037. Hen Gauge, Pen Gauge, When Gauge, Then Gauge

Carter popped a black olive in his mouth. He was hogging the bowl. Quint smiled at him and sucked down another whiskey.

‘Slow fucking war, eh?’

‘Well, what do you expect? We’re dealing with pens not guns – these bastards roll up slowly on a kill.’

‘You’ve been baby-sitting writers for an age, eh, Carter?’

‘Yeah, not my favourite part of the job by any means – I’d rather be working with a hack-rig and breaking down and building up reality.’

‘It seems like the reality eddies are destabilising everything – none of my equipment seems to be working very well.’

‘We’ll have to sit down with you and help you calibrate everything at some point in the future. Quantum Elements are starting to be the go to guys for spatiotemporal work.’

‘There is so much work to do, it’s hard to know what tool you’re going to have to pull out of the tool box. We’re not the only ones handling this, are we?’

‘Of course not – this fragmentation is manifesting in multiple levels of reality, and it is pulling in all kinds of people with all kinds of skills. Anything you can think of that appears to be a manifestation of reality not behaving as it should is something that traces back to this. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and nothing could be more true of Immaculate Authors. Sad to say this is not the first instance of something like this happening. I am not sure we have worked out what the issue is, but there is something these guys seem to be prone to that someone on an external level knows about that they have not communicated to us.’

‘I heard that there have Surreality Engineers abroad.’

‘Rogues, those who think they know better – all manner of alterations and problem makers, sure … doesn’t every field attract that kind of thing?’

‘I suppose. I know that there is something a little surreal about me.’

‘Hmm, not sure I ever thought of you and the other Essentials as surreal, more that you are the extension of a logical progression of the physical matching the spiritual.’

‘You make us sound like the word made flesh.’

‘Didn’t the word make flesh?’

‘I suppose so, but you know what I mean.’

‘Yes, I do. Of course.’

‘So, we are just going to observe this guy and see if there is something we can understand.’

‘How long has Sheridan been in place?’

‘I’m not honestly sure, because he’s on a Stutter Protocol, so he can be in two places at once, and his Seymour is floating through the space too. I have an idea that we might just want to sit down and ask Coran some questions until we find the right answer.’

‘And David Arnover too. And Ardenti In Mundo. And the Musehick, up there in the overtext.’

‘I heard there was something called the Insomnihack too.’

‘Yes, have you ever heard of a flick book?’

‘Sure, where the pages are allowed to flick and it makes it look like the images are moving.’

‘Imagine every book in a super-positional library were assembled into a vast flick book …’

‘That’s a lot of pages.’

‘Yes, and that’s where we are.’

‘Is that Tendrel Plaint in the corner with his Bloop Hen?’

‘Of course, we’re pulling out all the stops. What better way to bring a writer to the end of the story than to have a really good editor there watching him and providing editing suggestions.’

Tendrel waved at them to come over, and offered his hand in friendship.

‘It’s a mess. A non-sequitur mess. We kind of went stream of consciousness via self-indulgence, and ended up with an over-emotional, and non-logical whitenoise, instead of the literary jazz I think we were aiming for.’

‘Ah, that good old entropic slide towards that final cymbal crash.’

‘Final symbol crash?’

‘Bit of both, all told.’

‘OK, well that’s where one part of the story ends, right? There is always a new chapter.’

‘I suppose Well, with a story. And although this is a story, it kind of isn’t as well, right? Don’t worry Quint.’

‘Not worried, Carter. Well, I am, but not completely feeling hopeless yet. How about you Tendrel?’

‘I’m fine. Don’t speak to Sheridan though.’

‘Why not?’

‘Talking about a Dying Element being somewhere around.’

‘Did we pull him too close to his rebirth?’

‘Maybe. You know how it is, Carter – the Crooked Wombs these Living Elements use aren’t exactly running on the orderly programming that a normal Reality Womb employs.’

‘It is what it is. For all the damned engineering we’re supposed to do, half the time we’re playing catch up. Karmachanics aren’t deployed as much as they should be.’

‘I would say this is frustratingly confusing, but apart from not knowing how to piece Andress back together, this is pretty run of the mill for us.’

‘Yes, I am doing this kind of thing all over,’ said Quint, smiling.

Tendrel wrote something down. The Bloop Hen pecked space. Carter adjusted his watch.


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