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First pages

Prologue

Mark assessed his wife, trying to be circumspect about it. Laura was wearing her Sunday finest – the lace trimmed petticoat under the dark blue woollen dress and her grey coat. She’d polished her boots and bought a new ribbon to hide the rip in her felt bonnet. It wasn’t her clothes which concerned him. Her face was ashen and her movements slow and pained. “We can go next month,” he suggested.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Laura snapped. “Everyone is expecting us, and you know some of the gifts won’t keep.” She caught sight of his worried expression and smiled softly. “I’m perfectly alright, dear. I’m due back at work on Thursday. I have to leave the room at some point.”

“You can stay home longer if you need to. It’ll be fine.”

“It will not be fine. Two weeks is all I’m owed and I won’t be given an hour more. You know that. Oh, now what have you done that for?” She reached down to wipe jam off Sarah’s face. “Nobody will call you pretty with a sticky mouth like that.”

Sarah said nothing, she only reached for the rest of her sandwich. She was too young to understand that this was a special day. Her older sister snatched her hand and pulled it back so hard Sarah started to cry. “I’ll keep her clean, mummy,” she said.

“That was your daddy’s job,” Laura told her, giving Mark the look. “Stand on the stool so I can get a good look at you.” Lizzie obediently popped up in the offered pedestal and twirled around, displaying her own best dress. She was perfect, a small package of lace trim, rosy cheeks and long, almost black curls. Mark thought she’d be beautiful when she was grown, which was odd, really, since he’d never thought much of that nose when he’d seen it in his own mirror. Sarah was more her mother’s daughter, her hair lighter brown and her features rounded. How much of that was puppy fat, only the years would tell. She currently looked red-faced, but that was only because she was getting a last-minute wash.

Finally, Laura was satisfied. “Well, I think we’re all ready. Take the girls, dear.” She bent over and carefully lifted the baby from his basket. He was wrapped in the same crocheted blanket that had served his sisters before him, a little frayed around the edges now. He was small, even for a new-born, and dwarfed by his swaddling, a huge bundle with only a squashed, bright pink face uncovered. Laura rocked him gently but he showed no sign of waking. Maybe he was as worn out by the long and difficult labour as his mother was.

Moving slowly, they left their room and made their way downstairs. Once at ground level, Mark plucked Sarah up and reached his other hand down for Lizzie to hold onto. He shuffled outside feeling like a stooped hunchback. He was instantly caught by a gust of wind, reminding him that winter was on its way again even though the sky was a bright blue, what he could see of it between the tightly packed terraces. The coal fired factories weren’t belching out smoke on the day of rest and in the unusually clean air he could smell other people’s lunches cooking. His stomach growled and he resolutely ignored it.

The streets were deserted, of course. Everyone who was able to walk was in the temple already. From a handful of windows the old or sick called down their blessings, which Laura replied to with proud, but awkward curtseys. She was flagging, but there was little Mark could do to help. Sarah couldn’t walk the distance either.

Their temple was, like most other things of theirs, a hand-me-down. It was a better class of building than their tenement close, a red-brick mid-terrace townhouse on a main thoroughfare, but it had been built as a merchant’s house and had none of the external finery of other temples. To either side of it merchant families still lived and traded, hoping to share the success that had allowed their neighbour to donate his house to God and buy a mansion among the gentlemen. Mark wondered what the clergy thought of it, if they thought of it, when they were kept awake by late night revelry. It wasn’t his place to guess, he supposed. At least they had a local temple, which was more than others had.

He put Sarah down and held the door open for his family. The ground floor of the building had been stripped back as far as the architecture would allow, leaving an open entrance hall and a handful of scattered pillars supporting the ceiling and the staircase. Three shrines lined the longest wall – one to justice, symbolised by wood carved angel brandishing the Staff of Law, one to mercy, another angel with the Spear of Sanctuary, and the central one to St Alice, patron saint of weavers, forever at her loom. All of them were well lit with votive candles this morning.

The sound of psalms echoed down from the top floor, separated from them by the priests’ private apartments. A place of worship had been carved out up there by pulling down the last ceiling and opening up into the attic. Ranks of simple pews faced an altar draped in blue silk, all lit by flickering candles struggling through the haze of incense. Most rest days Mark found it a calming retreat, but he wasn’t bound for it today. It sounded like the last hymn, which meant they were only just in time.

They hurried through the temple, which was three times as deep as it was broad, and out into the walled garden, where other families were waiting. This was a more traditional space, focussed on a stone circle raised over head height on a ring of classical columns. Originally an optimistic priest had tried to fill the beds with sweet-scented flowers, but over the years this had been given up in favour of the ferns and ivy that survived the constant cool shade. Mark had always hated it because they insisted on measuring time by an old water clock, which he found both annoying and inaccurate. He had suggested starting a fund to buy a proper timepiece, but had been haughtily informed that it was not a priority for temple spending so, once a month, he had to grit his teeth and bear with the monotonous drip.

Laura had no such qualms. She had found a seat and was preparing herself to sit in state, arranging her skirts and her children just so. Mark arranged himself just so, behind her shoulder in the traditional, peripheral position of “the father”. He nodded to Benny, hovering over his new wife and firstborn with an expression of pride. He wasn’t on speaking terms with the other set of new parents, but he nodded politely all the same. He’d been expecting to see Janet and Dom from Saddler Close as well and had a quick pang of worry why they weren’t there, which only proved that Laura was right not to put it off.

A gong was struck upstairs, marking the end of service. Mark glanced down, but surprisingly his son has slept through it. One of the other babies started to cry, urgently rocked by its mother. Much to everyone’s relief, she had soothed it before the first of the congregation appeared, filing out to line the walls of the garden.

Father Joseph was smiling. He smiled at all the namings and argued that he should be allowed to do them every week, even though his temple wasn’t big enough to need to. He smiled almost as wide at weddings and could be relied upon to crack good-natured jokes even at funerals, usually at the expense of the deceased. It was incongruous, because life wasn’t all that funny, but Mark supposed it was better than the alternative.

The father beckoned them forward and the three sets of parents stepped between the columns into the sacred circle. Sarah tried to come with them and had to be told to stay at her bench, to general chuckles which made her blush in furious embarrassment.

“Ah, aren’t they lovely.” The priest beamed. He fished a small bottle of oil out of his pocket and reached for Benny’s child. “And what is this new worshipper to be called?”

“Alice,” her mother said firmly. She had to struggle with herself to let the father take the baby and snatched her back again almost as soon as the anointing was done. Father Joseph chortled, used to such possessiveness. The mother reddened, but she didn’t apologise.

“Ah, Laura. Are you well, child? You can sit, you know.”

“I can stand, father.” Laura offered her son up. He’d woken up, managing to free a tiny hand to wrap around the priest’s eager finger. “His name’s Baerin.”

Mark blinked. Where had that come from?

Father Joseph didn’t question. He dabbed a tiny spot of oil on the pink forehead and welcomed Baerin to his congregation. After a few private words to the next mother, they all welcomed Patrick as well. Each family returned to their bench to be congratulated.

“Baerin?” Lizzie asked loudly. “You said my brother’s name was Robert.”

“I know I did, dear, but I changed my mind. He just looks like a Baerin.”

Mark looked at his son. How did anyone look like a Baerin, or like any other name, for that matter? If she’d decided not to call the boy after his grandfather after all, Mark wished she’d simply said so openly. Now he’d have to apologise next time he was praying, because he’d promised his father a namesake and not delivered.

“Blessings on you.” Mark forced a smile to his face and reached out to shake hands. He didn’t recognise the well-wisher, which was odd in such a small community. He was young, perhaps still in his teens, with greasy black hair and dirt lingering in the creases of his skin. His clothes were simple workwear of leather and cotton and he had a cap thrust through his belt. Mark decided he must be a newly hired boiler-lad, recently arrived from the country with no mother or wife to make him presentable, and he decided to overlook appearances in favour of an open welcome.

“Very kind of you,” the stranger said. He bent over to look at the baby and a brief flash of regret passed over his expressive face. Before Mark could question it, a thumb darted out and drew a quick benediction on Baerin’s forehead. “Good luck to you this time, little one. Oh,” he turned to Mark, “I brought a token. I hear it’s expected.” He pressed a small gift into Mark’s hand and vanished back into the crowd.

“He’s a bit strange, isn’t he?” Laura noted. She assessed her son, who was now sporting a smudge of oil and coal dust. It was a recognisable attempt at a Spear of Sanctuary, a straight line with a vaguely triangular tip, but it didn’t pass muster in the mother’s eyes and she wiped it off with a corner of the blanket. “What did he give us?”

“I didn’t look.” It was a small metal mouse, with a pointed nose, big round ears and a woollen tail behind its white enamelled body. Mark thought it was too expensive to accept even before he spotted the small key for the clockwork. “It’s too much.”

“Can I see, Daddy?” Lizzie tried to pull his hand down but Mark closed his fist. There was no point letting her get excited about a toy she couldn’t keep.

“Did you see where he went? We have to return this.”

“I can’t see anything from down here, dear. You’re the tall one.”

Mark grimaced. A stranger should be easy to spot, but he wasn’t. The ceremony was over and people were drifting away, heading home or towards the public parks for the afternoon. It was clear the stranger was already gone, and Mark had forgotten to ask his name.

“Don’t worry about it,” Laura advised. “We can give it back next week.”

“I suppose we’ll have to. It’s not likely we’ll run into him before then.” Reluctantly Mark added the mouse to the pile of buttons, pins and fruits Baerin was collecting. It was a nobleman’s toy and worth more than he and his wife earned in a month. He should be hoping they never found the over-generous young man, but he felt a chill foreboding and shivered.

Then Lizzie found the key and sent the mouse skidding down the bench. She squealed with delight and in a moment Mark’s fears were forgotten.

PART ONE – THE BLUE KNIGHT

Chapter 1

It should have been an open and shut case. A well-known felon with a rap sheet as long as your arm is caught red-handed burgling the home of a respected businessman. The guy’s only been out of jail two days and takes to his heels rather than be arrested. The police give chase, shots are fired. End result: one dead felon, one suspended officer. Aethan had been expecting to be back to work in a week after the mandatory but useless psychiatric review. Instead, he was kicking his heels six months later waiting impatiently for the incompetent and overworked internal affairs team to get around to his case.

It wasn’t that he disagreed with that outcome, he had led similar investigations in his main job and they never resolved so quickly. Department policy was to use non-lethal force and he would have shouted out any of his own officers who shot first and asked questions never. Still, he hadn’t expected it to take this long. He wouldn’t have chosen Cairns police force to moonlight for if he had, there was no point doing a “working vacation” for a company whose rules were just as strict as those you were leaving.

He shouldn’t have shot the guy, there must have been other options. He hadn’t thought of any in the time since, but they had to exist. Maybe HR were right to force him to take some time off, his reflexes were bad. The thought didn’t make it less boring to be suspended on full pay for half a year. He had nothing to do and nowhere to go.

His day job had been less than sympathetic. Mikkelson had near killed himself laughing before refusing point blank to send a shuttle to pick him up. The official response to his request suggested he view his suspension as divine intervention before reminding him that he was on holiday and should not have been moonlighting for the local law enforcement in the first place.

Aethan hated not being at work. He tried to sleep more, just to kill the time. Dreaming was better than brooding. Alcohol helped, but drinking enough of it to numb himself unconscious was an expensive pastime. The hangovers were hell too.

It was Monday morning when the feeling of impending change arrived. The day was identified by his body’s inability to stay in bed past six am despite its ingestion of enough alcohol to down an elephant the night before. Aethan felt perky enough that he was probably still drunk as he brushed his teeth. He was humming cheerily, or gurgling rather, any change would be welcome right now.

The man reflected in the mirror was young and tanned with wild floppily styled blonde hair and twinkling blue eyes. He had been smiling, but upon catching sight of himself he frowned around his toothbrush. It wasn’t a face which exuded gravitas, or experience. A rash, headstrong kind of face, great for festivals, bad for offices.

Aethan spat foam into the basin and raised his head again to assess his appearance more critically. This face had a lot to do with his current inactivity. It had been centuries since he’d last looked this young and he’d forgotten how little it suited him. It was a face that needed time to grow into, and he’d expected to have that time.

Cairns had seemed like a nice place when he’d come across it. He’d thought to stay here a few decades, maybe make some friends. That was longer than he strictly had to stay, but eternity did get lonely. Particularly in these spells of idleness which cropped up from time to time when HR got around to reviewing his holiday records.

The city itself was gorgeous, its pristine glass towers puncturing high into the blue sky, reflected in the still waters of the lake they perched beside. The streets were cleaned daily, the beaches had wide swathes of white sand, the air was crisp, the climate dry but not too hot. The food was bland but the beer was cheap. The people were pampered, plump and posh. They didn’t take well to strangers, even young, rich and handsome ones. Friends had proved hard to come by in Cairns, and without them a decades long stay was out of the question.

His sojourn in Cairns had been very boring, in fact. The two years he’d lived here had taught Aethan everything there was to know about the city on the lake. Particularly since he’d spent the last six months walking the streets aimlessly, just observing. He might spend another half year waiting for internal affairs to get their house in order. Or maybe it was time to move on. Find a younger world for an older him. In another year he’d have taken the minimum vacation needed to get himself rehired.

Using the tips of his fingers he remoulded the face in the mirror, lessening its plumpness, adding greying stubble to the hollowing cheeks. He cropped the hair shorter, lost the tan, added a few wrinkles. A bit more lived in. A bit sadder maybe, more tired. Faces said a lot about a person, and he nodded to himself when satisfied. This new one was more like him.

“I can always change it back if I need to.” He didn’t talk to himself often and the sound was somewhat unnerving.

His wardrobe of high fashion tailoring had been chosen for his younger persona and left only a few pairs of scruffy jeans and light jumpers fit for him to wear now. That suited his mood anyway and he wandered through his penthouse in relaxed form, clearing away the emptied beer cans of the night before. The confirmation of how many he’d drunk was a reminder of how hungover he would be soon and he put the kettle on in hopes of re-hydrating himself out of the worst effects.

A couple of cream cheese laden bagels later he was stood at the floor to ceiling windows watching the sunrise over the lake as he washed painkillers down with a second large mug of tea. The sun was a large one but distant from this world, its heat gentle even in Cairns’ equatorial position. It looked the same as yesterday, the coming change wasn’t that dramatic.

His father had been phoning it in when he made this world, Aethan knew. It never came up in any of his frequently changing lists of favourite creations, or his commiserated disasters. It was a safe, well tested blueprint for a habitable planet. Average size, standard mixture of elements. It wasn’t even tilted on its axis to create seasons. Two moons which acted together to cause varying weather and tidal patterns provided the only real interest.

He’d probably been distracted. Uncle Havil had built a much more interesting universe within spitting distance of here, crammed with gorgeous gas giants, tiny ice balls, neuron stars and peculiar gravity effects. It was also curiously abundant in the humanoid life-forms which Havil disdained so much. That was Beltan all over, never happier than when he could pollute someone else’s playpen. He’d never admit to it of course, that would cause a huge family quarrel.

Far below Aethan the rush hour traffic was starting in earnest, bumper to bumper cars with bright brake lights and honking horns he had to imagine since his triple glazing blocked the sound. They made him envious with their activity and bustle, their places to be and people to meet. Teams of his erstwhile colleagues were keeping the peace at the worst affected junctions, easily spotted in their luminous green tabards. He decided to go jogging.

The circumference of the lake was almost sixty miles. Half that would have been easily enough to ensure that few residents ever ran all the way around it, despite the looping path put in by city planners years ago to encourage more active lifestyles. By the time Aethan cleared the city precinct two miles out he was alone. On the land side, he was hidden from the congested road by the eight-foot-high embankment which defended it from storm swells and across the water distance and undergrowth protected him from prying eyes. All he had to worry about were the odd cyclist, but Monday morning wasn’t a popular time for long rides.

Stretching out he began to run in earnest, devouring miles faster than any mortal, burying his frustration under sweat. The far side of the lake was a nature reserve and he disturbed only deer and birds as he sped past. It reminded him that there was a lot to like about Cairns. He could holiday here happily. For a fortnight or so every century. It would keep his backlog of days off down. Maybe he could invite Kialla, she loved to swim. He should ask her, she could only say no.

What kind of life did he have? He wondered as he slowed his pace an hour later as he neared the end of the circuit and approached the busier stretch again. He was ten thousand years old and the only person he could think of to invite on holiday with him was his ex-wife. Who could do much worse than just say no. She could scream, rant, throw ornaments at his head, sour all his beer and then say no. She was a harridan. He missed her, and their son. Always.

It was still early enough when he reached the beach that the stalls and cafés lining the path had their breakfast menu boards outside. He bought a fried sandwich containing more calories than he’d burnt off and another mug of tea, visiting the café bathroom before settling on the beach with his spoils. He could always run the loop again.

The dregs of his tea were becoming cold and bitter when the old instinct prompted him to look over his shoulder at a cyclist barrelling down the path behind. The rider was a young woman with pale blue skin and dark green hair shaved along one side. She was part of a group, the others slowing to let her pull ahead. He recognized them as a street gang. They were targeting the group of mothers with strollers.

He was on his feet and running towards them even as the cyclist reached out to grab the victim’s handbag. The mother spun around and fell, the stroller rolling ahead of her unattended. The quick-thinking woman standing with her grabbed after it, staggering as the weight took her off balance. The other cyclists accelerated, passing the women and strollers fast on either side, preventing them from pursuing the thief.

“Stop! Thief!” Aethan gave chase, his position giving him some advantage since he was ahead of the cyclist’s path and already moving to intercept her. He couldn’t run too fast here, it would be noticed. The thief was getting away, nearing the edge of the park and closing in on the heavily trafficked streets where pursuit would be impossible.

“Stop! Police!” The shout was from a young woman up ahead. No older than her target she also had pale skin, hers green, and green hair, cropped into a practical bob just below her shoulders. She was average height for the area, maybe five foot six, and wearing black jeans with a blue t shirt and pink trainers. She didn’t look like police and she was no closer to catching the cyclist than he was.

What would be really helpful was if the cycle slowed down. Aethan conjured a small rock onto the path and the front wheel caught on it immediately, sending the rider over the handlebars. She staggered to her feet and started running, but the damage was done. The young policewoman had tackled and cuffed her before Aethan caught up. The rest of the gang got away.

“It’s alright, sir,” the officer reassured as he approached. “I’ve got it in hand.”

He was impressed by her efficiency as she knelt on her suspect to keep her down while calling for back up on her mobile phone. She wasn’t armed or in uniform, so it was bold of her to intervene. She’d had handcuffs in her pocket, which was a thing only young hot heads ever did.

“Did you see the theft?” She asked once her controller had confirmed support was on its way. She tilted her head up to look at him, and he saw that her eyes were a startling purple colour. He’d never seen anyone in Cairns with eyes that shade. There was a blue glow in her pupils, as if she was looking into a bright light. The sense of change coming vanished, a sign that the change had now arrived.

“Yes, she snatched that lady’s purse.” After a fraction too long delay Aethan pointed out the victim, who was making her way over with her friends. They looked shaken but unhurt.

“Are you alright, ma’am?” The officer handed her bag back as she nodded, putting her free hand up to check that her hair hadn’t been messed up.

“Yes, thank you.” She checked in her bag to make sure that nothing was missing. “No harm done it seems.”

“Alice!” her turquoise haired friend scolded, “no harm done! You could have been killed!”

Aethan frowned and opened his mouth to deny this, but Alice got there first. “Don’t be ridiculous Elspeth. People don’t die from having their bags snatched.” She picked a small mirror out of her returned bag and used it to make minute corrections to her makeup before looking back at the young woman. “You’re police, I assume?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m a trainee constable. My superiors are on their way.”

“Good.” All three women relaxed noticeably, the thief slumped sullenly. “You can deal with her then.”

“Nice to see that your heroics are appreciated,” the green haired thief deadpanned. The officer gave her a warning shake. “Are you really police? I’ve not seen you before.”

“You know all the police officers?” The thief was bleeding from a small cut above her right eye but still managed a sarcastic grin.

“Most of them, yes.”

She probably did. If you’d been in and out of jail a few times you did start to recognize people. She definitely knew the back up when they arrived, and was chatting to them cheerily as they loaded her into the back of their car.

Neither of the newly arrived officers asked for a statement, either from him or the victims or the intrepid arresting officer. Elspeth had already turned to leave and with no further thought on the matter Alice and the other woman joined her. They struck up a conversation about jewellery as they moved away.

“She’ll escape with a caution, I reckon,” he commented.

“Already in care, I expect,” the young officer agreed absently. She was a bit downcast to not even be acknowledged, and would no doubt be annoyed when she realised they’d taken her handcuffs with them. “Nothing too serious.”

“Would you like a cup of tea?” He offered as a wicked thought occurred to him.

“What?” She turned around to blink at him. Her eyes were truly extraordinary. It could just be coincidence, but he had a duty to investigate.

“A cup of tea? You’re not on duty?”

“Oh, no. It’s my … day off.” She considered him seriously, and he wondered what she saw with those eyes. Not a plain old man, he was certain. “Yes, tea in the park would be lovely.”

“Excellent. I’m Detective Aethan Reynolds.”

She shook his outstretched hand politely. “Trainee Constable Gemma Nickel.”

“Nice to meet you, Gemma.”

Chapter 2

Gemma didn’t recognize Detective Ethan Reynolds, but that didn’t mean he was lying. His halo was so bright that it had taken her a few minutes to make out his features, and even as they sat outside of the café she had to check to make sure they hadn’t changed.

They hadn’t, of course, why would they? He was a healthy older man, possibly newly retired since he was out jogging during work hours on a Monday. He was taller than her but not so much so that she had to tilt her head back to see him properly, and there was a liberal smattering of grey in his blonde hair. He was copper skinned, but his features didn’t match. He might be mixed race, like herself.

God just adored him, she’d never seen anyone so favoured. Love glowed before him as he left to order drinks, and lingered like heavy perfume until he came back. Gemma reached inside her t shirt to grip the amulet her therapist had given her. Her hallucinations were bad today.

He’d made her tea white with three sugars, his own was black. He just shrugged at her surprise. “I thought you’d like it.”

She wouldn’t normally drink tea so sweet, but it suited her mood today. It was settling to treat herself. They sat sipping and observing in companionable silence for long enough that the breakfast eaters began to leave, their seats being taken by the mid-morning cake eaters.

“Why don’t you have anywhere better to be?” Detective Reynolds asked finally, jolting her out of her peaceful daydream.

“Well,” she was supposed to be in class, but it hadn’t seemed worth the effort this morning. It was too near the exams to hope that the extra push would pick up her grades. “Why don’t you?”

“Suspended,” he admitted cheerfully. “I shot a suspect, so I have to wait for internal affairs to sort it out.”

“God, how awful,” Gemma shuddered. They’d covered that in class, of course, one of the hardest days this year, roleplaying both suspect and officer. Lots of advice on how to talk the suspect down, to lower the threat level. She’d never met anyone who’d been in that situation for real. “Was there no other way to handle it?”

Detective Reynolds paused with his cup at his lip, as though even the mandatory psychiatric review hadn’t raised that question. “There’s always another way,” he admitted finally, “it’s just that I didn’t see any other path at the time. I’m not all-seeing.”

His halo pulsed suddenly, God taking a personal interest in reassuring him. Gemma stared. Detective Reynolds stared back.

“You can see that?”

Gemma shook her head vigorously. Of course not, no one could see God’s intervention. Her hand crept up to hold the amulet again. Detective Reynolds waited quietly until she calmed down enough to realise that denial was the same thing as admitting. The correct answer would have been ‘see what?’ combined with a confused look. She sighed.

“You know you’re favoured by God?” she ventured hesitantly.

“Yes, very favoured, actually.” He grinned smugly, which made him look years younger. “You know that the auras you can see are real?”

He had a different name for them, which implied he’d heard of them before. He wasn’t behaving as though he thought she was crazy. Gemma shrugged uncomfortably, she knew better than to openly admit her beliefs to strangers, but it also wasn’t something she wanted to deny. “They’re consistent.”

Detective Reynolds nodded in friendly fashion and leaned forward to stare at her intensely. She had the impression he would know if she lied. “How long have you been seeing them?”

“A year, maybe a year and a half.” It had started small, just occasional flashes of blue. Only the strongest halos had been visible at all, mostly churches. It got worse as time went on, until it coloured everything she saw.

“Good, you’re a peak strength already then. That’s very good.”

She was scowling, but he ignored that. It hadn’t been good at all, it had ruined her life. Well, not the visions themselves, seeing everything in shades of blue didn’t make her disabled, and occasionally it gave her an edge on guessing what other people were thinking. It was telling someone about it that had spoiled everything, and led her from being close to having everything she ever wanted to being on the verge of disaster.

Detective Reynolds wasn’t allowing for any of that, and he seemed unfazed. Maybe he was one of those people old enough and jaded enough to have seen everything. “How did you know?”

“I can see the reflection of it in your eyes.” He’d finished his tea but made no move to leave. “It’s a useful skill.”

“Oh, really?”

“Not here, I suppose. Everything is blue, right? You’re just assessing brightness, and all that tells you is that God was particularly chuffed with this landmark.”

“Brightness and shading,” she clarified. Shading was much more useful, she knew a hundred different blues now. Particularly the deeply unnerving navy which meant that someone she loved was lying to her.

“Really? Shades of blue, fancy that.” Detective Reynolds wasn’t put off at all. Maybe if you had God’s personal attention things like second sight seemed more normal. “I guess its caused you some hassle?”

“You could say that.”

“Hmm,” he considered, then shrugged fluidly. “Would you like a job?”

She stared at him as she processed the sudden change in direction. “A job?”

“Yes, a job, an offer of paid employment.”

“I thought you were suspended?” His halo flickered again as he laughed and she frowned thoughtfully. If God loved him so much then he had to be a good guy. Her therapist would have a lot to say about that line of reasoning, but it was good enough for her right now. “What kind of a job?”

“Law enforcement, but on a larger scale than Cairns. It would be mostly immigration control, at least at first, because of your skillset.”

“You don’t know anything about my skillset.” She’d always been good at the practical training, but bad at theory. Immigration was a dry subject and not one of her top classes. She didn’t want to be stuck in a border cubicle checking passports all day every day. On the other hand, she was two weeks from graduation with nothing lined up and near unemployable with the mental health de-merit.

“I mean your unusual eyesight.” Detective Reynolds clarified.

Oh. He was a bit crazy himself, then, to hire someone because they hallucinated. Well, any job was better than no job at all, and she wouldn’t be fired for claiming a skillset she’d specifically been recruited for. “What pay grade are we talking about?”

He paused, then went cross-eyed and a bit absent. “I will check with HR what the current starting salary is. My last recruit it was twenty thousand dollars, local currency, but that was a few years ago now. It comes with two weeks holiday per year.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

LL Watkin is the pen name for writing partnership Liz Smith and Louise Smith, two sisters from the North of England who've been writing science fiction, fantasy and horror together for nearly fifteen years now. They’d prefer if you said ten, actually, but there it is. Some stories may be more Louise's, some more Liz's, but all spring from a collaborative process.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Louise is reading Wolves of the Calla, The Dark Tower Book 5, by Stephen King. Liz is trying Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey, which is the first in the Expanse series.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover is a close up view of one of the exhibits in the science museum in London. The photograph was taken by Liz last year and then Louise did the editing, titles and fonts. It's inspired by the more steampunk visuals in the story, particularly some which will be in later books.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Keeping on track with each other. No matter how much we discussed, planned or reviewed, we always found ourselves slightly out of continuity and needing to make corrections in the next draft!