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I'd surveyed my share of abandoned amusement parks. It came with the territory. It was practically cliche in the dangerous and haunted artifacts racket, and there was no shortage of them. At its peak, he amusement park bubble put one on almost every street corner. Tastes changed, leaving them abandoned in droves. Some were remodeled into strip malls or gas stations or hotels, but it didn't stop them from rusting and sagging and being condemned. Usually with some incredibly disgruntled carny living in the rubble, enchanting pieces of obsolete machinery and preparing for the return of the old carnival gods,
Pretty standard stuff. But looking at one through the glasses brought a whole new perspective on things.
Down the broken midway, I saw patterns. Lights slowly pulsing like blood in a circulatory system. The haunted house and hall of mirrors worked like capacitors and resistors, modulating the frequencies that passed between them. Different energy flowed through the ferris wheel, radiating out through the arms and into space like an antenna. And all roads converged at the big top, dark and torn when looked at without the glasses, but by adjusting the levers and dials on the glasses it was clearly some kind of central hub, pulsating with power.
Ought to be something haunted and artifactual in there, I surmised. And I had time for a side gig. Solving the mystery of Uhrenfabrik AG wasn't paying any bills, and The Egregore and I still had needs.
"Yes, and you too," I answered. "You stay here with the ship. I'm going to check this out."
"Yes of course it's a trap."
"Mweeeeek! Mweeeeek Mweeeeek!"
"Well, it's bigger than what I'd generally call a haunted artifact, but, well... what is it, anyway?"
Floating above a thicket of forest ahead of us was the classic embodiment of death -- the Grim Reaper. It had the cloak, a hint of a skeleton poking out here and there and holding a giant scythe. The whole thing must have been 50 meters tall, holding its massive scythe and slowly swinging it two-handed, over and over.
And over and over. And over again.
"It's not a haunted artifact, ha!" I told Mweek. "It's a projection. A giant road sign. There! Look where it ends up pointing the scythe."
In a clearing in the woods was a tiny amusement park. There was a roller coaster and a ferris wheel and a midway, but it was empty. The whole place looked abandoned and a little decrepit.
"This isn't on the maps?"
"Guess we better take a look."
Verdant valleys. Snow capped peaks. Lazy wandering rivers and occasional farm houses. Puffy clouds.
The "general region" of Uhrenfabrik AG was a wide swath, but the scenery was beautiful. I seemed to be out of any immediate danger. I could see for miles in all directions and was under no pursuit. And as I didn't know exactly where I was headed, the chance of an ambush seemed unlikely.
It was time for a little housekeeping.
What do you do on vacation? Me, since I fly around in my house all the time, downtime means catching up on overdue domestic maintenance. Starting with my library, which is also the bridge. Mweek kept lookout while I sorted the books back into their shelves, papers into their folders, tidied up my writing desk and the magnifying table...
I always keep a clean kitchen.
Made my bed. Seems like I've hardly slept in it lately. My cabin looks unlived in. As does the guest room. and the dining room. They've all been unlived in for longer than I care to remember. But it's funny how even spending all my time in the air, you still need to dust every once in awhile.
The Rare Book Room needed a bit of sorting--mostly replacing volumes I'd taken to the bridge, but a bit more dusting never hurts. Plus, I just love to check on them, pull them out and hold them. And I ran a routine diagnostic of the Grade 7 Artifactual Containment Chamber.
Wasn't much to take care of in the cargo hold, which is pretty spacious. And empty. Took me a while to figure out how to concentrate on the high-value but very small and light haunted artifacts.
"Mweeeeek! Mweeeeek Mweeeeek!"
I could just hear the squeals over the engines. But when did Mweek learn the word for "haunted artifacts?"
"Of course I didn't forget! Here you go."
After placing enough distance between myself and the Bacarat tables, I dusted myself off, reversed my jacket, grabbed a pair of Monte Cristos from the waiter's cart, walked calmly to a cashier's cage, and cashed in my chips. Then, just as calmly, I walked to the port control, paid the parking, and followed the catwalks and gantries to the Egregore. My little friend was waiting.
Certainly no reason to stick around, so I pulled us up and out and over the floating port. The Matte Kudasai was in there somewhere, but radio was out of the question.
"Yes, I'm sure the glasses could tell us." I'd laid them on the side table next to the helm. "But I think I've had enough of them for awhile. Starting to see spots..."
"Well thank you for agreeing. And I think we're better on our own for awhile." The Matte Kudasai had to be under surveillance, and it was safer for both of us if we split up. For awhile, at least.
I pulled the Egregore up over the clouds, and glanced back down to the ornate brass glasses. There was a little blinking green light on them I'd never noticed before.
"I wouldn't want either of us being followed..."
There was one thing in common about a lot of the higher functions of the glasses. They let you see streaks. Streaks in how the wind's blowing. Streaks in time. Streaks in position. Streaks in probability.
Mweek used them to mine even more data on Uhrenfabrik AG from my library. I had been using them to track movement probability when I discovered the automatic mannequins. And after I heard we were going to Grimaldi, I wondered if they could help you win at Baccarat.
It turns out they can help you win at Baccarat. A lot.
But apparently it was a scheme they'd run across before.
"Will you come with us, sir, madam, or other?"
The swarm of multi-colored streaks and arrows and dotted lines still swoops over the table--over the cards and banker and the plank and my chips. I'd seen the dark red vectors of these security guards coming ages ago.
More patterns emerge. It's like looking at a global thermal weather patterns map, making multiple projections upon projections, fractally predicting futures, maximizing value outcomes...
...and drawing me a bright yellow line of instructions to follow.
Some of my chips spill to the floor as I scoop them into my bag.
"Oh, I'm sorry, let me get that."
The security guys bump heads, their bowlers tipping off their heads.
I scramble under the Baccarat table, between a pair of legs, and hitch a ride on a passing hors d'oeuvres cart.
"I am sorry madame, but creatures such as this are not allowed at the tables."
"And especially when they are wearing ornate mechanical reading glasses. It tends to make the other guests... uncomfortable."
"What? Oh yes, he does like to play. Here, give me those, you. Hey! Careful! Now you let mommy have her glasses back..."
"Perhaps I will leave you to have your domestic discussion in private..."
"No! Er, no. It's fine. Now, listen little guy, you head back to the ship and mommy promises she'll bring you that nice Monte Cristo you've been looking forward to. Sound good? Ok! Run along now. Shooo! GIT!"
My little black, five-hooved furry friend lurked off into the crowd, looking back plaintively. I would have preferred to have him along for this, but the glasses alone should be enough.
"Thank you for your respectful patience, Monsieur Concierge. I am now ready for you to escort me to the Baccarat tables."
The library was a mess. Which was inconvenient by it also being the bridge.
Books were strewn about all over the tables and floors, my little furry friend still shuffling through pages with its five little hooves.
"Hey, be careful. These are all very rare. Don't hurt the pages when you turn them. Flick them carefully from their edges. And stop standing on them or you'll break the spines."
It did seem to understand. But more importantly, it was an excellent researcher, and had an uncanny nose for knowing where to look for references to Uhrenfabrik AG in my collection.
A note in an industrial history book about a fabled gala at the headquarters.
An old shipping news ledger with 4 different lines regarding shipments inbound and outbound from a factory.
A co-publishing credit for a coffee table book of Hymergian mind crystals.
It was really remarkable there wasn't more. You could tell by the references that Uhrenfabrik AG had quite a reputation, which made the absence of any real information that much more odd when you realized it. Like it had been meticulously (but not completely) erased from the public record. But we had enough to triangulate on for the general region now.
Plus, we had the Uhrenfabrik AG glasses. Just no manual.
"Well, I'm not sure they'll really fit... what? Ok, here you go little fella..."
@Billy Sabab was hopeless. Well, he was full of hope, actually. Too much. But he didn't have any idea where to begin.
He had a barnacle encrusted box, gifted by the King of the Fishmen in thanks for the role he played in reawakening the ancient spores of the Hymergian Man-Fungus. I guess I played a role in that too. It is perhaps the best example of the kind of trouble @Billy Sabab has caused in my life since I met him.
And in that box, @Billy Sabab had a token from a long gone game arcade. Some lost memory from his youth.
He didn't have any idea where to begin.
But my little furry friend did.
I had taken a rubbing of the old worn token. @Billy Sabab wasn't going to give it up, and frankly I didn't want it. But I have a deeper background in ancient haunted artifacts than he does.
And so, apparently, did my little furry friend.
As we looked more closely at the rubbing at my magnifying table, we could make out the markings. Stars in a doorway, like a constellation, framed in a very particular way.
A very familiar way, if you knew how to look at it.
My companion pointed at the tails side of the rubbing of the coin with a tiny hoof. Its yellow-green eyes grew brighter. The tiny letters were almost worn down.
It read: Uhrenfabrik AG
It didn't take long to locate @Billy Sabab and the Matte Kudasai. Warnings all up and down the AV band about steering clear of the Verts -- a no fly zone within visual distance. I took the Egregore in low, in the direction I assumed they'd try and make an escape in. I was right.
There was the Matte Kudasai skimming just above waves, covered in broken glass and drywall and twisted window frames. What? Had they collided with a building? Because there was only one building around out here in the middle of the ocean.
"Matte Kudasai, do you read? This is Egregore, over."
"..... zzzzcrrrkkk... shhhh! Don't answer! Don't let her know we're... what? Oh. This is on?"
"Matte Kudasai, you are in need assistance, but I can see you're also on the run. I'm going to pull ahead of you. Follow me if you want to get away."
Why do I keep digging myself in deeper with this clown?
When I came back to Old Habitsform, this wasn't the kind of business I was hoping to drum up. In fact, this wasn't "business" at all. This was "getting away with my life."
And all, apparently, because of that stupid book I'd bought from an idiot sky sailor junkman @Billy Sabab. Trouble seems to stick to him like dorf poop on a shoe. And somehow now it keeps sticking to me too.
"The Traits, Features, Characteristics, Peculiarities, Mannerisms, Qualities, and Attributes of the Hymergian Man-Fungus." The book important enough for an automatic mannequin to die for. Or at least become radically disassembled for, thanks to my new found cute and furry quasi-bovine friend. I never spent much time trying to decipher it. Mostly because you'll go mad if you do, maybe even with the special glasses you're supposed to wear while reading it. The ones the automatic mannequin was so interested in. I had slipped them back into the little pocket in the book.
"Mweeeeek!" My little furry friend had found the book on my desk. Head butting it with its three little horns. "Weeeeek week week week. Mweeeek week week week."
Yes, indeed. That book. Where had it really come from? And if it's so in demand, why did it end up with me? Where was it really from?
We didn't have to share the same language to come up with the plan. I'd seen real Hymergian Man-Fungus creatures before. I knew where they lived. And if I was lucky, @Billy Sabab might have left a trail. And knowing him, it would be a trail a mile wide and littered with destruction.
I was headed back to the open sea, off the coast of Desitiny City.