There were five major market districts in Capital city. There was the Array, a boulevard lined with trees and shops where people would walk with their tiny pets – scalebirds, suede-skinned decapeds, anything small, exotic and expensive. At Green Hills, people could get common goods, anything they desired, at decent price and quality.
Another of these markets was Division, and it was here Derringer found himself wearing his formals. Division was a selective market on Sundays. It wasn’t at all like bustling Saturdays, or the chaos of street-wide freight Tuesdays. Today, Division was practically deserted. There would be the occasional solitary person outside a closed establishment. As a general rule, they were well-dressed, with refined but understated tailoring, and you never could quite meet their eyes unless they were looking for you.
Derringer carried a medium leather satchel at his side, half full of lumpy objects. He stopped at a gated facade and rang the buzzer. At the obnoxious sound, Derringer opened the gate, heading up the front steps, and in.
The ground level of the house was a pastiche of rare and aged objects, some of them ancient. Though the place felt crowded, there was a sense that this multitude of objects had been arranged so the eye would rest on each in turn.
The detective walked up a narrow flight of stairs, toward a noise that grew louder the closer he approached. It was rhythmic, though not consistent – short outbursts of unrelated beats, each expressing a capsule of thought, a staccato statement.
Through the near left door of the narrow hallway, a lean man with wild hair was juggling five or six balls of different color and size. Occasionally he would send them flying toward glowing color patches on the walls, which would change and move when hit. It was that sound, the percussion of orb against house, that was making that unpredictable music.
Derringer watched as some rearrangements were made, having no real idea what they signified. The different orbs, he knew, were Jacobs’ own modified phronium housings, so there must be some elemental interaction with the color and spacing. One by one the balls slowly came to rest in the orchestrator’s arms. He then chucked them rapid-fire into a bag hanging in the corner. While the last one was in the air, he turned and grinned.
“D my man,” he said, throwing open his arms. He stripped off his perspiration-soaked undershirt and threw it at the wall, revealing a collection of mandala tattoos spread across his chest. “If you’re here it means you’ve found me some precious metals.” He walked over and clapped a hand on Derringer’s shoulder.
Derringer lifted the bag in his right hand. “Also brought you some essential vitamins and minerals.”
He brought his other hand to Derringer’s other shoulder and squeezed them both. “And this is why, we are friends to the end.” He led the detective back down the stairs and down another hallway. The house went a lot deeper than it looked from the front. “Got a minute? I’m going to freshen up. Meet you in the red room.” He disappeared into a bathroom, the door slamming shut.
Derringer strolled on down, ducking through a doorway on the right with a sheet pinned over it. The room was small, containing little but for a folding table and a set of chairs. On the table were scattered some small scientific instruments, and above that dominating the room was a lamp the size of a double sink hanging from the ceiling. It emitted a visible red-violet wavelength, and was the only source of light in the room.
He pulled up two chairs and sat. Humming softly, he reached into his bag and began arranging the objects on the table. There were five metal balls, all of them smaller than a fist. Through the small window in the top of each came a soft glow, its unique shade visible under the lamplight. Derringer respectfully passed his hand behind them, seeing the colors light up his palm. In the magenta light, his own skin looked bruised.
The sound of boots approached down the hall. The sheet flicked aside to reveal mathematician-coder Casper Jacobs, looking ready to party all night. Black pants covered in silver studs, black mesh tank top, leather gloves and boots. On his head sat a black Peter Pan hat sporting a pheasant feather. He beheld the objects on the table and rushed toward them, hands ready to worship.
Derringer reached into his bag and pulled out one more, bigger object. Aloft he held a softball-sized black lump with lumps on it. “Aquariid charcoal truffle.”
Casper Jacobs whirled to face him with a howl of delight. He released a sigh of desire as his hands closed around the lump. He brought it to eye level, turning it this way and that. “This specimen,” he said, “is a paragon of its type. This should be on display. And thanks to you, you gorgeous gumshoe, it’s mine.” He set it down with infinite care on the table and left the room.
He returned almost immediately with a red silk cloth, which he wrapped around the truffle, using the ends to tie the parcel to his belt. He leaned forward in his chair and looked Derringer in the eye. “Your timing is good.”