Jim's Alley: Arrangements

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The moment the radio hit the ground, its mechanical components scattered across the muddy deck. The pale man nearly tripped as he fled, terrified of the invisible force.
‘Jim struck again,’ Dankaert Lexicon gloated, leaning against the stack of crates while observing the fleeing scav through his bulky monocle. The Founder understood invoking myth was more effective than any physical barrier in securing this place commonly known as - Jim’s alley.
Satisfied with his prank, Lexicon entered the notorious backstreet. Vermin by his boots scuttled away in various directions, seeking refuge between the spore colonies, coral reefs, and decaying egg clusters cluttering the place. This was truly the Hades experience, right at the edge of town. But Lexicon wasn’t here to sightsee. He was about to visit an *acquaintance* who had been a thorn in his side for long enough. Unfortunately, it was one of those thorns that pierced the flesh and stopped the bleeding at the same time.
At the end of the fungal side-street was the purpose behind the myth. The entrance to the old vault. The heavy slide door was barely accessible through the slimy undergrowth, seeping syrupy liquids. Fortunately, Lexicon had developed a high tolerance for disgust and squeezed himself past the spongy obstacles. ‘Oh, frick,’ Lexicon hissed as his pristine coat was covered in glinting strands of slime. ‘Oh, well.’ He figured he could entrust the cleaning to one of his henchmen. He sighed. If only he could say the same about coming here.
As Lexicon entered the antechamber, there was yet another reef of alien flora. However, behind a curtain of fluorescent strands of weeds hanging from the ceiling was a doorway, the entrance to the vault itself. It might have been a munition-storage of the sort, picked clean long before the first hovels of Arkology were erected. But now, it was the lair of the Overseer. Of all the afflicted inhabitants of Arkology, he was probably the most loathed of all. Unfortunately, his services had been invaluable.
Inside, Lexicon heard a low hymn of inhuman verses reverberate through the cramped space. The ancient racks stood tightly packed beside each other, reeking of old paper that stuffed the shelves. Books on the occult and esoteric. Magic rituals and alchemy. And of course, the nature of time, space, and quantum physics. That didn’t include Overseer’s own tomes of eccentric writings. Lexicon once got his hands on a hand-written tome, but like many of these occultists tend to do, it was written in a type of code that only made sense to the author. Something that Lexicon found somewhat contradictory. Why write it down if you didn’t want anyone to read it?
But that was not why the Founder was here. It was the overseer’s other activities he worried about. And whatever they were, it had to stop.
Peering through a crack above one of the stuffed shelves, Lexicon surveyed the seating area. The Overseer has made quite a home for himself. Worn rugs on the floor. Some rickety curiosa for furniture. Many a scav would kill for this place - some probably tried.
Between stuffy shelves, the Overseer sat in his leather chair reading out loud from a book in an inhuman tongue that filled Lexicon with a strange unease. But it didn’t discourage him, and he decided to put the creature's senses to the test. A process hard to describe that fooled human sight, rendering the Founder invisible and turning him into an unseen force: A technique passed on to him by his former teachers.
And so Lexicon stepped out of the shadow into the seating area and observed the human-outsider hybrid seated in his leather chair as he read out loud from his book. His uncanny appearance resembled that of an alien creature wearing human skin. A self-inflicted condition the Overseer forced on himself to realize his ambitions. Not unheard of, but he was a special case regardless. Beside his chair was his pet’s cage. A one-eyed purple maggot who sat on a branch like a putrid parrot, and rumored source of the overseer’s alien appearance.
The purple mass trapped inside the Overseer’s goggles shifted and peered in Lexicon’s general direction. ‘Your little mind trickery won’t render you invisible to me,’ he said gleefully, with an east European accent.
The Founder lowered his guard. ‘Couldn’t hurt to try,’ said Lexicon in his hollow voice. He just learned something new after all. ‘Still, funny that you noticed.’
‘Your minds are as open to me as the books on these shelves,’ bragged the Overseer.
‘Now, I know that’s a lie,’ Lexicon said, pedantically.
‘Why would you say that?’
‘If I am as open as you say I am, then you would know what I brought.’ While the Overseer observed him curiously, Lexicon reached behind his back and produced a kukri from its sheath.
Suddenly, the creature’s demeanor changed the moment he caught a glimpse of the blade that was forged of a long-forgotten material. Lexicon demonstrably inspected the kukri’s reversely curved blade and the fiber-like texture on its brass surface. Despite the faux-looking roughness, strange silvery-green glints reflected off the metal, even under these low light conditions. ‘I would like to remind you of the fact that you are here because I allowed it,’ warned Lexicon. Our relationship was supposed to be mutually beneficial.’
‘And it is,’ said the Overseer.
‘Is that so?’
‘I kept many of the creatures you call Outsiders at bay, have I not? Reported their movements to you.’
‘Not the ones that destroyed the newly installed air filters,’ said Lexicon, accusingly.
The Overseer shrugged his shoulders ‘Well, I am not a magician. Maybe the Outsiders like the air just the way it is.’
Lexicon sheathed his blade and began passing through the room. ‘Let’s discuss a hypothetical, shall we?’
‘If you wish.’
‘Let’s assume all these accidents aren’t coincidental, and somebody provoked these creatures that destroyed the machines and killed the engineers.’
The Overseer shoved his fingers together. ‘Yes. Let’s assume.’
‘Why would anyone do such things?’
‘Maybe because they don’t want Arkology to grow,’ suggested the Overseer.
‘Oh?’
‘Maybe, they are afraid that the city might grow overconfident. Gather too many resources. And discover too many of Hades’ secrets.’
‘Like, getting it functional again?’ asked Lexicon.
‘Very unlikely…’ the Overseer said, smiling. ‘But not impossible… It would seriously influence the balance of power in the Multiverse. Not to mention, causing a multitude of disturbances.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The being you call the Multiverse is a fickle thing. It requires faith to be,’ he said ominously. ‘How much faith can be found in Arkology? Is a place where ideas come to fossilize into something that cannot be understood by others. Without understanding, there can’t be faith. Without faith, there can be no progress. Without progress, societies fossilize,’ he ended forebodingly. ‘To travel the Multiverse, we need to be fluid. This is a society made of stone.’
Lexicon nodded, ironically. ‘Ah-ha.’
‘You nod, but don’t comprehend.’
‘No, I get it,’ Lexicon said, picking up a book that lay by his feet. ‘Stone means faithless, yes. No, I get it. The old system becomes corrupt. I comprehend better than you think,’ said Lexicon peering at the illegible symbols on the cover. ‘It does clarify something, unrelated. However, as for Arkology. Don’t you think the problem is, it’s too fluid?’ he asked. ‘Less like water and more like a tar pit. Due to the high rate of attrition among the populace, what other purpose does life have to live from one day to the next? Can’t restore faith by increasing the lifespans for a start?’
‘You are a faithless man,’ said the Overseer, observantly. ‘Everything is but a means to an end. If anything, I am saving your life by keeping things the way they are. The faithful can become very upset by men like you.’
‘You doubt I have taken precautions?’ asked Lexicon, feigning insult.
‘Matter of fact, I am counting on it,’ the Overseer said. ‘What is it? A control switch to disable the very veil generator in Arkology. A bomb? Multiple perhaps? Are you going to flood the Styx? Or do you have a flesh-eating virus in containment?’
Lexicon tilted his head. ‘I might have some of those.’
‘I might not be able to mind-read, but you are still an open book.’
Lexicon slammed the book shut. ‘You know what the faithful also don’t like?’ asked Lexicon. ‘Heretics, wrong thinkers, and people who stop progress,’ he threw the book to the side. ‘Who will protect you when I’m gone?’
‘I’ll live.’
‘Don’t be so sure.’
Lexicon was alarmed by a deep growling coming from between the racks. A dark shape with several white eyes moved in the dark corner of the library, roaring like a clogged drain.
‘So it was you…’ hissed Lexicon.
‘Like you, I have my own securities.’
‘If you think this changes anything-’
‘I do not. Things remain as they are… Just as we arranged.’
Lexicon grinned. ‘Well, it appears you are very attached to this stone society.’
‘It is not your place to make waves in the multiverse.’
‘Waves?’ cried Lexicon, insulted, as the lens of his bionic eye flared up in a prereferral of colors. ‘I am the eye of the storm!’

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