Peculiar Branch Chapter 3A
I don’t know if you’ve ever been put in charge of the security for a peace conference between warring magical worlds from different dimensions, where the fate of the multiverse could hang in the balance, but it’s really, really boring. For a start, you wouldn’t believe how many presentations you have to sit through.
There are some things that have become ubiquitous throughout the multiverse, and Powerpoint is one of them. I’m reliably informed that Bill Gates hired a level three magic user to embed a charm in the software code, so that anyone who had more than three subordinates in their job would automatically find themselves using the thing. Well, I say reliably informed, Tony The Liar told me, but I still like to believe it.
So I had to sit around a table in a conference centre, drinking foul coffee out of tiny china cups with a lad called Terry from Birmingham who’d been assigned to look after the Queen of the Fae, and a nice-looking sort from Leeds called Sandra, whose first words to me had been “I have a black-belt in jiu-jitsu” and who sat as far away from me as possible (the Wallace charm strikes again) and was bodyguarding the Longagovian ambassador.
There were also people from the security services of each of the other worlds there to shadow us — a fat-looking gobboe from Fairyland, one of the few they have left there, an Elvish woman named Dralucia from the Misty Worlds, and there was a chair which looked empty but which everyone swore contained a magic user from Faraway And Longago who had transcended the need for corporeal form.
Personally, I thought the crafty sod had just used that as an excuse not to turn up, as a variety — no, I take that back — as a succession of middling nobodies came up in front of us to show us pie charts and tell us about the fire regulations and show us little embedded videos about the planopolitical situation that told us nothing we didn’t already know. I swear two of them had got each other’s Powerpoint presentation by mistake and not noticed.
Luckily, one of the other things that is constant across every universe is sloping off for a crafty fag, so I waited for the gobboe to go on a break, and then I joined him outside in the drizzle.
“Mind if I nick one off you? I’m trying to give up buying.”
“Be my guest.” he replied, pulling one out of the packet.
“Ta, you’re a hero.”
He looked at me very strangely for a moment, and then lit my cigarette with the end of his.
I stuck out my hand. “Bill Wallace. Good to meet you.”
He shook it. “Skjorvorvorvik. Faery security.”
“You do this kind of thing much?”
“Nah. The Queen’s not really big into the whole ‘peace’ thing. She’s far more into multiversal domination than diplomacy.”
“Sort of speak softly and carry a big stick type, is she?”
“More don’t speak at all and bludgeon them round the back of the head while they’re not looking, to be honest, so this is a pleasant change for me.”
I thought about this for a while. I thought about how we’d been sitting in an out-of-town conference centre of the type that managed to be just inside the ringroad while simultaneously being completely bloody inaccessible, in a small room with windows that didn’t open that was beginning to stink of spilled coffee and stale farts, listening to tedious little wanksplats explain the finer details of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (2002) to us. And then I thought about his description of this as “a pleasant change”.
“You poor sod”
“Yeah,” he took a drag on his fag, “that about sums it up.”
“You OK to be talking to me, by the way? Won’t get done for consorting with the enemy because I’m looking after the Panjandrum?”
“Nah. You’re a neutral third party, ain’t yer? Anyway, if she asks, I’ll just say I was bribing you with a cigarette to pass on information about him.”
“Will she fall for that? Will she really think Earth police are that easily bribable?”
“Why not? I am.”
And with that, Skjorvorvorvik pinched out his cigarette, stuck it behind his ear, and headed inside, just as the drizzle turned into a downpour. I threw the rest of mine into a puddle and followed him.
Still, at least I wasn’t Charlie…
(part 3b, about Charlie, tomorrow)