I followed the dark haired man as he walked up to the door of the old courthouse. He pushed the door open and waved me inside, but I stopped and pointed for him to go first. He grinned and walked through, holding the door so it wouldn’t slam in my face. I followed.
Inside the building was a shell. There were no walls and no floors above the ground level. Looking up I could see the inside of the dome, which I was pretty sure had been covered by a drop ceiling years ago in the mundane world.
Immediately in front of us was an area with a futon, recliner, and thirty-two inch television. It was an exact duplicate of the furniture in my apartment. The rest of the building was empty.
He sat in the recliner and motioned me toward the futon. I remained standing.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“Well,” he answered, “That’s a deep question. Games within games are being played. There are games of the moment within games of years within games decades in length within games lasting centuries within games played over millennia within the game whose duration is the entirety of creation.”
“I need to know something a little more specific than that.”
“Of course you do.” He paused for a second and then nodded. “Think of it this way. There’s a massive game of go and within the placement of each stone there are an almost infinite number of chess games being played and within each move on the chess board there is another almost infinite set of backgammon games being played and within every roll of the dice there are yet another infinite number of domino matches and within the placement of each domino is yet another infinite set of checkers games. Are you following me so far?”
“That’s not giving me a specific answer. It’s just saying the same thing a little dumbed down.”
“True. It’s just so hard to make things understandable for beings at your level.” He leaned back in the recliner and squeezed his eyes shut. “And reality being such a mess right now isn’t helping.”
“Let me try again. All your games are at the tic-tac-toe level. Except, the game is rigged so you can’t lose. Your opponent places an X. Then you place two O’s. Then your opponent places an X and you get to place two more O’s. You can’t lose.”
I started to speak, but he raised his hand in a halting gesture (without opening his eyes). “Wait a sec, I’m getting there.”
“There are problems surrounding your game. First, you were over five years early. This changed the playing fields of your tic-tac-toe games from two dimensional to three. You wouldn’t notice this much because your advantage means you’re still going to win, but those of us who watch these things see the difference.”
“And then Beatrice weighed in. Since she’s only one of the Disir, her ability to shape reality bounced right off you, but it hit the ogre full force. Her reality conformed to the reality of being in love with you and moving toward marriage while your half of that equation remained a black hole of pure free will. All of this has left local reality all screwed up.”
I’d had enough of the metaphysics lesson. “That’s all fine. What’s it got to do with what’s going on right now? I’m not here for a philosophy lecture. My job is to rescue the ogre and bring Taug to the Michaels.”
He sat back up with a sigh. “Yeah, about that. Taug’s my vassal . . . or, I guess a more modern term might be minion, although I don’t like some of the connotations of that word. Servant? Maybe?”
I started to turn to leave and his voice sharpened. “Hold on! Hold on! The point is, I’m responsible for his actions even though I did not sanction them. He thinks he’s doing something which will gain him favor with me. What he’s actually doing is acting as a tool of Beatrice’s predicted reality. Girl gets in trouble, girl gets saved, girl falls for hero. It’s so predictable. You’d think that in a post-feminist world we’d be past such tropes. Still, I guess as long as it works . . .”
He shook his head and stood. “Sorry, I have a hard time compressing my thoughts in a time frame suitable for your existence. Anyway, I shall have a long discussion with Taug after this is all over. Unfortunately, the predicted reality is just strong enough to keep me from intervening directly. Nevertheless, I can do two things for you. First I can re-equip you.”
With a wave of his hand, I was back in tactical gear. Except now the shield hummed with some sort of energy and I found a weapon in my hand which I’d never seen before.
“I owe you both for the act of my subordinate,” He grinned a little and I heard him mumble “better word” before he went on, “and for destroying your personal weapon. This tactical gear should more than compensate you fairly. The armor is adaptive and both your helmet and shield have repulsion capabilities. All of these have a ninety percent probability of being part of police gear in the next hundred years or so. The firearm is a military grade, handheld mass driver that has a sixty percent chance of being built by the Wyoming Republic in about two hundred years. I’m probably going to have to grease some palms and trade some favors to make sure it’s built. Don’t be surprised if the manufacturer’s name and nationality carved on the bottom of the handle change every so often as futures change and coalesce. It’s even an anti-supernatural model, so each pellet it fires has a core of oak molecules, surrounded by silver molecules, surrounded by iron molecules. It has the standard eight hundred pellet load and the catalyzer will generate a new pellet every ten seconds if not being fired. All this stuff is keyed to you. If you want any or all of it to appear or disappear, just wish it so. And no, you won’t end up stark naked.” He grinned. “The clothes you were wearing before will reappear.”
“The second thing I can do is urge you not to save the ogre.” He shook his head a bit sadly. “I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s the smart move. Taug’s playing an angle. He thinks he can take away one of your O’s by making you follow Beatrice’s prediction and he may be right. Localized reality here is such a soup of free will, predicted reality, and the manipulation of your early arrival that I can’t read it well. If he does clip your wings, the fact that he moved first gives him an advantage and you probably have about a fifty-fifty chance. By now Suzie, the charon who runs the entry tent, is back. Taug couldn’t have afforded to bribe her to stay away too long. I’d advise you to go straight to the tent and leave. Remember, the prediction doesn’t affect you; there’ll be no consequences.”
“Sorry.” I started walking back toward the door. “Running away from danger’s not the job.”
“No, it’s not.” A voice from behind me said. “But I’ve never seen a constabulary teach heroic last stands as a technique either - well, outside of the old Romans, maybe.”
As I walked back out the door, I didn’t feel particularly Roman.