Agent Lee sat at the bar of the Cafe Rouge et Noir and listened to the convoluted whispered conspiracies about the collapse of the Fourth Decadency and the potentially terrifying rise of the Rapturous Ascendancy that eddied through the crushed velvet atmosphere. As he sipped glass after glass of whiskey he kept one eye on the variously coloured images of the passing trade reflected in the wraparound mirror behind the two bar-tenders. He had mastered several techniques over the years in revealing auras and mirrors were an invaluable aid, though of course it was an art, not a science, and the conditions had to be just so for him to get an accurate read.
Conditions in Agartha necessitated that Agent Lee always be on his guard. Not only was there the possibility that an informer might be a double agent for The Angle aka Al the Angle aka Alabama Al aka Birmingham Al, there was the indisputable fact that the controlling authorities and the forces they in turn answered to would be keeping a very close eye on his every manoeuvre and movement. Besides, as the major industries (apart from the administration of interstellar bureaucracies) in Agartha was the production of illusion, maintenance of egregores and the distribution of deception he couldn’t absolutely trust the evidence of his own senses. Beneath his breath he muttered garbled charms and counter-spells while his finger traced sigils with the drops of spilled whiskey on the wooden counter top. For more flesh and blood enemies he had full confidence in the heat nestling snugly in his shoulder holster.
He had just ordered another whiskey from the dead-eyed blonde barmaid when he saw a violently violet aura glowing incandescently in the mirror. It had to be her, his only lead to The Angle.
(Although the above can be read as a miniature stand-alone story, it is a direct follow on from Oblique Angle, which in turn is part of a larger series of loosely connected fictions, starting with Showtime, (though several characters and locations had made prior appearances) and carrying through Territory, Eden Falls, Uneasy City & X Marks the Spot.)
Every nerve ending in her body told the Ingénue that she had to get the hell out of dodge. Time. To. Leave. Right quick in fact right now if not sooner like yesterday preferably. The vague anxiety that was the hallmark of life in Uneasy City had deepened into nothing less than sharply defined dread and terror. Terror and dread.
The clocks, never the fastest in Uneasy City, had slowed down to a crawl during the blistering summer of the Fourth Decadency. Although resistant to change the City couldn’t deny that something wicked was coming this way, the very air was charged with potent change. In the streets the horse’s hooves would shatter and grind down the already splintered bones and skulls that lined the cobblestones. Several virulent viruses had taken hold of the panicking populace, but even with the rampant mortality overcrowding was severe, as a constant swell from the war-torn provinces and drought stricken territories filled the Uneasy City to bursting point.
The sense of imminent catastrophe generated a sinister erotic tension that was evident everywhere. One of the few jobs the Ingénue had been offered lately was a bit part in a dubious movie about the orgies that were so fashionable during the period of the Black Death. Billed as a certain kind of historical fiction it could have been shot as a straightforward documentary during these uncertain times. She could this feel eroticising current coursing all throughout the City; in the hesitant country girls with their jaunty hats embracing each other in doorways, in the fleshy middle aged divorcees reclining naked in the lobbies of faded hotels, in the society ladies somnambulating at night through the arcades and alcoves of the station where the train never stops; but most of all in the calculating glances of be-suited men who could no longer be bothered to conceal their predatory inner selves.
Through a contact of a contact the Ingénue had heard about a train that would almost connect to a boat that could take her away from this whole benighted region of Centralia. She packed in a hurry, barely pausing to rifle through the medicine cabinets. Along with four days worth of outfits she concealed a little heat, just in case she had to put someone on ice to get where she was going.