In the seventh year of the dragon since the coming of Chung Hort into Chook (by the Nigi Rigian calendar) the Grand Oyabun of Edo in The Floating Land had a vision, in this vision he saw himself seated in the sky along with the great Li serpent and the Prime minister of The Floating Land and while the Li serpent gazed eternally at the heavens and writhed in that great infinite way it was purported to by the temple priests of Nath, and the Prime Minister seemed to take great interest in his own Buddha-like belly, the Grand Oyabun of Edo (and indeed of all The Floating Land) found his own gaze sweeping out toward the Eastern horizon where a brilliant ruby gleamed in the light of the rising sun.
As he swept closer to the magnificent jewel it grew in size until The Oyabun found himself gliding high above a newly plowed field surrounded by an iridescent wall of Red Stone. And the dimensions of the wall were ten kilometers and ten kilometers and one kilometer, a square. And the width of the wall was .25 kilometer. Neither was there any gate in the wall so that none might enter and none might exit or invade the garden. Except the Oyabun who flew high above.
The Oyabun reached into the bag at his waist and pulling forth a handful of grain began to sew the garden as he passed overhead. And as he threw the last grain into the garden he began to drift away to the east and it seemed he would never see the fruit of his sewing, but even as the garden fell away beyond the western horizon it emerged shining again at the edge of the eastern horizon. And as it came into sight The Oyabun could see that his garden had indeed born fruit in great multitude, fields of rice and millet grew within, orchards of pears, apples, and mangos had sprung up over night. In the lands near by grazed animals of the savannas in numbers beyond count, plump for the taking.
In his dream the Oyabun passed over the garden seven times and tasted the bounty of it’s harvest growing more rich and savory each pass.
If you could have seen Jerico Kalfler as he really looked you would have seen a small mammal (an impala) with only three odd features about it: first, it almost always stood on all four of it’s hooves. This might not seem so odd at first since impalas naturally stand on four hooves, but this is Chook. And Chook is a very unnatural place. By rights (and by law in some regions) any creature in Chook important enough to warrant a story and lacking the omnipotence of a deity, should at least have the decency to be a little more anthropomorphic.
The second thing you would notice about Jerico, if you could see him as few people do, is that around his head and tiny horns runs a ragged strip of cloth. This cloth is brown and covered with profuse blue stains. “Stains almost exactly the same color as hydraulic fluid,” you think, as you begin to wink out of existence because you have come to know the universe more intimately than it is used to on a first date,”Specifically the hydraulic fluid used in the landing gear of a space faring race extinct for almost five centuries: the gorilla-dog people.”
The cloth is draped around his head in neither the manner of a turban nor that of a medical head dressing. It does not resemble a piece of clothing such as one of those sweatbands worn in the 1980s or those ear covering headbands fashionable during winter in the 1990s, and those stylish accouterments sported by Rambo and Daniel-san are definitely to be considered in no way similar (except perhaps that they might all be made of cloth although even this is suspect). If a hypothetical witness were to describe the head of Jerico Kalfler and it’s adornment they would be more likely to say that the dumb ungulate had had his head toilet papered while he was asleep and that the perpetrators of this stunt had really botched the job.
And, if there were a third unusual thing about Jerico it would probably have something to do with the nasty looking gat strapped to his back. Now the word nasty should not be misconstrued to indicate anything so butch as “kick ass” or “powerful” or “large” or even “more imposing in some way than any other tool designed to throw dense metal projectiles over long distances”. This weapon, for indeed it is in some ways a weapon, might only be described in terms of being nasty in such areas as regard it’s overall construction which is in many ways extremely nasty.
The weapon, which we will call Nick Coler for the sake of discussion, is the zip-gun equivalent of a sniper rifle. Nick Coler is probably the longest weapon of it’s kind known to exist, piece mealed from scraps of brass and copper tubing, a single strip of some unidentifiable ancient cloth encrusted with hieroglyphs serving as it’s carry strap. Odd edges and spikes of metal jut from various corners and points of Nick Coler: a strange array of parallax sighting devices allowing it to be sighted from almost any shooting orientation.
By Rupert! The Nick Coler is impossible to wield without wearing gloves, so numerous are it’s protrusions.
By Zil! If Nick Coler were a weapon under AD&D rules system it would be impossible to carry without making a dexterity check every round to avoid 1d4 points of damage to self from piercing weapons.
But let it not be said that Nick Coler is not artfully crafted. No, at all costs, let this not be said. For Nick Coler is indeed tooled with incredible skill for such a piecemeal firearm. Simply glancing at Coler gives one the impression of gazing upon R’lyh, indeed it might be said that of the vast pool of artists who might be able to render Nick Coler’s likeness only two would likely do it any justice, a lowly scribe known as M.G., and a mysteriously veiled figure known simply as ‘Brom’.
It is said that Jerico uses Nick only to nudge things he is not allowed to touch.
It is important that the event be mentioned which brought Umika Dyson into the company of Jerico Kalfler. It almost equally important that this event not be dwelt long upon as it was (of course) the result of much embarrassment for all concerned (except perhaps Umika Nang). The bare bones sucked clean of marrow:
Umika Dyson slipped up while giving a martial arts display for Umika Nang (of course) and a burly looking outland mage whose cappuccino complexion and closely cropped nappy ebon hair she found vaguely attractive in that exotic outland sort of way. Umika Dyson lost her grip on the Tetsu-to. Umika Nang smiled at as this happened because it meant that the club-like blade would not crush his head as his grand daughter had planned. The ancient ceremonial clan gong was torn in half by the heavy instrument of death, bringing dishonor on the family for seven generations. The outland mage was more than a bit impressed with the dramatic nature of this display, none the less because the Tetsu-to had barely avoided striking off his own head as it plunged into correctly patterned circle of bronze.
The mage was still uncomfortable because he knew that there was some great significance to this breaking of the gong, some subtle cultural nuance which he was missing, and it really bugged him not to have the skinny on any given social group. Umika Nang laughed when the gong broke. Umika Dyson stomped out in anger. The outland mage conversed briefly with the remaining Umika in thieves cant: J: “Perhaps.” U: “Our Teutonic friends?” J: “Hired, but . . . ?” U: “Fixed not tuned.” J: “Well enough, have you the number?” U: “Five, not 73.” J: “Fish was sent, cod.” U: “Will you take her?” J: “Oh? Yah, sure!” U: “Ut, ut! My lucre?” J: “Here’s your filthy money!” U: (switching to a singsong pseudo-Chinese accent which he used to berate the members of his own clan) “Ah! So good doing business with you honorable sir! You will find the young (how you say?) Dyson in honorable kitchen doing dishes. Please tell her she banished. Say, not come back unless honorable enemy-san gone. Also tell her not steal honorable No-Daichi, but can keep crappy Tetsu-to-chan until she come back. Her code name for first mission: Iki Wakai Chan. If she look angry: don’t worry, she not say anything. . . ” (a chuckle seemed about to well up within him) ” . . .She understand you but only speak in Ancient Language of Mad gods.”
It goes without saying that when Umika Dyson left the Far East her contorted brow resembled a prune.
There is a region at which Vort 21 touches the planet Chook. This region is known as the Vort-Chook Interface (VCI). In white trashy areas of Chook and among less formal social institutions it is simply referred to as The Interface. Chung Hort would probably call it The Interface and in this much he and Jerico Kalfler would agree. There is a similar region on Lunar Chook universally called the Lunar Interface, but this has no immediate bearing on our story.
New Vort City is an integrated part of The Interface. New Vort is a cheap rip off of New York but with basically a cross section of every era from the early 1940’s to the late 2040’s. Soon after the Vort 21 was stretched New Vort sprang up. The process was something akin to the Alaska Gold rush. High and low tech societies flocked to the site through narrow mountain passes in a carefully calculated rush to exploit this new find.
The Skyline of New Vort is one of the most impressive sights on the planet: The view from one of the surrounding mountains is a sprawling labyrinthine gridwork of concrete and metal filling the valley like penicillin growth on bread pudding and spilling through the surrounding mountain passes like suds from an overfilled washing machine. As the eye approaches the center of the festering metropolis a measure of order seems to be restored. A vague faery ring of sky scrapers rises round the Vort 21 but keeps it’s distance from the epicenter at about a mile and a half. The buildings nearer the Vort are gnarled as strange burl infested trees or stunted bonsai plants from the alpine climate region of higher mountains.
Closer to Vort 21 the buildings sink into a systematic array of single story municipal and office buildings, structures in which the curse of the Sumerians is endlessly worked through triplicate and quintuplicate forms. These are the “Perfect Blue Buildings” of yore (though most are pale tan colors) and “Little Trouble Girl” would feel quite at home in them on the weekend. True, the elder gods would have scorned them as so many body lice gathered in the armpit at the base of the Vort 21’s great limb, but these deities for the most part have left to pursue their lofty ideals and Joe is here.
And Joe understands. He understands.
This is fairly hallowed ground to Joe.
And the janitors who upkeep the buildings:
Fairly a priesthood.
A man in old but care-worn clothes mopping a linoleum tiled hall lit by florescent lights. His mop water is moderately regulated for cleanliness and laced with elemental cleaning chemicals, the hall fades into the distance. There are many intersections to cover but he has time. There are many hours before the day shift arrives.
Across one of the intersections (not one too far away but not so close that two men would have to meet) comes a similarly clad man sweeping in a moderately successful systematic way. The man mopping glances up while keeping his face, a countenance toughened and etched by the years, turned toward the job at hand. Still sweeping, Joe turns his head slightly toward the man. The man nods to acknowledge Joe’s presence. Joe smiles and turns back to his broom. Only after the sweeping man is gone does the man who is mopping smile to himself for a minute.
A diamond earring glints in the dusty corner under the sink of the men’s restroom. Maybe the janitor will get a buck for it at the pawn shop, maybe it’s destined for an heirloom for the Missus. Either way there’s some honor to it. And something else.
Approaching the Vort 21 by car is something akin to driving toward the Ambassador Bridge from the Canada side. There is a feeling of preparation as one draws within sight of the toll booth, even a simple customs check swells in the mind’s eye to become a test of moral character. One must prove one’s worth as a diplomat, a good will representative to this strange land one is entering. After driving for hours to reach the gate one knows that there are many more days of travel ahead, but that this is some sort of crucial turning point in the journey. The air comes into the lungs in rousing gulps and the stale atmosphere of the car interior is infused with a refreshing quality.
From the center of New Vort, rising like some C’thulonian monolith, dwarfing skyscrapers in sheer volume (let alone height), even to the scale by which humans tower over red ants, rises the Vort 21. During the day it stands against the infinite clear blue sky like the ancient gnomon of the gods passing it’s shadow in one slow fluid motion across the wide bowl of New Vort. During the night it rears up like the Dark Tower of King, an unreachable nexus of darkness. When the stratus clouds slide over the sky the Vort 21 takes on the qualities of a Harris Burdick illustration, when a storm gives way to sunset it is every fantasy artist’s dream to paint. The valley plain tilts up as an inverted funnel starting at about a two mile radius, the buildings on it grow increasingly squat as Chook’s “natural” gravity gives way to the ‘Spell Jammer rules system’ type gravity of the Vort 21. The dirt of Chook gives way little by little to a tenuous black substance: The Vort 21. The ground curves upward toward some god-forged pseudo-asymptote at the gravitational midpoint of the system.
As the car scales this increasingly unnatural incline without straining fifth gear, you begin to pass ditches of cattails, scrub-grass fields, and antler-like stands of sumac. Only the first mile of this is mown and trimmed, even as dedicated as the highway service is, being a branch of the Sacred Maintenance and Custodial Arts Dept., they have long since given up any serious program of maintaining the road sides. This land, if the Vort can be called land, stretches some ten miles straight up before it gives way to temperate forest and finally deepest jungle.
Only a single swath of highway runs the entire length. Cutting a straight line from New Vort to the Lunar Interface the Vortway is a single ribbon of whose length is nearly unfathomable. Many are the Maize-Petrol (R) gas stations strewn like amber drops along it’s length. Many are the strange hitchhiker stories, most credible, whose fire the highway has poured lighter fluid upon.
The Vort 21 glows at night. The Vort 21 glows deep in the ultra-violet spectrum. Not far into the ultra-violet, but Deep. Profound, is a better way to describe how it glows. You and I might actually glimpse a shimmer from the Vort 21 now and then; but The Toe would see it glow; Chung Hort would see it glow; Umika Nang would see it glow and envy those not tied to the wonderful land of their birth; Rent-a-Knights might see it glow, though dimly and it’s light far away, like Five Rings which could never quite be touched.
Normal creatures who sense ultra-violet, moths and insects, would not see the glow of Vort 21, but in their place Jerico Kalfler sees it’s glow. And to Jerico Kalfler it is as beautiful in it’s own way as the purple light of a thousand bug-zappers are to a fly. He is drawn to it though it should kill him. It is geas to Jerico.
And it is Jerico Kalfler’s home.
Oyabun – B, (inaccurate comparison) a Godfather or at least mob boss.
Yakuza – Hoodlum, gangster, (haphazard definition) equivalent to mafioso.
Kyokuto – Far east.