from The Headflux Chronicles, Book 1, by Will Lorimer
THE HIGH FUX — an eye-witness account of bicentenary session of the Supreme Council of the New Natural Order of Numpties, from a transcript by Brother Paulus one of twelve Elders in attendance, leaked by an unknown third party.
Two nano centuries have passed since the outgoing Old High Council shaved off their beards following their first encounter with the Emissary in the Temple of the Old Beard, a medieval Numpty hall under the bridge of the same name, carrying what was then the principal thoroughfare of Auld Nippy — these days, I am told, a dismal street of shops for down-trodden middle-class masses who, at least thus far, unfortunately are still with us.
Curiously, our present meeting place, a vaulted chamber in a mock-Dreed castle commanding a broad swathe of the Grimm Forest, possesses something of that original Numpty atmosphere. The gothic grotesqueries of carved quarite — mullions, escutcheons, lintels, bosses invoke the merciless barbarity of Rudner’s many-splendored dreams — Göerdämurgun, counter-balanced by Kevinist starkness, sheer stone rising to cruciform ribs. The quadripartite vaults of lead-latticed windows, one for each cardinal point, pierce the gloom with slanting shafts of light that, through some arcane secret of the Glassmakkar’s craft, or some other reason yet more obscure, resemble four shining swords, that are even thinly apparent by moonlight, making their circuit about the chamber, crossing, parrying, shortening as Spring turns to Summer, lengthening when Winter comes, suggestive of the slow motion combat of giant forces, as if the Gods of Bifrost themselves have awakened and are bent on mutual destruction and the annihilation of time.
THE ROYAL MUSEUM OF DREEDLAND
Recently extended to re-house what remained of the Wayward National Collection when it was rescued from the floods down in the new North, these days the Royal Museum of Dreedland was stacked to the ornate iron girders of its glass-roofed atrium with unopened crates, while below, curators worked around the clock to dispose of a backlog of exhibits to rooms beyond, where unrelated antiquities were awkwardly juxtaposed and jammed into display cases.
Even in the transparent exterior lift, designed with the needs of disabled nanos in mind, wheelchair users had to squeeze in beside a winged stone lion. This had been uncovered only the previous year, by one of the itinerant band of malarkies — a sub-class of the new poor who pick their way along the wandering coastline in their plastic coracles, looking for flotsam — who thought he had struck lucky when he saw it exposed in a drying mud bank off the now moribund port of Japhet. Unfortunately, a few days after he reported the discovery, word got out that he had cheated his fellow malarkies of their share of the reward, and he was stabbed in a bar room fight. The next morning, the CCTV images of the brawl were emblazoned under banner headlines on the tabloids.
Inside, their pages were awash with lurid reports of how, attempting to escape his attackers, he ran out onto a mud-bank, and then was dredged up, dead. It was a classic tale of reversal of fortune which struck a chord with citizens who for ten long years had endured the Great Flatline, and one that only contributed to a growing sense of crisis in the city — and all because an ancient prophesy foretold doom would befall the Towns when a ‘muckle lion gangs hame tae roost in Auld Nippy’.
Following directions, Tamson and Honour — Madame Bourgeois again in her dowdy hat and coat — left the cramped lift at the third level and proceeded past a pantheon of Ma’atian gods: Hornus, K’iti, H’rd’n, Hibis, Ba’a, Knut, and other giant stone statues Tamson could not identify. Perhaps irrationally, he felt that K’iti, which he had always liked for the cat goddess’ green gemstone eyes, erect pointed ears, and graceful feline form, was watching from her granite plinth, as the pair headed through a blue and tiled archway, a reconstruction of the ‘Great Portal’ described in the Book of Tamson in the Metshatsur, through which processions had entered the First Seminary of Knot — in the direction of the medieval collection, housed in the East Wing.
‘They must be behind here,’ Tamson said, edging past the Nippy Maiden, a guillotine dating from fifteenth century Dreedland, when a sizeable percentage of the population ended up on the block. ‘There.’ He pointed to a large glass case set aside from the rest. A sign inside confirmed his guess, giving details of the recent find after the rock-fall on the ribs of the Cat. However, aside from thirteen number tags, indicating different placements of missing exhibits, there were no ‘manikins’ or ‘coffinettes’ to be seen.
‘Shit, they’re gone,’ Tamson said, unable to contain his disappointment. ‘Would you believe it? The one empty case in the whole museum.’
‘Actually, I half-expected as much.’
‘You did?’ Tamson frowned, casting about. ‘They must be around somewhere …’
‘No,’ Honour shook her head, ‘a Scribbler stole them.’
‘That’s some kind of Numpty, right?’
‘Yes,’ she nodded, ‘and the museum warders here in Nippy are all Numpty Scribblers.’
‘Not all, surely?’
‘Every last one.’ Honour tapped her temple. ‘Take it from me, I know.’ ‘How so?’
‘Because I’ve watched Numpties at their ritual motions.’
‘But no wonen are permitted in Numpty temples.’ ‘There are always exceptions, Tamson.’
‘All right then.’ He shrugged, inclined to let the matter go, ‘But what in the natural would they want with the, ah …’ Tamson smiled. ‘Sorry, manikins.’
‘Those things are of the utmost importance.’ ‘Are they indeed?’ He frowned. ‘Who to?’
‘The Numpty High Council.’
‘This is not the place, Tamson. As you reminded me, every angle here is covered,’ she said, slipping her hand under his arm, delicately steering him back the way they had come.
In the lift again, Honour said, succinctly, ‘Take us up, Tamson.’
‘You sure?’ he said, his finger poised over the button for the ground floor. ‘There’s nothing to see up there now the roof garden’s made-over for storage.’
‘You heard me,’ Honour growled, in a fair imitation of the stone lion at her knees.
‘OK.’ Tamson shrugged, pressed the top button, and turned to face a multifaceted panorama. The lift looked over the outside world, slanting Eye-light gilding leading angles of stone buildings, the Old Town spreading out before them as the glass lift slowly ascended against the outside of the museum.
‘Can we see your place from here?’ Honour asked, as the lift stopped at the top.
‘I think so,’ Tamson said, peering through tinted glass at the slums of Tall Town on the far side of the Gallowgate. ‘There. D’you see that washing flapping on the skyline?
‘Yes,’ she nodded.
‘That’s my landing, and behind it, the window of my wee flat. You can even see my door, tucked at the back of the stairwell, but it’s more tricky from there. My friends can never find it, bills by post never reach me.’ He chuckled. ‘I haven’t had my meter read in years.’
‘You must have a great view, Tamson.’ ‘That’s my consolation for all the stairs.’
‘Pity your window is so public.’
‘Only from up here.’
Honour gestured towards a retro-gothic building to the side. ‘Check that one out, Tamson.’
‘You mean the House of the Signet?’ Tamson scowled. Smiling, she nodded. ‘I take it you don’t much like the legal beagles?’
‘No. Ever since the Great Unbearding, they’ve run this town like a feudal fief.’
‘You think so?’ Honour arched an elegant eyebrow. ‘High Court judges inherit their positions,’ my master sniffed. ‘And d’you know how much it costs just for a consultation with a junior scrivener to the Seal?’
‘Tamson, I haven’t brought you here for a diatribe on the legal industry in Nippy.’
‘So, why am I here?’ Tamson demanded.
‘Observe.’ Honour pointed once more towards the spiky roofline. ‘In which direction is that snoop aimed?’
Tamson’s eyes widened. ‘Towards my door if I am not mistaken. Hey!’ Tamson frowned, seeing a man dressed in the black uniform of a municipal enforcer on the top landing. ‘Who’s that shitty-head looking in my window?’
This is a satirical SF novel in the tradition of Swift, with footnotes that give an alternative history of the world.
Will Lorimer is a multi-media artist and the author of a number of books.