“Why are we here?” one of the Chair asked. We were standing in the testing chamber.
“We are here because I know this is a location safe to me, and to you. I figured we could talk here about what I need from you and what you need from me,” I was bluntly honest with them.
“What do you mean safe?” one of the Chair moved toward the stairs.
“It seems that my actions always startle you. I figured if any actions had to be taken, that the area, being designated as a testing chamber, with plenty of recording equipment, would make you feel better about what was happening,” I supplied. I stood at the podium over looking the field.
“What do you need to know?” one of the Chair asked.
“What am I supposed to be doing here for you? I know that Simil acts as your guard dog and assassin from time to time,” I turned to look at them. They all turned to look at Simil. He had taken over for Carl when he had left the apartment.
“Your position in the Guild would be equivalent,” the female Chair replied.
“I had heard something about the woman you are looking for who took your manuscript of the great gods. Is there a plan for retrieving the manuscript?” I asked them. They shuffled, waiting for someone to answer me. “Do I have the ability to go up against her if she does Read the manuscript?” I confronted them.
“It hasn’t been Read since Biblical times,” one of the male Chair cautioned.
“Have we lost the power to Read the old manuscripts? Do we have to worry about someone having it?” I asked.
“You can have multiple people Read a manuscript together. That can work for large scale summons, like fortified castles, or armies that will last through a siege. Something longer than what you regularly summon here on the floor,” one of the men explained.
“Seriously? You guys are always a surprise,” I turned on them. I tapped into the terminal.
“It helps if the Readers have a close bond, that they can share the same wave length when Reading,” one of the other Chair cautioned.
“Can you do it?” I asked them.
“Why do you think we are the Chair?” the female asked.
“Because you like being dicks to people?” I muttered under my breath. Simil choked. “So, you are the ultimate stop all for world destruction when it comes to things like Godzilla?” I surmised.
“So to speak, yes,” they said.
“So, really, why do you need a Simil then if you are so powerful?” I asked.
“Because we are not Simil. We cannot Read unconditionally. Even we as the Chair must Read aloud scripts together and we are not capable of so many Readings,” one of the men came over to look at my terminal. I was flipping through manuscripts, searching for a god of Europe or North America that I recognized the story of.
“So, you guys are like a one shot RPG or missile, and we’re more like a pair of revolvers,” I tried to grasp at our differences.
“You could call it that,” the female agreed.
“Are you going to try commanding a god?” the man next to me asked.
“I was preparing if one of you dared me to,” I smiled at him maliciously.
“Try it then,” he waved me to the floor.
I began reading the legend of Coyote who stole fire from Sun. The floor changed to the sands of the Mojave. Pueblo rose up out of the dunes. But no Coyote, and no fire.
“See, even if you can command many things, and push lava around, and all the things you did the other day, this is something you can’t readily summon,” he explained.
“What about the unicorns and centaurs. Those are just as mythical?” I asked.
“It has everything to do with tapping into power. Gods subsist on power, that is their magic, their mythology, to do impossible things. Creatures are just impossible things, not trying to maintain a free will. When you summon a god, you are summoning something intelligent with power that you then have to supply it,” he explained.
“So, if I read manuscripts on gods, I don’t have to worry about accidentally breaking something?” I asked with a bit of relief.
“Was that why we came here?” Simil whispered. I nodded. “You wanted to know if you went looking for the lost manuscript if you would destroy something by Reading it?”
“I can randomly summon things just by glancing at texts, how was I supposed to verify that I had the right manuscript if I couldn’t read it without the possibility of Reading out a god by accident?” I asked him back, a little louder then I meant.
“Why did you summon us here, then if that’s all you wanted to check?” the female asked me. I glanced back at her. “Because I didn’t want you trying to electro-shock therapy me again today if I succeeded because you weren’t around for the whole fucking story,” I shot back at her.
“Well, you now know you can’t. If that’s all for the day, we have business to conduct. We don’t have any projects for Simil for the morning, so we’ll leave you here,” the tallest of the Chair beckoned his robed brethren down the stairs. They wandered out, the door banging shut behind them. I stood at the podium, staring at the story, trying to determine what it was that I wasn’t feeling that I seemed to have had a grasp on just a couple days before.
Simil slid up next to me to look at the text. “Why does this captivate you?” he asked, his odd eyes pinning me. I could feel them slide along my skin. “Because I can feel the power in the words,” I mumbled, my fingers tracing the lines of the text.
“Let me try,” he offered. This would be the first time I got to see him Read anything other than his broadsword that tended to come in handy so many times. I moved aside and watched him. I had always loved watching Carl read to our son. It had been a long time since I had seen him read anything out loud. He began, and it wasn’t the field below me that drew my interest, but the intensity of his gaze on the manuscript. A flicker of light illuminated his pupils. “Did you know your eyes glow when you Read?” I asked, mesmerized.
“Your’s do to,” he chuckled. He had also only pulled out the desert village.
“Really?” I squeaked.
“Reader’s Illuminations are beautiful to watch,” he smiled at me warmly. I blushed, a smile tugging at my lips as I ducked my head.
“I-I think I want to try the Read again,” I moved up next to the terminal. He backed away. “We have the whole day. If you think you can do it,” he waved me to the terminal as he went and reclined in a chair. He pulled out his broadsword and began honing. I had a feeling it was his habit to hone when waiting for people to test.
I don’t remember how many times I tried to summon Coyote. I was becoming weary of the text though. I had to have been on at least my twentieth iteration. I could feel myself swaying. I was dazed.
I felt warm breath on my neck and the cold slide of silk. I looked up startled. Simil kissed my neck, his hair cascading around me. I leaned into the feeling, my body suddenly clenching. His arms wrapped around me, pulling my back against his chest. “You’re not focusing anymore,” he murmured.
“You’re distracting,” I countered.
“I’d say it’s more you who is distracting, Alice,” Simil nipped at my ear, pointing down to the floor. I looked to see what he was talking about. Expecting a desert village, I was stunned instead to find a maze of rose gardens, each dead end occupied by a four poster bed.
“If you don’t focus properly on what you’re Reading, you might start saying something else entirely,” he pressed cancel on the terminal. The fans whirled down as the electronics in the room blinked off.
“I don’t remember what I was saying,” I was in a bit shocked. How had all that happened?
“Oh, you said quite a few things that would make a grown romance novelist blush,” his hand moved under the hem of my shirt.
“There are cameras, you know,” I murmured, stepping away from him.
“Where would you have us go?” He proceeded to shut down the last of the equipment on that floor.
“I know of a room with a great view,” I smiled at him mischievously.
“I might know of this place that you speak of,” he smirked back. He had dropped his odd pattern of speech, but it was most definitely the Mad Hatter and not Carl that was speaking to me.
“Would you like to join me?” I offered as we descended the stairs back to the main floor.
“You honor me,” he bowed, opening the door.
In the hallway, we were stopped up short. A man in a grey suit and black tie was leaning against the wall. “Took you long enough, Simil. Chair sent this for you,” the man walked over and handed Simil a sheet of paper.
“Thank you, Roger,” he replied automatically as he flipped the sheet open.
“What’s our order today?” the man in the grey suit asked.
“Looks like the white rabbit has come out of her hole,” Simil mused.
“Simil?” I asked him, knowing that our afternoon was now interrupted.
“Let’s eat, then we’ll go set up a tea party,” Simil smiled maliciously.
“Who are you?” the man in the grey suit turned to me.
“Alice,” I answered defensively.
“Simil,” he turned away from me, “are you escorting her somewhere?” he asked.
“The Chair has left her in my charge,” he explained.
“Are we bringing her with us?” Roger asked.
“A tea party is more fun with more people,” he smirked.
“Is she any good?” the man asked. My heart was beating hard in my chest. Simil turned to look at me, his pink eye piercing. I quarked an eyebrow at. A smile snaked across his face. I returned the smile.
“You’ll see soon enough,” Simil began walking down the hall.
The man in the grey suit stared after Simil, perplexed. He glanced over his shoulder at me dismissively. A dark shock of hair was swept back with a heavy dose of pomade. Dark brown eyes in a thin face watched me with little more than the regard one gives a cockroach.
We both started walking down the hall, following Simil. “Roger, was it?” I asked pleasantly.
“Yes,” he replied, curtley.
“You work with Simil?” I smiled.
“What, have you been stuck in a closet all your life? Of course I work with him. I’m his handler. Everyone knows that,” he snapped.
My fingers tingled. I took in a deep breath. “I was just brought in,” I explained with a calm voice. “I’ve been around him for a couple days now and this is the first time meeting you.”
“Newbie? Oh freaking great! The Chair’s so busy that they have the Simil babysitting?” Roger was practically spitting. I couldn’t deal with that at the moment. I quickened my pace to catch up with Simil, leaving Roger behind. I could hear the squeak of his shined leather shoes against the linoleum.
Simil extended his elbow for me to slip my hand in. I heard a hiss from behind us. Simil slowed down to glance behind him. “Problem, Roger?” he asked pleasantly.
“Ms. Alice?” Roger asked.
“Yes?” I asked, not turning to look at him.
“Ms. Alice?” he asked again.
“What?” I was getting agitated.
“What are you doing?” he pressed.
“Heading to lunch? What are you doing?” I blistered.
“Why are you touching him?” he practically choked. I turned sharply at that. He almost collided with me. He stood much taller than me, but I still pinned him with my eyes. “Let’s get a couple things straight here, k’ Rog? My name is Grace-Alice Oppenheimer. That man you call Simil is Carl Oppenheimer, my husband. I am also Alice to the Mad Hatter. The Dewey to the Simil. So I will damn well touch him and more if I please, got it?” I hissed. He made to protest, then what I had said clicked. His face sallowed. He stepped back a pace. “You’re…you’re…”he stammered. I sighed, exasperated. “Is this going to happen every time I meet someone?” I turned to Simil.
“Meeting, such sweet parting, they must happen again and again,” Simil mused.
“Now, I am hungry and ready for lunch. Are we going to eat or not?” I asked them.
“Simil?” Roger asked.
“Roger?” Simil replied.
“Are you really Carl?” he asked.
“When he’s out and about,” Simil answered.
“But…but what happened to you?” Roger gulped.
“I became a Simil,” he opened the door to the lunch room. I walked in and went to the counter. I nabbed a tray and utensils from the end cap and picked up a couple of dishes. Roger and Simil had stopped talking, aware of the intense gaze of the audience that was the lunch crowd. They both retrieved trays of food and we made for the furthest corner table away from prying eyes.
Seated, Roger turned his attention back to Simil, “I had wondered why Carl suddenly disappeared last year. You were in training, weren’t you?” Roger mused as he chewed on a slice of beef. “But you don’t look like Carl,” he pointed out. He turned to me. “Are you sure this is your husband?” he demanded.
“Cut it with the ‘this’ and ‘it’. Use ‘he’ if you don’t want your tongue cut out. How long did you know my husband, Roger?” I chomped down on a piece of steak and chewed my frustration out.
“About three years. I was transferred here from the Hong Kong branch,” he shoveled alfredo noodles into his mouth. Not the most elegant eater. I took a bite of my salad before continuing.
“Have you looked, truly looked at Simil?” I asked.
He turned his attention to Simil, staring at him, “What do you mea-…” His jaw dropped. “Carl?” he asked.
“He’s not here right now, but I can take a message,” Simil smiled.
“What the?” Roger sputtered.
“You can see it though, can’t you?” I asked, finishing off my sandwich.
“He’s Carl, but not,” he whispered to me.
“A person takes on the Simil, and doing so can change them,” I wasn’t even amused anymore.
“But…but…how could we have been working together these last couple of months and me not know?” Roger sounded incredulous. “Did you know?” He blustered at me.
“About the time I met the Chair and he put a sword to my throat,” I flicked my fork indifferently.
“He…you…wait, what?” he was confused even more.
“Who are you to him,” I demanded, fixing him under a disdainful eye as I smeared butter on a roll.
“I’m…I’m his handler. We work together on cases the Chair sets up. I get him to and from locations, find lodging, set up equipment and meetings if need be,” he answered meakley.
“So, you aren’t always together?” I bit into the roll. Good lord, I had to get the recipe from the lunch lady.
“When we are at the guild, we go our separate ways. When the Chair has to send Simil out for duty, then I come get him,” he replied.
“He hasn’t been on duty then for a couple of days, and that’s why I haven’t met you yet,” I mused more to myself then to him.
“I take it you were tested?” he asked.
“On so many levels,” bitterly I got up and took my empty tray to the bussing station. When I returned, Simil was watching me, worry smeared across his face. I slid my hand across his shoulder as I circled behind him to my chair on the other side. I laid my hands in my lap and waited. His worry seemed to fade just a little.
“It’s still disconcerting to see someone so openly touch Simil,” Roger muttered.
There would have been a lot more than just touching going on if you hadn’t shown up, I thought to myself.
“Our white rabbit has set up house,” Simil decided to change directions.
“We have a flight, hotel, and cars arranged,” Roger produced papers.
“For two or for three?” Simil asked.
“Just tw-” Roger stuttered as he saw the extra papers in the packet. “…three.” He looked up, keenly aware that he would have been more prepared for the situation he was in if he had just looked at the papers he was handed.