Upcoming collection: Spycrabs & Warbirds

Above is the cover for my next collection, focussing on the containment efforts around the Connacht Disaster Zone and other countries’ efforts to exploit it. I haven’t settled on the release date yet, but as usual, it will be available from BuyMeACoffee (pay what you want).

Short story compilations

I have about 30 stories in the Connacht Disaster Zone series, and a lot of them share common themes or an overarching narrative. So, I’ve decided that I might as well combine them with some appropriate artwork. All of these will be available via a new page, and here’s the first one.

An unsanctioned laboratory underneath Cruagh Island attempts to discover the origins of the Fomorians.

She couldn’t move. 
Her heart pounded in time with the squeak of the trolley wheels as she struggled futilely against the straps that dug into her limbs and chest. The sharp smell of antiseptic assaulted her nostrils, growing ever stronger, and stronger, and-
“Feisty bitch, ain’t she?” somebody remarked. Her head twisted upwards and to the right, eyes locking onto the dwarf who leered at her, exposing teeth that were stained from smoking tea. Emblazoned on his right chest was that logo – that rounded vertical rectangle around those three letters.
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Submarine Drop-off

In which The Kingdom Of Scandinavia somebody drops some crates of guns off the coast of Connemara by submarine, and the Dwarven Inquistion are stumped. The PDF version is available here.

“Holland boats” are a reference to John Philip Holland, often referred to as “the father of the modern submarine”. I figure that dwarves might have even more use of them than humans, so perhaps I’ll expand on it later. Since merchant submarines were a thing in the WW1-era, how about Connacht Trading have a private fleet of merchant submarines to avoid North Atlantic storms (and other dangers)?

The listening and observation posts west of Ballyconneely had long since been established as part of the quarantine network around Connemara. Approximately a company was garrisoned in a series of blockhouses around the peninsula, connected to the main forts at Ballyconeely and Roundstone by redundant telephone wires. Within ten minutes, a report of a suspicious ship would be filtered through the command station, plotted on the mapping tables and relayed out to the corvettes and destroyer boats on standby or already out on patrol.

In theory, at least. In practice, every single sighting in the last thirty years had turned out to either be one of their own ships, or phantoms due to atmospheric conditions. Only once had an unidentified ship turned out to be something unusual – a bulk carrier out of New York had got lost in a storm, and been very glad to be steered away from the orc-occupied quarantine zone.
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Interception of an Enciphered Message From Orc-held Territory

Some of my previous stories have involved what would be state-of-the-art radio communication for pre-WW1. While reading up electronic warfare during a slow day at work (or at least, the Wikipedia page on it), I noticed that the earliest recorded instance of this was the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Just prior to the Battle of Tsushima, one of the Russian cruisers was denied permission to try jamming a Japanese cruiser that had located them. Between that and Drachinifel’s excellent video on the British effort at tapping German radio during WW1…here’s a related story.

World War 1 hasn’t happened in this universe yet, and I’m considering turning it into a long-term, low-intensity conflict. As part of that, the British military have created a unit specifically for monitoring radio and telegraph traffic, known as the “Wireshark Corps”, and some of them are stationed around Connemara to catch any possible radio transmissions from somebody supplying the orcs.

The crackle of static in his ears and the flashing blue light to his left caused Able Seaman Davis to shoot upright from where he had slouched in the wooden chair, his right hand resting idly on the notepad on his workstation. Pressing his left hand to his earphones, he leaned forwards and hurriedly transcribed the short, staccato bleeps and longer creeps in the approved shorthand terminology.

“Found something, Davis?” the Lieutenant asked. He automatically nodded, focussing on converting the shorthand transcription into something more legible. Even as he finished and moved onto translating the dots and dashes into possible letters, something about it started to niggle at the back of his mind. It almost looked as though…

“Sir, I don’t think this is English.” He handed the piece of flash paper over to the Lieutenant, who accepted it with a raised eyebrow that turned into a quizzical frown as he perused the message. Davis glanced over at the door into the main passageway, satisfying himself that it was closed. On the wall next to the door was a poster of a shark looming up from the deep, aiming straight for a stream of letters on the surface. He turned back to his wireless set, listening for any other messages.

“Definitely not. Nor Gaelic, French, German…possibly a cipher,” the Lieutenant mused, reaching for the telephone to the bridge with one hand and pointing with his other at the third person in the wireless room. “Jacobson, prepare a message to the Caledonia. Wireless room to bridge. We have just intercepted a message coming from port. Requesting current bearing and location.” He jotted down the response, acknowledged the current bearing was one hundred eighty-three, and waited. Seconds later, he repeated the apparent latitude and longitude. Fifty-three degrees and thirty minutes west, ten degrees north and thirty-two minutes north.

Jacobson had already finished his draft English report to relay back to the main control station aboard the Caledonia. Glancing over it again, he carefully drew a bold line on either side of the intercepted message and began to translate his draft into Morse.

“You don’t think that was a Fomorian transmission?” Davis asked. Both of his comrades snorted, though he could have sworn that Jacobson had paled slightly. The orcish homeland in Connemara – what was once the Dwarven Homeland Region – wasn’t that far away. In fact, the entire reason that the Wiresharks had been added to the naval cordon on the coast was that somebody was decided it was possible – no, a certainty– that somebody else would attempt to supply the Fomorians by submarine.

Up until that point, he would have thought it completely ludicrous and that they’d be better served tapping the telegraph cables between Norway and Iceland. But with a possibly coded transmission coming from the east – from the orc-occupied coast – it was starting to look as though they were going to earn their hazard pay. At least he wasn’t freezing his arse out on an airship further out like Rob.


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A Useful Politician

This is a follow-up to In Which The Kingdom of Scandinavia Plans To Troll The British Navy. I had originally planned to have a crate of guns be discovered on a beach somewhere, and have the police/soldiers who found it speculate on who put them there. However, when reading about Joseph McCarthy for some reason (I blame TV Tropes!), I noticed that both Truman and Eisenhower made snarky comments about how he might as well be an asset of the Soviets, given how irrational he made attempts to root out Soviet spies in the American government look.

Apparently, the KGB shared a very similar opinion to Truman and Eisenhower. Between that and the mess that is the last few years, it occurred to me that a similar politician might be a useful asset to the Scandinavians (or anyone else trying to stir up trouble for the British Empire, for that matter).

As usual, there’s a PDF version here. The formatting there is probably a bit better than here; WordPress’ block editor takes some getting used to.

Just one letter. That was all she had to do – post a letter. The gentleman with the genial smile, vaguely Continental accent and the icy blue eyes had paid her two pounds for a penny-rate letter, already stamped and addressed. He’d hinted that she might find it useful to write one herself.

Mrs Lynch smiled to herself as she approached the postbox just outside Heuston Station, revealing a haphazard array of tobacco-stained teeth. Hardly the best pay for her little favours, but quite good for such a trivial task and the extra two pounds would be very useful if Jimmy, Anna or Michael caught the flu again.

The name on the envelope was one she knew well. Jonathan Butler, County Councillor for Galway-Roscommon. Anyone in Connacht – the parts that hadn’t been overrun by the Fomorians – knew of him. A hollow-cheeked man with a very intense stare, frequently in the papers over London’s lack of support for Connacht. Sure, there was a heavy military presence, but not a lot else. Perhaps the man with the blue eyes wanted him to draw some more attention to this again.


“Jonathan? A letter arrived from Dublin. You might find it worrying.”

“Oh?” Jonathan Butler looked up from the dry, verbose report on education standards in the province. Sarah handed him the letter, her normally sunny face set into a grim frown. He frowned in turn and scanned it. His eyebrows ran north along his face as he read, stopping about halfway towards his hairline.

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In Which The Kingdom of Scandinavia Plans To Troll The British Navy

Another short story involving the Connacht Disaster Zone. The original title was “Spymaster”, and the downloadable version is still named that for convenience in URLs, but the full name is as above.

While working on my earlier pieces, I’ve had something in the back of my mind about how the other powers of the world would react to the disaster zone. More specifically, the fact that the British Empire has to keep a standing garrison around it. In this case, the Kingdom of Scandinavia are looking for ways to draw attention away from themselves, though they probably won’t be the only people using the disaster zone as a distraction.

The swift, efficient rat-tat-tat on the door broke the Admiral’s concentration, just as the cigarette lighter had come to life. Scowling briefly out one side of his mouth, he held the old bullet case to the top of the pipe and puffed as the tobacco began to smoulder. Even before he could ask who it was, the door swung halfway open to reveal a woman in a severe navy-blue tunic that marked her as a Lieutenant. Icy pale blue eyes peered out of a face that was lined with middle-age, her mouth turned down in a disapproving look.

“Sir, Mr Bjornsson has arrived,” she announced in a clipped, efficient tone.

“Thank you, Miss Nilsdottir. Send him in,” the Admiral growled. She withdrew her head long enough to hold the door open, gesturing for the visitor to enter.

He was completely unremarkable; had the Admiral passed him on the streets, the light grey suit, matching open overcoat and Homburg would barely have registered. A thin grey moustache hung limply beneath half-closed eyes and, as he removed the hat. Even his white shirt took on a grey cast. The only vaguely colourful article about him was the light brown attaché case in his right hand.

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