Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye #90

While I helped to load the wagon, I had a chance to look around a little. We were parked in front of a building that looked to be half-spice-shop, half-shrine, with stained-glass windows and an ornate wrought-iron door set into the otherwise plain wooden building. Out front, a variety of bags and barrels contained dried goods of all descriptions.

Our cargo, as best I could determine, was some kind of local herb, ground into powder and now stored in wax-lined crates to keep it dry. Apparently, it was being sold as the repayment of some previous loan, so we weren’t even expected to return with the money. We get the crates delivered, the horses and wagon were ours, free and clear.

It was a suspiciously convenient arrangement for us. Either this was more fatey-fate-fate intervention, or the roads must be plenty dangerous around these parts.

Of course, no reason it couldn’t be both.

After we had finished loading the crates, Pensky declared himself on break and disappeared to somewhere off of the main strip. His demeanor and body language did not suggest he that he would enjoy company on this particular excursion. I think it was his middle finger that really told the tale.

Since Ms. Moon and Eduin were still occupied with our employers, I decided to see if I could get a little more out of Henricks. I hopped up into the back of the wagon and approached with a wave.

“Hey there,” I said, “Sorry about the hallelujah thing.”

Henricks continued to ignore me, staring at the wooden corner of the wagon as though watching it was all that kept the world in check.

“I’m sorry I called you ‘it’ too. Do you… ah, have a preferred pronoun?”

They turned to face me, scowl still intact. “If you are referring to your distasteful human customs of labeling genitals then I’ll thank you to leave me out of it!”

“Okay…” I said. “Asked and answered, I guess.”

They returned to scowling at the side of the wagon, muttering something to the effect of: “…be asking to see my spleen next…”

There wasn’t enough room for me to sit down next to Henricks in the wagon, so instead I hopped out and leaned over the side to face them. “So what’s your plan?” I asked. “Play along, let us feed you and protect you until you get a chance to betray us and make a run for it?”

The folded their arms. “I’ll have you know that I am just as stuck here as you are. I have no facility with… magic.” They spat the word as though it had bitten their tongue on the way out. “Unless we can find a way to produce integrated circuit boards, pico-second precise resonator crystals, and a three-dimensionally printed beryllium-aluminum matrix, then I’m afraid my method of generating portals won’t be of much use.”

“Oh, don’t be so defeatist,” I said. “Maybe you’ll find another sucker willing to let you short-circuit their arm.”

Henricks stood up and leaned over the side of the wagon, looking down on me for once. “If you had just taken your opportunity to close the portal on Alurian when you had the chance, I wouldn’t have had to use my backup!”

I clenched my fists and counted to five before responding. “You know, I’m getting kind of tired of everybody else butting in to my plans and then telling me that I failed to carry out their plans.” I took a deep breath, and then smiled. “But fine,” I said. “Rehashing that right now won’t get us anywhere. I didn’t come over here to pick a fight with you.”

“Then why did you come over here?” they grumped.

“It looks like we’re both in this for the duration,” I said. “But you’ve been fighting these nanobots longer than I have, and if you want our continued food and protection, then you are going to tell me everything you know.”

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