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The muzzle of the weapon was hot against his neck. The agent had decided to demonstrate how serious he was. Carter Brecht was not convinced because if he had been really serious that bullet would be embedded in one of his body parts right now.
‘Believable. Until you gave it reverse order. Why does every spy have a boner for James Bond? Let’s skip all this bullshit. I know your name is Murray and you do wetwork normally, so this is a little outside your wheel-house. Are you off-book, or have you been re-tasked?’
‘How the fuck do you know so much about me? Who do you work for?’
‘I’ll tell you as soon as you let me know who sent you after me, because no one should know that I am here yet. Unless you have someone on a forward-dial who read the story that is going to end up in the paper from Jenny Fred.’
‘Someone from the Fact Department.’ Murray had decided by playing along he might be able to get more data from this man. If he didn’t like anything said he could still put a bullet in his skull.
‘Someone above that, right?’
‘Beaujolais, no doubt.’
‘Shit, things really got shook up.’
A Munchausen iteration following a reboot was not a good sign — it showed that the reality had created a fantasy buffer in order to process some of the logical inconsistencies resulting from the change. How the hell did that result in Munchausen heading up the Fact Department though, and how did a buffer-driven tulpa have awareness of the anomalies in the system it was designed to compensate for?
He would eventually be able to piece together who else came through the reboot intact. How long did he have to figure it out? A while. He was bound to stumble across some alternative Reality Engineer detachment too; maybe even another version of himself … not that that worked out well last time.
‘OK, so who do you work for?’
‘The Reality Engineers.’
‘Quint Essential’s outfit?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘So, what does Munchausen want with me?’
‘You’re implicated in something that has been occurring with the secret rivers of London.’
‘Interesting. OK, take me to him — let’s get to the bottom of this. And you don’t have to worry about waving that stupid bloody gun at me either.’
The office of Munchausen was as ostentatious as he expected it to be, still it took a second to process the overload. So, given that Munchausens were notoriously strenuous on the local reality parsing system, they were usually accompanied by a Realist Dampener. How long would it take the Dampener to show up?
‘So, what is this Murray was telling me about the secret rivers of London?’
‘Peck and Neckinger and Effra have started to swell. Ghost things of London have started to wake. We want to know what your connection to the whole thing is.’
‘Do you indeed. And how did you even know I was here?’
‘Believe yourself subtle, do you, Brecht? We crafted everything here, how do you think we wouldn’t notice something alien being introduced to the mix.’
‘Sure, OK, you’re all powerful. Munchausen; you don’t have a pair of eyes on me and a mouth whispering in your ear about who I am.’
‘I know plenty. Mr Pays is my informant. You are correct. But why do you act like you know me? Mr Pays has not told me anything that would indicate why you are so presumptuous.’
‘Oh, can’t reveal that yet, can I Baron? It’s not the right part of the story.’
‘You want me to let it play out, is that it? Mr Pays tells me that you are dangerous.’
‘But that’s the thing about stories, isn’t it, Baron, where’s the fun if they aren’t dangerous?’
Brecht was smiling – he was testing Munchausen. Munchausen wasn’t using the title Baron here, but it kept being absorbed into his reality. The dampener was out of sight. He knew that he was here though. The lunacy was contained. Munchausen was trying to read him, see how the story might taste, but how could he read something that Brecht didn’t know himself?
Munchausen’s face lit up in a beatific smile. ‘OK, Brecht, you’re on. I’m game. Let him go.’
As easy as that Brecht walked out past them all. Into what? He would be as interested as Munchausen to see how this all played out.
He sat down on the bench by the pond, took the bag of white bread from inside the carrier bag he had picked up at Tesco, and began to break it into lumps and throw it to the ducks. There were Mallards, Eider, Coots,and even a few swans. He knew he was beginning to lose track of how long he had been here. He was having to fly under the radar because, well, this wasn’t his home, was it?
There were satellites from his home that were orbiting around, having to perform the same acrobatics as him, but he had certainty that if they had escaped this reboot, that there were others who had escaped it too. And those were the ones that he was going to go after.
‘Hello,’ said the girl who sat down on the bench next to him ‘Mr Bertolt?’
He smiled. ‘Jenny Fred?’
‘Yes. So, you told me you have a lead on a story?’ He liked her – she looked hungry. He knew he was timetabled to meet her at some point in the future, but well, the timeline here wasn’t necessarily anything like the one where he had come from.
She looked at the case by the side of his bench, and she smiled. ‘Nice typewriter.’
He smiled and responded in the affirmative. You had to lead into the truth softly. When the truth was something that upended everything this girl knew; when the truth that might sound like a crazy lie implicated a version of him. He spent his whole life surfing probability waves, how was this any different? Not too much was likely to happen here other than he might not be believed.
‘Things are not what you think they are,’ is probably the sentence that starts a million conspiracy theories. Jenny looked bored and he didn’t blame her. You come out to a park, which probably seemed sketchy in the first place, to meet with some guy that sits there and proceeds to feed the ducks, while doing the conversational equivalent of vague-posting. She tried valiantly to suppress a yawn, and he decided to take the gloves off.
‘Observe the duck on the lake,’ he instructed, reaching for his hack-rig.
No time to play around, he isolated the duck’s code and copy-pasted the code for a hippopotamus into its spatio-temporal index. He looked at her face and observed the dropped jaw.
‘What the fuck? Is that real?’
‘You can touch it, we could take a DNA sample from it.’
‘But how can I know that you didn’t rig this place?’
‘OK, then let me just do something to your hand. It is reversible.’
Her hand cycled through a cubist framework, a Kandinsky iteration, and a glitch art sequence, and there was a sense memory he ran under the jump-cuts to give her some other reference than the purely visual. He could tell that he had convinced her.
‘Who are you?’
‘Wow, you didn’t keep your cover very well. OK, what are you?’
‘Keeping my cover was boring you. I am a Reality Engineer, and the thing that I have here is ahack-rig.’
‘OK, and you’re not the story?’
‘I am not the story. The story is that this is a reality that was created by someone that should have not been allowed to do what they did.’
‘OK, and you have proof?’
‘Of course, why else would I bring you here?’
‘And the purpose of telling everyone that the reality they know is a lie?’
‘To recruit people to my cause, and to rescue reality.’
‘Seems like a leap. I don’t normally report on this kind of thing. People are going to write it off as nonsense and my editors are going to take some convincing.’
‘How much space do you have on your hard-drive?’
‘Too small.’ He pulled a Q-Slice from his pocket – a quantum drive – and handed it to her. ‘Watch it. Have them watch it. you will be convinced, even if other people can’t see it.’
‘OK, and people are going to want to what, do a roll-back? Re-install a previous version of reality?’
‘I’ll take this. I’ll look. I’ll be in touch.’
She got up and walked away from him. He stayed there for a second and he broke up the rest of the bread, threw it onto the pond, and walked away as the ducks went crazy.