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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This book, 39 chapters and 21,600 words, is the successor to "La maîtresse des échecs" and the prequel to "La Double Inconstance". Petra Schelling is a central character. The picture is by the author.

Table of Contents

ARAC in February: Orléans - Blois

The day René interviewed at the Agence de Recherche Avancée Contractuelle (ARAC) he nearly died. It had been snowing for days. The ... Read Chapter


René had never visited ARAC before and as he crunched over the snow towards reception he was surprised to see how dowdy the buildings we... Read Chapter

ARAC in April: Petra Schelling

René's new workspace was on the second floor of the Bioinformatics building, one floor down from where he’d had his interview. He spen... Read Chapter

Three years previously: Petra and James

René Jouvert had, in truth, made very little impression on Petra. He was just another of those very smart young people who were flowing ... Read Chapter

Three years previously: ‘we know!’

“Tell me more about yourself, James,” she whispered, resting her head against his shoulder, “You said you were a writer, but what a... Read Chapter

ARAC in April: Guillaume

Petra’s PA handed René across to Guillaume, who led him down to the team's work area on the second floor. Here entry was effected by I... Read Chapter

ARAC in April: in the basement

The basement was stark after the exotic decor of their office upstairs. The corridor was narrow with walls of whitewashed brick; pipes an... Read Chapter

ARAC in April: the neorats

They came to a halt at the end of the second chamber. Ahead a transparent panel running from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, blocked the ... Read Chapter

Tours in April: Petra and James

Petra’s scheduled meeting with her handler, James Melrose, was in a hotel in Tours. It was a Saturday afternoon and she was ostensibly ... Read Chapter

Synthetic Biology

 “It's researching synthetic biology,” Petra said, “The client is exploring organisms with a non-standard genetic coding. The ... Read Chapter

Tours in April: SETI

James smiles at her 'same species' condition. "Yep. All the physical stuff would work just fine but there would be no offspring. That... Read Chapter

ARAC in April: Gwenaëlle

At lunch Guillaume had finally briefed him on the client. “His name is Pawel Taktarov. He’s a Slav, kind of a saturnine guy. In h... Read Chapter

ARAC in early May: Byron Peng

Byron Peng’s parents lived in the chinatown of Toulouse, where they ran a small trading business. Byron had been bright enough to end u... Read Chapter

ARAC in early May: Byron Peng enters the lab

He could not fathom how he had managed to evade security… but the heavy door to the lab was sliding sideways and it seemed he was clear... Read Chapter

ARAC in early May: interrogation

Byron awoke in confusion. He didn’t know where he was, he barely knew who he was, and he had no idea why he was here. He was lying ... Read Chapter

ARAC in early May: Pawel Taktarov

Having left Peng to the neorats, Guillaume and Gwenaëlle returned upstairs to the office. It was 3.15 in the morning, everything was dar... Read Chapter

ARAC in May: what René does at work

Human language is hard. When René enhanced the laryngeal cavity of the neorats, he changed their lisping cries into recognisable hum... Read Chapter

Blois-environs in early June: at home with René and Magali

Magali Jouvet, René’s wife, is not in a happy place. In theory she should be: they moved from their scrappy apartment in Orl... Read Chapter

Blois-environs early June: René, Magali and the kitten

Magali cried out, a mix of startlement and disbelief, running to René just as he was entering with the filled bowl. The water got spille... Read Chapter

ARAC in early June: Gwen and René in virtuality

A snapshot from just before René took the gift home to his wife. They were in a large room, softly carpeted, empty of furniture. Cam... Read Chapter

Blois-environs in early June: René and Magali and Pascale

The rest of the evening had been dedicated to making their home kitten-ready. Magali had taken the lead in deciding where the litter tray... Read Chapter

Amboise in early June: Petra and James

It’s a half hour drive along the banks of the Loire from Blois to Amboise, and warm enough in early June to sit outside one of the caf... Read Chapter

ARAC in late June: a meeting with the boss

It’s two weeks after the VR simulation where René and Gwen met the homicidal kitten. Time for the team leaders to take stock with the ... Read Chapter

Blois-environs in late June

Magili clunks the door of her car and presses the fob to lock it. She walks the few metres towards her front door. Despite the aircon in ... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: Petra in the lab

Petra is not a nervous person. Her former success as a chess champion, even ignoring the dubious methods she had used, had required her t... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: the Pawel Taktarov doppelgänger

Gwen and Guillaume return to the videoconference room to discuss the data on Petra. Guillaume dials up what he’s been told is a Pawel T... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: Guillaume and René, late afternoon

It’s five o'clock and a worried, exhausted René is hunched over his terminal working furiously. A stained and empty coffee cup sits to... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: Gwenaëlle and René, early evening

Gwen approaches René who is now looking blankly at the screen as if willing himself to concentrate. It’s seven in the evening, almost ... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: Gwenaëlle and René, mid-evening

René is, like many engineers and designers, a covert idealist. But he’s awkward in the language of values, aware that it’s not ratio... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: Gwenaëlle and René, middle of the night

It’s two o’clock in the morning. The office is deathly quiet, the building deserted except for René and Gwenaëlle. René is working... Read Chapter

ARAC in early July: René, afterwards

Perhaps it could have been done with chemicals, maybe MDMA, Gwenaëlle muses, a little while later, but why take the risk? Sometimes the ... Read Chapter

Partial transcript: DGSI Technology Panel

Question: how sure are we that the signal came from space? The signal was picked up by an all-sky SETI observatory, one of the privat... Read Chapter

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Recent Comments


Oh, I have had many a heart-racing skid in winter conditions over the years, particularly as I lived on a hill, once, not the best place come the snow. Things to consider when looking for a home. No hills, or steep inclines and check if the property is on a floodplain... High even ground is the one to go for...

Tue, May 18th, 2021 9:17am


Yes, it can get exciting, road snow and ice. This story will take four or five chapters to get into its stride so I'm suggesting people feel free to hold off the effort of commenting until the narrative achieves lift-off.

Thanks for yours, though!

Tue, May 18th, 2021 5:42am

88 fingers

Had some slippery experiences with snow and ice. Not in a Peugeot. Either a VW, Ford or Nissan.

Fri, May 21st, 2021 6:58pm


There's something about a truly existential slide at speed...

Fri, May 21st, 2021 12:16pm

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