A Filthy Night

She lay in the crumpled remains of the bed looking at the dark skin of the young watchman’s bare firm back and broad shoulders, marked by the red stripes of their recent exploits. He sat on the bottom edge of the bed, rubbing his hands through his short, wiry hair. The sounds of the wind whipping the window with the lash of rain lulled her into a waking dream. The smell of the overused bed, the seediness of the red-hooded lantern and the mechanical transaction of their recently completed coitus faded into her fantasy. He, her husband, a young, firm, practical watchman with a steady job and a gentle, loving manner. She, his dutiful wife, servicing him gladly and keeping their home. It was not always like this with her. But with certain clients…

They always came here to relieve their needs – the watchmen. The Gilded Lilly had a good reputation and was as clean as they come. It was a tough job being a watchman and often, when the adrenaline of their occupation overwhelmed them, they needed somewhere to expend their energies and forget their frustrations and angst. The girls did not mind. Watchmen were generally good men. Their lovemaking, whilst not gentle, rarely stepped over the mark where the bruises would show and treatment may be needed. She particularly liked this young watchman. Clay, that was his name, and she believed that he could be soft and malleable like his namesake. Soft and malleable, that is, until hardened in the fires of this city’s cesspit furnace of violence and despair. She did not think that he had been hardened yet. She hoped that he had not been hardened yet.

A knock at the door – three taps, pause, one tap. It was madam. Surely it was not time yet. Did she not have more moments to lay in this silent fantasy?

Clay reached over to gather up his pants and shirt as the door opened. The smiling yet hard face of Dolly, surrounded by the brazen curls of red and gold, peeped around the door. She felt a moment of jealous possession as Dolly appraised the young body of Clay. With a smirk, Dolly spoke, “Nice, sweety, nice. If I were twenty year younger I’d let you in me f’ free.” Her jovial tone changed, became businesslike. “But there’s a street brat here for y’. Been sent for a watchman to check out a body in a’ alley off Horsetether street. You been here the longest. Well, auld Trappy’s been here longer ’n you, but I’m not sending an old geezer like him out of my warm house on a night like this. And seein’ as ’ow the others probably haven’t finished yet, you’re up.”

Clay nodded. He was almost fully dressed now. Having fastened his wide belt, upon which hung his watch-issue short sword, he retrieved his regulation white cloak which he would need to protect him from the icy blasts of this filthy night. After fastening the clasp at his neck, he reached into his purse and pulled out three large coins. He only had to pay two, but Clay always tipped generously. He left them on the bedside cabinet without acknowledging her broad, thankful smile.

***

She was quick. After all, time was money and there would be another client waiting. She scraped her fingernails, then sifted through the bed, bedding and her own clothes and hair. She had done well. About a dozen hairs, at least half of them bearing the little white globules she had been told to get, and a decent scraping of flesh from his back. She had been deliberately rough for this, but he had seemed to like it. She carefully collected her hoard into one of the small, stoppered glass phials that madam had given her. She wondered, not for the first time, what madam needed these scraps of people for, but quickly moved her thoughts to something else. What madam did was none of her business, and the extra four coppers per client was more than enough for her to be happy to leave it that way.

***

It was morning, but the sun wouldn’t rise for a while yet, especially with sky as thunderously heavy as it was. Madam Dolly was sat in the kitchen of her large house – the only room that was ever private. Her red and gold curls sat on the table beside her as she sucked noisily on her cow-bone pipe, trying to spark some life into the slightly damp tobacco. After a few attempts there was a satisfying crackle, and acrid smoke filled her lungs. She let out one great cough, then went back to the pipe, taking in a controlled draw. She sat back contentedly, allowing the blue smoke to filter out through her nostrils.

Her contentedness was quickly disturbed by a knock at the door. Three taps, pause, one tap. It was him. She did not bother to rise or to call out, after a second he let himself in.

An old man stood before Dolly – although a bitter part of her considered that he was probably no older than she was herself. His dark cloak, impossibly slick and smooth even when it was dry, was pulled about him to protect him from the cold, wet night. He pulled back his hood to reveal his face, lined and pock-marked, yet somehow vibrant. He had a living colour to his cheeks that was shared by few in this desperate city. His face was surrounded by a wrap of grey hair and beard. Though not grey, she realised, but somehow silver. Almost shining. He smiled at her and, not for the first time, she found herself transfixed by the straight whiteness of his perfect teeth. She glanced to her right, where her own, yellowing, false teeth – a huge investment, crafted from the reclaimed teeth of dead soldiers – sat beside her bright wig.

He spoke. “Well, Mistress Dolly, what do we have from tonight’s enterprise?” His voice was deep, resonant, captivating – much like hers had been back when men paid to hear her sing and not to use her body.

From beneath the table she produced a wooden rack. It had spaces for twelve small, glass phials. Four of the spaces were empty.

“Only eight? It must have been a quiet night.”

She nodded. Another quick draw on the pipe before she said through the smoke, “Yes. Too many other houses opening that undercut us.” The course accent that she had used in the presence of the watchman was gone. Her tone was refined now, despite the slight lisp caused by the removed teeth. “They use unclean girls and have less rules. I am not willing to stoop so low in an attempt to undercut them.”

The man nodded. His pale, blue eyes showed compassion. “I know. That’s why you need me, and this.” He pulled a purse from beneath his shimmering cloak of darkness. He opened the purse, which chinked gently as he took out about a dozen small, silver coins which he tucked back inside his cloak. The purse was still acceptably full as he dropped it onto the table. In the same movement he reached for the rack of phials. Dolly pulled them back towards her, just a fraction. His compassionate eyes changed, narrowing to a questioning frustration.

Dolly drew another calming breath of smoke from the pipe and breathed it out deliberately, slowly. Their eyes were locked together: hers, dark brown and red-rimmed; his, pale blue and shining. She asked him the question again, the one that she had asked on six previous occasions since he had come into her life with a seemingly indeclinable offer. “So are you going to tell me what you do with all of this?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“But you guarantee that nobody comes to harm because of it?”

His nod was emphatic. “Absolutely. You have my word on it.”

“How can I trust you?”

He shrugged. “Have any of your clients come to harm?”

She did not shake her head, but held his gaze. “Not yet.”

He shrugged again. “Well, there you are then.” She still held the rack of phials, so he continued. “I give my absolute word that nobody has, or will ever, come to harm because of what we do here. Quite the opposite, in fact. I wish I could tell you more, but I cannot.”

Dolly gave a little nod of acceptance then pushed the rack of phials towards him across the table. He gathered them up quickly and stashed them beneath his cloak. He hesitated as he turned to leave and asked over his shoulder, “Speaking of clean girls, do you need any more of the ointment yet?”

She shook her head, then turned her face away. Nothing more was said and he silently left, retreating out into the last remnants of the filthy night.

***

The sun was struggling to break through the grey clouds of morning as Albert Forlanze trekked through the small, dripping wood. He was glad of his waterproof, black oilskin coat, padded with the latest technology in heat-regulating thermal fibres. TrekaTech really was the company to go to for high-quality outdoor wear. The fibres of this particular coat actually drove cold out into the surrounding atmosphere in order to maintain a constant temperature by the skin of the wearer. His boots were made of the same material and he had expended a sizeable portion of his monthly credit on them. They were worth it.

There, ahead, Albert saw what he was looking for: a small, seemingly random shape of stones that would have been easily ignored by any usual passer-by. It was the D-gate. One quick calculation on his D-hopper mobile and he would be back to vX1 – the prime dimension. He quickly checked inside his coat to ensure that the phials of purchased samples were intact. They were.

Back on his home dimension, in his government-sponsored and fully equipped laboratory, Albert would be able to run the DNA of these samples through the usual, rigorous range of tests. Eight samples. From his experience, that would give him four workable DNA strands. With a one in eighty-two thousand chance of finding what he needed, Albert was not brimming with confidence. But, he would return again to gather more samples.

Ever since dimension-hopping had been prevalent in his world, Albert had been tasked by the government to complete his current assignment. He had to find the cures for the diseases from the other dimensions for which they had no immunity on vX1. He had always managed it and even been ahead of the game. But this new strain was proving difficult, beyond difficult. But he kept at it. Eventually, surely, he would get what he needed.

Stranded 

By Barbara Tsipouras

 

I don’t know how I got here, nor where I am. Michael calls it vX1. What a strange name for a place. And when I asked where that is he said, “in my hometown.” But that can’t be. Apart from the landscape, nothing else reminds me of home. Perhaps this is the future. It must be the future.

Everything was nearly perfect when I met Michael. I guess that’s what they call ‘love at first sight’. I hadn’t believed this could ever happen to me. He looked into my eyes and I felt a shiver run down my spine and I knew immediately that he’s someone special. There was this connection between us I had never felt before. Michael was so gentle, so aware of my needs, listened carefully to whatever I had to say, understood my thoughts and feelings better than I did. I secretly planned our future together.

Until one day he told me he had to leave and he probably would never return. He told me that he loved me, but that we couldn’t stay together. He talked about his ‘mission’ – whatever that was; he never really explained – said he had to go home. He had got an urgent call. They needed him there. And I? Didn’t I need him? Wasn’t that important to him? I saw that he was hurting as much as I was. He couldn’t even promise to come back. I couldn’t let him go.

After hours of discussing and weeping and halfhearted explanations and more crying he finally said there was a way he could take me with him, but that would mean never to return. I’d have to leave everything behind and never look back. Could I do that? Yes, I could. He meant more than anything to me.

I can’t remember the trip. I just don’t know how I got here. When we arrived I felt dizzy, disoriented. At first I didn’t notice the difference. We seemingly still stood on the same beach, but when we came into town everything was different in a strange way.

Michael’s family welcomed me with open arms and everybody seemed to know who I was. They served us dinner, brown rice with vegetables, without fat, without spices. And only plain water to drink. The breakfast the next day was as tasteless as the dinner, some cereals with milk, but without sugar and no coffee, just herbal tea. When I asked for sugar they said they didn’t have any.

I wanted to call my parents to tell them that I’m with Michael and they don’t have to worry about me, but my battery was dead and nobody could lend me a charger. Nobody has ever seen a smartphone! But they communicate with their houses. They have flat screens on the walls, tell their house who they want to talk to and that’s it. They don’t need to go grocery shopping, they tell their fridge what they need and get it delivered. Life seems to be easier. And safer. There are no locks at the doors, they don’t bother to close the windows when they leave.

But it’s also boring. I wanted to go partying in a club, a pub or at least a cafe, but I was disappointed, no such things in this strange place.

I tried to watch the news to get an idea where I am and what’s going on, but they had only reports about other “dimensions” – what the hell is that? – no wars, no crimes, some politicians discussing issues I didn’t understand, only the weather forecast was somehow familiar.

As long as Michael was with me I was just happy to be with him. Everything else didn’t matter. But yesterday he went on his next ‘mission’. He didn’t answer my questions about where he would go, to do what exactly or when he will be back.

Why doesn’t he trust me? Why doesn’t anybody trust me? I get no answers to all my questions. Everybody is friendly but when I ask where I am, what this place is, if this is the future, if there’s a way back, they just change the subject.

I feel stranded in a place or time I don’t belong to. I’m lonely. Have I made the right decision? Is love enough? What if Michael won’t return?

The Dustman

By Paul R. Green

“You can go through now, George.” Christine said with a friendly smile. Doyle stood, fastened his suit jacket, and returned the girl’s smile with an added wink before opening the door to his CO’s inner office.

Topps’ heavy-set frame blocked out most of the light coming through the large window that provided such a spectacular view of the capital. He was out of his seat, which was never a good sign. Not that Doyle was ever called in for anything that was. He positioned himself before his chief’s desk, as if the man was sat behind it, stood at parade rest and waited.

“What do you know about vX13 George?” The big man said without turning.

“vX13. The thirteenth dimension our boys have discovered; back in ’08, I believe. They’re the first D we’ve come across that comes close to ourselves in both tech and psychic ability. We run a small team out of the capital as S.O.P. but migration has been rather limited, presumably due to them being so close to us in a lot of respects. Though obviously they haven’t learnt how to D-hop yet.”

Topps turned away from the window with a meaningfully raised eyebrow and lumbered across to his seat. He dropped into it with a sigh and made himself comfortable before looking back at his agent with steely eyes that defied his jowly features. “We think they might have rampart tech.”

“Who’s the source?” Doyle enquired.

Logan.”

“A good man. How’d he come across it?”

“The usual. He was working a case, tied most of it up but lost a lead on a tenuous link. Not enough to keep the case open, but enough of a niggle for him to mention it to me. And now, I’m mentioning it to you.” He nudged a hard copy file across the desk toward Doyle – the Dust Squad didn’t use electronic files. The file would be read and burned after reading. Doyle picked it up and turned to leave.
As he went to open the door his boss added, “Be careful, George” a note of genuine concern in his voice. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.”

***

The oppressive humidity hit Doyle the second he stepped out of the air-conditioned comfort of the commercial airliner and followed the rest of the passengers, most of whom were clearly visiting the tropical island resort for reasons other than business. Once he’d collected his luggage and checked through customs – which included a discrete mind probe that he’d been half expecting and therefore prepared for – he hailed a cab and soaked in the sights on the short trip to his hotel.

Once checked in he unpacked and went through the ritual of leaving himself indicators should anyone decide to rummage through his possessions whilst he was out. Satisfied, he exited the room – leaving a hair stuck with a dab of saliva attached to the door and jamb – and headed downstairs.

From his place at the bar Doyle looked out at the pool as he savoured the rum he’d ordered. The alcohol nicely topped off the buzz he had received from the couple of vodkas he’d enjoyed inflight. He watched with barely disguised admiration as the lithe, sculpted figure of a man so white he couldn’t possibly be a local towelled himself dry as he approached the bar. The man smiled as he approached Doyle, and the agent returned the smile, greeting him with a hello and asking if he’d like a drink. The man, who introduced himself as Thorsson, took the stool next to Doyle and ordered a local beer.
Doyle took another drink and sighed contentedly. He much preferred assignments in the more advanced dimensions. Sure, there was usually more risk involved, and the locals weren’t so easy to impress, but advanced thinking tended to lead to more liberal attitudes, and Doyle was all for that. Especially, when Doyle considered fraternising with the indigenous population a vital part of his job. And the more intimate that contact, the more he could exploit that relationship towards advancing his mission.

Of course, Doyle’s chance meeting with Thorsson was anything but. He’d gone through the file Topps had given him and judged him to be the best route into Hart-Tek. Once he’d established that, it was simply a matter of having the local team knock him up some Bona-Fides, and book him a place at the seminar Thorsson was due to attend on tropical Tatimi.

“What’s your speciality, George.” The big man enquired. “I take it you’re here for the seminar.”

Doyle smiled, knowing he had the man hooked now. “I shouldn’t really say, my friend. Confidentiality clauses and all that. Let’s just call it data security, shall we?”

Thorsson grinned back. “Then I too am a data security specialist.” He ordered two more drinks and held his up in a toast. “To the unbreachable wall.”

Doyle clinked glasses. “May it never come and keep us out of a job” he replied. The two men knocked their drinks back in one, and Doyle signalled the barman for more.

***
They were back in Thorsson’s room; Doyle was searching through the man’s belongings whilst the big man slept away their afternoon’s excess. That and the mild sedative Doyle had slipped into the post-coital glass of juice he’d poured meant he had at least a couple of hours.

He had swept the room for bugs and weapons as a matter of course and was now going through Thorsson’s briefcase. He located the man’s ID and pass and settled himself on the end of the bed, stretching out his consciousness to touch the thoughts of the sleeping Thorsson.

The first time he’d tried to access the mind of a drunk and sedated mark, Doyle had been pleasantly surprised. He’d expected the thoughts to be vague and confusing, the thought paths to be myriad and clouded, leading to a host of dead ends and tangled threads, but he’d found the opposite to be true.

Thorsson’s thoughts were dominated by the bright golden rope of his subconscious dream state, making it easy for Doyle to follow to the nexus point of the scientist’s memory. From here Doyle quickly found the branch he was looking for and due to Thorsson’s state it was a simple matter to navigate the natural barriers and steal his passwords. He was just about to break the link when an associated thought strand gave off a slight pulse. Intrigued, he accessed the thought which led him to the image of an attractive looking man named Campbell, who was some form of consultant. The nature of the image suggested it to be part of Thorsson’s fantasy world rather than an actual memory and as there was nothing much else related to the man, just the letter ‘V’, Doyle put it down to some form of office crush. Still, he made a note of the name, just in case.

Before breaking the link he couldn’t resist slightly nudging the man’s memory of their time together, suggesting it had been even more pleasurable than it had been. That done he detached himself from Thorsson’s mind and pepped himself up with another stiff drink.

The ID and pass were sophisticated for this D but relatively simple for Doyle to replicate. Within half an hour he had one of his very own. Then, using Thorsson’s tablet and ID, he hacked into Hart-Tek’s systems and added his details to their personnel files. He also searched for Campbell, but came up blank. Once finished he returned everything to where he’d found it, poured himself a drink of rum, took a generous sniff to savour the aroma and sat on the balcony to await Thorsson’s return to the land of the living. After all, the thought, he might as well enjoy himself a little more before starting the next stage of his mission.

***

Dark skies and freezing cold weather greeted Doyle in Helso, home to Hart-Teks scientific division. He’d had no problems getting through security at the gate and was in the process of orientating himself to the large complex that they worked from.
Inside the main building he found a locker room and had to stop himself from laughing aloud at how easy it was to access the locker he needed. Earlier he had dropped into a security office that stank of stale coffee on the pretence of having found a mobile comm device in the rest rooms. Whilst there he had been able to catch a glimpse of the shift rota that was written for all to see on a white board at the back of the room. He’d made a mental note of a couple of names who weren’t on shift until next week and then searched their lockers until he’d found one whose uniform would fit.

Now, with most of the staff having left for the day, Doyle made his way to the executive offices on the top floor. Once inside he made short work of accessing the database, locating the information he was searching for, and replacing the files in question with a nasty little virus that would destroy any further copies on other systems, as well as any files that contained certain key words.
Now all he had to do, was destroy the prototype, that according to what he had just read was in a separate annex lab to the rear of the building.

***

Doyle crouched behind a large chrome machine, his psychic defences on full alert. He shouldn’t need them, but if these boys were fooling around with rampart tech then best be prepared. There were five of them, two pairs coming from opposite ends of the large lab building and a single overseer who was waiting by the main exit. Getting out was always the hardest part.

Adrenalin focussed their minds upon their task, making it trickier for Doyle to find an in. Tricky, but not impossible. One of the men approaching from the North was new, and every now and then a wispy thread of red fear would detach itself from the white line of his determination and attention.
Doyle bided his time, waiting for just the right thread to pop up. There! He was in. With a grasp on the strand it was a simple matter to tug on it; gently though, just enough to make the man nervous. More wisps appeared; bigger and more frequent. Doyle smiled to himself. Now for some fun.

A quick sweeping probe allowed him to place his opponents upon the map he had created in his mind. The two pairs of guards were getting closer and their leader still hadn’t moved. All he had to do was wait until they were in just the right place.

Now.

With a deftness that came through years of experience Doyle pushed through a thought to the new man, then cut off all links with his foes. The guard’s subconscious took the suggestion and reacted accordingly, telling his brain that his eyes were seeing an armed intruder up ahead. The brain responded by instructing his body to raise the pistol and fire.

The lab came alive with a cacophony of noise, lit by sporadic flashes of muzzle flare as the pent-up emotions of the guards were unleashed in a hail of bullets.

From the direction of the entrance he could hear the shouts of the overseer as he tried to ascertain what was going on and gain control of the situation. The distraction made it easy for Doyle to fix on the man and enter his mind. Orange sparks of confusion spun around a branching line of yellow light as the man fought over what to do next. It was a simple matter for Doyle to suggest he leave the door and go help his men.

With the man gone Doyle slipped unnoticed through the door. Behind him the gunfire had ceased as the overseer managed to convince his men they were shooting at each other.

Once outside the agent took a bracing sniff of the cool night air and walking calmly and casually away from the building triggered the explosives.

***

Doyle was back in Topps’ office, staring down the barrel of one his boss’s legendary disapproving glowers. He shuffled a bit, and became suddenly aware of just how uncomfortably sweaty he was feeling and how dry his throat felt. He could do with a drink. Shame that alcohol and other stimulants were banned on his home dimension.

“Industrial accident caused by faulty wiring; that’s how it’s been reported on vX13,” the big man finally said after what seemed an age as he dismissively dropped the file on his desk.

“Thank you, sir. I try my best.” Doyle acknowledged with a smile of relief. The smile soon dropped under Topps‘ stern gaze.

“You were lucky at best, Doyle. Careless at worst. That was bloody sloppy work. I expect better from my agents.”

Doyle knew better than try and make excuses, he simply stood quietly and waited to hear what his boss wanted to say.

The big man pinched the bridge of his nose as if bracing himself for something, then seemed to change his mind. “Still, you were ‘Jonny-on-the-spot’ and I hate to second guess my boys in the field, so we’ll let it go this time.” He picked up the file again and waved it at Doyle. “This time.” He stood with a grunt and moved across to a steel cabinet which he unlocked with a key attached by a chain to his belt.
Doyle took the cue and slipped quietly from the room.

***

Topps watched his agent leave then moved to stand at his window. He often stood here when he had a lot on his mind, or something bothered him. Right now it was a single letter:’V’. It could be nothing but Topps was a careful man. He liked to think of himself as an iceberg. On the surface huge, cool and imposing, but with a lot more going on beneath the surface. And dangerous, too, especially to the unwary.

“Are you one of mine, V?” He asked himself quietly, not really wanting to think it even may be true. After standing for a few more minutes he came to a decision and returned to his desk and hit the inter-com. “Christine, could you clear my schedule for this afternoon then come in please? We have work to do.”

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.”