“Howza,” Garf said, appearing at the table. She sat down and looked around. “Shit, Sal. I never thought I’d ever be able to come here.”
“Mira was very obliging.”
“As was QC, I’d expect.”
“Bizzo will be here in a mo. And, by the way, that’s sort of freaky.”
Sal took his napkin and unfolded it. “You mean about QC?”
“You don’t push QC around, you know. You ask it for stuff. But the stuff you get away with is extraordinary.”
“It’s always been like that. I don’t abuse QC or anything. This is the first time I’ve had QC do something special for me.”
“Sorry ’bout the time,” Bizzo said, appearing and sitting down. “What a party. Congratulations, Garf.”
“Congrats,” Sal said. “I meant to say earlier.”
“There goes my life,” Garf said. “I’m not sure if it will be much fun, to be honest. Imagine all the crap I’ll have to read.” Garf had, in a move that had been expected if never much discussed, been elected Assistant Editor of the Journal of Studies of The Trove.
“What do you specialise in?” Sal said.
“Large-scale sonata structure and counterpoint. Isn’t my jargon all nice and shiny.”
“You wrote that thing on the 1st and 3rd ballades,” Bizzo said. “If I remember.”
“Do you know what? If you go by citation count turns out I’m Stize’s 2nd- or 3rd-greatest authority on the ballades. Surreal.”
“What’s this?” Sal said.
“How do we order?” Garf said. “I’m still not used to places like this actually run by people.”
“I’ve settled that,” Sal said, still looking at Garf. “What’s this about the ballades?”
“Oh, the ballades? When we say the ballades we’re usually referring to a set of four pieces written by some C—. We’re pretty sure they’re all written by one person, and we also have a good guess at their order. I wrote a thing on the role of the minor ninth in the 1st. Apparently no-one had noticed the minor ninths before, so hooray. And there was a more boring long article I wrote about transitional passages in the 1st and 3rd. That one took some time to get noticed but it’s on loads of reading lists now.”
Bizzo laughed and then coughed. Garf made a face. “It’s quite complex.”
“Levvi-aaathan,” Bizzo observed, pointing at Sal.
“I’m not particularly attracted to complexity,” Sal said, and then, “Hm.”
“You can’t read that fast,” Garf protested.
“I sort of skimmed through it.”
“Fuck me,” Garf said.
“It’s a practice thing,” Sal said. “Plus my uplink is good. And QC gives me priority.”
“I wish you’d read my stuff,” Bizzo said, wistfully.
“As if you’ve written anything of note,” Garf said. “What’s the biggest thing you’ve done?”
“I figured out why, if a droplet of fluid falls into a flat surface in a vacuum, it is unlikely to make a splash. And then there was a somethingaper on turbulent pipe flow.”
Sal made an interested noise and Garf rolled her eyes.
Sal looked around. Then he looked through the window at the small lake. “Yes …” Sal said, “No. Well. I hope you enjoy yourself, Garf. All very impressive stuff. I might do a course on The Trove if I get the time.”
Garf noticed that when Sal was thinking hard he would do that. He would say yes, trailing off, and then say, no. “Question,” she said.
“Hm?” Sal said.
“Do you where The Trove came from?”
“Boom,” Bizzo said. “Also wow.”
There was a pause. “Yes,” Sal said. “If you mean to ask if I know which one passed it to us. But I can’t say.” He stopped again. “Well, I can, but you know.”
“Fair enough,” Garf said. “It was worth a try.”
Sal shrugged. “It doesn’t make the music any worse.”
“How’s your supervisions?” Bizzo said. He took an aggressive gulp from his glass of water.
“Fairly interesting. We’ve hit the ground running with Crane. Kramnik has been going through some introductory stuff. I’ve yet to see the Monster. Didn’t you take a half-course in logic at some point?”
“No me,” Bizzo said. “Garf.”
“I got saddled with Hale,” Garf said.
“Wasn’t she any good?” Sal said.
“She was good, but I just didn’t have the intuition for it. I was a total fuckwit. Maybe everyone else felt that way too but I couldn’t really take it. There was this time I wrote an essay on the analytic-synthetic distinction which I thought was pretty decent. And when I got it back she had written all these really encouraging comments in the margins, you know? Decent mark, but she was poking these holes everywhere. She was nice about it. And then afterwards I found out she had the year before presented a paper which had just torn my position apart, a really nasty brutal little thing. Never felt that embarrassed. It was a good paper. I felt really, really, stupid. Better to stick to work on The Trove. There’s not enough well-established positions there for me to careen into.”
“I would have stuck at it,” Bizzo said. “Hale’s a pretty big name.”
“Yeah, with all that stuff about – what was it called?”
“OTSOCQ,” Sal offered.
“That thing’s ridiculous.”
Sal smiled. “I’m wondering,” he said.
“Hm?” Garf said.
“I’m thinking of playing in the First League. Should I try it?”
“I didn’t know you liked board games.”
“Well, you first met me when I was watching the World Championship.”
“Yeah, but that’s just a sort of thing everyone in Way does.”
“I’ve not played yet, but I’ll put my name in for the College trials, I think.”
“You’ve not played?”
Bizzo said, “I don’t think he’ll have a problem with that.”
“You’re going to make some people very excited,” Garf said. She frowned.
Mira arrived. “Good evening, peeps. Congratulations, Garfield.”
“Oh, shit,” Garf said, turning around. “Hey, nice to meet you. Thanks, thanks a lot. Hope Sal wasn’t any trouble.”
“It’s okay,” Mira said. “Starter. Four more coming.”
It was a powdered grassy bauble like a polyp in a profound expanse of plate.
Bizzo examined it. “It’s like something I snorted once.”
“Well,” Mira said, “You put it in your face.”
“Can I get a glass of juice?” Bizzo said.
“If you want to taste fuck all,” Mira said, walking off.
“Oh well,” Bizzo said. He picked up the lush spheroid, leaned back, and dropped it into his mouth with the skill of one used to consuming dangerous substances in this ritualised mode. He frowned and blinked and coughed. A plume of powder fountained into the air, falling like Kelvin-Hemholtz snow. Bizzo’s eyes widened and he tipped back further and fell off his seat. Garf picked him up.
“It’s gone,” he said, chin verdant, gesturing frantically Sal’s plate, “It’s gone. Why do they only give us one of these? Hm?” He looked around as if more were coming. He opened his mouth and pointed. “Gone.”
“Is it good?” Sal said.
“Oh yes,” Bizzo said, blearily.
“What is it like?” Garf said.
“Limey hot marrow air.”
“Limey hot marrow air.”
“It does disappear,” Sal said. “Try it.”
“Gosh,” Garf said, staring.
“The next one’s coming,” Sal said. From kitchen there approached something luminous with copper light, and ahead of it the unaccountable aroma of anise and sawdust, maybe even petrol… “I think it’s a squid thing. Eat your little green thing already.”
“Squid,” Garf said. “I’m eating living things.”
“You hideous brute,” Sal said.
Two hours later they emerged, Sal and Garf laughing, Bizzo dazed. The lake shone like metal. Garf covered her eyes.
“We have to bring you around,” she said. “I’m feeling bad.”
“I’m pretty busy for now,” Sal said.
“That was amazing.”
“Have you been to the Wrecked Church?”
“I was planning to go. But things keep happening.”
“We need to go sometime.”
“Ugh,” Bizzo said. “Weird place.”
“Think of it as my official visit,” Sal said. “And you’ll get to come along.”
“I’m too full,” Bizzo said.
“We’re not going now,” Garf said.
“No,” Bizzo said. “I’m too full, I’m too full!” His voice rose in glorious and sickly fashion.
Bizzo started to move away from them, lumbering with one hand on his midsection because he was too full. “Help,” he cried, without turning around, raising his head to the sky, “Help.”
Diesel was Menacce’s resident swan. Sal and Garf saw him now and understood. He approached from the lake, bristling with inchoate passions, silent and deadly.
“I’m too full,” Bizzo said again, falling very slowly to the ground. “Help, I cannot move, oh, I cannot –” He tried to get up but Diesel bore down. It flapped at Bizzo, who raised his hands in a gesture of abject submission. He made high baby noises and then tried to crawl away. Diesel leapt onto Bizzo, took a clump of hair in its beak, and started vigorously fucking him.
“What an angry swan,” Garf said.
“I don’t think it’s angry,” Sal said.
“Stop grovelling, Bizzo,” Garf yelled.
“He was a good terrorist,” Sal said, vaguely.
“It’s impressive,” Sal said, struggling to get the words out.