behind them, there was a hole in the foliage that allowed her to creep right inside the hedge. Even better.
She crept in, pulled one of the bins towards her to help hide the gap at the bottom of the privet and waited.
A few moments and there it was.
They stopped. She could hear somebody in the road, the other side of the hedge, walking backwards and forwards as if looking for something. Please no. He, it had to be a he, didn’t appear to be out of breath even though he’d just sprinted up the street – he was obviously marathon-runner fit – only bigger, a lot bigger than a long-distance runner. As she watched the dark shape moving to and fro she shuddered and the hedge rustled a little. He stopped, stood absolutely still and… yes… sniffed the air.
Lord no! That was too creepy. He was after her and he was also, clearly, a member of the serial killers’ guild. Normal people don’t use scent to track others, come to think of it, normal people don’t tend to track others, anyway. Good plan to hide behind the bins, then. He moved out of sight but she could feel he was still there and then, yes, she knew it. He’d come into the garden. He stole silently over to the dustbins and lifted the lids, he even peered between them, but in the dark didn’t notice the gap in the hedge. Luckily the glaring, tell-tale patch of damp concrete that would show the second bin to be recently moved was obscured by shadows. He paused, as if in thought, before taking something from his pocket and rubbing it on the front of his coat. He was wearing a long, dark trench coat, probably black or blue, open, with brass buttons which glinted as they caught the light. Underneath he wore a jacket made from a similar material but it had a stand-up collar, like a military uniform and was fastened with a single button in the middle – she could see a contrasting white v shape it made against the stock or cravat – too many ruffles for a shirt – which he was wearing with it. His belt had a holster hanging on it, complete with gun, she assumed, and it was one of those military-style belts with a strap that goes diagonally across the chest with… yes. He was wearing a sword. His trousers had a stripe of different-coloured material down the outsides and with them he wore knee-high boots in a matte black material; suede? A dress uniform? A disguise for a sci-fi convention? He didn’t have a hat, but was wearing a pair of dark glasses – please dark glasses and not night vision glasses – and in a cruel and unpleasant way, he was extremely good looking. He was also wearing gloves, with rings on the outside. Except for that bit, his getup was as if she’d dreamed up Mr Darcy’s dark alter ego or Evil Adam Ant and he’d come alive.
Nice touch, My Brain, throwing the handsome thing in there. Had somebody spiked her drink? Silently, he crouched down.
No. These events were real.
He pointed the object at the hedge and, ah yes. It was a torch. Ruth did the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. Hoping he wouldn’t train the beam down and see the gap she had squeezed through or the soggy black circle showing where she’d moved one of the bins, she took her glasses off and closed her eyes. Slowly, as quietly as she could, she moved the hand clutching her spectacles behind her back. He must be looking for a reflection. If she kept the specs out of sight and her eyes closed he wouldn’t find it.
Every part of her screamed “RUUUUUUN.” But her only chance, she knew, was to wait where she was.
“Come to me. I know you are there,” he whispered as he shone the torch back and forth across the hedge. His voice had a hypnotic quality and without thinking she almost did as she was told. But she managed to keep still and sat, frozen, trying to subdue her breathing, not to mention her trembling. The darkness behind her eyelids changed colour as the beam of his torch played over her face. It was taking all her self control not to look.
Please let the hedge be thick enough to hide her.
The beam of the torch stopped moving and he laughed quietly. A laugh conspicuously lacking in mirth or human warmth. A laugh so utterly evil Ruth felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Now I have you,” he said and the little hairs on the back of her neck stood up. His voice this time was soft, malevolent and very, very scary. She suppressed another involuntary shudder.
A sudden flurry, and with a loud scream a cat leapt from the bushes beside her and ran past him into the street. He breathed out with a hiss, straightened up to his full and considerable height and turned the torch off. While she willed him to go, he stood there and tapped it thoughtfully against the palm of his hand.
“You will not evade me forever, Chosen One. I will find you,” he told the darkness quietly.
She watched from her hiding place as he turned on his heel and strode out into the street. She stayed where she was long after his footsteps receded into the night and waited another half an hour before daring to creep out of the hedge.
“No further chances to be taken, tonight, Ms Ruth Cochrane,” she said to herself and headed straight back to the Edgware Road and the night bus, which was arriving as she reached the stop. Wow! Had that taken a whole hour? She consulted her watch. Yes.
So. Had somebody spiked her drink?
No, but oh how she wished they had.
Hmm, characters interacting with the worlds about them. I love this, I love writing scenes where K’Barthans and people from this version of reality meet and are a bit freaked out by one another or their surroundings. In fact it’s how I show a lot of the stuff going on inside their heads. As a result, there are rather a lot of scenes like this but some show the characters of the people involved better than others.
Having said all of that, this scene doesn’t involve any inter-reality interaction but it does give us a sketch of the protagonist. Deirdre Arbuthnot, K’Barthan Resistance agent, has been sent to work undercover in the laundry of the Security Headquarters – the old Architrave’s Palace – in K’Barth. Deirdre is an assassin used to strike operations. Espionage is not her natural forte. She has the subtlety of a brick and the patience of a very impatient, impatient thing but she has been given the alias of a meek country maiden from Tith called ‘Rosa Trampleasure’. Deirdre is not meek. She is from suburbia and wealthy, she has no experience of hard physical labour and she is not looking forward to getting any.
The aim here, as well as showing a bit about the laundry, the Palace and her mission, is to give the reader a bit of an idea of how Deirdre, herself, sees the world and how her view clashes, or chimes in, with those around her. I’ve also tried to write in her ‘voice’ so to speak, so even though there’s rather a lot of telling/scene setting here, I hope that it gives a reasonable feel of who she is.
There are probably a few explanatory notes I should add. Denarghi is the head of the Resistance and after letting some prisoners escaped he’s pinned his mistake on Deirdre and she is at the Palace on a punishment mission. This is particularly dangerous because the species running the Palace, the Grongles, are as randy as hell and Deirdre is tall, blonde and smokin’ hawt. Her orders are to go in unarmed, but as she herself decides, in light of the Grongles’ nature, what are a few throwing knives among friends?
That’s all, I hope you enjoy reading.
In the dormitory set aside for female laundry workers, Deirdre Arbuthnot had spent the night awake. She had never had doubts before. She had always followed orders, sure that she was on the side of good, but being punished for Denarghi’s mistake had shaken her faith. Around her, the ladies of the laundry snored and occasionally farted in their rows of beds.
“You aren’t helping me,” she told their unconscious forms. Not that they would hear her. Deirdre wondered how it was that she could sleep through a mortar attack in a freezing fox hole but, so far, had never been able to cut out snoring. She’d have to go to the staff shop and get some ear plugs tomorrow.
“Shut up!” she shouted. A couple of the others sat up and looked blearily about them, before flopping back into their slumbers. Just in case, Deirdre pretended that she, too, was asleep. The loudest of the snorers made a gargling noise, turned over and started breathing normally. Great! Blissful silence.
Or not. Three beds away, another of Deirdre’s colleagues started making a kind of whistling bubbling noise with every breath. Arnold’s Y-fronts, that was about the most annoying sound she had ever heard.
“Three smecking months of this is going to be a tough mission,” she muttered. Perhaps she shouldn’t have brought the throwing knives; any minute now she’d find herself using them on her colleagues. She plumped her pillows irritably and lay in the darkness reflecting on her situation.
The security implications of having a K’Barthan workforce enter and leave the Palace every day were immense, so all non-Grongolian life forms working there – NGLF’s as they were called – had to sign up for three month residential stints. They were paid more to make up for the time spent away from their families and friends but they were not allowed out of the Palace until their period of work was up. Indeed there were stories of people dying at work and still not being released until the day stated in their contract.
Some of the day’s events had reassured her but Deirdre didn’t feel settled or comfortable in the Palace. Part of this was because ‘Rosa’ was so very different from Deirdre, and it was difficult pretending to be someone else the whole time, especially when playing the part convincingly meant allowing herself be walked over by every halfwit in the vicinity. She might get used to it in time but the fact that she was trapped would not change. And she hated the fact that as well as being some useless bumpkin from Tith, she had the most stupid, stupid surname imaginable. That was unnecessary spite on Denarghi’s part. She lay in the dark, fuming, yet bored. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep? She sighed and turned over, but the day’s events kept replaying in her head.
Having passed through extensive security to get in, her first afternoon at the laundry had not gone well. Her Resistance colleagues were Blurpons to a man, and were helpful enough, but they seemed to think she needed to learn about laundering shirts. Why, Deirdre couldn’t understand. It was typical of Denarghi. She pictured him laughing as he imagined her cleaning up after the Grongles. Little git. She had believed in him, looked up to him and this was how he repaid her loyalty. Well, tough. She wasn’t interested in servitude. She would gather information and familiarise herself with the layout of the Palace.
The dress was annoying, too. Even thinking about it now made her roll her eyes. The Blurpons and the Spiffles in the laundry, being furry, never wore clothes. Both had cat like features and hands instead of paws but while the Blurpons had one leg and red fur the Spiffles had orange fur and two legs. The Spiffles were a great deal more relaxed, too. Deirdre had almost forgotten how spiky Blurpons were until she saw the two species working side by side. Both the Blurpons and the Spiffles wore belts with pouches on to carry the items they needed. Lucky them. Like all the ladies, Deirdre had to wear a uniform – an old fashioned corset, long frilly skirts and a white shirt – low cut and off the shoulder, of course, because for all their aloofness, the Grongles liked a bit of feminine allure. As long as it was vaguely humanoid they weren’t that fussy about the exact species. The uniform was flattering, but to Deirdre’s dismay, not in a way that would further her aim of remaining incognito. It was also uncomfortable and restrictive. She thought with longing of her military fatigues.
She felt so much more at home in them.
The laundry was insanely busy, hot and dusty – or muggy depending whereabouts she was – and the staff were constantly interrupted by the Grongle who oversaw the running of the household, an ugly great brute called Captain Snow. His shifty, bloodshot gaze always slid to wherever Deirdre was working and remained on her. It wasn’t a look Deirdre liked. Simple Tithian maiden or not, she was going to beat him to a pulp if he tried anything. She betted he would, too. The laundry, indeed the whole Palace was significantly lacking in female employees under middle or old age and Deirdre guessed that Captain Snow, and others like him, were the reason.
Considering what a mundane boring job it was, laundering things was surprisingly difficult. Deirdre’s lack of skill became annoyingly apparent early on, when she put a red sock in with a whole load of white shirts. The Head Launderer, an affable Spiffle called Sid, gave the baby pink results to the Head Bleacher for correction and reassigned her to ironing sheets. Even for a laundry task this looked as if it would be incredibly boring but Deirdre never found out for sure. She worked the ironing tables for approximately thirty seconds before setting one of the linen presses on fire. A glaring error from the point of view of blending in but a good result in the sense that it was unlikely she would be given ironing duties again. Once the flames were doused, the Head Launderer, completely at a loss, assigned her to collection of soileds, as the dirty laundry was called, until such time as he could find a job she was able to do safely. She was to be sent out with a trolley and a map because no-one could think what else to do with her. It would have been a pretty ignominious start for a genuine Tithian maiden like Rosa Trampleasure, but for Deirdre Arbuthnot, trained Resistance assassin, it was a fine result.
At last, she would get to do some reconnaissance.
Due to their tendency to extreme violence the Blurpons were discouraged from leaving the laundry, except along certain routes that were considered best served by the non-humanoid species. However, in this instance one of Deirdre’s Resistance colleagues, a Blurpon called Snoofle, was assigned to accompany her on her human-only route – riding shot gun on the trolley as she pushed it along the corridors.
Snoofle wasn’t like the other Blurpons, not at all.
“Here you are.” He handed her a photocopied map with notes all over it. She looked closely:
‘Ugly beardy chap with sword – Commander Thistwith-Mee? – by Gloombin of Tith.’ Deirdre knew very little about Gloombin of Tith, other than that he was an artist and sculptor but Commander Thistwith-Mee was one of the greatest military strategists in K’Barthan history. The Inter-Species Wars had gone on for years until, after a run of decisive victories, Commander Thistwith-Mee had given the warring parties a choice of living in harmony or being annihilated by his forces. Funnily enough, after that they had all suddenly hit on ways to overlook each other’s differences. She examined some of the other notes; all of them detailed the positions of works of art.
“What is this supposed to be?” she waved the paper at Snoofle.
“I meant these,” she demanded, turning it round and pointing to one of Snoofle’s notes. “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes,” said Snoofle.
“Good. Then you’ll know we’re not on a sightseeing tour. I’m here on serious military business.”
“I should have explained,” he said equably. “This place is about 2,000 years old. Labyrinthine doesn’t begin to describe it. Away from the State rooms, many of the corridors are similar, but the art works are all different. I navigate by them. Let me show you. This is our route, left out of the laundry, right at the Mong vase, up the stairs, left at the Bunn Jones window and so on, d’you see?”
“That’s… lateral.” And absolutely not what Deirdre would expect from a Blurpon. Blurpons were into combat and clean clothes. She was impressed and a little depressed, because she wasn’t sure Snoofle’s navigational system would do her much good – what she knew about art could have been written on the back of a teaspoon.
“Don’t worry, I’ll show you each artefact and when we’re done, you can try it out for yourself by navigating us back. Then, if you think it works for you, I can show you the other routes.”
Getting lost was only one of the trials Deirdre had to contend with. The Arbuthnot effect on males clearly extended to Grongles. By the time she and Snoofle had made three collections Deirdre had been pinched and groped, and one particularly foolish Grongle officer had tried to steal a kiss. Deirdre had accidentally tripped, elbowed and lightly gouged each of her tormentors in turn. Since she was prepared to pretend their injuries were inflicted accidentally, they were happy to play along. Anything rather than acknowledge that a human woman had got the better of them. She was relieved at how easily she could use their pride against them and to her delight, they were clearly cautious about any further interaction with her. That was progress. She began to feel more confident.
However, Snoofle declared that they had done enough for one day and though Deirdre was all set to explore the Palace further, he persuaded her it would be wise to return to the laundry. That didn’t stop him pausing frequently to point out important architectural features, over and above the navigational requirements: art works, frescoes and even a mosaic floor. They strayed from the route so he could show her the Upper Quadrangle with its ancient statues, historic central garden and cloisters.
Deirdre was grateful for the chance to see more and to try to improve her knowledge of the building. It was ludicrously complicated, but then, as Snoofle had said, it was 2,000 years old and forty generations of Architraves had built on, enhanced, redecorated and generally messed about with it.
At the end of the Quadrangle, Deirdre and Snoofle stopped and she listened with uncharacteristic patience as he expounded the artistic merits of a yet another statue. He knew all of the bizarre trivia that makes history alive and interesting – right down to which museum, in Blursoptan, the Grongles had looted it from. He glanced cautiously up and down the corridor to check there was no-one about.
“OK Lieutenant, ma’am,” it was the first time he’d addressed her by anything other than her cover name. “Time to go back. D’you want to take it from here?”
“Yes.” She looked carefully at the statue and examined her map. “Snoofle, are you sure you’re all Blurpon?” she asked him as she set off in the direction, she hoped, of the Laundry.
“One hundred percent.”
This is an extract from The SatNav of Doom, (The Banned Underground #5). Here we see a group of elven merchant bank research analysts, who have been charged with the task of creating a new economic modelling device for HM Treasury, wrestling with some of the practical applications of their research. The magical and mystical world they inhabit sometimes fits uneasily with ours. On other occasions, the links are a little closer….
The SatNav of Doom lay on the desk, chained to the laptop to which it was connected by an umbilical USB lead. A mystical pentacle surrounded both devices. Beside the desk, and rising from the floor to a tremendous height, were the instruction manuals. A thin layer of dust lay on the very top, revealing that they were rarely used and that the cleaner was not very tall.
“Time for another test run, I think,” decided Franken.
“Righto,” agreed Oscar. He connected the power leads, and turned on the internet connection. Lights ran back and forth across the screens of the laptop and the SatNav as they made all sorts of connections and communication tests.
“System diagnosis complete,” announced the SatNav. “Please input destination instructions.”
Franken sat down at the desk and pulled the laptop towards him.
“Careful!” warned Holdness. “You are on the edge of the pentacle there.”
“I don’t think that makes any difference now,” said Oscar.
“Better to be safe than sorry. There’s still quite a bit of random magic we couldn’t account for in the calculations. You don’t want it grounding through you, Franken.”
“Good point,” agreed Franken. “I’ll take care. Now, where shall we go, gentlemen?”
“How about the Quantative Easing Measures?” asked Oscar. “I always love the bit where the banks use the free money to pay big staff bonuses.”
“Good idea,” agreed Frankel. “Holdness, get the drinks and popcorn.”
Frankel started typing the instructions into the laptop’s SatNav interface.
“Have we got to do this one again?” complained the SatNav as Holdness returned, burdened with drinks and snacks.
“We don’t get that much entertainment down here,” replied Oscar.
Holdness settled himself down comfortably. “We can always do the Banking Crisis next. I was reading a horror book last night, and it put me in the mood.”
“First simulation commencing in thirty seconds,” intoned the SatNav of Doom. “Can we try and get up to date next time? History is boring.”
“History,” Franken said severely, “has much to teach us.”
“Lessons to be learned,” agreed Oscar.
“History repeats itself though,” objected the SatNav.
“Please!” said the three merchant bank analysts, avidly watching large sums of money flowing from the government directly to bank vaults.
“How can you keep watching this stuff?”
“Shut up till it’s over!”
The door opened, and Lord Telem walked in.
“What’s going on?” he asked. Walking closer, he saw the screen, and promptly seized a spare chair and a handful of Oscar’s popcorn, and settled down to watch the last of the simulation.
As the invented stream of money was converted to cash bonuses for senior banking staff, Frankel sighed nostalgically.
“Can’t beat an old feelgood movie,” agreed Lord Telem. “But now it’s time to move forward. Onward and upward!”
Holdness looked confused. “We like this research area. It’s quite private, no one comes down here and interferes with us.”
“So it’s secure, because no one sees what we are doing,” agreed Oscar.
“Well all that’s over. The Corporate funding is in place, and Lord Blear is going to expect regular progress updates. We have a six month window in which we have to show that our efforts and labours have produced a satisfactory economic modelling tool,” Lord Telem said forcefully.
“I know how to show a profit in a fortnight,” suggested Oscar.
Lord Telem was pleased. “Can you elucidate?”
“We download and record that simulation we’ve just watched, and sell copies to the Investment Banks as motivational lectures.”
“Good idea!” enthused Frankel.
“Bet you could sell it to their Human Resource Departments for recruiting, too,” suggested Oscar.
“I’ll authorise that cost now,” instructed Lord Telem. “You chaps get on with that tomorrow. Now, we do need to consider some future forecasting as well.”
“I’ve heard that Madcap Harry is a good speculative investment,” said Holdness.
“I’ve heard that one, too,” agreed Oscar.
“Then let’s see if Doom can see who wins the 2.30 at Cheltenham Races,” said Frankel. “If he gets that right, we’ll move on.”
“To the economy?” asked Holdness.
“Certainly,” agreed Frankel. “After the next races at Haydock Park. Oscar, set up that online betting account, will you?”
“Are you seriously suggesting that we utilise the resources that are meant to be concerned in planning the country’s economic future in determining the result of horse races?” asked Lord Telem, a little scandalised.
Frankel thought quickly.
“It’s like this, Lord Telem. The future can be represented by a matrix of possible events: some of them will cause the stock market to rise, others cause it to fall. Same with the balance of payments and manufacturing output and export sales. I propose a narrowly focussed limited exposure development test designed to validate the viability of the experimental software installed to date.”
“By seeing if you can forecast a winner in the 2.30 Races?” sighed Lord Telem.
“The matrix can be easily verified over a short term forecast period, leading to greater security over the accuracy of longer term forecasts.”
Telem nodded, and left the room. His research team relaxed. Then he opened the door and put his head back in. “Stick fifty pounds on your choice each way for me, will you?” he called, and left again. The door swung shut behind him.