A ragged man shuffled into the Church.
Can I help you, said Blue. The ragged man looked at the leaflets and the pamphlets and the filtered shafts of dusty light descending from the windows to the carefully roughened floor and the clean architecture of the place and the soup kitchen woman and the distant figure of Anna Bergstrom talking to someone by the Void and the Void itself with its sign saying, VOID. DO NOT TOUCH.
Are you Blue Markinson, said the man.
Who is asking, said Blue, his hand reaching for the panic button under the desk.
My name is Tommy, said the man. You are living in my house.
It is not my house, said Blue. I know you, you have left. Del told me.
Del, said Tommy. I understand you have climbed into bed with her. How's your sex life?
That is my business said Del. Do you want me to call the police?
The police are otherwise engaged, said Tommy. It's just you and me.
I don't think so, said Del. Why don't you tell me what you want.
I don't want anything, said Tommy. Tu me destroces, Azulete.
There was a tapping of bootheels on the floor and the one who had been speaking to Anna Bergstrom strode, coat tails flapping behind him like a mighty sail towards Blue and the desk.
Quien eres? He said to Tommy.
Billy the Kid, said Tommy. Two men standing by the soup line snickered. One was a nondescript doughface in a brown duster and the other, dressed for hill-running was more ferret than human. Then there was the third man, the one who had spoken.
Blue looked at him and knew a fear stronger than any the bombastic Tommy had been able to inspire in him. The former lodger was a disturbed soul looking to pick a fight if only verbally and to be honest Blue didn't reckon his chances. The new arrival however stared down at him from a face that was more and more granite by the second, obsidian and incarnadine chips whirring in a dial only remotely human. As if he was measuring Blue.
No, not measuring. Calibrating.
You, said the Calibrator. You are a fugitive from Justice.
No, said Blue. I am a free man.
Como esta tu vida sexual? said Tommy. The Calibrator reached out and seized him by the throat, held him off the ground and continued while Tommy kicked his heels and turned blue. He inverted him and swung him against the floor like a baby. The noise was a single dull splat in that murmuring space. Anna Bergstrom came hurrying over.
Please leave now, she said. You are forbidden entrance here.
No, said the Calibrator. Your law does not hold in this place. My law is the law of blood and iron and it does not rely upon words as yours does. What is your function? Nothing. You serve soup to those who could otherwise starve. What of them? Everybody dies.
Even you? said Bergstrom. Yes, I think so. Even you.
Please, said the Calibrator. The two other men seized Bergstrom by the arms and hurried her off. Then they returned.
Locked her in the toilet, said the ferret-like one. Tommy lay still.
You will come with us, said the Calibrator.
Blue looked around him. There seemed little to do. There was nobody else in the space. The soup lady had retreated. At the far end of the nave the Void sat sucking cheerfully and merrily.
The Calibrator's men came round the back of the desk and seized Blue. I'm going to die, he thought. I'm going to be taken back by these people and Calibrated, which is the same as dying. He thought of Del and of his new home in Upland, nice peaceful Upland.
You killed that man, he said.
What man, said the Calibrator.
Why? said Blue. Of course he could be wrong, the victim could have been a woman or a child but he ploughed on.
That was incorrect, said Blue.
No, said the Calibrator. I do what must be done. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.
Something flickered in the roofspace. Something in the corner of Blue's eye. A saccade, the kind of thing that happened once long ago when he had an inner ear infection; his eyes unable to follow things to the limit of his vision, they kept juddering like an old car trying to start on a winter's day.
He stood up.
Now? he said. Between the two men, the doughface and the ferret-man.
The something in the roofspace dropped and landed on the Calibrator. The Calibrator spun and tried to throw it off. Now that it was visible the Cheshire Cat was something between human and feline, a long tail, a humanoid upright body, the head of a big cat but broad and wedgeshaped.
The Cheshire Cat hissed, its claws dug into the Calibrator's face.
Kill it, said the Calibrator.
Don't, hissed the Cheshire Cat.
You, said the doughface. We launched you ...
Oh it was you, was it, gasped the Cheshire Cat. And she hissed, eyes wide and orange staring at the doughface. You took my cubs. She leapt off the Calibrator straight on to the doughface, her tail brushing Blue's face as she landed. The doughface screamed and went down. The ferret-man let go and bolted round the counter, past the Calibrator and out of the door. Blue watched as the doughface went down. The Cheshire Cat climbed off the stricken doughface and perched on the counter.
You also, she said. I was tasked to bring this man in but I shall not do it. You took me from my home and took my cubs from me. This I shall not forgive.
The Calibrator brought up a gun but the Cheshire Cat was climbing the wall, only visible as a series of disconnected reflections and when the Calibrator fired the bullet blasted a harmless hole in the outer wall of the Church. He took aim again, as the Cheshire clambered along the roof-tree, away from the door. Blue watched from behind the desk.
Without Bergstrom to control the Void the Void had began to expand, its huge mouth and corpulent face expanding so they took up much of the room at the far end of the nave. The Calibrator went on firing and a yelp from high above suggested that one shot at least had hit home.
The Calibrator stepped within the Void's new radius and stood tugging against it, unable to move away. He turned and fired towards the Void, hoping - Blue suspected - that the recoil would knock him clear. But it was not to be. Arms flailing he was dragged inexorably towards the void. A huge hole beyond him, blue skies flecked with cloud and the Calibrator's huge shape smalling as he fell into the Void.
The Void, sated for now, returned to its normal size.
Tommy looked up and snickered then lay back, concussed and bleeding but not critical.
Then the Cheshire Cat was on her feet in the Nave and padding towards Blue.
Thank you, Blue said.
For what, said the Cheshire Cat. But it was well done.
And she was gone leaving only a strange metallic musk in the air. The doughface was crumpled up nursing his ravaged face. Blue went and let Anna Bergstrom out of the toilet.