He sat down in the bar. This was turning into something of a pub crawl He’d been here before, or was it that he was due to be here soon? This was the most confused he had been in a long time, and perhaps some of that was due to what he had just helped occur.
Halley stood there and Spay smiled at him. Halley was like a lighthouse for a lot of the lost souls that washed up on the shores of this place. Halley never asked any questions, and why should he? He knew what he was here for, and his reality was hardly likely to be rocked by much of anything that went on outside the four walls of his public house.
Spay was burned out only for a small while, and he always rekindled. What did it say when someone or something like him was able to survive and keep going when other more worthy souls perished? Just that the universe didn’t really operate in that way. No Anubis sitting there with weighing scales and a feather.
Carter sat down next to him. Carter took out an electronic cigarette and sucked on it.
‘Hope it’s not me that it’s driving you to that.’
‘Seems unlikely you’d care.’
‘Took me a second to recognise that laugh you know.’
‘All that Alice In Wonderland training, right? Being able to remember forwards?’
‘Well, you know of course – having been other people, and all that. Travelling in time. Destroying memories. Hacking reality. What was this about? We knew about Ardenti In Mundo, but we didn’t want to introduce him into the mix until we had put Coran Andress back together.’
‘You’re the weft and I’m the warp, isn’t that some of it?’
‘Me? I’m just an Engineer – not any kind of decision maker.’
‘If you couldn’t make decisions, what kind of engineer would you be?’
‘Fair point. You have to know you can’t win, why do you keep persisting?’
‘Well, we’ve been doing the back and forth long enough that you must see I’ve been making as much of a dent on the shape of the universe as you, Mr Brecht.’
‘I won’t win this argument, will I? Look, knowing who you are, and who you were …’
‘Knowing something of me, yes, but not all of me …’
‘OK, with what I know of you, I know you were once a Reality Engineer, so with all this effort to change things, why not work with us?’
‘Oh, well, of course, I am diametrically opposed to you, Mr Brecht. You follow a script, and the larger part of what I am is informed by the Unscripted Realms. You are order and I am chaos.’
A giant louse shuffled up to them and asked it could buy them a drink.
‘Erm, sure, how come?’
‘Oh, my name’s Jeffgar Proop, and it’s a tradition in Nitcomb City, where I come from.’
‘How did you end up here, Jeffgar? Seems a long way from home.’
‘You know Nitcomb City, Mr …?’
‘Carter Brecht, Reality Engineer at your service.’
Spay watched the exchange with bemusement, and he could read in Carter’s face that the insect’s presence was cause for concern. It was, of course, totally fine for a Reality Engineer to flit around all over the place.
‘Excuse us, Mr Proop, but we’re having something of a serious conversation.’
‘Not sure,’ interjected Halley ‘That I like the sound of that.’
‘With all due respect, Halley, you have to know that the fate of the entire quantum reality is regularly discussed in this place.’
Halley squinted at him.
‘He kind of does and kind of doesn’t at the same time,’ said Carter ‘We built him that way.’
‘He’s a construct? A tulpa?’
‘Kind of. We Frankensteined him out of what the old owner was, and what we needed this place to be.’
‘Jesus, how much of reality is like that, with you guys installed behind the scenes pulling the strings?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Doesn’t surprise me. But look, I have a big pair of scissors, and I intend to cut as many strings as possible. This is a lull in the storm. This is a pause between battles. And look, while you get away by being behind the scenes, I draw fire by being out front, but do you think I do all this on my lonesome? There are other people on my side. I’m not the villain in my own story, Mr Brecht, you are.’
‘Moral relativism doesn’t work when talking about what you do, Spay.’
‘Of course it does, you simpleton. I am exactly the kind of creature for which moral relativism was created. I don’t know how much you read, but you should never have a problem getting your books back on time – so go and learn about the systems that run the world, and then come back afterwards and tell me if you still feel so sure about me, and what I am. I’ll be seeing you around.’
Spay laughed, even though he wasn’t sure that Brecht knew he had said something funny.