Excerpt: SIMUL by Andrew Caldecott

1

An Unwanted Message

Every seat is taken at the long oval table. Cards, perfectly aligned on the green baize cloth, declare the ministerial post of each chair’s occupant. Outside, a yellowish mist clings to the windowpanes. The Prime Minister glares at the Secretary of State for the Environment. ‘Logging in the Amazon! Since when are we Brazilians? What the hell is it doing here?’

‘It’s the UN’s Rainforest Day; we can say we discussed it.’ ‘Right. Discussed. Next: Chancellor?’

At that moment, a semi-transparent young woman in a short skirt appears in the centre of the Cabinet table.

‘Hi! I’m Triv. As a minor royal grabs the headlines for wearing the same dress twice, and I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! starts its fortieth series in the Amazon jungle, the following birds of brilliance are lost forever to Brazil and the world: Spix’s macaw, the Alagoas foliage-gleaner, the cryptic treehunter—’

The Prime Minister’s fist slams the tabletop. Water glasses dance. ‘Get that woman out of here!’

Some, mostly men, leer and fantasise; others stare at their shoes.

Security steps into the breach.

‘I’m afraid she’s virtual, Prime Minister.’ ‘Who’s doing this?’

‘Tempestas, Prime Minister. You may recall a similar stunt in the Oval office last month.’

‘Get the Attorney General. I want an injunction now. And find us another room.’

One junior minister whispers to another, ‘To think he gave Lord Vane his peerage.’

With a suggestive swing of the hips, Triv moves from her liturgy for the vanished to a farewell song as the Cabinet file out:

‘In the Final Chance Saloon Mere survival is a boon,

So ready for the horror Which undid poor Gomorrah: For, baby, she’s coming soon.’

 

2

Audiences

 

Down the passage in Tiriel’s Tower, men and women on plastic chairs and the Tempestas payroll map the progress of the corrosive storms sweeping away the last remnants of the old world, but here in Lord Vane’s study, news arrives, and orders leave, on paper. He is deeply radical and yet deeply conservative. One such order has brought his only son’s young governess, Nancy Baldwin, to the door. She knocks. ‘In!’ bellows Lord Vane, who does not wait for the door to close before delivering his diatribe: ‘Why is that boy simpering over art books?’

‘I was asked to give him an education,’ replies Miss Baldwin gamely. Stocky in build, with a plain but resolute face, she stands her ground physically as she does in argument.

‘He is heir to the world’s last kingdom, not a student of daubs and scribblings.’

The boy, thirteen today, stands awkwardly to one side of his father’s large, ornate desk, hands behind his back. ‘It’s only two hours a week,’ he interjects quietly.

‘You speak when you’re spoken to,’ snaps Lord Vane in a voice which cows most opposition.

But the boy has learnt courage from Miss Baldwin. ‘She teaches me Machiavelli too,’ he says.

‘Does she, now? It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. Do you teach that, Miss Baldwin?’

The boy interrupts a second time. ‘Two impulses drive us: love or fear. Isn’t that the choice we rulers have to make?’

Lord Vane rises from his equally ornate chair. He approaches his son, as if to strike him. Instead, he spins round to face Miss Baldwin once more.

‘From now on, he’ll be taught by the Master of the Weather- Watchers.’

The boy’s head sinks low to his chest.

‘Mr Jaggard is no teacher,’ says Miss Baldwin. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘He is not a man who shares.’ ‘He will if I tell him to.’

‘And he revels in our tragedy.’

‘Our tragedy? You mean theirs! If the world had listened, if the world had acted, most could – would – have survived. More to the point, Jaggard has a clever son about the same age. They’ll get on famously.’

Clever, indeed, she thinks, but slippery as an eel and not her idea of a good influence.

Lord Vane softens, and that is his reputation: generous, once he has had his way. ‘I’m not dismissing you, of course. You can help young Potts with the library databases.’ He turns back to his son. ‘But no art books for you, now or ever.’

Next in is a fresh-faced Peregrine Mander.

‘Ah, young Mander! Is the art of the old world logged and recorded?’ asks Lord Vane, sitting down again at his magnificent pedestal desk.

‘Hardly all of it, my Lord, but what I hope is the crème de la crème.’ ‘Your postcard idea was genius. No galleries to turn people soft,

but a space-efficient record of our wasted craftsmanship.’ ‘I’m pleased you approve, my Lord.’

‘Just keep my son away from them. Arty-farties are unfit to govern.’ ‘I have limited experience on that topic,’ replies Mander cautiously.

‘Miss Baldwin says you’ve mastered the Matter-Rearranger.’ ‘You never master the culinary arts, you merely develop them.’ Lord Vane smiles rarely these days, but he does now.

‘I have to say, Mander, you speak like a man in his sixties.’ ‘I’ll take that as a compliment, my Lord.’

‘Good, because I’ve a proposal. I need a fetcher and carrier. Someone to make mealtimes a pleasure. Someone trustworthy, to keep an eye. Are you up for it?’

Mander nods gently as Lord Vane encourages him.

‘I want you to stand out and be respected. So, how about the traditional kit?’

‘Which tradition is that, my Lord?’ ‘Personal service.’

‘Ah, the gentleman’s gentleman.’ Mander mulls, but briefly. ‘I shall visit the Tempestas’ tailor this very afternoon.’

In Mander’s complex mind, it is rare for an offer to seem instantly right, but this one does. He will be inside the citadel of power, yet will pose no threat in his white tie and tails. The dress and deferential language of the butler will make him near invisible, but, boy, he will listen. And, in his own way, he will act. Lord Vane has no idea what a promotion this is.

‘So, you’re game?’

Game he is, and game is the word. ‘I trust I’ll not disappoint, my Lord.’

‘That’s settled, then. I feel this will be a long and fruitful rela- tionship. Keep an eye on my son, too. We can’t have a wimp for an heir.’

Two satisfactory audiences, from Lord Vane’s perspective: objec- tives accomplished without conflict. But the next may be more testing.

A young outlier waltzes in, no respectful pause at the threshold like the others. She looks a maverick too: one eyebrow higher than the other, a nose which tilts slightly to the right, a quizzical lopsided smile. At least the eyes are the same colour. They say she is a sponge for detail and mistress of the colourful phrase.

‘I trust you are pleased with your appointment, Miss Crike?’ ‘Tickled pink.’

Tickled pink is not how his patronage is usually greeted. I’m very grateful, your Lordship would be a start.

He gives her a prompt: ‘The Official History of Tempestas. That’s quite a subject and quite a privilege. The library has a whole shelf set aside.’

Crike eyes the old fox. She could write the official version right now. Tempestas warned like an Old Testament prophet. Humanity closed its ears and paid in fire and brimstone. Think Sodom and Gomorrah.

‘What is an official history?’ she asks.

‘A narrative provided by those who know. Mr Venbar and Mr Jaggard will give you whatever time you need. As will I, of course.’ ‘An excellent start,’ replies Miss Crike, lingering over the last syllable.

‘The best historian in your year, I’m told.’

‘My university had spires, meadows, quads laid to grass and a river. All dust now. Nothing like loss to strengthen your sense of history.’

Lord Vane softens, though less sure, this time, that he has got his way. ‘I went to a university like yours. I know how you feel. I’ve even remembered my college in my will.’

Hilda Crike bobs, more an acknowledgement than a curtsey, and withdraws.

So, Crike the spy and Crike the actress are born, for history is about what truly happened: a task for stealth and subterfuge. She might even get a chance to remedy whatever faults the truth reveals. She is ambitious to shape history as well as record it.

On reaching the library, an oddity strikes her. How can Lord Vane donate to a college which no longer exists?

***

Andrew Caldecott is a QC specialising in media law; he has represented a wide variety of clients, from the BBC and the Guardian to supermodel Naomi Campbell. An occasional playwright, he turned his hand to fiction with the bestselling ROTHERWEIRD trilogy: Rotherweird, Wyntertide and Lost Acre. Rotherweird has sold over 100,000 copies across all formats. His new duology, which began with Momenticon and concludes with Simul, has published to glowing praise.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simul-Momenticon-2-Andrew-Caldecott/dp/1529415470

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