Psytech Dealings

by Mark Barrett

Bleep.

Bleep.

Bleep.

There was only so long that Logan could ignore the determinedly incessant bleeping before he had to admit defeat by acknowledging that he was, in a fact, awake. His head throbbed. How long had he slept? The question was a moot one, as the answer was going to be ‘not long enough’ regardless of the time.

The bleeping was coming from his i-comms Home-Ents system. The colour of the flashing light on the base unit told Logan that it was his work trying to contact him. The fact that the bleeping had gone on long enough to wake him from his dreamless, exhausted sleep told him that they were desperate to contact him. “Stuff them,” he sighed. “They can wait a bit longer.” Then in a clearer voice, “boiling water.”

Eighteen seconds later Logan was filling an Insumug with boiling water from the Beverater fixed to the back wall. As he did so, the bed he had so recently been sleeping in retracted in to the side wall, to be replaced by an Ergohammock chair which descended from the ceiling above. He quickly checked that his Home-Ents system was on standby, before stooping down and retrieving a small glass jar from behind a picture-frame he kept on a low shelf. The jar was marked ‘coffee’.

As a Psytech law enforcement agent, Logan knew better than most why all stimulants, intoxicants and additives were banned. But he couldn’t help himself. He had picked up a taste for coffee in dimension hD6, and just could not resist bringing a stash back with him. In fact, as this jar was more than three-quarters empty, he found himself hoping that a trip to one of the more lenient dimensions would be necessary soon.

But not too soon. He was exhausted from his most recent case. The case had caused Logan to stretch his mind along more courses, further and more frequently than could be reasonably expected of any Psytech. Of anyone at all, for that matter. Echoes of others’ thoughts still permeated Logan’s waking hours, and a dull nagging headache – now a throbbing beat thanks to the bleeping – accompanied him at every moment. His commanding officer had recognised his exhaustion, fully expected it due to the complexity and danger inherent in the case, and had given him an open-ended leave to, quite literally, get his head together. So why was work stubbornly refusing to let him sleep now?

“Comms on,” Logan said out loud. He could have turned the machine on by simply using his mind, but had instead opted for the voice recognition option.

The viewer on the Home-Ents system changed from the darkened screen reflecting Logan’s tired-looking, saggy, unshaven face surrounded by dishevelled, brown curly hair to show his commanding officer. “Morning, Logan,” came the sound of commander Topps‘s voice through the integrated speaker system, “how are you feeling?”

“Rough.”

An uncharacteristic frown of concern flashed across Commander Topps’s usually stern, dark features. “I’m not surprised. You’ve been worked hard.”

Logan blew out a snort of humourless laughter, and took a sip from his gently steaming Insumug.

Topps’s frown shifted back from concerned to stern. “Is that coffee? Logan…”

Logan raised his eyes to the image of his commanding officer on the screen. His jaw set into his well-rehearsed look of righteous indignation. “Coffee? Seriously? What do you take me for, boss? We both know that…”

“I take you for a bloody idiot who has developed a taste for that rank, addictive shite that they serve in some of the h grade dimensions.” Topps paused, allowing his voice and expression to soften once more. “And I take you for the best and most trusted Psytech LEA that I know. Which is why I’ve got a job for you.”

“Jeez, Topps. I’m whacked-out. No way – I’m not up to a case at the minute.”

Topps’s sorrow at asking was evident. “I didn’t say a case, Logan; I said a job. I need something sorted, and it needs to be you.”

Logan blew out his cheeks in exasperation, “come on, Topps. There are other agents who are every bit as…

Topps interrupted. “Yes. Yes, there are. But what I don’t need is just an agent on this. I need someone who I can trust to do the right thing. I’m sorry; I really wouldn’t ask if there was any other way.”

Logan ran his hand through the unkempt curls on his head, then brushed it down over the stubbly growth on his chin. “You’re killing me Topps. All right, send me the details.”

Topps smiled, but tightly. “Thank you, Logan. I’ll psytran you it now.”

Logan shook his head: he didn’t feel up to a psychic transfer at the moment. “No, Topps, just send it through the comms system.”

***

Dimension hD6. What a coincidence, Logan had just been thinking about this dimension as he had prepared his coffee this morning. And now here he was in that self-same dimension: h – reasonably technologically advanced, mass-communications systems in place, an over-reliance on inefficient fossil fuels; D – low level psychic activity mainly among children and a select few adults, general mistrust, misunderstanding and disbelief of psychic abilities; 6 – the sixth of fourteen dimensions so far discovered by the inhabitants of dimension vX1.

Logan pushed his palm into his forehead, trying to force his nagging headache away. He was sat in the window seat, about half the way up a three-quarters full public bus travelling along the Arizona and Nevada border. He had drunk three bottles of cola – really racking up the banned-substance misdemeanours – in order to try and stave off the rampant thirst that always followed a dimension-hop. Barely five hours after Topps’s call, Logan had read all of the notes related to the job that he was undertaking, had been showered and changed and had undergone a dimension-hop to dimension hD6. He was still exhausted, his head still throbbed, and his mind still felt stretched across a much bigger space than his head contained. But now he knew why Topps had wanted him. When Logan had first graduated to the Psytech Law Enforcement Agency, with the best psy scores ever recorded, Topps had been assigned his mentor. They had worked together for over eight years, and had become firm friends as well as trusted colleagues. Topps had risen up quickly; he was ambitious, talented and motivated and was always going to progress through a glittering career. Logan, opposingly, avoided every opportunity for promotion, instead choosing to remain as a simple agent specialised in policing inter-dimensional crime. Topps wasn’t so much calling on Logan’s advanced psychic abilities, as the trust and friendship that they enjoyed.

Logan was slumped back in the bus seat, vacantly staring out of the window, watching the barren landscape sweep past. He was gently allowing the facts wash across his consciousness. An ex-Psytech Law Enforcement Agent had retired to dimension hD6. He had started his own business. His business was doing extremely well. Other people from dimension vX1 had emigrated to hD6 in order to work for him. Vitally, he had been Topps’s partner before Logan had joined the force, and the two were good, good friends. A routine audit of the finances of this ex-agent’s company, though, had revealed some anomalous figures. There was no indication of a crime, as yet, but there were certainly enough irregularities, potentially, to trigger a long and embarrassing investigation into Topps’s oldest friend. Dimension vX1 had a detailed and coherent set of rules governing how its people dealt with the people in the less able and knowledgeable dimensions, and Topps desperately wanted to know that his old friend and partner was sticking to them.

As Logan was pondering this, he felt the unmistakable tinge of a mind considering him. He had deliberately not been extending his own thoughts in order to rest it from the strains of the past eight days, but the unmistakable metallic tinge alerted him to the fact that he was the main focus of another’s attention. He didn’t change his posture or his expression, gave no outward signs, but inside he gently relaxed his mind. There were still echoes from his recent psychic exertions, but he pushed them to one side and looked for the source of the metallic tinge of interest. It was still there. This was not somebody who had casually looked at Logan, taken in his plain features and pale complexion and wondered idly about him, but was somebody who was focussing a lot of thought and consideration on Logan, thinking deep and hard about him. It was not difficult for Logan to find the source of the tinge – a small orangey needle of thought, piercing him through the back left-hand side of his head. A lesser psytech may well have turned around to look, but Logan was far too experienced for that. Instead, he sent his own thought train back, following the thin, web-like, orange strand of thought that would track back to the thinker. As his mind opened out and began to trace the thought path, Logan could sense other people’s thoughts all around them: dusty, orangey clouds of thought, occasionally focussing into a tight ball as the thinkers concentrated on something internal, occasionally flowing out towards something or somebody else as the thinker considered them, but always moving, fluid and hazy. The thought line he was following, though, was straight and tight; Logan was generating a lot of interest in somebody. Logan’s mind travelled back to the rear seat of the bus, where it found a mind surrounded by swirling, dark-orange, tempestuous thoughts. Two distinct strands reached out, the one that Logan had followed back from himself, and one to an inside pocket of the thinker’s battered, blue jacket. Logan dipped into that thought and saw the clear shape of the very real knife in the thinker’s consciousness. Outwardly Logan’s body gave the merest of shudders, as his mind pushed further in. The man, as indeed a man it was, had erratic, conflicting thought patterns, almost as if he was in a battle with himself. Logan had seen minds like this before – they tended to belong to violent criminals. This one, Logan found, was no different as he drifted through the man’s surface thoughts, seeing that he was thinking about his recent stint in prison, his lack of money, his hunger, his disappointment at only coming away with eighteen bucks from yesterday’s mugging in Lake Havasu City. And now this violent man’s thoughts were focussed fully on Logan.

Logan could understand why the man may have picked him as a victim: he was pale and a little overweight, making him look an easy target; he was wearing good quality clothes, all top labels in dimension hD6, as the produce here was so cheap; his accent was English, so he stood out as not being a local here in the Western part of North America; he was carrying a small leather holdall which would be an easy pick-up for a would-be mugger. Yes, Logan was not surprised that he would be a target for this man. But he would not be a target for long.

Logan knew that the right thing to do would be to enter this man’s mind fully, explore the motivations and ideals there, seeking to twist and turn them into new motivations and ideals that could set the ex-convict off onto a less destructive path. But Logan didn’t have time for that. Logan was also concerned that his mind was not fully rested, and a complete psychic embrace such as that could go wrong, with serious mental consequences for all involved. He didn’t even feel confident enough to completely remove the idea of mugging from the man’s mind, as he seemed so intent on achieving this aim. In order to completely eradicate an idea, Logan would have to track it back to its very source within the man’s mind and sever it, then carefully remove the thread of it without disturbing any surrounding thoughts which might reconnect to the original idea. It was a slow operation that, again, needed a heightened level of skill and concentration that Logan did not feel comfortable enough to muster at the moment. Instead, he took an easy option.

Logan tracked the thought back to himself, and saw that the man had not diverted from his original plan, to mug Logan. If anything, the thought was stronger, more pronounced and Logan knew that, if he did nothing, within minutes of exiting this bus he would the victim of a violent attack. He gently prized the orange spike of the thought from himself and let it waver in the air for a second; it immediately tried to dart back towards Logan. Yes, the man’s mind was made up. Time to change it. Logan took the spike of the thought and tugged it gently away from himself, the whole orange trail following. He quickly scanned the hazy, changeable surface thoughts of the multiple other passengers around him. An old lady was wondering whether her cat would like the new cat food she was carrying home; a girl was considering what to change her online profile to in order to generate more interest on a dating site; a businessman was wondering whether all of this overtime he was working would prevent him from seeing his young son’s first steps. And then Logan found it: “I’m gonna get me a peppercorn grill from that steakhouse; got eight days to make the weight; wonder what my odds are now in the Tapout tournament…’. It was not the ideal solution, Logan knew, but he was not willing to risk anything else. He took the spike of thought from the would-be mugger and embedded it into the career wrestler sat three seats in front of him. He heard the physical change of position of the ex-convict on the back seat as he shifted his focus onto the large man in the training top. Logan watched the line of thought for a while, ensuring that it had genuinely stuck. It had. Logan allowed himself to relax back into his own mind. He would get off at the next stop and order a cab to take him the rest of the way.

***

That first night Logan booked himself into a hotel on the outskirts of the city. He could easily have started the investigation tonight, Las Vegas was open all hours, but he wanted another night’s sleep before stretching himself further. Having been to Las Vegas – the party capital of hD6 – before, he knew not to stay anywhere central. Such a dense, vibrant, bustling city full of the bright and raucously noisy thoughts of the myriad of people who were visiting was not conducive with a good night’s sleep for a psychic. Even out here there was a dull psychic glow emanating from the city proper. It would do.

The next morning Logan ordered room service, which consisted of coffee and lots of it. He also chose the full American breakfast, mainly for the pancakes with syrup – unlawfully high sugar content for vX1. He revelled in his excess, gorging upon the breakfast and coffee – which he made a mental note to purchase more of before he dimension-hopped home. He then spent three hours in his room, reading the newspapers that he had ordered from the concierge, trawling through the internet and flicking through the local TV channels. He always liked to familiarise himself with a dimension, even one that he thought that he knew well, before venturing too far out into it. By the time he was satisfied, it was lunch time, and Logan decided to head out for a spot of on-the-job lunch. His investigation was taking him to Seers Casino, and Logan could eat there as he checked the place over. He hoped that they did large desserts.

According to the files, Seers Casino now employed over twenty staff from dimension vX1. This in itself was not strikingly unusual; Logan knew of at least three businesses in this dimension which employed more than twice that number. What was unusual, though, was the profit margin. Ordinarily a casino can expect a house gain of between half to one-and-a-half percent across its games. From this house gain the profit margin would be worked out after deducting wages, rent and overheads. The problem with Seers Casino’s profit margin was that – assuming that they were paying the going rate for wages, rent and overheads – they must have a house gain in excess of fifteen per cent. Whilst it was theoretically possible for a Casino to have a house gain of fifteen percent in the short term, it would not take long for an ongoing gain at such an astronomical level to draw attention from the authorities of this dimension. As vX1 was the only dimension with the technical advancement to render it capable of developing dimension-hopping, it was routinely accepted that they also had the authority and responsibility to police all of the dimensions. Logan, as a Psytech Law Enforcement Agent, administered that authority and responsibility. If there was a law being broken at Seers Casino, he had to deal with it before it impacted on dimension hD6.

The desserts at the Seers Casino were large and sweet enough to satisfy even the biggest of appetites. They also served a good double espresso. Both gave Logan’s tired mind and body a much needed lift.

As he had entered the great sliding doors of the casino, he had been greeted by a beautiful, befeathered young lady who offered him a tour of the facilities. He was also greeted by a short, gentle mind probe which scanned through his surface thoughts, not unlike a baggage scanner at an airport, looking for any sign of psychic prowess. Luckily Logan had been half expecting this, and had spent a little time preparing a deliberately fuzzy haze around his mind, filled with a myriad of unconnected thoughts, like the minds in low-psychic dimensions, and not the sharp, formed and pointed shell that surrounded the mind of an accomplished psychic. As his mind was still a little fuzzy anyway, from recent exertions, this had not been too onerous.

After his lunch, and with the strangely comforting acrid scent of the coffee on his breath, Logan made his way towards the card tables. Seers Casino was like every other that he had encountered on previous trips to this dimension: an assault on the senses. Among the physical and mental noise, Logan had not identified who it was who had mind probed him, and had no intention of trying to find out. Sending his mind out in an area where there was another accomplished psychic would make him stand out like the coffee grain in the sugar bowl. He wasn’t ready to alert anybody to his presence yet, if at all, and certainly not before he confirmed what he thought was occurring.

So Logan found himself sitting at a blackjack table, popping twenty dollar chips down for the privilege of letting somebody throw a few small, brightly coloured rectangles of cardboard face down on the table before him. Logan played randomly for an hour or so, not paying too much attention to the game and partaking of the free sodas – even Logan considered drinking alcohol as being a step too far. As the time passed Logan found that he was about one hundred and eighty dollars up. Things were going well. He decided to up his bets to forty dollars a hand, and that is when it happened. Logan picked up the next two cards dealt to him, held them close to his face and inspected them. King of diamonds and three of clubs. Thirteen. Not a great number to start off with in blackjack. He was about to call for an extra card when he felt a gentle push on the outside of his hazy cloud of thoughts. It was very gentle, very skilful, but it was there. Somebody had touched his mind and read his most forefront thought – namely the number that he had in front of him. Logan hesitated, appeared to consider, and then chose to stick. The dealer turned his cards over: the nine of clubs and the five of hearts. Fourteen. Not a number that a dealer would ordinarily stick on. But he did. It was an incredibly simple trick, and not one that could have been pulled-off on vX1. But here on one of the lowest level dimensions for psychic activity?

Rule three, subsection eight, paragraph four: psychic abilities must not be used to take advantage of unknowing members of the lesser dimensions.

Logan’s, and Topps’s, suspicions were correct. Seers Casino was employing psychics from dimension vX1 in order to cheat unwitting gamblers in dimension hD6 out of their money. Logan had to do something – but officially this was not a case; it was just a job. Logan thought about this. Topps had asked him to sort this out, not to investigate and solve it. He was sure that Topps had asked him as a friend, and maybe he had, but Topps had also asked him because he bent the rules. Topps was right that he could trust Logan; he could trust him not to be trustworthy when it came to following rules.

With the next four hands, when the dealer gently touched Logan’s brain in order to read his cards in his thoughts, Logan purposefully sent thoughts containing the wrong numbers. The dealer’s frustration showed very quickly – this had never happened to him before. On the fifth hand Logan clearly sent a mental message to the dealer that he should keep out of people’s heads. The dealer visibly paled, and before the sixth hand was dealt Logan found himself flanked by two suited gentlemen.

It did not take a mind-probe to know that these two did not have the mental capacity to be psychics. They barely had the mental capacity to be side-kicks. But what they lacked in mental capacity, they more than made up for in size. They were huge. Their scarred hands, one of each, rested gently yet firmly on Logan’s shoulders as their dull-eyes bored into him from beneath square brows. Logan considered that he may have made a mistake and pushed too far too quickly. These two men were all physicality. Whilst Logan’s heightened psychic abilities gave him more than an edge in any fight, he was not convinced that he currently had the strength of mind necessary to keep two such physical specimens at bay for long enough for his own out-of-shape and physically inferior body to actually do them any significant damage. He meekly accompanied them, keeping a close eye on their pale-orange, gently-undulating thought patterns for any sign of sudden, sharpened and violent focus. It did not occur. Logan almost allowed himself to relax.

The corridor that the two men led Logan down was long, plush and deserted. Only his absolute certainty that neither man was considering harming him kept Logan from panicking and trying to run, in what would be a futile effort anyway if the steel in their currently gentle grips on his shoulder was anything to go by. Finally, they reached a door to the right. Both men slowed as they approached the door and Logan sensed a brief psychic trigger touch all of their minds; the men then renewed their pace and opened the door without knocking.

Logan was firmly guided into a room that made the plushness of the corridor seem dowdy. This room was a heady, tawdry mix of dark wood panelling, red shag-pile carpet and overly-large antique-style furnishings. High polish and low-grade gold leaf glittered at him from every angle. But this was only a backdrop to what Logan’s eyes, and mind, were resolutely focussed upon. A man in a pristine, white suit, highly polished brown shoes and a colourful silk cravat was stood with his back to the doorway, feeding raw meat to a white tiger using a pair of long, metal tongs. His hair was slick, his stance was confident and his mind was the tight, bright-focussed cube of an accomplished psychic.

Logan tensed, mentally and physically. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen now. The slick man in the white suit did not turn around but released two sharp, bright spears of thought across the room. Logan threw up a hastily prepared mind-shield, cursing himself for his tired state and earlier laxness. However, the spears of thought penetrated straight into the minds of Logan’s two, huge companions, who immediately released their grip on Logan’s shoulders, tunred smartly around and left the room. Only when they left did the smooth man turn from the tiger. A face that was lined and aged, yet firm and angular faced Logan. He studied Logan with dark eyes that held a brightness which had little to do with their colour. He did not attempt to read Logan’s thoughts, and Logan returned the courtesy.

After four seconds of study he indicated two glasses sat on an overly-large and ornate coffee table. “Bourbon? It’s Kentucky’s finest.” Logan was about to protest but the man waved them away, suddenly laughing warmly. “I know, I know. Don’t worry, buddy, I’ve almost drowned the stuff with cola – us prime dimensioners really can’t handle our alcohol.”

Logan walked to the table and raised the glass to his nose. It smelled pleasantly sweet. “So, you were expecting me?”

The man was quickly by his side, taking up the other drink. Again the disarming smile. “Of course. Maybe not this soon, but Topps was always going to keep half an eye on his trouble-buddy.”

“Trouble-buddy?”

“Yeah. It’s what we called each other back in the day.”

Logan filed that piece of information away for later and embarrassing use. The casino owner took a sip of his drink. Logan abstained and said, “you’re Mr Cappino?”

“The one and only.” Cappino threw himself into one of the office’s stuffed, fluffy armchairs and indicated that Logan should do the same. He did, and was surprised to feel a myriad of tiny motors adjusting to his body-weight and posture in order to give him maximum comfort. They were a standard feature on the Ergomaster3000 back in vX1. Cappino smiled at Logan’s momentary confusion. “Come on, Logan, you can’t leave all comforts behind.”

It was all Logan could do not to smile back at him. “You know who I am?”

Cappino shrugged. “I guessed. I heard your reputation back when I was still on prime and figured Topps wouldn’t risk sending anyone but the best.”

“That’s an honour, Mr Cappino. Rumour has it, you were pretty good yourself.”

Cappino laughed out loud then leant forward, taking a large slug of his drink. His eyes narrowed and his cheeks sucked in. “Woow. This stuff really kicks, but you just can’t stop yourself going back for more.”

Logan’s eyes strayed to his drink, but that was all. His hasty mind-shield was still in place form when he entered the room and, even though he felt strangely comfortable in this stranger’s presence, years of intense Psytech training saw him strengthening and weaving that mind-shield even as he and Cappino spoke.

Cappino shook his head, sadly. “I understand, son. I do. But trust me, you don’t need that. I mean, it takes half my concentration to keep that beast in check.”

Logan had not previously noticed the thin, orange thread of controlling thought that connected Cappino to the white tiger at all times. His mind really was tired, and he was slipping.

Cappino answered the unasked question. “The locals kind of expect that sort of shit from a big-shot casino boss. It keeps them happy.”

Logan laughed again. He had been to this dimension several times before and knew all about their strange ideas, etiquettes, superstitions and obsessions. “So, you know this dimension well, Mr Cappino?”

“Well? Well? Of course I know it well. Topps and I were in the original exploration party for hD6. I mean, what a great dimension. It wasn’t so much an exploration party as just a full on party. I swear down, half of the decency and contraband laws of vX1 were invented after the shit me and my trouble-buddy got up to here.” Cappino settled back with another sip of his drink, smiling at the memories. “Ah, Topps. How is the stubborn old bastard?”

Logan resisted the urge to enter into good-natured, derogatory banter aimed at his boss, as mention of Topps had reminded Logan of the reason why he was here. He was not about to let Topps down. “Topps is the reason I’m here, Mr Cappino. I need to discuss something very serious with you.” He confronted Cappino with what he knew about the irregularities at Seers Casino. As he did so, Cappino finished his drink and poured himself another, unmistakably stronger. Logan’s was still undrunk.

Cappino sucked in his cheeks, this time not in reaction to the drink. “Could it be a lucky streak?” Logan shook his head. “Accounting error?” A shake again. Cappino paused for another sip. “Is it noticeable enough for this dimension to pick it up?” Logan nodded. Cappino thought for a while. “Okay. That’s serious, isn’t it?” Although he was not waiting for an answer, he knew. “Can we say that the cashier was working in isolation?”

Logan raised his eyebrows. “One cashier increasing the whole casino’s profits ten-fold?”

Cappino finished his second drink, “so what are we going to do?”

Logan sat back in genuine surprise, “what are we going to do? We? We are going to do nothing. You are breaking one of the three prime rules; you are an ex-Psytech agent; I am a serving Psytech agent; I’ve got to take you in.”

Cappino’s eyes held Logan in a way that no amount of psychic power could have done, “and yet you haven’t. You haven’t given me my case number; you haven’t read me my rights; you haven’t called in a Psytech mop-up unit. Am I even being investigated, officially, Mr Logan?”

It was difficult for Logan not to show his obvious discomfort at this question, “you’re being looked-into, Mr Cappino.”

Cappino smiled, “well, I guess that answers my question.” He then sat forward, the conspiratorial friend talking over a drink, “you are good, Logan. Dedicated, intelligent, experienced. You are pretty much the perfect Psytech agent. But what about you Logan? What about your life? Where’s your fun? How do you relax? Let your hair down?”

“I drink coffee, Mr Cappino.”

“Coffee.”

Logan nodded, “coffee. And I like sugar.”

Cappino put on an elaborate, gently-mocking display of sarcasm, “coffee and sugar? Wow, you really know how to live the high life.”

Logan’s face hardened, “I’m happy with my life, Cappino.”

Cappino’s whole demeanour softened back to the smiling gentleman who had first welcomed Logan, “are you? Really? Don’t you wonder why Topps has sent you here, to me, in the party capital of the most fun dimension that we have so far discovered?”

All Logan could do was to shake his head.

Cappino leaned in towards Logan once more, “then I suggest you find out. And it starts by taking a little drink of that bourbon and cola.”

***

Bleep.

Bleep.

Bleep.

The bleeping had begun as a fire-alarm in the background of some bizarre dream that Logan was having about doing kung-fu on a squirrel. It was a week later. Logan’s face appeared to be stuck to his pillow by his own saliva and his head throbbed. Strangely, though, the rhythmic bleeping actually gave him the urge to dance, which he would undoubtedly have attempted were it not for the fact that his stomach felt like it was slowly turning around inside of him and threatening to expel its contents.

He peeled himself out of the bed and called, “coffee.”

A computerised voice replied, informing him that coffee was an illegal substance and therefore not available…

“Hot water!”

It took almost four minutes for Logan to focus enough to stir his own coffee into his Insumug of hot water. He sat down on his bed, not bothering to ask his room to convert into a living room, complete with Ergohammock chair and drinks table (definitely not a coffee table), as he felt that he’d be back in his bed soon enough. “Comms.”

The screen flickered to life, showing commander Topps in his usual, professional position. “Afternoon, Logan.”

Logan placed his cool fingers against his hot forehead, “afternoon, is it?”

“Yes.” Topps leant forward and peered through the screen, “is that coffee?”

Logan looked at the mug, “yes. Yes it is.”

“Logan, you know…” Topps stopped talking, then smirked slightly, “aren’t you well, Logan? Still feeling rough after your big case?”

Logan let out a puff of foul-smelling breath, “feeling rough, yes, but I think I’m over the case.”

Topps chuckled, “I think we can let the coffee go on this occasion. So how did things go with that little job I asked you to check out?”

“Nothing doing, boss,” Logan shrugged his shoulders, “everything above board.”

Topps’s frowning eyes told Logan that this would not serve as explanation enough.

“Well, sir. It seems that no rules are being broken,” Logan took a sip of his extremely strong coffee, which went some way to washing the sickly-sweet remnants of bourbon and cola from his tongue.

Topps’s deep voice interjected. “No rules being broken? With known psychics serving as dealers and a house gain over fifteen percent?”

“Actually, sir, the house gain has increased to over twenty.”

“What?”

Logan’s aching head was in no state to be treated to such a loud shout, and he winced noticeably. After a settling sip of his coffee, he went on. “The thing is, it seems that I wasn’t the only one with suspicions about Seers Casino.”

Topps turned his head in order to hear more clearly. “What? Someone else knew about the psychics.”

Logan nodded, “well, that’s the only explanation I can think of, because someone anonymously tipped a national newspaper in dimension hD6.”

It looked as if Topps would go into apoplexy, “a national newspaper ran the story?”

Logan nodded, “yes. One of those lower-grade newspapers that specialises in bizarre stories. No real, genuine exposure there. Obviously, it was picked up as an interesting story to be flung around on social media, but no genuine credulity.”

Topps sat back, letting his eyes wander upwards as he asked, “okay, so there’s no indication that people know anything about the dimensions? Especially our dimension?”

“Nope. None at all.”

Topps’s eyes remained fixed above the monitor. “So how does that mean Cappino is off the hook? And how come profit margins are rising?”

“Well,” Logan seemed to be slightly enjoying this, “people on hD6, especially American people, are somewhat…” Logan searched his mind for a suitable word, “belligerent in their belief in their own prowess.”

“Yes?”

“And so Americans started to come from miles around to play against the psychics.”

Topps was incredulous, “they want to play against the psychics. Why?”

Logan blew out his cheeks, “Some to prove that they don’t exist. Some to prove that they can beat them.”

“They think that they can beat them?”

“Yes,” Logan paused a second, “the casino even put a huge, blown-up poster version of the story above their front entrance. People are queuing up to lose money to psychics.”

Topps chuckled, his large jowls bouncing joyfully, “queuing up to play psychics? Are they mad?”

“No. Just belligerent self-believers,” he had liked the word.

Topps nodded, but his expression moved to sadness, “but this does mean that Cappino is using psychics to make money out of other dimensioners. That breaks the rules.”

“Actually, sir, you’ll find it doesn’t. Rule three, subsection eight, paragraph four: psychic abilities must not be used to take advantage of unknowing members of the lesser dimensions.” He knew that he did not need to quote the rulebook to Topps, but he enjoyed doing so. And he especially enjoyed his next comment. “These people aren’t unknowing. The casino has a poster up, radio advert, everything to ensure that the people are fully aware that they are being taken advantage of. So, no rule breaking, sir.”

Topps’s face slowly broke out into the wide smile of a happy and thoroughly entertained man. “Unknowing. Of course. Those crazy Americans are walking right into that with their eyes wide open on the slim chance that they can walk away saying that they beat a psychic.”

“Sir, they’re not even concerned about winning. They seem just as happy when they lose every hand so that they can say that they lost against a psychic.”

Topps was laughing out loud now. “Priceless. Just priceless.” He stopped laughing and regained his composure. “I knew that you’d pull through for me, Logan.”

Logan shrugged, “I’m just telling you how it is, Topps.”

“Sure, sure you are. And how about you? Feeling better?”

Logan nodded, “yeah. Much better. I’ll be back in work tomorrow.”

If Topps’s smile could have broadened it would have, “good, good. I knew that you and Cappino would be good for each other. Now stop drinking that coffee!”

As the comms system blinked into darkness, Logan reached under his bed and pulled out a bottle of bourbon, “okay Topps,” he said to himself, “I’ll stop with the coffee.”

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