by Trevor Hopkins

I had a couple of hours before it was sensible to go to the Starfield Club. There was nothing to hold me in the office other than the mail, which took all of two minutes to open and sort into junk (straight in the waste-bin) and bills. I put the latter into the desk drawer to deal with later, although the urge to make them follow the junk into the waste paper basket was almost irresistibly tempting. I wasn't planning on squandering any of the bounty reward or the two hundred Vale had pressed on me on paying bills or my overdraft at the bank.

I went back to my apartment, detouring via a all-day diner on the corner of the block for an early dinner. The diner was already busy even at this early evening hour, but David the patron recognised me and beckoned me over to a small booth by the kitchen door. The owner was a short and exceptionally rotund Goblin in a spotless white apron, all bustling bonhomie, but nevertheless somehow managed to move as if he was a barely tethered helium balloon.

"What'll it be today?" the patron demanded without preamble, knowing of old that I would want to be served quickly.

I ordered from memory. From long experience, I knew this place did a very passable rat kebab, which today I decided to compliment with a side order of sauted mixed fungi and - a luxury I allowed myself in celebration of my recent riches - a small portion of imported potatoes. All this was washed down with with a glass of goblin beer, strong and flavoursome; here, I could be assured that the beaks and bits of twig would have been filtered out before the glass arrived at my table.

After eating - the food arrived in minutes - I dawdled over my beer for a while, then tossed a few bills on the table before sauntering out. Then David bustled up and held the door open for me - I guess he knew I'd be back for more of his rat-on-a-stick real soon.

Back at my apartment, it was time to freshen up and put on a change of clothes. I'd like to tell you that I slipped into something more suitable, perhaps, for a sophisticated watering-hole. Actually, I just changed into a fresh shirt, dusted off my other suit and fastened the least bedraggled-looking of my ties around my neck. The raincoat and hat I wouldn't be without anywhere.

I stood at the window, looking down over the illuminations of the district in which I live. It seems to me that humans persist in having the wrong idea about goblin caves and caverns. No doubt they've been in some rocky hollow near the surface they think of as a cave, and jump to the conclusion that living underground must be crowded and damp and claustrophobic.

The truth is far from this. Our caverns are vast majestic affairs, and it is barely possible to see one side from the other - indeed, in some cases, this is literally true, although it is a toss-up whether this is because of the size of the enclosed space or the quantity of smoke that obscures the view. Invariably, the ceiling is supported at regular intervals by soaring stone columns, solid and reassuring in bulk, designed (and, more importantly, looking as if they have been designed) to support the unthinkable mega-tonnage of rock above our heads.

Unsurprisingly, given the sometimes crowded living conditions underground, these columns have become the secondary support for various kinds of vertical housing in a style that humans, perhaps, would think of as skyscrapers, although ceiling-scrapers might be more appropriate. Even when a support column is not conveniently available, we have a natural tendency to build high; after all, real estate is at something of a premium down here and our caverns are always vast and airy.

Over the centuries we have acquired a certain amount of technology from the surface (telephones and cameras, for example) and developed yet more engineering techniques of our own (such as the high-speed mass-transit tubes which link the major caverns together). This sophistication, combined with the kind of old-school charms and glamours that humans insist on calling "magic", supports a rich and vibrant society and, inevitably I suppose, one which harbours a fair number of crooks, shysters and racketeers.

Time to go and meet a varied cross-section of all three, I thought.

Part 3 Part 5