001. Another Regretful Experience

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.

‘Name?’

‘Vernes, Nemo.’

‘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?’

‘Probably.’

‘Beaujolais, no doubt.’

‘Munchausen.’

‘Shit, things really got shook up.’

‘What?’

‘Don’t worry.’

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.

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