The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 9

    There’s something inherently spooky about someone you’ve never met knowing your name. I suppose if you’re famous it’s the kind of thing you get used to, but my powers haven’t put me in the spotlight that much. Even at the Parliament, where I can use them freely, I’m not anyone particularly unusual. If someone I didn’t know walked up to me there and called me by name I would have been surprised and possibly confused. On Earth-Glass, hearing the name “Jin Smith” was borderline terrifying.  “Jin Smith” was a girl who didn’t exist there which meant none of the natives could possibly have met her.

    “I’m sure I don’t know…” I began to say as I looked up to see who the man who’d said my name was. The coveralls of a dockworker might as well have been a cloak of invisibility for how normal they made him appear. It was only the smirk on his lips and the knowing gleam in his eyes that caught my attention. I’d seen that smirk and those twinkling eyes too many times over the last four years not to recognize them instantly.

    “Professor Haffrun?” I hissed in a shocked whisper.

    Professor Lynn Haffrun had been my first contact with the Parliament of Time. She was a dream walker, someone with the power to move themselves from world to world. She’d been sent by the Parliament to keep an eye on my Earth and had ultimately been an essential element in keeping it from being wiped from existence on the day that I “woke up”. In the aftermath of that conflict, the Parliament had made open contact with my world and “Agent Haffrun” had been replaced by a formal ambassador. Lynn could have continued as a special agent but had instead chosen to return to teaching, just in time to be saddled with guiding Way and I along in our studies.

     “That’s ‘Mr Haffrun’ to you.” the man said as he motioned me over in the both so that he could sit with us. I pushed in to make room and noticed that Way had the same nervous expression that I was wearing too.

    Technically, worlds like Earth-Glass were interdicted by the Parliament. In the case of Earth-Glass, that meant that dream travelers of any kind were not supposed to venture there without special permission (which we had) and to leave at the first signs of reality fractures (which we had kind of omitted knowing about in our application). That Professor Haffrun was here suggested she’d noticed what was going on. The open question was whether she’d let anyone else in the Parliament know about it too.

    “You seem surprised to see me.” Professor Haffrun observed. His smile wasn’t malicious. It was instructive. Which was worse. Malicious people want to cause you trouble. Instructive people want to cause you trouble and make you learn from it.

    “You’re burlier than usual.” I pointed out. That was a weak excuse. Dream walkers, like dream lords, create new identities for themselves when they travel to a new world. The age, gender, race and all other physical characteristics of the identity are based on nothing more than the whim of the dream traveler. I usually choose to be a girl of the same age and appearance as my homeworld’s self. It feels more comfortable and it’s more convenient for being able to move easily from one world to the other because it resonates with who I see myself to be.

    Professor Haffrun was a more practical sort. On Earth Glass it was easier to work in society as a man, hence he chose to be a man here. I tended to think of Professor Haffrun as female because she had a mild preference towards presenting herself that way, but I’d seen him present himself as a man on several occasions and seem totally natural in those roles as well. In terms of what her “real” gender was it came down to a “a little from column A, a little more from column B” as far as I could see.

    “We’d thought you were on vacation this week too…Mr. Haffrun.” Way said, catching herself before calling him Professor.

    “Oh, I am, but you know how behind I get. I was using this week to get caught up on the backlog of issues that my students have brought to me. And do you know what I found?” he asked us.

    I glanced over at the waiter to see if the timely arrival of a native could interrupt what was probably going to be a conversation I’d regret having. Unfortunately the waiter was busy dealing some of the other customers.

    “Our request for expedited access to an interdicted world.” I said. It wouldn’t do any good to play dumb at this point I decided. We’d filed the request with Professor Haffron’s office but since she’d been on vacation it had automatically been forwarded to the Dean of Students office which gave it a more cursory inspection than Professor Haffrun would have before granting it.

    “Yes. And do you know what else I discovered?” he prompted.

    “That it was the same interdicted world that Kari had been assigned to for her project on fate weaving.” Way answered.

    Fate weaving is a very small form of dream magic. Rather than changing anything overtly, fate weaving focuses on making subtle alterations to the probabilities of events. Instead of striking a tyrant down with a bolt from the sky, a fate weaver might make it more likely that one of his guards was disloyal while at the same time strengthening the probability that the guard would wind up in a romantic relationship with a member of the resistance. The tyrant winds up deposed either way but with a fate weave in effect the world has no reason to think that any magic has occurred at all.

    “I notice she hasn’t completed that project yet.” Professor Haffrun said.

    “No. She hasn’t.” I agreed.

    “Would you care to explain what is going on to me then, or would you prefer we continue this conversation back at the Parliament?” Haffrun asked calmly. It wasn’t a threat, although it sounded like one. There were things that it was dangerous to talk about on a world like Earth-Glass. People can pass all kinds of conversations off as “crazy talk”. An in-depth discussion of a Parliamentary project would sound insane to most listeners but if they had the right kind of imagination, and could corroborate what was said, they could wind up “awakening” and being able to use dream magic themselves. I had a worrisome history of awakening natives on previously normal worlds. If that happened here, Earth-Glass probably wouldn’t survive it.

    “Kari contacted us during her assignment. From her reports, her fate weaving was progressing well. Too well. She noticed that the changes she was trying to introduce were happening too rapidly and easily.” I said. No one was close enough to us to overhear what we were saying and people at the Blue Star tended to make a point of ignoring strangers in order to stay out of trouble so it seemed safe to continue.

    “She was concerned that there might reality fractures forming.” Way said.

    “She looked for them herself, but she wasn’t able to pin any new ones down.” I said.

    “She did find the scars of old fractures though, ones that had been small enough to seal over on their own. They weren’t active, but they did suggest that concern was warranted.” Way said.

    “Then one of the major players in the weaving Kari was making disappeared.” I said.

    “That’s why she came to us for help.” Way said.

    “I see, and you didn’t come to me with this because I was on vacation.” Haffrun said.

    “Yes.” Way said.

    “And because you wanted to see if your friend’s project could still be salvaged so that she wouldn’t have to repeat it next semester.” Haffrun added.

    “Yes.” I admitted.

    “Despite the risks to this world?” Haffrun asked.

    “No. Or, I mean, we haven’t seen any signs of the reality fractures yet. We promised Kari that if we found anything active we’d bring you and the rest of the Parliament in. She was being cautious, rightfully so, and we didn’t want her to feel like that was the wrong call. Getting a second opinion on it before shutting down the whole project seemed like a good idea.” I said.

    “The project itself is a worthwhile one too.” Way said.

    “Tell me where’s she at with it. I know the general parameters I haven’t seen any reports on how she has been progressing.” Haffrun said.

    “Her task was to create a fate weaving that would affect at least a million people. This is where she chose to center the weaving. On Fairbanks Island.” Ways said.

    “Her thought was to build up the community here. This is one of the worst sections of Los Diablos. Changing Fairbanks would change the whole city and that’s well over a million people.” I said.

    “How was she going to build up the community?” Haffrun asked.

    “She worked with Jin and I on that. There’s a lot of people here who are unemployed so we focused on the sort of jobs they would be able to perform.” Way said.

    “There was a construction boom a decade ago. When the boom went bust, a lot of the workers lost their jobs. That left the city with a skilled work force who are good at building things and nothing for them to build. Fairbanks is also the site of a civil war era shipyard, but the company that ran it went out of business due to some monumentally stupid investments. Lastly there was a pending federal grant for ‘urban renewal’ that was slated to disappear into the pocket of a local gangster named Eddie Stone.” I said.

    “Kari’s plan was to nudge that grant to go towards rebuilding the shipyard and the rest of Fairbanks.” Way said.

    “But something went wrong?” Haffrun asked.

    “More like something went right. A developer stepped forward right away with a plan for the improvements. Then another investor showed up, a man named Guy McIntyre. He offered to match the federal grant with a long term, low interest loan and to purchase some of the more dilapidated properties for his own development.” I said.

    “Even the involvement of the gangster looked like it was going to be eliminated because the work on the grant was being opened up for national bidding.” Way said.

    “This all happened in the space of less than a week.” I said.

    “She overworked the fate weaving?” Haffrun asked.

    “I don’t think so. There weren’t any fractures in her apartment. If she was pushing things too hard and fast there should have been some, right?” I asked. Professor Haffrun had been working with the Parliament for a lot longer than I had. I knew he wasn’t looking for an explanation of what had happened so much as why I believed what I did about what had happened.

    “That’s correct, though if she worked the fate weaving somewhere else, somewhere that you didn’t check, the fractures might have been hidden. On the other hand if Kari had done that then she wouldn’t have called you in.” Haffrun said.

    “The speed events were developing at concerned her but what motivated her to call us in was when Guy McIntyre went missing mysteriously.” I said. “He’d been on a pleasure cruise that left from Los Diablos but before the boat reached its destination, he vanished. Kari tried to go to his office to see what the story was and that’s when she found traces of fractures.”

    “She said they were small enough that they were closing on their own. Definitely not big enough explain the disappearance of someone, especially not someone as central to a fate weaving as Mr. McIntyre was.” Way said.

    “So you’re searching for him?”

    “Peripherally. We think there’s a dreamweaver here. Probably a nascent one.” I said.

    “We thought that if a native was using very low levels of dream magic naturally it would explain both the small fractures and the extra force that got caught up in Kari’s fate weaving.” Way added.

    “It fits but a dreamweaver, even a nascent one, is very dangerous in a world like this.” Haffrun said.

    “We know. Our plan isn’t to confront him. We just wanted to confirm our suspicions before going to the Parliament with them.” I said.

    “I see.”Haffrun said and then paused for a moment, considering the implications of that. “If there is a native dreamweaver here, and Kari’s fate weaving turns him up, without damaging the world, then that’s an automatic pass for her. If not then she would be free to continue her weaving.” Haffrun said.

    “Right!” I agreed.

    “Wrong. The fractures that she saw had a source. Even if they were small and fading, Kari can’t continue her fate weaving until the source is understood, and very likely not even then.” Haffrun said, his voice still low enough that no one could overhear us but with enough force to make it clear that he took the issue seriously.

    “Then we’ll find the source even if it’s not a dreamweaver.” I said.

    “That’s a job for a fully qualified inspector.” Haffrun said.

    I slumped in my seat, crestfallen. As I’d been fearing since he got here, Professor Haffrun was going to play things by the book and bring in the Parliament officially. That mean we’d be out of it, Kari would be given a deferment on her project and she’d need to take the fate weaving class again next year. It wasn’t quite the same as being held back a year in school but it still left the taste of defeat in my mouth.

    “I’ll file a report with the office when I get back.” Haffrun confirmed.

    “What should we do Professor?” Way asked.

    “I happen to know that nearest Inspector is on vacation as well. She’ll be returning in two days though, and barring unforeseen circumstances, this matter will be on the top of her list.” Haffrun said.

    “That means we can keep investigating?” I asked, hope blossoming in my heart again.

    “You have two days. I suggest you make the most of them.” Haffrun said.

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