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1850
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1860
It seemed like the perfect break. I had to get out of my city; she had a job nobody in hers would take. I’ll admit, I’d have been suspicious of the payout, too, if she hadn’t paid up front for a business-class seat on a flight there. The job itself was simple enough: break into some old bat’s retirement home and scan some research notes from its library.

There was a catch, of course—there’s always a catch. This one’s was ‘old bat’ being more literal than you’d think. In the sense of ‘centuries-old vampire’. Because vampires are real things that exist and own opulent, non-Euclidean lakefront properties, and so are wizards with wizard libraries and wizard research notes and very strong opinions about intellectual property.

And that’s not even getting started on the neighbourhood.

The upshot is—the client stuck my phone with some sort of magic red metal, so now I can Crosslink magicrap just like regular circuits. Not sure on the utility of that back Outside, but you never know. I mean, I didn’t when I took this job, and look where I am now.


Uh, and that would be hanging from the ceiling, having narrowly evaded a giant laser-turned-breaching-charge out of sheer luck.


A pointy black witch’s hat flies in from the rain, on the head of what is presumably therefore a witch. Shaking herself off from her stint outside in the dark-and-stormy, the witch immediately takes to raking books off the shelves and into a sack of the kind that would have indignant burglars crying about ‘reinforcing the stereotype’.

Observing for a moment, I decide the wisest course of action would probably be to get the hell away before the librarian shows up.

As I clamber—still on the ceiling—towards the newly-installed egress, however, one crucial difference between East Point and the Eastern Wonderland makes itself apparent: back Outside, people don’t bother looking up, because back Outside, flight is not a common personal ability. So the witch’s gaze sweeps in three degrees of motion, allowing her to notice the suspicious trenchcoated man hanging directly overhead.

With nothing left to it, I let go of the ceiling—

—and land square on my face with a ‘splap’. The Dropshot’s shock absorbers having done their job, I recover onto my feet as if that hadn’t just happened, and pull my piece on her—


“Move and I’ll shoot.”—“Shoot and I’ll move!”


—only to have the favour returned, as she brandishes a small box fairly humming with power.

I hold the Resolver steady, red laser dot projected square on her sternum, just as she keeps her little box thing levelled straight in my, uh, general direction. The smart thing to do right now would be to shoot, I guess, before she decides to blast me to slag—I’m pretty sure a bullet can clear the distance before she can get a spell off—but, if I’m reading here correctly, neither of us wants that kind of complication tonight.

So—neither shoots; neither moves.


The witch speaks first: “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” she growls.

“—you’re asking, hefting a sack of books while in a private library in the middle of the night,” I point out. “And visibly armed, to boot.” Not that I’m doing much better on that front.

“Hmph.” She turns up her nose. “These could be books from anywhere. Who’s to say these’re even books in here?”

“I watched you stuff them into the bag. After you blasted your way in through the wall.”

Her gaze hardens. “A stalker?!”

I blink. “Not for this job, no.”

She grits her teeth. “Tch. A pervert, then?”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“A train molester.”

Why.”

“That coat . . . ” She snaps her fingers. “A flasher!”

I draw out a sigh, stuffing my face into my hand . . .


. . . roughly half a second before I remember I’m wearing adhesive climbing gloves.


Vision obstructed, only the tap-tap-tap of accelerating footsteps gives me the barest of warning. The witch crashes into my midsection, slamming me into the floor; thankfully, my coat absorbs the brunt of it. The Resolver clatters out of my hand, out of reach. She has me pinned—it takes all I have to keep the brim of my hat from being smushed. Her grip threatens to leave wrinkles in my relatively new lapels. I don’t know if you can iron a Dropshot.

“I’ll ask again,” she snarls. “Who—”

“Mrph,” I mrph, gesticulating with my free hand. A few embarrassing seconds pass, as I fiddle blindly with the manual release and gingerly decouple my hand from my face . . . “Okay, go ahead.”

“I’ll ask again,” she snarls, leaning in way too closely. “Who the hell are you?”

“You first?” I suggest. “It’s only polite.”

She raises a fist.

“Richard Conway,” I spill volunteer. “Private dick.” And, while we’re at it: “My card.”

She twitches when I hold it up—right; spell cards—and snatches it out of my hand, eyeing it suspiciously.

“And you?”

“Reimu th’ shrine maiden,” she lies, reading over the card. “‘Richard Conway, freelance espionage and . . . hat fancier’?” . . . (mis)understanding flushes through her face. She drops the card, clutching her hat protectively. “So you are a pervert!”

“What.”

“Yeah!” The witch—you know what; Goldilocks here—raises a quivering finger of accusation. “You’re one of those ‘Tea Hat Partiers’, aren’t you?!”

I scratch my head at that. “No? . . . why bring up politics?”

“Politics— huh?”


She blinks in confusion. I glance left and right. I open my mouth to say something, but close it again on a second thought. Her eyebrows scrunch as she tries to figure out where the conversation went. I do the same. Some time passes in this awful and embarrassing manner.


. . .


. . . —


—“Haah!” A dying eggplant bursts wheezing into the room! “Got . . . you!”


Better response time than the East Point P.D., I guess.


Behind the eggplant wizard strolls in . . . a snappily-dressed redhead with bat wings on her head.

“And there’s the vampire, too,” I mutter. “Just great.”

“No,” Goldilocks mentions offhand, “that’s just Koa.”

“Oh.”

That doesn’t really make me feel any better about it. I mean, what’s a Koa?


The two of them pause, taking in the scene. Head-wings primly puts one hand over an absolutely devious smirk, whereas the librarian only gets purpler.

“One rat is . . . vexation enough,” she growls, flicking her gaze down to me. “Now two?”

“Why, they’ll breed,” Head-wings pipes up.

Goldilocks chokes, flushing brilliantly red and scrambling to get off of me. I’m able to breathe easy for a spell—before I’m once again pinned by some fresh form of magicrap.

Eggplant lowers a glowing hand. “Oh, they won’t. Ha ha. I think—” She stops to catch her breath. Her head twitches around unsettlingly. “I think I’ll . . . ho ha . . . I’ll put an end to this . . . right here; right now. Ho ha ho.”

“Just as well,” Head-wings crows; “I don’t think the world could handle a hat as terrible as the two of those combined.”


. . .


. . . . . .


. . . . . . . . .


“Conway,” Goldilocks hisses. “You’re starting to look a bit like Patche, there.”

. . . ‘Patche’.

The eggplant.

The twitching arcane eggplant currently rearing to mulch me over Goldilocks’ overdue fines.

That snaps me out of it. I cast my eyes about the room, trying to think of something—anything I could do right now. Eggplant draws an ornate card from the folds of her pajamas, and my mind starts getting ahead of itself—when the way out is presented to me: there, there; a little red mote, glowing ever-so-softly on the toe of her shoe.

Deftly and discreetly drawing my phone, I open the Crosslink, hastily rewiring the spell card to trigger the Resolver instead. Just in time—eyes brimming with assured satisfaction, she chants her attack:


“Fire Sign 「AIEEE MY FOOT」”


Eggplant falls forward in a heap on the floor, screaming bloody murder over her freshly-removed toes—and the restraints dissipate. Not wasting any time, I draw into a crouch, tension building in my trousers the actuators of my hypertrousers, thank you. With a burst of compressed air, I pounce, head-wings treating me to two ruby-red eyefuls of deer-in-headlights surprise as I take her to the floor.

Then I punch her in the face.

A ripple spreads outward from my fist, travelling through her cheek, on past boggling eyes, and culminating in a discharge of spittle from wildly flapping lips. Droplets of blood accompany the spray, as her jaw smashes shut on her tongue. She falls limp, fairly concussed—my technique is flawless.

I’m so pleased with the response that I do it again, just to be sure. And again, and again, and maybe a dozen more ‘again’s, before someone taps me on the shoulder.

“Are you done?” It’s Goldilocks. “You’ve punched her twenty-seven times now.”


. . . ‘bap’

“Twenty-eight.”


I dismount, shrugging. “She had it coming. She insulted my hat.”

“Uh-huh. Nice going, though,” the witch remarks, rolling her shoulders. “Name’s Marisa. How’d you do that?”

“Magic,” I answer vaguely, waving my phone.

Seeing it, Marisa ‘ah’s in understanding. “Outsider magic shouldn’t be underestimated, huh?”

“Uh, sure,” I nod. Taking the opportunity, I engage in some subtle intel-gathering: “Say, where’s the eggplant keep her notes?”

“Out that door, through to the section on the left—it’s L-shaped; once you turn the corner, far right corner is the study,” she rattles off casually. “More importantly, can I take a look at that?”

“Maybe later,” I lie, pocketing a handful of nothing.

“Thanks.” She taps around the screen, smoothly dodging my attempts to grab it back. “Professional spy, huh? Well, knowledge is power.”


Eggplant lets out an indignant cry at that—before Marisa lands a foot in her gut.


“So who’s the Johnson?” Continuing to evade me, she scrolls through my calls.

Then she stops.

“‘Okazaki’?” Incredulity and offense color her voice in equal amounts. “You’re working for that Okazaki?”

I stop and scratch my head at that: “Something I should know?”

“She’s insane,” the witch declares, thrusting the phone back into my hands like it’s radioactive. “The dangerous kind. And I’m saying that when I live here in Gensokyo. She is nutty.”

“She pays well,” I shrug.

“Oh, you think so?” Immediately, her voice darkens by several shades. “Let me tell you something about Okazaki. You’re an Outsider; you know what an ICBM is?”

“A thing that flies really far and then blows up really hard?”

“And what would you do if one showed up on your doorstep one morning?”

I blink. “ . . . and this was the Doc’s doing?”

“As a ‘prize’,” she grouses, “for having evaded her attempt to abduct me. Mind, I hadn’t a clue at the time what it was or what I was supposed to do with it.”

I nod sagely. “And then it blew your house up.”

“No,”—and here, her voice gains a manic quality—“because that would have made too much sense! No; the next day, these ‘aytieff’ guys show up, shoot my tsuchinoko, and burn my house down, because apparently it was some sort of ‘unregistered destructive device’!”


“ . . . ,” I opine, because “ . . . ” is all I have.


“Excuse me,” a new voice speaks up. “I— ehm, are you okay?”

I hiss at the newcomer—a silver-haired maid—before letting go of the ceiling, landing nonchalantly on my feet. “You, uh, startled me.”

“She tends to have that kind of effect on people,” Marisa shrugs, turning to the maid. “What’s up?”

“Well, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” she explains, “and I have a few questions I’d like to ask.”

Marisa glances at Eggplant, still curled up in the fetal position, then back to the maid. “Shoot.”

She nods politely. “Do you know whatever happened to the ICBM after that?”

“Nah,” the witch shrugs. “Not a clue.”

“You lost an ICBM,” I mutter, stopping myself just in time from getting my glove stuck to my face again.

“Well, it was only about yay big.” She gestures around the height of her shoulder.

“That’s a hell of a miniature Minuteman, then.”

“‘About yay big’,” the maid repeats softly. “And you’re sure it was functional? As a weapon?”

“Mm, yeah. At least, it said so itself.”

I throw my arms up in frustration. “‘It said’?!”

“Yeah,” she nods, cupping her chin. “Its name was Mimi-chan, I think.”

The maid presses her index fingers together. “Oh, dear . . . ”

“Something wrong?” Marisa asks.

“Well, you see, to commemorate the success of Project Sumiyoshi, we had recently purchased the young mistress a— what we had believed to be a toy rocket,” she explains. “However, based on your description . . . ” The maid trails off, implication clear.

Marisa grimaces. “Yeah, that might be—”


—a ‘thump’ sounds out from below.


“Uh,” someone ‘uh’s—

—another ‘thump’.


Glances are exchanged.


‘Thump’.

. . . it’s getting closer.


Apparently realising the same thing, the maid smiles apologetically at me—before she and the witch disappear, without even the courtesy of waiting for a blink of the eye. I note with glum satisfaction that at least Eggplant and Head-wings remain here to suffer with me.


Right on cue, the floor explodes.


“—THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER MY ROOM IS ON FIRE SEND FOR THE FIRE BRIGADE—”


A hysterical red, white, and rainbow blur rockets—literally—up through the floor, its wake knocking me ass-over-teakettle as it rushes past on a pillar of exhaust. From here, I’m in the perfect position to watch it continue upwards, punching through the ceiling and leaving the room sweltering hot and choking with smoke.


So that just happened.


The chorus of groaning and coughing mixes with the faint sound of . . . sirens emanating from below.

Someone climbs out of the hole in the floor. Muttering curses under my breath, I prop myself up on my elbows and crane my neck to get a better view. It’s yet another redhead, this one in a badly-scuffed kimono. She casts an officious gaze about the room, at one point turning her back to me . . . to reveal a large ‘ATF’ plastered on it in bold yellow lettering.


That does it.


I stand up, staggering a little, and draw back into a crouch.

“Agent Kotohime,” the ‘officer’ barks, flashing a badge. “ATF. You’d better—”

I catch her in the midsection mid-jump, my momentum carrying both of us clear out of the hole in the wall—gravity then taking the torch as I send her off with a five-floor goodbye.


Picking myself up and dusting myself off, I climb back up into the library and amble toward the eggplant’s study, Gatecrasher-equipped feet punting any doors in the way out of the way. Fiddling a little trying to get a half-decent picture out of my phone’s camera, I settle for scooping up the papers in their entirety and stuffing them into my coat.

Objective acquired, I make my way out of the library and through the mansion, kicking the front doors out for an exit and making my way to the gate. Said gate bowls over the guard on the other side as I kick that over too—eliciting cries of protest which only intensify as I step onto the fallen gate with her underneath.

Using it as a springboard, I make one last jump, disappearing exactly unlike a ghost into the night.


… … …


[ You get them? ]

[ Hard copies, if that’s okay. ]

[ Excellent. I’ll be vindicated yet. ]

[ El Psy Congroo. ]

[ Very funny. ]
[ Meet with my associate at the radio tower and swap briefcases. The payout is in hers. ]

[ I like how you didn’t say ‘cash’. ]

[ Fine. Cash. ]

[ No cash; no briefcases. Wire it. ]

[ Okay, who told? ]

[ Just someone I happened to bump into. ]

[ Do you know just how hard it is to find test subjects these days? ]
[ Whatever. Drop them off at the radio tower, then. ]

[ On second thought, I’ll think I’ll scan them for you. ]

[ Fine. ]
[ Spoilsport. ]

[ Okazaki has disconnected ]


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