“Just, for context, allow me to explain something about our university’s library. It’s more than it seems, it has a certain shift to it. I know, I know, that sounds weird. It seems normal when you’re in the above ground part, but as I’m sure you know there’s more to it than just that. There’s five floors of open bookstacks, and below that, the private collection. Supposedly kept private because the documents down there are liable to fall apart if someone looks at them wrong. People crack jokes about getting lost down there, and yeah, to an extent it is labyrinthine, but there’s more to it than that. Have you noticed that it’s not always the same way to get to the same section? The stacks shift. Sometimes ancient cultures is on the fifth basement, sometimes its in the third. Sometimes it’s in the back corner, sometimes it’s not. Most people don’t notice because the place is so complicated that they just check the map every time. Well, I found a book down there once.”
“I know what you’re thinking, of course you found a book down there, it’s a goddamn library. Well yes, but I found a book which crossed over from an alternate dimension. A universe with different laws of physics, no gravity, and computers that run on magical energies instead of electricity.”
I got up to leave, if it weren’t past the deadline, I’d say this incident was a good reason to drop Professor Jackson’s class. But he stood up with me.
“No No, I’m only sharing this with you because I think you’re a sharp kid, and you mentioned being interested in patahistory in class.”
“Theoretical anthropology. What would the world look like if…”
“I said I liked The Lord of The Rings.”
“Yeah, and what if I told you worlds like those exist!”
“Okay Professor Jackson, I think you ought to talk to one of the counselors on campus.”
“Just, take the book.”
He produced a leather-bound diary from his desk. It was thick, like diaries get when they’ve been entirely filled with ink. The leather looked somewhat… wrong. Not like I thought it was human leather or anything, just that it wasn’t exactly from a cow either. It had a library security tag in it.
“Now, if this magically transported here from a magical realm, why does it have a security tag? Is it possible you’ve mistaken an obscure work of fiction for some crazy phenomena?”
“I have no idea! But how many works of fiction that reference computers would be handwritten?”
“What, in English?”
“Just part of the mystery. Some words I don’t recognize, like ‘Doroth’, and the author references other languages which don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“Fine. Can we talk about my thesis now?”
My name is Tarrique DeGuerre. I was born in a farming community-island off the strange coast of Pueha. Our island was called Oa’Oa. If you haven’t heard of Pueha, I’m not surprised. It’s not exactly a center of Imperial culture. It’s in the far south-charm of the Empire. If you picked up a stone and threw it south-charm it would bounce off the edge of the Stream and come back. Most Imperials don’t get out to the edge of the Stream, and think of it as a backwater. They’re right. I signed up for the Imperial Air Force so I could see the stream, but I washed out of the academy. Not enough “discipline”, they said. It’s a funny thing, when you get recruited they’re perfectly willing to pay for a flight from your crop-dusting airport out in the boonies to the big city, but when you fail they just give you the clothes you came in and dump you on the street.
I had the important half of an air-force degree though, how to fight and be fought at. I failed military history, physics, and mathematics, but aced tactics, airsmanship, and combat training. So I joined up with a mercenary company in Principia. In case it’s not still true in the future, I’ll tell you what Principia was like back then. Before forces from Magnamia took over and became the Empire, Isla Principia was a thriving trading kingdom. This history led to it being the last island in the Empire to be captured. When I joined up with The Feathered Serpents, Principia still acted like it was never captured, and the Empire didn’t seem to mind, so long as it payed taxes. Ain’t that just the way. Anyway, because of this situation, there were a lot of less-than-legal service companies set up in Principia.
Recap: Born on a tiny island, failed out of school, now I kill people for fun and profit.
Tales from The Stream, No 1:
Tarrique DeGuerre: That can’t be his real name, can it?
Jerome: One Name, One Eye, One-Hundred Kilos. Likes cats.
Jessica Thunderhoof: Doe-eyed Deer-kin. When focused, she could hit an acorn from half a league away. Out of focus, can barely walk straight.
Pythonius Squeakmeister: Doesn’t really understand what a nom de guerre is for. Absent-minded physicist.
Carla DiCoco: Eyes like fire and brimstone.
Josefu Georandii, the Doge of Midtown: Was appointed surprisingly fast after the death of the previous Doge of Midtown.
Madame DuMont: A skittish sausage seller and part-time psychic. Satisfies your pork-lust, pulls at your soul.
Tarrique and Pythonius were sitting around Madame DuMont’s parlor. She was reading one of her wealthier clients in a curtained room.
“Do you believe in this stuff?” Tarrique decided to mess with Pythonius.
“Of course not. I spent my whole life studying magic, streetcorner psychics make people think magic is easy, that it doesn’t take years of intense study to learn and perfect.”
“Man, this attitude is why I couldn’t get through science in school, if scientists are so interested in understanding everything about the world, why do you just dismiss these things?”
“Because they’re all explainable without positing some occult force!”
Pythonius was stubborn, but at least he knew to shut his mouth around paying customers. Madame DuMont came out of the backroom with a wealthy looking client. He looked… satisfied. DuMont shook his hand and then wiped her mouth. Tarrique had wondered how psychics stayed afloat in this, the age of reason. The client left, and DuMont went behind the counter and reset her hair. “I guess I know now,” Tarrique thought.
Carla and Jessica were standing in the Palais du Midtown’s sitting room. A worse writer than I would call attention to the irony. The butler stood with them, looking increasingly uncomfortable. A wealthy looking man, probably the Doge himself, rushed through, looking flustered, and ran up the grand staircase, slamming the study door behind him.
“The Doge will see you now.”
The mercenaries climbed the steps and entered the study.
“I’m sorry ladies, my palm-reading went long.”
“No worries, I was a psychic once, I understand.” Carla said.
“Holy shit you can tell the future?” Jessica asked enthusiastically.
Carla and the Doge glared at her.
“Anyway, I need you two to help with something. The next election is coming up soon, and an old friend of mine is threatening to release some… sensitive information about me, which the Five Families would not look kindly on. I need you to make sure she doesn’t speak out against me.”
“Why not just ask the midtown police? Aren’t they basically your personal army anyway?”
“There needs to be no record of this investigation,” the Doge said, subtly.
“I see, this is less scare-her-into-hiding and more throw-her-body-into-the-abyss,” Carla said, less subtly.
The Doge gave them her address and description and they left, Jessica tripped going down that huge staircase and bruised her left eye, but that part doesn’t really add to the story.
Jessica asked, “What do you think this lady did to deserve this?”
Carla responded, “Probably nothing.”
“The Doge is probably just paranoid. He’s worried about his next election, and he’s panicking. People do weird things when they panic.”
Pythonius was prowling around the parlor during one of DuMont’s seances. Personally, I think he was slightly threatened by the idea of psychics. In a way, he was searching for evidence that she was a fraud, I mean, wouldn’t you? He spent eight years of his life learning that the world was mechanical, it’s not like he was snooping because he’s a bad person. He was panicking, and good people do weird things when they panic.
“What are we even doing here? Why would anyone want to hurt Madame DuMont? All of her customers seem really happy when they leave!”
Sensing the question was rhetorical, Tarrique said nothing. Pythonius poked at the till.
“Holy crap wasn’t this empty this morning? Maybe I should take up psychicry!”
“I don’t think you have the hips for it.”
“Yeah you’re right, I could never convince people I can read minds. I’m a terrible liar,” Pythonius misinterpreted.
“P.S., stop rummaging around in her stuff.”
“I told you not to call me that.”
“Pythonius is an absurd name, I’m not calling you that.”
“It’s my nom de guerre.”
“Yeah your nom de guerre should be something badass, like ‘Victor Volgograd’, or ‘Charlemagne Champris’, Pythonius Squeakmeister makes you sound like a children’s book character.”
“Yeah, its so that our enemies underestimate me.” He points at his temple and then points at Tarrique with a ‘you get me’ sign.
“Literally 96% of the job is intimidation, if you go up to some shop-owner and say, ‘I’m Pythonius Squeakmeister, and if you don’t pay your protection money I’ll break your kneecaps,’ people will not listen. They’ll be like ‘Y’know, I could probably take a Pythonius Squeakmeister’.”
“What, like your name is totally perfect?”
“That’s different, I use my real name because it’s cool enough!”
This clearly touched a nerve, luckily for P.S. two assassins armed with two pistols each busted through the front door.
“GET ON THE GROUND AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!”
“Oh Lord.” Carla sighed.
“Shouldn’t Jerome be more on top of this stuff? I mean he must’ve realized that we were being hired to defend and to assassinate the same person.”
“What do we do?” Asked P.S.
“It’s obvious,” said Tarrique, “protection jobs are paid in advance, so we kill DuMont.”
“We can’t do that, we don’t want a reputation for killing our clients,” Jessica retorted.
“Who’s going to leave a bad review? DuMont sure as hell won’t mind, she’ll be dead.”
“You’re a fucked up guy, Tarrique,” P.S. added.
“We’re mercenaries, P.S. we do morally questionable things for money.”
“For the last time, I’m Pythonius.”
The rest of the group grumbled. Even a psychic could guess that it wasn’t the last time.
“Fine, we’ll take a vote. All in favor of killing DuMont, raise your hand.”
Tarrique and Carla raised their hands.
Jessica and P.S. raised their hands.
“Okay I guess we’re discussing it more. Here’s another reason to side with the Doge, he’s outrageously powerful and if we refuse him there’s a pretty good chance we’ll lose the Feathered Serpent. He’s in charge of midtown, and we live in midtown,” Carla argued.
Jessica protested, “Why are we even considering killing Madame DuMont? She’s an innocent! I get that we kill people, but do we really want to be a part of a system where a powerful man can just have people killed because they know too much? Like she’s a psychic, of course she knows his secrets, she can just read his mind. What is he going to kill every psychic in midtown?”
Carla and Tarrique rolled their eyes.
“I’m not happy about it, but Carla’s argument is compelling,” P.S. admitted. We need the money, and assassination makes good money.
“There, vote passes 3–1.”
“Let’s talk strategy…”
Jessica resolved to warn Madame DuMont before the others attempted to assassinate her. She slipped away and went through the curtains and walked down the stairs. She heard noises like DuMont was channeling a spirit. Moaning and gibberish.
“I’m sorry to interrupt but this is important!”
Jessica pulled the curtain aside to discover that palm-reading was a euphemism. She panicked. The funny thing is, good people do weird things when they panic. Something in Jessica’s ancient lizard brain made her shoot the ‘lovers’.
Hearing the gunshots, the others ran downstairs.
Tarrique came through the curtain first. “Wow, okay, we just spent 20 minutes planning, but yeah you could just come down and shoot her while she’s pre-occupied. Sucks that this guy had to die though.”
Jessica was shaking.
Carla came through second. “Well, that’s that, let’s go get lunch.”
“What the hell!? What the actual hell!?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m sure he was a prick anyway, she mentioned that he was a regular, so he probably didn’t have a wife and kids or anything.”
“WHAT THE HELL!?”
P.S. came through the curtain and took a look around the room.
“THANK THE LORD, SHE IS A FRAUD!”