Madripoor has a ton of bars, no surprise there, but if we’re being honest (and I feel that we are) I think there are actually fewer bars per capita than you’d expect for a place of this size. I wonder if there’s just less drinking here or if people are just less likely to drink at bars than they are to drink at home. Or if most of the people can’t afford to drink. Maybe I can get some grant money to study it.
There’s a bar nestled up against the downtown area that is set up like a long hallway – the front is maybe ten feet wide but inside it seems like it goes back for half a mile. I honestly think it was an alley between two buildings that got turned into a shanty and then evolved into this. It’s not a tourist bar but it’s close enough to the tourist area that they bring in a lot of extra food for the weekend and then on Monday mornings have a lot of cheap deals on food they’re going to throw away. There’s some bugs in it from time to time but I eat bugs now anyway. Which is awful.
I ate a butterfly the other day. It was so beautiful. But I was SO hungry. I cried a little bit afterwards.
Anyway, there’s usually not many other people in the long bar Monday morning other than myself, but today I was joined by a lanky guy with messy long grey hair despite looking like he was in his mid-thirties. He was wearing a jumpsuit with Drumheller Institution emblazoned on the back and had no shoes on. And this was a guy that needed shoes let me tell you. Looked like he had athlete’s foot or something going on. He was nursing a bottle of something and staring at it the way people do sometimes when they don’t know what else to look at.
I took a seat next to him with my bowl of mystery stew, but not right next to him on account of his fungus foot.
“You from the CS?”
He held up his arm like it was supposed to mean something “Canada.”
“Close enough, you mind if I sit here? I don’t get much chance to talk to people from back home, so I guess the real question is do you mind if I sit here and also do you want to talk?”
He glanced at me incuriously “Sure, go ahead.”
“What’s the Drumheller Institution? Sounds like a drug rehab place or a medical testing facility or something but you’re dressed like a plumber or a maintenance man.”
“The Drumheller Institution is a medium-security prison so named because it’s in Drumheller, Alberta.”
“Okay, so you broke out of prison and wore that thing all the way to Madripoor?”
He took another drink and glance at me again “Yes, but not in the way that you mean.”
I raised an eyebrow “Are you going to elaborate on that or are you going to do the mysterious asshole act and make me drag it out of you in drips and drabs?”
He sighed heavily like I was asking a lot of him “I didn’t break out . . . really, I just leave sometimes. I always go back, I’m not escaping . . . really.”
“Alright, so am I to infer from that you’re a super person in a normal prison and they don’t know about it? And that lets you sneak out sometimes? Why would you fly all the way to Madripoor just to have a beer? And why do you go back?”
He sighed again, as if the entire world was on his shoulders “I don’t have powers . . . I just . . . I can . . . it’s hard to explain.”
“Jesus dude, can you fly or not?”
He shook his head “No.”
I snorted “Okay, so we’re going the I have to drag it out of you route. Let’s start with why you’re in prison, or supposed to be in prison rather since you’re in a bar right now.”
“I worked at a research facility and I violated an agreement not to talk about the work there.”
“They send you to prison for that?!”
“Well . . . they were pretty mad. I think they charged me with espionage because I told what I knew to a reporter and other countries could read it? The whole thing was a mess.”
“So you were working in a lab and some chemicals blew up in your face and that’s how you got your powers?”
He shook his head stubbornly “I don’t have any powers.”
“Then how are you here instead of in Alberta?” I gasped “Are you a fucking teleporter?! Can you take me anywhere I want to go?! There’s a pizza place I would do just about anything to be at right now, I am serious, I’ll totally do sex stuff if you can get me to Pizza Palace. Why the hell do you go back to prison if you can teleport?”
He looked uncomfortable “I don’t want to not serve my sentence . . . it’s just so boring there.”
I laughed “And you think popping out for an occasional beer is okay?”
He made a face “Well it sounds stupid when you say it like that.”
“Who cares? Here’s the plan, teleport me back home first, after a shower and a change of clothes we get some pizza . . .”
“I can’t teleport.” He looked me in the eye for the first time “I’m sorry.”
He really did look sorry “Then how did you get here?”
He picked at the label on his bottle “Are you familiar with super tensile solids?”
I nodded sagely “Of course, I talk about them all the time with my coffee club.”
This actually elicited a small tired smile “Super tensile solids are materials that possess strength as to be unbreakable. At least functionally. I mean in a natural environment anyway. There’s a lot of conditions to unbreakableness in this context. That’s what we were trying to do, by using a technique that actually changes the physical structure of individual atoms, altering characteristics like energy states, spin, atomic weight, and the number of protons as though they were entries in a ledger. It’s the modern equivalent of the ancient alchemist quest to turn lead into gold.” His eyes turned bright for a moment “Transmutation of elements, made possible by atomic manipulation.”
“Okay, and what went wrong?”
He thought about it for a moment “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows what happened. There was a lab here in Madripoor working on the same project, we shared information over a computer network, pretty cutting-edge stuff – that was my area – but then weird stuff started happening. Things started showing up at one lab that were in the other the day before. Sounds crazy when I say it now but that’s what happened. Suddenly the government was all over us. We were under surveillance, I think they bugged us – not just at the lab but at home too. People followed us. One day I saw a peach disappear off a table and my counterpart here told me that it just appeared. And that’s when things really started getting strange. Nightmares. Hallucinations. Voices. I saw half a human body hanging in the air for a second once. People started disappearing, maybe because the government was taking them away, maybe because they were actually disappearing into thin air. The facility was shut down and next thing I know I’m on trial for talking about it. And here we are.”
“You left out the best part, so because you were playing god you can teleport now? How is that not a power?”
“Teleportation isn’t possible, not metaphysically I mean, that’s why it would be a superpower. What is possible is changing the distance between places. I don’t have a power, but I can come to Madripoor, I assume because of the facility that was here, and I can go back. Because the distance makes them right next to each other. Like folding a piece of paper.”
“Did you ever read A Wrinkle In Time?”
“Well anyway, it’s like that. I don’t travel fast or teleport, these two places are just next to each other for me. It non-linear.”
“I’ll take your word for it. So you could take me with you but only back to a prison in Canada?”
“Technically yes, but I only tried that once.”
“It didn’t go well” he drained his bottle and then disappeared.