18 April 2014

#fridayflash: simcoe street

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, and Part 14.

"So where are we?" said Cinnamon. Geoffrey had led them north through the bunker's second entrance tunnel, through a series of progressively older-looking underground passages, to a small room with red brick walls and a cobblestone floor.  The room was illuminated by a single incandescent bulb stuck in a rusty wire work lamp, showing the room was empty, but featured a newer-looking steel door opposite the rot-softened older one they'd just passed through.

Cinnamon noticed the orange electrical cord attached to the lamp ran into a hole drilled into one of the brick walls. The whole thing looked like it was meant to be temporary and then had been forgotten about.

The ceiling shuddered and rumbled as something large and heavy passed overhead. Cinnamon sprang back into the corridor, reaching for one of her guns. Pepper just clenched her fists and looked at Geoffrey.

"That was probably a dump truck," said Geoffrey. "Up until the mid-sixties, this was a debriefing room, and sometimes an isolation cell. We're underneath Simcoe Street, very near to where it intersects with King."

"What corner?" said Cinnamon.

"None of them," said Geoffrey. "We're on the south side, but we're underneath the actual street."

"And this is part of headquarters? It looks ancient."

"For around here it is. Rumour has it the Upper Canada Rebellion was partly planned in this very room." Geoffrey shrugged. "We — by 'we' I mean the company  — used to have a safe in here for documents, a table, a chair for the person asking the questions. This room got sealed up after the end of the Korean War — change in questioning policy. Couldn't use scary rooms anymore. Go figure."

"So they cleared out the furniture and..." said Cinnamon. "Just sealed it up?"

Geoffrey shook his head. "Someone must have screwed up with the paperwork. It got sealed up all right, but the furniture and the safe wasn't removed. When constructions workers building the Roy Thomson Hall accidentally found it in the late 70s, there were still two cups on the table."

"Was there anything in the safe?" said Pepper.

Geoffrey grinned without humour. "Not that anyone's been willing to admit to me." He pointed at the steel door. "We go through that, which leads to a tunnel that eventually goes under Wellington Street — the construction workers found a portion of that too, but they thought they sealed it up. Come on."

The walk was about fifteen minutes, although Cinnamon thought that between clambering over old rubble and jumping over small water pipe leaks, they couldn't have gone more than a couple of blocks. If she hadn't completely lost her bearings, they should have looped back south and to the west a little. That would put them underneath the underground shopping mall at Metro Hall — right at headquarters.

The tunnel turned to the right, and then ended abruptly at another steel door. To Cinnamon's surprise, Geoffrey simply grasped the door handle and turned it.

She checked Pepper's reaction, but Pepper had been silent and stone-faced since they'd left the underwater bunker. Cinnamon couldn't blame her. It was no fun being bait — you had to pretend to be more helpless than you really were.

The door was unlocked. Geoffrey quickly checked whatever was inside and closed the door again. "This is it," he said. "We go through this, we step into the admin office's stationery room. Anyone need sticky notes or highlighters while we're in here?"

"Ballpoint pens?" said Pepper.

"Sorry, Ellie, no weapons. They'd spot that."

"Just a well-sharpened pencil..." Pepper stopped talking when she saw the look on Geoffrey's face.

"Now as far as weapons go," said Geoffrey, turning to Cinnamon, "are you ready?"

Cinnamon shrugged. "Sure. It's a pain having all these guns holstered, but I'm okay. I'm just glad I do a lot of weight training. These things are heavy. And it's going to take me forever to get scanned and signed in by security."

"Don't worry about that. All right, here we go." Geoffrey turned the door knob again and pushed something behind it. Cinnamon heard the sound of metal scraping on cement for several seconds, and then Geoffrey's arm reappeared through the doorway, waving at them to follow him.

Cinnamon slipped through the doorway after Pepper. They now stood in a narrow room lit by fluorescent tubing, with metal utility shelves lining the entirety of every wall except the one opposite them. It had a frosted glass door in it that Cinnamon recognised as being the same design as all the rest of the interior doors in headquarters.

Pepper helped Geoffrey push the shelving unit back to in front of the door they'd just come through. Geoffrey checked the door behind it was closed completely.

"Ah! Here they are," he said, and grabbed a fistful of whiteboard markers from a small tub on the shelf they'd just moved. He strode up to the frosted glass door and opened it. "After you, ladies."

Pepper and Cinnamon walked into a bustling office area. A woman wearing a slightly better Chanel-style suit than the rest of the women in the area looked up from her laptop. "Field division out of stationery, Geoffrey?"

"The field division never has any stationery, Martha, you know that," said Geoffrey. "I need to do a debrief and task analysis with these two, and I had nothing at all to write with." He beamed a smile at Martha.

Cinnamon fought to hide her surprise as she noticed Martha blushing. "Oh you," she said. "You're just lucky we don't have to sign that stuff out."

Geoffrey thanked Martha with exaggerated gallantry, then led Cinnamon and Pepper to the elevator bays. A man in a maintenance engineer's uniform got on the elevator with them, but exited only one floor down.

"So in case anyone's wondering," said Geoffrey, "we really are going to my office for  a few minutes. At least long enough to make it look like a real meeting."

"Mostly I'm just wondering exactly how badly our security sucks," said Cinnamon.

To be continued...

14 April 2014

guest post from icy sedgwick: visuals in fiction

It can be easy when writing to sometimes fall into the trap of reducing visuals to personal appearance, or a vague nod in the direction of setting. Literary fiction conditions us to primarily consider feelings or moods, and genre fiction devolves into a collection of stereotypes. Some writers use visuals purely to repeatedly tell us how attractive a character is, and other visuals end up standing in for an archetype – witness the number of beefy barbarians or aristocratic vampires. But can visuals play a bigger role, particularly in world building, and help transport a reader into the setting that you’ve imagined, rather than into their own interpretation?
I’m a big fan of set design within films, and I think there is real potential to use set design within novellas too – you’re not just ‘writing’ the setting, you’re ‘designing’ the setting. It involves a little more conscious thought and planning about how rooms or settings will look, and what impact those visuals will have on the reader. Consider the way JK Rowling depicted Dolores Umbridge’s office in Hogwarts – her cutesy obsession with pink and kittens was possibly more monstrous even than her behaviour, but it was a deft touch that helped to make Umbridge even more detestable.
Obviously you don’t want to get carried away with the visuals. If you start describing every single stick of furniture in the room, a reader isn’t going to know what’s pertinent to the story, and they’re also going to switch off from the story after being bombarded with description. Anton Chekov came up with the idea, now known as Chekov’s Gun, that if you hang a gun on a wall in act one, you’d better use it by act three, or audiences (readers in this case) will wonder why it’s there. You want to paint a broad enough picture that readers can ‘see’ the setting, but include enough details to foreshadow future events and give away details about characterisation that’ll save you from having to artificially describe them yourself. A room with peeling wallpaper and damp patches on the ceiling lets us know the inhabitant is slovenly and disinterested in his environment without us having to ever say as much.
The visuals of The Necromancer’s Apprentice are a bit of a mixed bag. The Underground City, where we first meet Jyx, was based very heavily on Mary King Close and the Blair Street vaults of Edinburgh. Picture dank spaces, devoid of natural light, where the air is clogged by the soot from gas lamps and the tall, narrow tenement buildings stretch up into darkness. It’s a Victorian slum, inspired in part by Gustav DorĂ©’s nineteenth-century engravings of Whitechapel, where the alleys are called ‘closes’ because they’re so crammed together. By contrast, the part of the City Above that we get to see as Jyx travels to the Academy is based on Venice, all quiet canals and buildings with white shutters and delicate balconies, where Jyx can see the sky. It seemed a good way to set the two spaces up in contrast with each other, demonstrating the affluence and clean air of one, and the poverty of the other.
Yet that’s not all the visuals are for. True, they make good scene-setting, and people can quickly ‘see’ what sort of locations these are, and they can compare these imaginary locations with ones that they know in order to form connections or draw conclusions. You can also hide clues in the set design that like-minded people will pick up on, giving them a satisfactory ‘a-ha!’ moment when they recognise something in your design. When Jyx reaches the House of the Long Dead where he’ll be working for the necromancer general, he finds a lot of the art painted on the walls features figures drawn flat, in profile, which was my way of referencing Egyptian art. The Wolfkin are descended from Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, and he later discovers a statue of a man with the head of an ibis in my nod to Thoth, the god of knowledge. On their own, they just add to the set-dressing and help to build an atmosphere, but anyone who shares these interests will spot the references, and it should hopefully enhance their enjoyment of the story.
What about you? What kind of visuals do you like in your stories?

Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and lives and works in Newcastle. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar & Other Stories.
She spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies, considering the use of set design in contemporary horror. Icy had her first book, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution, published in 2011, and her horror fantasy, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, was released in March 2014.

11 April 2014

#fridayflash: concentration

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, and Part 13.

 Cinnamon ripped a fresh sheet of paper from the pad and set it on the cutting board she'd repurposed as a clipboard. At the top of the page, she wrote "DOUG" in giant letters. Underneath she jotted down a list:
  • recruited and graduated same year as me
  • always bombed every exercise and group activity
  • acts like he knows what's going on — not just a messenger boy
  • acts like he's in charge, not just of the goons for this job
  • rumour was he'd flunked his field procedures exams AND intelligence analysis
The pencil broke as she carved the last question mark into the paper. She swore, slapped the paper on the mess hall table with the others, and grabbed the pencil sharpener.

She glanced over the other notes as she jammed the pencil into the sharpener and gave it a few twirls. The top row was for notes on people: DeBussy, herself, Geoffrey and Pepper. She'd also included Munroe and some other people in research she thought could be involved. The second row was a timeline of all the major events which had happened, started with the job being assigned. The third row was for items: the decoy USB key and the real data on the microSD card Pepper had found, the files themselves, and an inventory of the weapons they'd filched from Doug and his goons before canoeing out into the lake.

Cinnamon tapped the spare pencil shavings into a wastepaper basket she'd found and made herself re-read every note in detail. She shook her head. "I can't see it," she said under her breath.

"Can't read your own handwriting?" said a voice from the doorway to the dormitory. Cinnamon clutched at the gun in her shoulder holster, then relaxed when she saw it was Geoffrey.

"Just trying to figure this out," Cinnamon said, gesturing at the papers.

"But you've been checking both entrances and the cameras too, right?" said Geoffrey, walking up to the table.

"Every fifteen minutes," said Cinnamon. "Nothing to report."

"Good," said Geoffrey. He picked up the notes on the data files. "This isn't accurate, you know." He tapped one of the entries in the list. "The data's sensitive, and it shouldn't be found off its isolated network, but that doesn't mean it would fetch much of a market price."

"It's Level 9," said Cinnamon. "It's not supposed to leave the building. You can't even transmit it on a dedicated line."

Geoffrey nodded as he replaced the paper on the table. "Yes, but that's just because it's from NATO, and anything we get from NATO always gets classified as Level 9. But you saw the file names. It's not like it's launch codes or submarine routes, or even a duty roster. Even journalists wouldn't give a shit about that stuff." He stepped back from the table. "No. NATO bureaucracy needs it, but it's useless outside of that particular environment. Wouldn't help you break in. Can't even be used with other accessible data to find out something interesting."

Cinnamon bit her lip. "I just wanted to do something useful while I was on watch. Maybe once I catch some sleep I'll be able to come up with something..."

"This is useful," said Geoffrey. He chuckled and pointed to the note on Doug. "Did you really get him against the mat while you had the flu?"

"It was worse than that," said Cinnamon. "I kicked him in the head. He was unconscious for thirty-seven seconds."

"I wonder if he knows that as well as you do," said Pepper, entering the mess hall. "What is all that?"

"Sheila's been breaking things down," said Geoffrey. "I think she's found something."


Geoffrey gave Pepper a look. "You're not going to like it."

Pepper leaned over the table and scanned the pages. "This is just recording what we know. Not a bad thing," she added quickly, glancing at Cinnamon. "Mercenary finds a mole willing to sell some data, arranges a buy, but a job for slightly different reasons thwarts him. Or it will once we can come in from the cold."

"But consider," said Geoffrey, picking up the note on DeBussy and holding it behind his back. "Now what's the story?"

"If you take him out of it, then..." Cinnamon's eyes widened, then narrowed. "But he is in it. Take him out and it distorts everything. It looks like it's all about Ellie."

"One way to find out," said Pepper. She locked eyes with Geoffrey. "You're going to have to bring me in."

"Yes," said Geoffrey. He shot a look at Cinnamon. "Get some sleep. The two of us will figure out how to stage this."

Cinnamon nodded and headed for the dormitory with a frown. She wasn't quite sure how she'd just been shut out of her own analysis.

She reached the bunk area and startled. Only one bunk was made up to sleep in.

That's against regulations! she thought. Then again, maybe Pepper and Geoffrey didn't care under the circumstances.

Pepper's voice floated into the dormitory from the mess hall. "This is Sarajevo all over again," she said.

"That's what worries me," said Geoffrey, and then he added something Cinnamon couldn't hear.

03 April 2014

#fridayflash: stock-taking

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, and Part 12.

"That sky's looking awfully pale," said Cinnamon. She was the only one facing east as Pepper and Geoffrey paddled the canoe to Lake Ontario's western shore.

"Can't do anything about it," said Geoffrey. He pointed at a spot slightly north of the canoe's course. "We need to head a little more that way. Damn condo developments have obliterated all the landmarks, not to mention half the shoreline shape."

"We could risk a quick geo check," said Pepper.

"It's okay," said Geoffrey. "I can see the Humber College campus from here, and that's all I really need to go by. At least they haven't moved that yet."

Any natural beach had been removed or covered with football-sized chunks of cement, which served the double purpose of both using up construction leftovers and making the shore too awkward to swim or dive from. Geoffrey instructed Pepper to navigate to a lonely dock that looked like it should have ripped up and carted off decades ago.

"We can tuck the canoe under this," he said, as Pepper helped Cinnamon disembark. "Just put the paddles inside and then push down and towards the dock, like so..." The canoe squeezed under the short end of the dock and disappeared underneath.

Cinnamon and Pepper followed Geoffrey off the dock and onto the adjoining parkland. Geoffrey walked into a close-cropped lawn surrounded by bicycle paths, checking the grass as he made a show of turning out his pockets, as if he'd just dropped his keys. Some joggers were making their way along the path from about a quarter-kilometre away.

"Here," said Geoffrey, stomping on what looked like a lawn sprinkler. The edge of a rusty utility tunnel cover popped up. Cinnamon and Pepper pretended to be helping him look for the imaginary keys as the joggers went past them.

All three of them did a visibility check. When they nodded to each other in agreement that they weren't being watched, Geoffrey prised up the tunnel cover and Pepper and Cinnamon slipped in. Geoffrey followed them, hitting a button on the tunnel wall that triggered the cover to fall back into place.

Geoffrey tapped both the women on the shoulder, and they leaned towards him. "This way," he whispered. Holding hands and walking in total darkness, they formed an awkward human chain as they made their way down the tunnel, Geoffrey in front with his free hand reaching before him. The tunnel was dry at least.

At the last they came to a door. Pepper listened to Geoffrey adjusting something in the dark. It reminded her of a job she'd been on once which had involved some safe-cracking. The sucking sound of water-tight seals giving way announced that Geoffrey had remembered how to unlock the door.

"It's like the door on a ship," he said quietly. "You'll have to step over."

Pepper waved her arm in front of her until she found Geoffrey's waiting hand, then let him guide her through the doorway. Cinnamon did the same, and they stood in the dark while Geoffrey sealed the door behind him.

"The good thing about that hatch is it's not just water-tight, but pretty soundproof," said Geoffrey in a more normal tone of voice. "Hang on..." Pepper and Cinnamon listened to him running his hands over the walls. There was the sharp sound of an industrial switch being thrown, and they stood blinking in the blue-white light of a series of fluorescent tubes.

The lighting showed that the tunnel they now stood in ran down a series of ramps, back out into the lake. Cinnamon wondered if the faint, intermittent sound she heard was a fluorescent tube on the blink or dripping lake water.

It was a long walk to the bunker itself. Geoffrey apologetically explained that there used to be some golf carts in the tunnel once it reached maximum depth and ran level, but they had been removed when the bunker was mothballed.

"It still gets a maintenance check on the last day of every month, so we don't have to worry too much about it being dangerous," he said. "But it's a bloody long walk. Sorry about that."

The bunker proper was sealed off from the end of the tunnel by a double set of sealed hatches. Geoffrey explained they were intended as an airlock in case the tunnel was breached but not the bunker.

Inside Geoffrey had to turn on another circuit's worth of fluorescent lights.

Cinnamon stared up at the interlocking triangles forming the inside of the domed main room. "This reminds me of something," she said.

"Ontario Place, the IMAX theatre," said Geoffrey. "The bunker's a series of Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes."

"Funny these don't get more notice from passing boats," said Pepper.

"Oh, we're well under the lake bed now," said Geoffrey. "Nothing to see but a couple of cameras, and even for 1980s tech they're pretty well camouflaged."

He led them to the sleeping quarters — several rows of military-style cots. "Bedding's in there," he said, pointing to some lockers. "I guess we ought to keep a watch. I can go first."

"I'll do it," said Cinnamon. "I didn't do any of the paddling, and I bet I woke up last out of the three of us."

Geoffrey hesitated, then nodded.

Cinnamon left Pepper and Geoffrey to sort out the cots and returned to the working/living space. She checked the camera feed, but it was still too dark to see anything outside, and she didn't want to risk the floodlights. She checked one of the steel desks near the camera station and found a pad of ruled paper and a fistful of pencils. Some more searching yielded a pencil sharpener.

Cinnamon thought for a moment, then headed for the mess area. She picked up a plastic cutting board. One side was scarred with knife-cuts, but the other side was unused and smooth. She brought it back to the camera area, tore a sheet of paper off the pad, put it against the smooth side of the cutting board, and began to write.

01 April 2014

six years

Yesterday The Eyrea celebrated its sixth anniversary! I feel like I should be baking a cake or something. It would have been more traditional to celebrate the fifth anniversary when it happened last year, but I was preoccupied with other things. Typical.

That first post is strange to read now, because it's talking about a very different cyberspace. At the time, I just wanted to get out of Facebook. Joining Facebook remains one of my biggest social media regrets, not because anything overly embarrassing happened, but just because it was a colossal waste of time. I didn't connect with any old friends, and most of the people I did connect with were, quite frankly, annoying. Since I haven't heard from them at all since, I can say that.

It's funny how desperate that first post was to prove there was life outside of Facebook (like the part reassuring readers we could still play Scrabulous).

Nowadays I just don't care. My network connections are much better now, both in the number of people and in their quality. People are much more interesting and pleasant when you're learning about them outside of 80s sitcom quizzes and Farmville. I'm more comfortable blogging now — the early counts of 18 posts per year have grown to 1-2 posts per week. Best of all, communities like Friday Flash are easier to find and connect up with outside of the big blue cage.

I like the blog format. I like how it lends itself well to short essays and flash fiction, the two forms I'm most comfortable composing in. I like the spirit of community it fosters. I like that I get to pick my own damn colour scheme.

Thank you to everyone who has dropped by and read something, and especially to those who leave comments. I hope you enjoyed the read.

More to come...

28 March 2014

#fridayflash: undercurrents

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.

Toronto Harbour is remarkably quiet after midnight, given that over two million people live around it. Air activity at Billy Bishop Airport must stop by eleven PM, and the last ferry run between the islands and the mainland is at midnight. After that, one might see a water taxi bringing a late-night reveller from a pub on the Islands to the mainland, or the motorboat of an Island resident giving a visitor a lift to the quay.

But that's all in the summer, which made the sight of a canoe all the more unusual. It was barely spring, and not only was the canoe travelling from the mainland to the Islands, the opposite direction from the norm, but its occupants seemed to be both expert canoeists and wholly unprepared for their late-night voyage.

The person paddling in the bow was clearly a man, wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The light pollution from the harbourfront made his shirt and greying hair a pale gold.

The person paddling in the stern was of indeterminate sex, dressed in a black billowing coat, hair pulled back tight in a pony tail.

The paddlers gave three quick strokes on opposite sides of the canoe, switched sides by flipping the paddles in the air in front of them, and then three quick strokes again. From the side it looked not so much that they were paddling as much as digging their way through the water. The canoe sliced through the harbour, swiftly delivering them to the strait between Centre Island and Hanlan's Point.

A third figure was sitting very still in the centre of the canoe. Again the sex was impossible to determine from a distance. They were wearing a dark-coloured hooded sweatshirt. A few strands of bright red, chin-length hair escaped from the black baseball cap on their head.

Their face was hidden in the shadow from the cap's peak, and they seemed very busy with something lying on the bottom of the canoe.

The paddlers stopped fifteen metres from the point, and let the canoe glide amongst the sailboats and motorboats tied up in the marina. Back on the mainland shore, shadows raised themselves from the ground and groaned, then swore. By the time the shadows pulled themselves upright and resolved into men, the canoeists and their single passenger had disappeared into the twisting channel between the islands.

Geoffrey switched from the racing-style paddling they had used to cross the harbour to the leisurely C-curl he knew Pepper would expect from him. He pulled the canoe through the water while Pepper steered from the stern.

Somewhere to the west there were the sounds of a party going full tilt, but here everything was quiet, the only sound coming from their paddles reaching into the water.

The channel meandered a lot, but Pepper seemed to know where she was going. When they finally came clear of the Islands. Geoffrey was surprised at how far east they'd come. They passed the rusting hulks of abandoned freighters and the Leslie Street Spit, its skinny fingers grasping at the lake but never quite holding it.

Pepper called out to paddle racing-style again, and they headed southwest until the lights from the city of Hamilton seemed slightly closer than the few streetlights visible on the Islands. The waves were much choppier outside of the harbour, and Pepper altered the orientation of the canoe to minimise how much the water would push them around.

"It should be safe to talk here," said Pepper. "Just remember how much sound carries over water like this."

Geoffrey handed his paddle to Cinnamon and carefully shifted around so he was facing towards the stern.

Pepper looked up at the sky. "Crap," she said. "If that's where Orion is, then it must be... what, three in the morning? No wonder I'm tired."

Geoffrey cupped a hand over his wristwatch and quickly flicked the backlight on. "Three-fourteen," he said. "We have to either find a safe house to sleep in or turn the tables on this lot quickly."

"Both sounds good to me," said Cinnamon. "Want to go the rest of the way to Hamilton?"

"It's farther than it looks," said Pepper. "The lake's forty kilometres across at this point. The sun will be up before we get there, and we'll be spotted."

"We have to go somewhere. There's nothing here."

Pepper chuckled. "According to the local UFO groups, we're floating right over top of a flying saucer base."

Cinnamon snorted. "You think the little green men are after the data?"

"It's not a flying saucer base," said Geoffrey.

"I was just joking around," said Pepper.

"I'm not," said Geoffrey. "It's not a flying saucer base. It's one of ours. During the Cold War someone had the bright idea that if Toronto got nuked an underwater bunker could come in handy. I think the physicists said it would be useless for a nuclear winter, but they didn't control the budget or the project scope. It hasn't been used since late 1980s, but it's still there, and it's still in good shape."

"And we know this because..." said Pepper.

"My first desk job with the agency was mothballing it," said Geoffrey. "The security stuff — files, protocols, code books — that's all been removed. But there's non-perishable food, beds, power... the brass figured that even if we weren't going to get nuked, there could be an epidemic or an insurrection or something that would make a bunker at the bottom of the lake handy."

"Zombie apocalypse, alien invasion..." said Cinnamon.

"We don't have to swim to it or anything, do we?" said Pepper. "The water's awfully cold."

Geoffrey took his paddle back from Cinnamon. "Due west," he said. "We want to get to Port Credit."

To be continued...

20 March 2014

#fridayflash: all downhill

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.


Doug quirked a crooked smile and adjusted his gun stance. "You're the one who's going to get shot, Ellie."

Pepper rolled her eyes. "Yeah, in front of at least six CCTV cameras, not counting the red-light camera at the intersection. You're going to have your close-up on every news outlet in the country, and half the US too."

Doug started to look for the cameras, then caught himself. "Just give me the data, Ellie."

"If it means you're not going to shoot me, or Sheila or Geoffrey — just to be clear — then sure. We can go pick it up."

"Pick it up?"

Pepper made a tutting sound. "You lost me outright for over an hour, Doug. Did you think I just rode the subway the whole time?"

Doug cocked his head at Cinnamon, who was looking down her nose at him. "She picked you up."

"Uh huh. And you followed the car the whole time, right? Got a tracker on it?"

"She's stalling," said the goon with his gun trained on Geoffrey's head.

"What the hell am I stalling for?" said Pepper. "What, I'm going to keep up this standoff until morning comes and the office drones show up and make this little meeting impossible to continue? I don't think so. Doug, your help is even stupider than you are."

"Where did you hide it?" Doug said. "The data."

"Queen's Quay Terminal," said Pepper.

"Bullshit," said Doug. "There's no way —"

Cinnamon sighed loudly. "Gardiner to Lakeshore, Lakeshore to Queen's Quay Boulevard, then Queen's Quay back to Lakeshore to go north on University Avenue. University to College, then south on Bay Street. Total detour time no more than fifteen minutes in light traffic, which we had." She glanced at Pepper. "We should have gone around back via Elizabeth Street like you said."

"Shit happens," said Pepper.

"So where is it then?" said Doug. His voice cracked.

"It's a microSD card," said Pepper. "You think I can just give you directions? I'll have to go there and get it."

The goon standing behind Cinnamon swung and arm around her neck and put his gun to her temple.

"Watch it, asshole!" said Cinnamon, grabbing at his forearm. "You're choking me!"

"We'll keep your friends here, with, ah, my friends, and then we'll come back once we get the data," said Doug.

"Not acceptable," said Pepper. "I leave, and while I'm getting you the data your goons kill them. No way. Either we all go, or you leave now empty-handed."

"We can't just march down Bay Street holding guns to your backs," said Doug.

"The rest of Canada would think it's an awesome metaphor for the national banking district," said Cinnamon. "Hey!" She fought to keep her balance as her guard almost pulled her down. "What, you got relatives who are stock brokers or something?"

"Let her go," said Doug. "All right," he said to Pepper, gesturing with his gun, "we'll do it."

"How do we know you won't just shoot us after you have the data?" said Geoffrey.

"We'll..." Doug stopped, flummoxed.

"You could trade your guns for the data card," said Geoffrey.

"These things weren't cheap," said Doug. "We... no, wait, if we do that, you can shoot us and get the data back."

"Trade two out of three," said Pepper. "That way you still get to have a gun, so attacking isn't risk-free for us, and you have leverage to get away."

"But then we won't have guns," said the thug holding on to Cinnamon.

"You can get more," said Doug. He flicked his gun towards the south. "Let's go. Don't do anything to make us use them while we all have them."

"Just make sure you keep up," said Pepper.

They trudged the five blocks to the lake, silent except for when Pepper turned west to walk the final block to the terminal and one of the thugs thought she was trying to escape.

"Watch what the hell you're doing," Doug shouted.

"Do you think," Pepper said in normal tone of voice, "that it's a good idea to shoot a gun when the only building that's not a condo tower around here is a hotel? The question isn't whether or not there'll be witnesses, but how many dozen. It's this way."

They walked up to a grey-painted wooden hut with a small dock behind it. "This way," said Pepper, leading them behind the hut and onto a strip of solid ground only a few metres wide.

Pepper stopped sooner than Doug was expecting, and he walked into her. She grabbed his gun hand with both of hers and twisted it. There was a cracking sound, and Doug screamed as the gun fell from his hands.

Cinnamon stomped on her guard's foot, then elbowed him in the stomach before he could react. She karate-chopped him in the neck and took his gun out of his hands, using it to knock him across the head. He fell unconscious to the pavement.

Geoffrey threw his guard against the side of the shed, forcing his gun hand into an odd, intricate position. Finger bones snapped, and Geoffrey gained control of the gun, which he used to knock out his opponent.

"Dumbass," said Pepper, giving Doug one last kick in the head.

"I haven't had to do that in ages," said Geoffrey.

"I haven't had to do that for six weeks," said Cinnamon. "So now what?"

"I don't know about either of you, but I need some time off the grid," said Pepper. "Let's get out on the lake." She flicked the padlock on the door of the grey hut. "You still remember how to paddle a canoe, Geoffrey?"