Telepathically intercepted transmission from Subject EX00023-90690ACE aka “Ace,” with action and description processed through a new narration algorithm. Regarding the results of said algorithm, the jury is still out. -- T.Q. The intersection at the ThingTown Dome. There’s a LARGE CROWD gathered. ACE approaches, 15, skinny, androgynous, patched black gutterpunk denim, courier bag, rune-carved fighting-stick up one sleeve. Alongside the Dome, the familiar rubble of ThingTown Station, the pair of semi-permanent Reality Patrol mobile HQ trailers. New, however, is the huge circular barricade that encompasses the trailers, and half the Dome, and much of the intersection: several LATVs parked in formation, sticky-shocky webbing stretching between them to a height of five feet. Positioned just within the barricade, keenly observing everyone outside, several dozen Reality Patrol troopers with crowd-blasters and body armor. Next to the Dome, amid stacks of Weird Science gear, an androgynous young Reality Patrol agent, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT CONCORDIA BLY, takes readings and makes adjustments. Outside the barricade, several hundred locals and visitors stand and observe. Bantering, speculating what’s up. People watch from nearby rooftops and balconies. The webbing occasionally stings people in the front row. ACE: [Speaking into a marble, vehemently sarcastic.] So there’s nooo way the Reality Patrol is just helping re-pave the way for ThingTown gentrification. MUTTERER: [From inside the marble.] They have their own agenda. But Ace hears many in the crowd muttering that this will be the effect, regardless of anyone’s intent for this operation. The Dome deters gentrification. Stabilizing the rift will allow “investment”* to flow in. Ace wanders around the side of the crowd, threading their way to a spot just outside the barricade, right against the Dome. Ace leans back against the Dome and slides down, sitting on the pavement between a pair of bowling-ball-sized chunks of concrete. Slides the fighting-stick out of their sleeve. Craning forward, Ace can manage line of sight, through the barricade mesh, between a trooper and an LATV, to the Weird Science gadgetry and the person operating it. Ace leans back against the Dome, puts on headphones, starts drumming on their knees with their fingertips. In the Otherworld, the plateau stretches endlessly in all directions. The Dome looms here exactly as in the material world, except its lower half lurks faintly visible beneath the vast plane. The streets cross just within it, their exact intersecting center one inch inside the edge. One inch from my butt, thinks Ace, and cracks up but does not break trance. Ace tries to float through the Dome, but cannot do so here any more than on the material plane. Ace can, however, see within, without even turning around: up floats their wizard eye, and around, and it presses against the Dome. Inside the Dome: darkness. Roiling clouds, occasionally glowing with gouts of lightning or fire. Creatures, like nightmares of the deepest ocean, swarm against the Dome trying to get at Ace. Three figures arrive and shoo them away. First creeps up OAKY, a warped sapling, withered trunk skimming the ground, roots and branches poised around it like spider limbs. Its jackolantern head, crowned in leaves; woody jaws snap at fleeing creatures. Behind it hobbles KATY HECK, an eight foot tall, gangling figure in a tight black suit with a page boy haircut. From her face, Ace would guess her age as 70ish, were she mortal. Face? Faces? Sometimes when Katy Heck turns her head, she seems to have three faces. Or four, one for each direction of the crossroad, but only three are visible at a time? (Except from above? thinks Ace.) Katy Heck’s limbs branch at elbow and knee, giving her four hands, four forearms, four calves, four feet in black high heels. She holds a cocktail, a cigarette, a wad of cash in a money clip, and her fourth hand makes a warding gesture. Manacled diagonally to two of her ankles, an iron bar two feet long; attached to the middle of the bar, a metal chain floats over to the third figure. A motionless STONE STATUE of a nude stocky middle-aged man, recumbent. His face contorts in an expression of ultimate outrage. Handcuffed to one wrist, the chain attached to the iron bar. The statue is split diagonally from left ear to right hip, the halves floating an inch apart, the fissure unnoticeable at first glance. KATY HECK: Well well, what do we have here? Girl, you smell like you’re fresh of the boat from some untainted Earth. ACE: Don’t call me “girl,” what the fuck? KATY HECK: Now now, don’t get your tumblr in a wad. And don’t change the subject. What on earth sort of Earth did you come from? Or are you a time traveler? Beware the time traveling blues, now. And what was your name, dear? ACE: Ace. Who the heck are you? KATY HECK: Exactly so: Heck, Katy Heck. [Holds out her hand as if it’s to be kissed. Ace does nothing. Katy Heck curtseys.] Enchantée. Katy Heck’s not the first name I’ve gone by, probably not the tenth. One must move on. ACE: Sure. KATY HECK: [Gestures to the sapling-demon.] This is Oaky, and this [gestures at the statue] is our goddamn dead Egregore, whom we still can’t seem to get rid of. So what brings you to our fine urban interdimensional hellscape-slash-prison? ACE: The Mutterer sent me. Said you were free of the Egregore of the Pavement, but weren’t necessarily any better off. Told me to come see for myself. [Nods at the statue.] So that’s the dead Egregore? KATY HECK: Hardly. Just His local avatar for this intersection; and, sadly, not quite dead. [Takes a drag from her cigarette and a sip of her cocktail.] I don’t know this “Mutterer” you speak of. [Holds out a hand at shoulder level.] This tall? ACE: Double that, when I met him. Now, though, uh, not so much. [Holds up a marble. Inside it, the Mutterer rages.] KATY HECK: Ah yes, that fellow. OAKY: [Writhing.] So you’re no better than them Reality Patrol got us trapped in here. KATY HECK: [Punctuating the air towards Ace with her cigarette.] An astute observation. ACE: Nah, I freed him from the Egregore and I’ll let him outta here as soon as he promises not to eat anyone. At least not me or my friends. But the motherfucker won’t let me get a word in edgewise. OAKY: Hurm. KATY HECK: You see, Oaky? Not every mortal is a monster. OAKY: Hrumm. ACE: So you two are the “ortgeists” of this intersection? One from Earth, one from Amarantis? KATY HECK: Very good, buttercup! Though technically— ACE: Don’t call me “buttercup.” KATY HECK: TECHnically, Oaky here isn’t an ortgeist. He’s an oak spirit, been on this spot since long before humans arrived in his corner of Earth. Me, though, I’m the classic case of a “spirit of place,” forming over the centuries in and around this intersection on Amarantis. My picture should be next to the word “ortgeist” in the dictionary. ACE: But you weren’t “Katy Heck” on Amarantis. KATY HECK: I was not. ACE: So you been here since the Merger? KATY HECK: Obviously. ACE: So you’ve changed a bit since you got here. KATY HECK: Obviously. ACE: What happened when, you know, the shit happened? KATY HECK: Upon my arrival, the Egregore of the Pavement… overpowered me. [She goes quiet.] ACE: What, just you? KATY HECK: All of us. All the spirits of Amarantis who landed under anywhere he held sway, which is everywhere. The impact of the two worlds stunned us, but He just took the opportunity to dominate. And wherever we lurked, He had an avatar waiting to fuck with us. [Takes a gulp of her drink.] I made a deal with Him. A bad one. [Spits on Egregore statue.] But now, even though Baraka Monster has freed us from pylon and pavement, before we get a chance to get out and enjoy ourselves, abracadabra we’re stuck in this fucking Dome. [Gesticulates with cigarette at the arching force shield.] ACE: Sucks. KATY HECK: So, you have a plan to get us out of here? ACE: No not really. OAKY: You even going to try? ACE: Of course I’m going to try, you asshole, you need to ease the fuck up on your fellow Earthling here. What the hell do you want me to do? I’m a fifteen year old wizard. You expect me to be able to outmatch the Reality Patrol’s most powerful technology? OAKY: Small magic can disrupt mighty technology if it is aimed right. ACE: Such as. OAKY: One spark in a gas tank. KATY HECK: Or the right person, nudged in the right direction. Anything can happen, extraordinary things can happen. ACE: If I could just reach one inch into this fucking Dome, I could reclaim the crossroad for us by creating a shrine at its center. [Turns to face the Dome, leaning against its aetheric surface, pressing with their fingertips and chanting unearthly syllables.] KATY HECK: What the fuck are you doing? ACE: Tryna get in. Shh. KATY HECK: Whatever you’re doing, stop it, it’s making the air sting in here. ACE: [Looking up.] Wha? It stinks in there? KATY HECK: [Jumps.] Ow! No, it stings! A hum begins, with an underlying crackle. Lights spear through the clouds within the dome. Nothing like the shimmer of lightning or fire: these are straight lines of white light. They begin crisscrossing the interior of the Dome… * If I interpret this interpreter algorithm correctly, these quotation marks indicate Ace’s skepticism of capital markets as the basis of how one structures society. Understandable, though I highly doubt Ace’s alternative would manage to keep anything in order. – T.Q.
This is what Ace is listening to through their headphones in this scene.
See you next Wednesday,