A Hot Pink Standoff

Submitted by elliott on Tue, 10/12/2021 - 21:40

 

Lawrance: “Yes, thank you, that’s fine. I’ll get it delivered to Floors and Hepzibah by later today, won’t clean it up, won’t touch it. Just… make sure to let me know what ought to be covered and what oughtn’t, and for the love of Dlg keep me in the loop about changes in direction. Don’t want my time wasted or your time wasted.”

Lawrance: “Let me clarify something before I get too far. I’m here failing to efficiently use this officially designated recording equipment, speaking an officially chosen language, in an officially sanctioned environment. No using my cerv-mesh to create a sensory, no recording magic. I’m instructed to - and I quote, adjusting from second to first person - ‘be myself insomuch as this does not prevent the object of my instruction from receiving such instruction in a practicable manner.’ Make of that what you will. In short, talk in your normal dramatic fashion, to record something somewhere between orientation material for new auditors, and work product to which more senior auditors can point and say ‘this is exemplary of informal-yet-professional’ or ‘we need to discharge anybody who acts remotely like this man’ or ‘and this is how we can confidently say all humans are crazy.’ I’ll comply with that spirit in fulfilling this mission for the time being, however bureaucratically vacuous it is. To aid that goal and assist the newer inductees listening, I’ll try to properly contextualize statements and concepts when it’s needed, and when I remember to do so, but I’ll also make an effort to keep explanations functionally didactic. My THING is logistics and coordination, broadly speaking, so I can probably offer information other sources may lack. Whether it gets redacted, well… we’ll see.”

Lawrance: “So let’s get to the business. I’m reviewing a case study for this production’s purposes. It’s one in which I have a pretty hefty personal stake. Not as hefty as some of my illustrious colleagues, but hefty nonetheless. I’m talking about the Foughen Crisis.”

Lawrance: “The place in Rhaagm most people mean when they say the ‘Foughen Gardens’ is a multidistrict region just over fourteen taxicab kilometers from Blackjamb. Some might think that’s an odd reference to choose, instead of measuring relative to the Tower of Rhaagm. Those people probably have never internalized how big of a role Blackjamb has in performing research deemed a security concern. There have been discoveries and innovations at Blackjamb that even exceed my auditorial clearance. Not the biggest or most notorious classified scientific facility, but it and its staff also help vitalize a respectable amount of the local economy. It’s also significant for other reasons. That all being said, it’s useful for now to consider not just the Foughen Gardens but many places in the vicinity as appendages to Blackjamb.”

Lawrance: “A few different things can happen to send us into the field from the Tower, otherwise we tend to stay near the city’s metaphorical and geographical heart. First, a civilian may notice and report something, and it gets elevated. Second, we may collect data that indicate illegal activity, and it’s judged that automated and local enforcement measures probably won’t suffice - a rapidly evolving hostile confrontation, or a normally simple arrest that’s complicated because the offender’s species will have a fatal reaction to bodily contact, or thousands of other scenarios. Third, marching orders may get passed down from on high… but that’s not common.”

Lawrance: “The whole issue began with an attempted arrest. There’s a warehouse at street level out there in the Gardens, on the edge of one of the bigger thoroughfares. Owned by one of the region’s shipping moguls, used unequally by about twenty regular companies and hundreds of irregular ones, has the ugliest shade of blue I’ve ever seen on the walls. Some of its staff came to our attention through an anonymous contact about the place’s activities. Those activities included illegal storage and distribution of hot pink. A few of the suspects resisted when the auditor sent to collect them arrived, small arms fire and combat magic. No idea why, it wasn’t going to do anything to help them, and it CERTAINLY wasn’t going to interrupt her. If I had to guess, maybe they hoped to serve as a distraction, or it was their default reaction to unpleasant surprises. She gathered most of them into custody in the end, and started cataloging the inventory.”

Lawrance: “Then one of them decided to employ his dæmon cluster against her.”

Lawrance: “Let me put things in perspective for you. If you’re on the bad side of the law and involved with a hot pink operation, your punishment will go from a long probation period plus heavy fees if you’re a grunt, up to the death sentence if you’re at the top. All told, though, I’d put money on six to ten years in correctional and losing a huge number of your licenses - and probably a ruling against you having a dæmon cluster, ironically enough. Hot pink’s a nasty drug and abusing it’s a bad way to die. Proportionately it kills more than twice as many of its human users as any opiate; figures aren’t much better for most other species.”

Lawrance: “If you use your dæmon cluster to attack another person, unless there are a significant number of lives you’re saving in the process in addition to your own, it’s an automatic capital offense. You get brought up on charges, and in many cases if they find you guilty you’ll be interrupted that very day. Do not defend yourself that way unless you are defending others as well.”

Lawrance: “Yes, we do have tools available which allow tracking all sorts of incredibly detailed specifics about cluster use in Rhaagm’s confines. Yes, that incredible detail goes beyond ‘invasive’ to ‘voyeuristic.’ For those who are curious, no - your friend Lawrance is not about to record exact data as part of this record; just rest easy knowing that we WILL be aware if you deploy a cluster in the name of harm, and we WILL find you.”

Lawrance: “Heh. You cannot see, but my associate Tunnel is trying to indicate to me that I am not particularly funny. You also can’t see the gesture I’m giving him in return. He does not respect that I am a creature of magical whimsy and boundless humor.”

Lawrance: “Regardless of how things start, when one idiot decides that his dæmon cluster is an acceptable tool of violence, that idiot gets attention fast. When his friends all do the same thing, they get the attention of somebody like me, and then I get tapped to draw it to many other auditors’ attention - the sort of attention that results in twenty people sent immediately to the premises, and equipped to carry out all kinds of exciting war crimes.”

Lawrance: “Those who aren’t residents or frequent visitors to Rhaagm or the other extrafacetary territories may feel distressed that we validate what amounts to a dressed-up form of summary execution. Let’s be blunt about this, then. A dæmon cluster is among the most sophisticated and powerful technologies in existence. It’s generated for the user by the mysteries of the Tower, and the Being of Old who we call the Maker, through processes we don’t truly understand. One quick operation to tether it to your cerv-mesh, and that’s something that can technically be employed as a weapon of mass destruction at your beck and call. When you consent to the terms for receiving a cluster, you’re accepting control over an asset that can - in principle - produce, dissolve, organize, or displace virtually anything, given enough time. Unless you have the discipline and virtue to use it only for benign purposes except when the good of the many is at stake, you have been given fair warning. Our history has demonstrated this numerous times. Is it a happy arrangement? No, but it’s the closest thing to workable that we’ve found.”

Lawrance: “Distressful philosophy aside, because a cluster is relatively slow-acting, it usually makes for poor self-defense when used alone. It means that somebody with an ordinary gun can usually plug the hostile without undue worry, as long as they keep their cool. For people with an auditor’s tool library, it’s paradoxically laughable. To gloss over the gross detail of the scene, several people including my friend Tunnel promptly cleaned house. Perps got taken to holding cells, drugs got tagged and packaged, and I got called onto the scene personally. It went from a simple bust to a fiasco and back in less than an hour. Anticlimactic, and I tell you I’m thankful for it.”

Lawrance: “The whole warehouse scene became almost textbook. Waddled around for a little checking on who was where when, pulled records for the area’s recent economic metabolics, checked against records for businesses involved with the warehouse’s operations, and generally harassed the people there to get information it wasn’t convenient for them to give me. In the end, it looked like the crew we’d brought in had skimmed research materials off shipments meant for one of Blackjamb’s fungal science projects, and then did a little fungal work of their own. The idea of ‘let me put this colonizing fungus in my brain through my eyes and then sanitize my gray matter before it gets turned into spongiform goodness’ is one I’ve never found appealing. I suppose if enough people have an interest, though, it’ll see the light of day sooner or later.”

Lawrance: “That was pretty much the whole start of the thing. At the time, though, I’d only found two abnormalities with the scene - aside from the damning evidence of the warehouse staff. They were both located at a back section of the building, in a cramped interior room with controls for the place’s power and other utilities.”

Lawrance: “The first was a set of metal nails driven into the walls and floor of one corner. Lengths of string connected most of them in an open pattern. Ritual magic, of a sort I hadn’t personally seen in the field. There are a lot of genres of magic frequently used in storage and warehousing, but while I don’t presently work in a warehouse myself, I can spot workings that don’t fit in such settings. This didn’t fit.”

Lawrance: “The second was immediately next to the ritual setup. In a patch of what looked like spilled agar or biological matter, there were shapes. The floor was cool and pretty unremarkable otherwise, but the impressions indicated movement at speed. It wouldn’t be… incorrect to say they looked like rabbit tracks.”

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