In a cleared space amid the papers was a delicate cluster of glass tubes attached to a spray of flexible copper pipes like a fan of octopus tentacles that fed into a central valve like a mouth. Around it, separate for now, were parts Annabel recognised as a small pump, some kind of filter intended to hold a chemical catalyst, and a cooling coil fed by a copper vial no bigger than her thumb. Probabilities tumbled out of it uncalled-for, each shaped by combinations of its final form and the chemicals it might eventually contain within, and few of them looked good.

She turned her attention to the drafting papers while Jozef skimmed the letters beside her, occasionally muttering to himself in Polish. The papers held plans for devices like the one on the desk and more, larger, contraptions clearly military from their design. The title scrawled at the top was in a language she didn’t recognise.

“Do you know what ‘bosszúálló fegyver’ means?” she asked.

Jozef thought for a moment. “‘Revenge weapon,’ maybe. My Hungarian isn’t great; most of the words I know are what people shout at me when I’m threatening them with arrest.”

In a bid to get myself writing more by publicly tracking progress, the ‘first 100’ series is/will be the first 100 or so words spat out whenever I’m working on my own material, whatever they are, unchecked and unedited.