Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Chapter 13, part 1

Aleph looked out the window of her office and past the outer wall onto the lights of the Black Quarter. The room was on the fourth floor of the Armoury, three floors higher than anything else in The Wandering Market so the view was exceptional. She needed to go back to Vancouver soon, but she knew taking a moment for herself now would pay off later.

The market beyond the window was as quiet as it ever was, but it was a brittle, tripwire quiet that was made only to be broken. It was the deep breath before the plunge. She forced her shoulders to relax and looked over the market she’d helped to shape. Memories of years long past insinuated themselves in her mind and she let them come.

Back when she’d first arrived it had been the perfect place for a young woman who’d lost everything to finally lose herself as well. If she’d come just a year earlier, she might have even succeeded.
By the time the Second World War was kicking off back on Erde, The Wandering Market, once the wonder of the many worlds, had become a place you only went when you were of a mind to have the shit kicked out of you by beings from across the length and breadth of the Aether. There was organized crime at the top of the food chain, gangs at the bottom, and everyone else being squeezed in the middle. It was the best place in all the Aether to get in over your head quickly.

It would have worked if her arrival hadn’t coincided with Penhold’s; The newly-raised Duke who had been charged with bringing order back to the Market.  With war breaking out on Erde and spilling over into the nearby worlds, the Alchemists had decided the Market was too great a strategic asset to fall into the wrong hands. Aleph hadn’t ever discovered whose hands those were, but she had some very unkind suspicions. Penhold had served them well in the Dust War and the Market would be his reward, if he could hold onto it.

Accompanying the Duke, came the Duke’s Own Police, veterans from the war who became a moderating influence on the more bloodthirsty and avaricious elements of the market. Over the course of the next few decades, they administered their own cheerful brand of impartial violence to all who would break the peace of the market. Truncheons were introduced to recalcitrant skulls, the glory of the Market was burnished anew, and order was snatched from the jaws of chaos. By the end of it, and despite all her efforts, she was still more or less whole.

The ducal residence became known as The Armoury, and it sat like a huge stone spider in the exact centre of The Wandering Market. Granite-cobbled streets spun off from its reinforced cement walls into the four quarters like the threads of an enormous web.

The Armoury itself was designed in the spirit of oneupmanship that made the Cold War years that followed such a relaxing and carefree era. The building was a near-identical copy to the home of the Seaforth Highlander Regiment which had claimed a spot on Burrard Street in Vancouver since the mid-nineteen-thirties. The only real difference between the two buildings was that the Ducal residence in The Market was twice as large because overcompensation is an imperative to the fragile male ego without regard to place or species.
The Armoury was a castle in the Scottish Baronial tradition, a tradition which in itself was best known for taking elements of defensive architecture and shrinking them down to the point of uselessness. Increasing the size of the building hadn’t improved the situation, it had just made battlements and crenellations that were small and useless, slightly larger, but just as useless.

While keeping the forms, if not the function of a military castle intact, the architects had also cleverly failed to include any modern upgrades that would have made the reinforced cement building slightly more livable. Central heating, electricity, and phone lines were completely ignored during its design and as a result, the building was cool enough to serve as a walk-in fridge with no way to call for help once you invariably became lost in the dark.

Eighty years on, and almost all of the oversights had been ironed out. All throughout the building members of The Duke’s Own went about their tasks. Constables booked the latest to be arrested for a stag party gone wrong in the Red Quarter or followed up leads on a pallet of Panotii antiques that had gone missing in transit. It was the usual Friday night for a police department in charge of the largest transit point for goods and services in the Aether.

Somehow along the way Aleph had been swept up in the momentum of the Market’s renaissance and had even come to a grudging friendship with the Duke. She couldn’t forgive him, but there were times when she forgot long enough to actually like him.

Now with Yatagarasu back, she couldn’t think of him as Crow Magnon, all the old misgivings and memories stirred in her mind. She was ecstatic to see him again, but it would have been so much simpler if he’d stayed in the past.

A deferential knock came from her door, breaking into her thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

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