Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: Chapter Five

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Click here for the previous installment...

As I’m brushing my teeth, I start to feel like things are not quite right. Everything looks familiar; the house, the dog watching me patiently from the floor, my neighbor’s car parked on the street outside—but I can’t remember the first time I saw these things. I know that I must have, because dogs don’t just appear out of nowhere, but I can’t ignore my instinct either. Or maybe I can, and maybe I should. I finish up in there, give my girlfriend a kiss, and leave for work. I’ve been retired from KCPD for a few years, and life couldn’t be better. I didn’t hate being a detective, but I prefer the work I do now. There’s a lot less risk, and a whole lot less death. I’m still using the skills I learned from my days on the force, but now I just investigate corporate malfeasance. Don’t get me wrong, those people can be ruthless, but at least they’re not trying to shoot me. Well, mostly. There was that one time.
I’ve just started working for a new client; this company called Snowglobe Collective that is basically in the business of acquiring other businesses. They send me out to their potential acquisitions to look for any problems that might arise. To be honest, they’re not too terribly concerned with whether the other companies are breaking the law, only whether it could become a problem for them later. I don’t feel great about covering these things up, but I don’t work for the city anymore, I work for Snowglobe, and I’ll do whatever they ask, as long as it doesn’t put me or mine in danger. So far, it’s worked out perfectly. I’ve not found any reason to contact the authorities anyway. The biggest crimes going down in these companies is an unusually high amount of pen theft.
The day is boring as I’m mostly just filling out paperwork. There’s gotta be a paper trail for everything, and that takes a lot of my time. I decide to cut out early, though, and head back home. Melantha is waiting for me in the kitchen. She’s not cooking us dinner, because she’s terrible at it. I don’t even know why we have a kitchen, other than the fact that she likes to read while sitting on the granite countertop, which is why I’ll probably ask her to marry me before too long. “How was your day?” I ask.
“It’s okay. Construction on the hotel is going a little slow, but I’m confident it’ll pick up.”
“Can’t wait to see it,” I say, casually lifting her up to carry her to the livingroom couch. “Have you settled on a name yet?”
She kind of gives me this faux bashful smirk. “I’m thinking...The Sanctuary.”
“That’s...why?”
She shrugs. “Why not?”
“Will it be for runaways?”
She shrugs again. “Maybe.”
“Mel, is this gonna be a magic hotel?”
“Why, whatever do you mean?”
I roll my eyes and smile back, then I walk over to the food summoner. “What would you like?”
“I’ve eaten recently. Get whatever you want.”
“L-O-L,” I spell, “thanks.” I turn the dials on the summoner to power up the machine. The hum settles, indicating that it’s ready for me. I ask for lasagna from Italy, French bread from France, and Japanese sushi. It’s not the most cohesive meal, but if we’re going to have a magical machine that creates literally anything I want, why waste it on something normal, right? “Rawhide,” I say at the end.
“Expanding our horizons, are we?” Melantha asks.
“Yep,” I joke, tossing the bone to our dog, The Duke of Hay. We named him that because we adopted him from a farm, where he slept on hay, and also because his barks sound like he’s saying hey. 12/10 he’s a real person trapped in a dog body.
As I’m chowing down on my own meal, next to The Duke, Melantha puts her book down and looks at me.
“Uh-oh, what’s this?”
“This,” she begins, “has been fun, but I think it’s time you get back to work.”
I look at my bare wrist. “Work hours are over.”
“Not that work. You have to go back to Analion Towers. Bitch lied to you, the Incorruptible Astrolabe is there.”
“What the hell are you talking about? What’s an astrolabe?”
“Okay, I know you don’t remember what reality is meant to look like, but you know what an astrolabe is, right?”
I shake my head slightly but quickly, waiting for her to explain herself.
“Okay, it doesn’t matter, because the Incorruptible Astrolabe is another magical object, like the summoner, or the Escher Knob. But it can do its own thing, and you may need it to get reality back to how it was.”
“I’m...so lost, Melantha.”
“My name’s not Melantha, it’s Meliora. I inserted myself into this corruption to protect you from further harm, but it’s time to end it.”
“You’re saying this isn’t real?”
“Oh, it’s real...it’s very real. It’s just not right. Reality was corrupted.”
It’s true that I’ve been feeling a little off today, and I’ve even been questioning my reality. But everyone goes through things like that; crises of faith, existential crises, mid-life crises. I don’t look it, but I’m over fifty years old by now, so I’m certainly due for that last one. Still, I trust Melantha...or whatever her real name is, so I have to believe her. Or maybe I don’t, and maybe I shouldn’t.
“You still don’t believe me, that’s okay.” She stands up. “I’ll just give you your Christmas present early.”
“What is it?”
She walks over to the summoner. “Item One-eight-nine-one. Codewords Emily Lake.” She reaches in a retrieves a small box. “I don’t know why Yatchiko let you keep the knob and the flashlight, but I know why she didn’t let you keep these.” She lifts the lid, revealing a pair of steampunk goggles.
“I feel like I’ve seen those before.”
“You have...in the true reality.”
I just sit there staring at them.
“Are you gonna put ‘em on, or not?”
I exhale and take them out of the box. I then put them on my face and look around. Everything is wrong. The house is not supposed to be there, nor is Melantha, nor even the Duke of Hay. I still can’t remember what my life is supposed to be like, nor do I no longer see these apparent corruptions, but they do look clearly fictional to me. I don’t know what it is, or how to describe it, but the corruptions are illuminated, and sort of twisted ad and scratched out. I dunno. I can just tell that it’s wrong, but what I can’t see is why I should change it. “I love my life.” I remove the goggles.
“What?”
“I love you. I love The Duke of Hay. I love this house, our badass summoner that no one in the world has, even sometimes my job. Why would I throw that away?”
“Because you have a responsibility.”
“What responsibility? I don’t know what you mean. All I have is my work, and my family.”
“No, you have so much more than that.” She retrieved the Rothko Torch from the hall closet. “Look at this.” She turned it on and pointed it at the television screen, which suddenly began playing the news dated two days from now.
Authorities are in the midst of investigating the tragedy at Analion Tower. Early reports indicate that the deaths were accidental. As of now, all business is halted, with no word as to whether the organization will continue operating, here or anywhere else.
Melantha turned off the flashlight. This is happening tomorrow. You have to get into the building and secure the Astrolabe during the confusion.
“Melantha,” I begin to protest.
“There’s no arguing this. You used the HG Goggles, you know this has to be fixed, and the only way you do that is with that Astrolabe. I would fix it myself, but I’m pouring all my power into shrouding the Sanctuary from prying eyes until I get it up and running with all the right wards.”
“I don’t wanna lose you.”
“I’m not dying. I’m real too, I’m just not your girlfriend.”
I don’t say anything.
“Kallias, I’m not your girlfriend. If you don’t this for me, I’m still leaving. You can’t keep me here by protecting your corruption.”
“What about The Duke?”
She looked down at the dog, who was looking back up at her with his puppy dog eyes, as if he knew. “He’ll go to a farm to chase squirrels.”
“Screw you.”
“Bran, get this done now. Stop whining, and do your goddamn job.”
The next day, I reluctantly get in my car with all my fancy time gadgets, and drive over to Analion Tower. By the time I arrive, the place is in disarray as the deaths have already happened. I don’t know who exactly has died, but I was never here to stop it. I’m just here for the Astrolabe. A group of firefighters are at the door, apparently trying to get in, but are being stopped by some power-hungry rent-a-cop. I recognize one of the firefighters, but I guess not really, because none of this is real.
“My ear are burning,” I say after my firefighter friend, Garsea mentions something about the nearest police cruiser.
“This doesn’t concern you, Bran,” he replies. “You’re not a cop anymore. And didn’t you used to be older?”
Melantha would often something special to lower my age slightly. I never knew how it worked, I just let her do it. Though I guess, that never happened. “I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” I explain.
“He’s locked the door,” Garsea says. “We can’t get in, and do not have clearance to break in. That doesn’t mean there’s anything to investigate here.” It’s true that Snowglobe was considering acquiring Analion at one point, but that was looking less and less likely as the scandal regarding their defective products persisted.
“You don’t need clearance. I know this building. It’s special.” It was designed as a cylicone, which I’m suddenly now remembering, because I think I’ve actually been here before. I take the Escher Knob out of my bag.
“What the hell is that thing?” Garsea asked, almost disgusted, because it would certainly look like I’m not taking this seriously.
“It’s the Escher Knob,” I tell him cryptically. “It’ll get us in.”
“This isn’t one of your crazy theories, Bran. This building is actually real.” While I was still on the force, I would often run into temporal discrepancies that couldn’t be explained. In fact, as far as my memory of this reality goes, that’s how Melantha and I met. She had explanations for all those strange things. But it wasn’t enough to save my reputation as the guy who believed in ghosts and aliens.
“Yes...and no,” I joke. Then I place the Escher Knob on the door, letting it transport Garsea and I to the other side of it.
“Oh my God, how the hell did we end up inside?”
“I brought the lobby to us. Go on and get to work so they can lift the lockdown and get these people back home safe. And you...”
The lobby guard has a frightened look on his face. “H—how’d you do that? You were there...and now you’re here.”
“Whatever do you mean?” I ask, gaslighting him. “Just get the hell out of my way so I can finish this once and for all.” I literally push him out of the way and walk through a lobby that looks more like a hotel ballroom. I head for the freight elevator, which is the only one working after a deadly incident with one of the others. I turn the Rothko torch on and point it at the buttons. Out of apparent superstition, this building was designed without a thirteenth floor. Normally I would assume that meant the people on the fourteenth were just lying to themselves, but I see here that it’s not true. The flashlight reveals an extra button that can’t be seen with the naked eye. I press it and head for a secret story I’m obviously not supposed to know about.
The elevators open to a single room, in the middle of which is this metallic round thing that’s probably an astrolabe, but I forgot to search online what that is. Nothing happens when I shine the flashlight on it, and it doesn’t look any different through the HG Goggles, as Melantha called them. As soon as I pick it up, however, my memories return. I’m suddenly standing in a slightly different position, wearing different clothes. I can remember losing Escher Bradley, and Rothko Ladhiffe, and then all of Springfield, Kansas. I can remember my life as a detective in Springfield, and I can remember it being torn away from me in an instant when I lost my identity. I remember meeting Hokusai Gimura, and going to the knife dimension, and skipping several months of time. And I remember my need to find the Incorruptible Astrolabe. Lastly, I remember what I’m supposed to do with it. I need to find those missing people, including Hokusai. That’s my next investigation. Find her, find everyone.

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