#49 Zealots: Part 1
Seeing is believing?
Previously: Two hundred years ago portals opened on the banks of the Thames in London, doorways to other universes. The worlds of the Triverse have mostly learned to live alongside each other, albeit with some growing pains. The Specialist Dimensional Command was set up by the Met police commissioner to handle unusual, portal-related crimes. One year ago Detective John Callihan was murdered. The investigation continues…
On duty: DC Yannick Clarke & DC Lola Styles
Clarke took the offered seat at the desk, while DCI Bakker closed the door to the small partition office and poured himself a glass of water. “You want one?” He gestured with the glass.
“No, thanks,” Clarke said. The man was quiet, his face shadowed.
“How was the trip?” Bakker pulled out his chair on the opposite side of the desk and leaned back. He took a sip, then placed his glass on the table, aware of every movement. This wasn’t a conversation he had had been looking forward to.
“Eventful,” Clarke said, clearly not intending to offer much more. “It’s all in the report.”
Bakker suppressed a smile. “It was an interesting read. Styles is back today?”
“She came back through the portal last night, so should be in as long as she isn’t still vomiting.”
“Styles didn’t take to portal transit?”
“Not exactly. Thought I’d leave that out of the report.”
“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that.”
Clarke crossed his arms. “I didn’t expect to see Nisha and Zoltan back so soon.”
“They hitched a lift courtesy of our Max-Earth friends. More paperwork, but it got them back fast and safe, which seemed prudent after what happened over there.”
“Did they really get mugged by a random thief?” Clarke looked sceptical.
Bakker sat up a little straighter, took another sip of water. “There’s more to discuss once we’re all in. I’m being a cautious about what gets talked about here, until we figure out what happened in Addis.”
He hadn’t called Clarke into the office to discuss either of the foreign excursions, or how Kaminski and Chakraborty had been ambushed in Addis Ababa, but comparing reports was as close to small talk as either of them got. Still, he may as well get to the point.
“Yannick, it’s been a year.”
Clarke turned his head, looking out through the blinds to the rest of the office. “Right.”
“We’re also several months past you hitting retirement.”
He had wondered whether this would be difficult, like pulling teeth. Clarke wasn’t someone to talk about themselves at the best of times and this was a conversation they’d both been avoiding for longer than was probably wise. One thing had led to another, months had passed, and somehow it was July 1973 and matters were unresolved. It was unlike Bakker to leave loose ends.
“You used to talk about it all the time, Yannick. We made you a countdown chart you had on your desk. Thirty years and you were done. You said it so much it was verging on a catchphrase.”
“Thirty-one years, now.”
Maybe Bakker had been avoiding it on purpose, not wanting to force the issue in case it came down the wrong side of the decision. Clarke was a grumpy sod but was also a good detective. Bakker might not even have thought that a year ago, back when Clarke was all but dried up and ready to go. Something about Callihan’s death had changed him - changed them all, no doubt, but Clarke the most.
“And where are we at, then?”
“You asking me to retire, guv?”
Bakker laughed. “No. You want to retire?”
Clarke grimaced, stretched in his seat and sighed deeply. “No. God help me, but no. It’s been a terrible year, but can I say that I’ve enjoyed it? Not what’s happened. But having a purpose. Feels like I know what I’m doing. For the first time in a while.”
“I can see that.”
“I thought for a while it was trying to do right by Callihan. And his fiancé. Wanted to bust some heads, but didn’t know how.”
“You don’t think that any more?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, guv. Maybe I’ve remembered why I’m doing it in the first place. Maybe it was finding those people in the back of that container. Maybe it’s Styles’ horrendous upbeat attitude getting into my brain.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Anyway, what’s someone like me supposed to do with retirement?”
The point where Ludgate Hill merged into St Paul’s Churchyard was always a magnet for those wanting to demonstrate, protest, worship, proselytise and otherwise shout loudly about very serious matters. The half-circle of space leading to the cathedral’s steps was the place to come to take the temperature of the city’s believers.
A hot day in July was perfect for fraying tempers and shortening patience. Officer Peter Lenham of the local constabulary was keeping an eye on proceedings, making sure that none of the various factions riled up any of the others to the point of causing trouble. It was mostly tourists and Anglican worshippers that day, navigating their way around street sellers, students and the occasional placard-waver. Despite the heat and the sun, the atmosphere was largely convivial.
Breaking through the general background chatter came a voice, unusually clear and loud. “Unbelievers! I bring good news. We have all been trapped in a lie, told that miracles are for other people. That we on Mid-Earth are denied the wonders of magic.” The voice came from a tall man, perhaps in his thirties, who appeared to be surrounded by eager listeners. They were all dressed in ordinary clothes and would go unnoticed if it weren’t for the man’s booming voice.
He paced back and forth, arms outstretched, engaging with anyone who was near. “The portals showed us the truth: that we have been worshipping false gods. Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, all of the other Earth religions…well meaning, but ultimately wrong. Do not blame yourselves. Blame those who kept you from the truth.”
There were shouts of disagreement, and demands for the man to be quiet from passers-by. Officer Lenham watched closely but kept his distance.
“I welcome your challenges,” the man said in response, “it is that very attitude that we need. The willingness to question. To think anew. The true answers came to us two centuries ago, with the opening of the portals. I speak of the pantheon of Palinor, of course. Of Glaicius, Ihlomet, Paf and Unihex. The only universe to display miracles on a daily basis - ‘magic,’ as some call it. The only universe to have absolute proof of the existence of deities.
“Yet we are denied, over and over again. We are told that magic is not possible on Mid-Earth. That the gods are only for the Palinese. I beg to differ.”
As the man spoke, there was a gust of wind and his body lifted, ever-so-slightly, his feet leaving the ground. He stretched out his arms, then lifted his hands to his shoulders, as he levitated in front of everyone in the square, St Paul’s Cathedral at his back.
“This is but a taste!” he shouted, his voice clear over the startled cries and exclamations. “I am not special. All I have is belief. Join us, have faith, and you too can revel in the glory of the true gods.”
His feet touched firm ground again as the crowd pressed in around him and his supporters, who were handing out leaflets and posters. Lenham frowned, unable to deny what he’d seen, and decided he had better put in a call to Control. This was going to be trouble.
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Thanks for reading! Brand new storyline this week, and this is one I’ve had on the list from the very start. It’s the first time we’ve properly dived into Palinese theology, which should prove a lot of fun.
In fact, in the author notes below I’m going to open up a bit about the design of the religion, so keep reading if that’s your sort of thing.
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