Monday, 15 April 2013

Lilies from the dead land

“Tell me about Paysmort,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  He had lead them to the end of the colonnade and then produced a small brass key from a pocket of his waistcoat and opened a barred door in the wall.  Phlebitis peered unenthusiastically inside where it was gloomy and smelled damp.
“No,” he said.
“But you brought it up yourself,” said the doctor.  Seeing that Phlebitis was not about to lead the way, he took it himself.  “Close the gate behind you, it will lock itself.  You wouldn’t have brought it up if you didn’t want to talk about it, you know.”
“Amateur psychology,” said Phlebitis.  The gate clanged at it closed, and he followed Dr. Rosendieb round a corner.  The corridor, hewn seemingly out of rock, got narrower, the ceiling lowered, but a row of white electric lights set in rubber, waterproof housings now illuminated it.  Rosendieb was walking briskly along it, just a little faster than Phlebitis might have expected, and he had to speed up a little to catch up.
“Professional, actually,” said Rosendieb.  “It is my job, after all.”
“Hah!  Yes, I suppose it is, though it still feels like an amateurish attempt.  I brought Paysmort up, Doctor, because their scent gets onto anything inorganic and lingers.  Anything you take from my cargo as payment will carry some of that scent with it for a couple of days at least, and so you’d ask about it anyway.  I’m telling you up front that you won’t get any answers, or any lilies.  They’re as bad as the boiled frogs.”
“I suppose you don’t want to talk about the boiled frogs either?”
“I’ll talk about them as much as you like, I think you don’t want to listen.”
Doctor Rosendieb laughed, a short bark that echoed slightly in the corridor.  “I listen to anything if the price is right,” he said.  “But you said I could have anything from your cargo, and your memories are cargo that all men carry through their lives.”
“I also said that you couldn’t have any of the lilies from the dead land,” said Phlebitis.  “And memories are certainly lilies from a dead land.”
The corridor turned a corner and ended abruptly at another metal gate.  Rosendieb produced another key, that might have been the first again, and paused before he unlocked it.  “How did you discover Paysmort?” he asked.  “There have been plenty of rumours over the years about it, but they’ve all been just that: rumours.  I’ve interviewed your first mate at length, and he says that you just came back to the ship one day with a new map and co-ordinates and that you sailed there with the aid of it.  Where did that map come from?”
“Is this your price?”  Phlebitis shivered as the tunnel was much cooler than the sunshine outside had been and it was starting to affect him.  “Knowledge of how I found out where Paysmort is?  Because it will not include the location of Paysmort or how to get there.”
Rosendieb slipped the key into the lock.  It turned with a brittle click.  “Yes,” he said.  “In my office, tell me, and we will call that payment.”
Rosendieb’s office had four walls that were divided each into four sections from floor to ceiling, and each section was painted with a semi-human monster.  Having heard the doctor’s description of the colonnade Phlebitis shuddered, aware that these too were probably painted from life and were how the poor unfortunates in the Tiergarten had ended their lives.  In the exact centre of the office was a steel desk with three drawers, deep enough for the doctor to lay out five tablet computers on and wide enough for him to lie down on comfortably.  There was a single chair on each side, made of a sturdy metal frame and bolted to the floor.  Phlebitis noted, with little surprise, that there were anchor points for chains or manacles on the floor on his side of the desk.
“There are anchor points on my side too,” said Rosendieb sitting down and looking uncomfortable.  “And the table is actually welded to a metal slab buried in the floor, and when patients are in here there’s nothing out on the desk.  But you’re here to tell me about how you found the map.”
“I’m here to rescue my first mate.”
“Of course, of course.  Let me have him brought here while you tell your story.”
“Have you heard of the Unreal City?” asked Phlebitis after the doctor had tapped some instructions in to one of the tablet computers.  Dr. Rosendieb lifted his head and looked at Phlebitis, his expression unreadable.  He nodded.
“Oh good.  Then this is a story of the Unreal City and a City Director,” said Phlebitis.  “And how I came to liberate a map and be told how to read it.”
“The Unreal City actually exists then?  I thought it was… well, a fugue state, a dream-world.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” sighed Phlebitis.

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