Resurgam is a novella told in eight parts, plus an epilogue, which I’ll release on Fridays. In the first chapter, Vivienne, a science correspondent for a London newspaper, is tasked with reporting on a charity fundraiser – not her usual gig – but she’s drawn to a mysterious individual who seems to burn just a little bit brighter than everyone else.
What a vulgar party. It was only 9pm, yet Vivienne was already hot, sweaty and ready to leave these folks to their orgy of mutual self-congratulation. She fished a bottle of water from her shoulder bag and took a long, delicious swig. She bit at her nails and thought about the article. The bloody article. She’d been here an hour and her notepad remained virgin white. So she hovered, trying to celeb-spot and wait for a glimpse of Anton Petrowski, the billionaire philanthropist host, but he was nowhere to be seen.
She’d kept reassuring herself that writing the vacuous London Living column would be good for her, show that after twenty years on the science brief she had more than one string to her bow. But bloody hell, this was no place for a Yorkshirewoman.
A penguin approached, effortlessly balancing a tray of brimming champagne flutes, silently proffering it in her direction. Unlike the guests, the penguin was thoroughly unremarkable. No, thank you, she wanted to say. I’m like you; I’m not one of them. But the relentless heat sapped her will. She took one, half-smiling, and threw it down her throat. If anything it made her even warmer. She wiped a sleeve across her brow; it came back smeared with salt, and she made a face at spoiling her blouse. Just another way she stuck out among the millionaires, models and powerbrokers fawning over each other. She got out her notepad and pen and tried to write something, but wished she was in a lab somewhere, writing about advanced robotics, or tectonic plate structure, or even bloody consumer tech, or…
“Is anything the matter, Miss?”
A hot flush came upon her, and she caught her breath. Turning, she saw a funny-looking sort of man beside her. Viv didn’t even realize he had his hand upon her arm until she looked down to see it. The man’s face was hard, tanned, and framed by jet-black cropped hair. His shirt, neatly tailored, was fire engine red, with orange cuffs and collar, and hundreds of tiny orange and yellow triangles sewn into the material. Viv couldn’t help but smile – when you’re that wealthy, she supposed you could afford to make your eccentricity bespoke.
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s a little hot in here, don’t you think?”
The man pushed his bottom lip out and shook his head. “A bit of heat helps things flow, I always think.” His voice was unfathomably quiet, almost a whisper, and yet it seemed to be audible above the party, as though his words weren’t being poured into her ears, but into her heart. She tensed a little. These people probably had ways of seeming seductive, of softening the edges of their ruthlessness.
“I’m afraid I’ve never liked it too hot.” She smiled nervously, and pulled her arm away, tucking it under the other one. He didn’t look slighted by the retreat, and smiled again with aquiline eyes.
“Tell me,” he said, tapping his bottom lip with his freed finger, “I don’t recall you being here before. You seem a little uncomfortable.”
Viv rolled her eyes and looked into her champagne, before looking back into those dark eyes again. “Is it that obvious? Sorry. This really isn’t my scene, but I’m covering for my colleague, Eithné Fairbanks, from the Evening Chronicle.”
“Ah, yes, Eithné! Where is she?”
“She has a fever, been off for a few days now.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure she’ll return fresher than ever. So you’re her colleague, yes?”
“Yes, I said I’d cover the column. Could be good for me to see a few different things.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” he said with exaggerated sincerity.
“I normally do science and technology for the paper, so this is all a bit…” she sought for a word that wouldn’t be too insulting, but he caught her out.
That made Viv wince. “Well, I wouldn’t, ah, say that, um… I mean, it’s just a bit different. But it’s interesting.”
“You may say what you mean in front of me.” He gave her a warm smile, but the eyes remained hawkish. “I promise I shan’t be offended. I’ve heard it all before. And if it seems a little superficial,” he leaned in close to her ear for a conspiratorial whisper, even quieter than his regular speaking voice. “That’s because it probably is.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Viv.” She extended her hand, which he gladly took and shook warmly. His shake made her skin prickle, but not with warning, something different.
“Ignatius Von Brandt.”
“Oh, what a great name! Is it German?”
A smile flashed. “If you like, I could be your guide for the evening.”
Viv looked him up and down once more. He was slightly shorter than her, even accounting for her heels, and he possessed a slight build, but he radiated… radiated what? She wasn’t sure, which discomfited her. Usually she had the measure of the scientists and engineers she spoke to; she knew what motivated them, how their brains worked. But this place was a whole different branch of science. What did these people want? The cynic in her might have thought more wealth, but that didn’t sit right somehow. But the scientist in her told herself to embrace her curiosity, and proffered her arm. “Why not? Lead on.”
He hooked her arm with a grin, and took them into the throng.
First he introduced Viv to a couple of impossibly glamorous types: a chiseled woman with agonizing-looking heels, long legs and an expressionless face who mwa-mwad Ignatius’s face as he greeted her; a silvery gentleman with a walnut complexion and eyes half-closed by decades spent in the St Tropez sun, and others, all introduced with a hug, kiss, and words somehow both intimate and shallow. Perhaps everyone just got by in life by opening doors and slapping backs for each other? If so, there was something distasteful about it. Privately, she might have envied a life without the need for work, effort and innovation, but she checked herself. In real life you had to graft, like she had all her years. Moreso, she enjoyed graft. A twinge of silent pride made her walk a bit taller.
“These people are all very charming,” said Viv, when Ignatius had led her away from the chatterers, “but what do they actually do? Are there any scientists here?”
“They’re all very influential,” said Ignatius, with no detectable note of irony. “Scientists tend not to venture too far from their own shores. I find them frustratingly closed-minded, to be honest.”
“Right.” She’d heard a lot of put-downs about her chosen profession and colleagues over the years – boffins, geeks, weirdos – but never closed-minded. It really was an odd thing to say. “You haven’t said what you do, either. You seem to know pretty much everyone here.”
“I help them.” He flashed her that smile again.
A spark flashed in her heart again. Not attraction. He was sort of good-looking in a rakish way, but she didn’t feel any obvious compatibility between them. Besides, she couldn’t pick his age at all – he could have been a world-weary thirty-five, or a well-preserved sixty-five. No; the spark was curiosity. “You help them? That sounds a bit vague.”
He looked at her with certain inquisitiveness of his own, as if she were the curio. Perhaps I am. I probably fascinate him, with these high street shoes and northern brogue. She suddenly felt very self-conscious, and looked at her watch by way of excuse. “Oh, look at that, I need to go and jot down my article. Thanks for showing me around, Ignatius. You’ve been a gentleman. I should probably be on my way.”
Ignatius looked slighted. “If that’s what you wish.” He loosened his grip on her arm just a hint. “Did you study science yourself?”
His eyes widened, and under the lights it looked as though they flashed slightly yellow. His hand hadn’t quite let go of her arm, and leant in once more. “Chemistry was always my favourite of all the sciences.”
Viv put her hand to her mouth to hide the smirk. He was charming, in a raffish kind of way, but she wasn’t buying such a cheesy line. “You’re a chemist?”
He rolled his eyes theatrically. “Well, I don’t have the letters after my name, but I’ve got some experience in…” At the far end of the hall a swarm of cameras flashed, and the hubbub increased. “Ah, there’s our man now.”
Anton Petrowski walked into the room flanked by two blonde models: six-footers in gold minidresses and stilettoes that probably cost more than her car. He was a sweating, balding walrus of a man, with a permagrin that sat between a grey, manicured moustache and a couple of wobbling chins. Despite his girth his eyes were bright and shining, and he moved with the energy of somebody half his weight and age, stopping to chat, hug, smile and dance with those he passed. He was led to a lectern where he talked about the charity he was supporting.
Ignatius smiled. “Well, it was lovely to meet you, Vivienne. If you need anything, I’d be delighted to assist.”
As Ignatius turned to walk away, Viv surprised herself by placing a hand upon him. “Perhaps there is something. Do you know Mr Petrowski?”
“Do you think you could get me to speak with him?”
“I’m afraid he doesn’t do interviews.”
“So I’ve heard, but I need something to write about.”
Ignatius half-laughed, but Viv jokily poked him in the arm. “I don’t give in very easily, Mr von Brandt.”
“Well, there’s an attribute I admire very much. I’ll let you into a secret.” He leant in. “There are many people in this room very generous with their wealth. In return, they expect strict boundaries on their privacy. They aren’t gaudy celebrities. Well,” he grinned, “not all of them.”
Viv couldn’t help but smile herself. This Ignatius gave just enough impression that he was in on the joke. She decided he met with her approval.
“I’m sure you could write up this night with your eyes closed, Vivienne,” he said, eyeing up her notepad. “So let me show you something you won’t be able to write about.”