. . . Alex Brightsmith

I want to tell you a story.

No, scratch that . . . I want to tell you a whole lot of stories.

I want to tell you about mistrusting, mistrusted Kathryn Blake – traceuse, pickpocket and cat-burglar – the girl who got into Kimine’s machine on the ground floor, and smashed it all to Hell.

I want to tell you about the Lady Waiting, and how a young First Rider and a cadet with her arms in minor set out to challenge a corrupt court, a mad preisthood and the gods themselves in their search for a lost princeling, and find themselves on an epoch changing journey in her name.

I want to tell you about Mirabella of the Untouched, and what happened after she failed to commit suicide-by-contact . . .

        . . . about Cal, the only survivor of the Birmingham starfire incident, who becomes mankind’s ambassador in one last, desperate effort to persuade the Qr’nt to make their stand . .

. . . why you should never shake hands with a man with a star shaped mole in the webbing of his right thumb . . .

                                        . . . and why one of the founders of Neptunian science endures such a thoroughly unsatisfactory housekeeper.

Undsciplined as I am, you may expect that this will take me quite some time.  Whilst I’m getting there, here are some short stories, teaser fragments, and random musings.

You can also find me on Goodreads, where you’ll mainly find short posts on words and writing.

That’s here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6525253.Alex_Brightsmith.

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Even London sleeps, eventually.

Kate moved through silent streets, searching, the euphoria of 2 am fading into a raw buzz of adrenaline, caffeine and too little sleep. She was somewhere near the Globe when they called in the Regent’s Park sighting, but though she reached for the radio she never answered it. John had picked it up before her hesitation showed, so she never had to explain that frozen moment staring out across the river.

They’d had nothing to run on but hunches all night, and she was past any attempt at analysis. All she knew was that the river drew her on. For the moment that was enough, and later no one was inclined to ask questions. She’d crossed the river. She’d found their man. They never asked her how it took so long to cross the bridge.

It was a flat ribbon of darkness in a sea of light, floating on the eerie glow of the wings that held it aloft. On the far bank St Paul’s was still lit up, and suddenly its brightness was framing a dancing man. He must have been leaning on one of the supports. Her instincts screamed for her to back off, but she walked on mechanically. He really was dancing, she realised. No crazed jig, but a waltz. As she reached him he bowed and in a daze she took his hand.

For three measures they crossed the bridge together, and all she knew was the mixed scent of him, the utter gravity of his smile and the pain of his eyes.

She should have stayed, she should have asked him, she should have tried to pull him from the depths.

But she had work to do, and she left him there. In the morning he was dead.

Another little something inspired by Microcosms – and another little visit from Kathryn Blake, by way of a promise that she will be back one day, she will, really, she will.

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Sweets from a stranger

Simone walked into the alley in a careless slouch, apparently oblivious to the sounds of restless movement from the shadows. Her hands tightened into fists when she heard the whisper of steel against leather, but her hands stayed deep in her pockets and she managed to keep her head down and her shoulders rounded. She didn’t drop the pretence until a nasty little laugh told her it was too late for anything she did to change the outcome.

She paused then, and turned on the three men blocking her retreat. Three was more than she’d expected, but there was nothing she could so about that. One blade. One inexpertly wielded set of nunchuks. One walking mountain, still issuing a low chuckle that might have been more menacing if it hadn’t brought to mind a certain cartoon mutt.

They seemed a little nonplussed by her lack of reaction, so she smiled helpfully, but before she could ask if they needed assistance the wannabe martial artist kicked enough brain cells into action to manage

“Well well Miss, what we got here? It’s gonna be like, whatchacallit, that thing they say about sweets?”

She kept her eye on the knifeman, the only man smart enough to stay silent, but she gave the question enough attention to frown for a moment and then suggest

“That you shouldn’t take them from strangers?”

“That it’s easy to take ‘em off’f babies.”

It was the knifeman who moved first, and being right wasn’t much consolation for her in the hectic moments before her colleagues could cover the ground to her aide.


Her sergeant had taken her formal report before he asked skeptically

“Sweets from a stranger?”

“Yes Sarge. At best rude. Possibly dangerous. Definitely something your mother should have told you not to do.”

I didn’t write for Microcosms last week because, in a fit of bravado, I was judging it, but after a day weighing the merits of other people’s tales I found I did have a response of my own. I was half thinking of Katie when I wrote it, but I changed the name when I realised that something a little Saintly had crept into her manner.

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She was surrounded.

That was bad. As an unlicensed trader Cherren’s liberty depended on always – always – having somewhere to run. Usually she had a partner to help her in that, but he was dead, and she had to live. The first day without him had been intoxicating, her senses on fire, but she knew she should have quit as soon as she had enough put by. Too late now. It was the fifth day and finally, fatally, she had slipped.

She was surrounded by large men.

That was less bad. Large men could be clumsy, and her stock was light. There was a chance she could slip between them and be lost in the crowd, but it was a chance she didn’t like to take. Large men could be deceptive. Harl had been a large man, and had moved like a dancer. That was a memory that didn’t help.

She was surrounded by large men, with large guns.

And that put the tin lid on any plans for flight. They were the Consul’s men, and wouldn’t be shy of shooting into the crowd; their guns only stunned, and any innocent bystander they caught would wake up to handsome compensation. What Cherren would wake up to was as unhelpful a thought as the memory of Harl at her side.

She was surrounded by large men, with large guns. None of them were smiling.

At last, a sliver of hope. There were squads who would have shown delight to have her at their mercy, and squads on a bounty promise who would have been quietly pleased. This squad was only bored, and for bored men a little entertainment paid large.

Cherren smiled a smile like the sun rising on Sal-Sattaran and said

“Hey boys. I have just the thing for you …”

A little something for this week’s Microcosms.

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What the eye wants to see

It was too late. Probably it had always been too late.

But that was a lie, meant to console me, and today I could not console myself with lies.

I sat on the floor, his note in my hand, as the radio played on. I’d always hated that jaunty tune with its relentless, hectoring optimism. He’d always loved it. How had I forgotten that? I mean, in twenty years, yes, of course I could forget, but not that day, the day I found his note and the money wrapped inside it.

Don’t do it tomorrow, he’d scrawled.

… tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow … mocked the radio.

I’d been furious. A bribe to stop me going, when he had gone himself? How dare he interfere?

I’d stuffed his money in a charity box before I’d calmed down. But when I had calmed down, and decided that if he cared so much I should take his advice, a tiny corner of my mind – the corner that had been too terrified to buy the tickets – had been too relieved to consider any alternative meanings.

I never saw him again.

And now the note and the radio together, and now that it really was too late I understood.

“That was Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow,” the announcer informed me perkily.

And I wept.

I wrote this, oh, ages ago, for Visdare. I typed it up on a Tuesday night, editing as I went, and got it down to 148 just in time for my computer to freeze up … so here’s the long cut, and be told, kids – save as you go. 

Oh, and the story? That came because when I first glanced at the prompt I read ‘Don’t walk’.

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Behind These Walls – a Human 76 story


Old bonds were fading, and new peoples were forming, settled peoples able to defend their own, nomad peoples inured to loss, all manner of peoples. There would always be Searchers amongst them, all the same, as long as there were people such as the Prometheans to prey upon the weak.

… but Ghabrie is not weak, and when her sister is torn away from her she is determined to search until they are reunited. That’s the premise of Human 76, a multi-author shared-world anthology now available in paperback and as an ebook.

It has been an honour to be involved in this project, and to watch it to develop into the fine thing it has become. You can find out a lot more about its origins and development and about the other authors involved here, and you can find out more about Water is Life, the charity the anthology supports, here, so I’ll talk a little bit about Chrissy Finch and Behind These Walls.

Chrissy is old enough to remember a time when things were otherwise, but since the world changed she has lived in the Tour, a trading post at the mouth of the Barrantine Pass. Her exposure to the world beyond the safe walls of her community has been limited to her interaction with the guests who pass through. It has been her duty to harvest information any way she can, and she has been successful enough in her way, except when it comes to Glint, with whom

She had tried cunning, she had tried wheedling, she had blazed at him in fury that he was throwing away what mankind had once been and might yet be again, and at last she had owned her helplessness and asked that others might be sent to deal with him.

Despite this, Glint has become something almost like a friend to her. So when Glint, of all people, is seen in the company of one of the despised so-called Moderns it challenges her perceptions. Can she overcome a lifetime’s prejudice? It’s not looking good.

It was harder to put out of mind a second time, harder to put out of mind now that she had seen Glint treat Lauren as a real girl. Glint, she thought, would have expected her to pass news of Nahria to her sister. Glint could go to hell. Glint was wrong.
She held on to the thought fiercely, but it did not seem to help.


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For a Maiden Fair

The dragon plunged and swooped across a flat grey sky. In the beginning they had watched him eagerly, some in fear and some in wonder, but neither fear nor wonder lasts. For all his speed and majesty he was only a shadow on the subway wall, a shadow cast by a few tattered rags manipulated by an old man as ragged as his puppet.

As the year died his show became longer, the story more thrilling. There were mountains, a castle, a maiden in distress … but the crowd only huddled deeper in their coats, embarrassed for him with his tawdry show, and the few coins that accumulated in his hat were thrown in pity. It might have ended that way, with a whimper, if not for the girl.

On the first day after the end of term her mother had to tug her past the show, and on the second day too, but by the third day she followed obediently, only her eyes lingering.

On the fifth day, the dragon belched fire.

The crowd shrugged. A trick. Clever, but a trick.

On one face there was rapture. That was enough.

He was rolling up his puppet in the empty tunnel when suddenly it wasn’t empty anymore. He huddled back against the wall helplessly as the younger man plucked the dragon from his shaking hands. He fumbled a moment with the wires, remembering the knack of it, and the dragon took flight once more.

“You old fool. Why use fire magic? You could have hidden forever.”

As the dragon swooped, remembering the girl’s radiant smile he said

“You couldn’t understand.”

Even so, his nerve failed him at the end. There was a thin scream, and then nothing but a few scraps of cloth and wire on the subway floor, and a young man striding away.

Something I wrote for Microcosms last week (really, go and see), only a little longer than the official version. What can I say? Brevity was never my strongest suit.

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Don’t stay late

(There was a sour smell I couldn’t quite place.)

I didn’t try real hard; what Sonny had said distracted me. Just, be quick. He hadn’t said why. It really bothered me it bothered me so much. It was crazy.

(That smell, it belonged at school somehow.)

Worrying about a smell on the subway was crazier than worrying about Sonny yanking my chain. He hadn’t wanted to lend me the costume, but I needed to see Karis without being seen out, and who’s going to look twice at some schmuck in a rabbit suit? I’d begged, he’d relented, I’d had it out with Karis. And now here I was, heading home.

(Grade school. The smell that metal rail left on the kids’ sweaty hands.)

And that was craziest of all, because the suit had gloves.

I flexed a paw, twitched my nose, and went back to brooding about Karis.

I thought this was going to be whimsical, but it came out rather on the dark side. I should know better than to be surprised at where Visdare takes me.


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