Artemis leaned forward in her chair.
You see? This is why a lot of people find Artemis off putting. Most people find out their conversation partner is potentially a serial killer, they get the fuck out of there. Not Artemis though. No, no, she leans forward. She loves serial killers. Always has. Her favorite movie is a documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer.
“In other dimensions yes. In my dimension no,” Tiger said.”My alternate selves are big into the whole dead body arts and crafts, but that’s never really been my-” He broke off and studied Artemis’s face. “Are you disappointed?” His shock melted into amusement. “Oh my God, you totally are. You’re sad I’m not a serial killer.”
“That’s just-Don’t be-It’s fine. It’s fine,” Artemis sputtered, smooth as ever.
“Are you gonna be okay? Want me to mutilate an animal or something?” Tiger said.
“Just tell the friggin’ story,” Artie said.
“So yes, most of my fetches are serial killers,” Tiger said.
Narrator’s Pro Tips For Players Time. A “fetch” is the popular nomenclature for a version of yourself from an alternate dimension. It’s from Irish folklore. Sort of like a doppelganger except more complicated and a way bigger pain in the ass.
“No worries. Most of my fetches are assholes too,” Artemis said.
“Except Dionysia,” Tiger said.
“Noooo, including Dionysia.” She said.
“You’ve probably heard of my fetches Lion and Bear. They’re the famous ones, but they’re locked up.. Wolf and Bobcat are still at large. But taking little girls isn’t their thing.”
“Apex predators. I’m sensing a real theme here.” Artemis said.
“I guess my mom loved national geographic in every dimension. Don’t your fetches cover the entire Parthenon?” Tiger said.
A rumbling voice rose through the floorboards. Flat, almost affectless. “For the love of God, quit flirting and tell him the rates.”
“So that’s Dionysia,” Artemis said. “So anyway back to your-”
CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP. The unmistakable sound of angry Doc Martens climbing stairs.
“Oh good. She’s gonna join us.” Artemis said.
Dionysia kicked open the door from the basement. She wore a heavy leather apron and a pair of goggles nestled in her dark hair. Underneath the apron she wore a Flesh Eaters t-shirt. The Flesh Eaters was a deathrock punk band from the 70’s. Yes, Dia is cooler than Artemis. Dia is also cooler than you.
“$300 a day plus expenses. If we have to go through the shootout nexus point, rate is double for that day,” Dia said. She then turned around and went back downstairs.
Artemis and Tiger sat in silence until they were sure she was gone.
“She’s great. So warm,” Tiger said.
“Like I said. Asshole,” Artie said.
“Guess I should go now. Before she comes back. Do I make a down payment or something?”
“Twelve hundred will take us through the weekend,” Artemis said. “We take USD, credit, debit, yen, euro, pounds, units, bitcoin, dinars, mardi gras beads, krones, yuans, rupees, shekels, pesos, rubles, and zlotys. We do not take drachmas.”
“USD is fine.”
“You could have stopped me.”
“But I didn’t,” He laid $1200 on the desk, next to a bong and a limited edition Breakfast Club alarm clock, only made in Earth 96A5, and took his leave. A minty pine scent and a funny feeling in Artemis’s bathing suit area were all that remained.
Artemis locked the money in their safe. The safe sat behind a framed poster of Solar Babies, the seminal post-apocalyptic roller-blading movie. She then descended the stairs into Dia’s lair.
The Von Blondies blared from an old shitty boombox. Dia smashed away with a hammer, wrestling a hunk of alloy steel into submission. Hammering it flat, for a blade.
Dia stopped hammering for a moment. “He pay?” She said.
“Where do we start?” Dia said.
“Hold on a second. Let me see the work in progress.” Artie said.
Dia heaved a sigh. She flicked on a work lamp directed at a painted knife handle. C-clamps held the handle steady. Small paint pots and brushes surrounded the work area. The painting on the handle was Mother Guadalupe. Done in bright, vibrant, colors. Intricate and gorgeous.
“I think this is your best one.” Artie said.
“Cool.” Dia’s tone was dismissive, but a rare smile curled across her lips.
“Ok, so Tiger said his fetches don’t take little girls. But maybe one of them does. I say we go talk to the ones who are locked up. We can see if they’ve got info on anyone breaking with the pack M.O,” Artie said.
“Sounds like a plan.”
Later Dionysia clicks around on her computer in the “lobby”-the narrator said with extreme sarcasm-while Artemis gave herself what couldn’t even be construed as a hobo bath. She just sprayed herself and her clothes with Febreeze.
She walked into the lobby. Dia sniffed the air and wrinkled her nose. “That sweater is getting fucking dank bro.”
“So are those jeans,” Artie shot back.
In unison they shrugged the shrug of a thousand college freshman boys who hadn’t done laundry for four months and had sniffed a t-shirt’s pits for the third consecutive wear.
“Lion from Earth 66B and Bear from LL are up in Barstow on Earth 2K3,” Dia said.
Artemis pulled out a gigantic roll of drafting paper. Her map of the realities. She unrolled a few feet. The paper is covered with what looked like a topographical map done in various colors. Between the layers are copious notes on the alternate realities. Of course these notes don’t contain anything useful like “Toxic air!” or “Entire planet under water.” It’s just a bunch of stuff Artemis, and I assure you only Artemis, thinks are interesting such as “Chris Evans just a hot barista in Boston” and “cheeseburgers good for you!!!!!!” crossed out and replaced with “cheeseburgers suck.”
“Earth 2K3, Earth 2K3.” Artemis mumbled to herself. She traced her finger over the map. “It’s the one where they call coke Nozz-ola.”
“And they kill anyone who wears black,” Artie said.
“Way to bury the goddamn lede,” Dia said. In the grand tradition of cool kids since time immemorial she was wearing head to toe black.
“Need to borrow some of my clothes?” Artie said.
“Yeah,” Dia said. “What nexus point do we use?”
Time for another edition of Narrator’s Pro Tips For Players. A nexus point is the easiest and cheapest way to travel to other dimensions. Nexus points are areas in the universe where all the dimensions bleed into each other. They’re almost always centered around people, though there is one in Yellowstone centered around a very dramatic wolf pack. New nexus points crop up all the time. A nexus point is created when a person and all of their fetches end up in the same place at the same time regardless of what reality they’re in. It doesn’t matter if you live in the dimension where tech hasn’t advanced since the 19th century or a dimension where sentient trees want to eat you. You’re Johnny on the spot. Every single version of you. It is a point in your life that is so important, so momentous that you are drawn to it no matter what is different in your reality. Nexus points create a paradox. Statistically there should be one reality where you’re not present, but that just isn’t the case. The feelings surrounding the moments are so strong they create a rip in the universe. And the participants stay in that moment, repeating it, forever. Not a great gig for them.
People can just sort of stroll through these points if they know where to look. Though some are more dangerous than others. Shootout is the most dangerous for obvious reasons.
“Feast is the closest point,” Artie said.
“Yesssss,” Dia said. “I’m so fucking hungry.”
Dia changed into some of Artie’s most “normal” clothes. Then they loaded up into Artie’s Bronco. They cruised down the highway. Artemis loaded up on road snacks. She was physically incapable of going on a roadtrip without Gardetto’s and Ruby Red Squirt. Meanwhile, Dia was fasting in anticipation of the Feast.
Artemis nibbled on a rye chip with a moony, pie-eyed, look on her face.A look she generally only got when she watched Captain Ass-merica: The Winter Boner.
“Do you remember the no bangaranging our clients section in the employee manual we wrote?” Dia said, sensing Artemis was about to put on her junior high slowdance CD (featuring gems like I’ll Be and I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing) and wanting to nip this thing in the bud before it got out of hand.
“Uh huh. Chapter Jack Nicholson, subsection Chinatown,” Artemis said.
“I thought it was in the Bogart section.”
“Mm-mm.” Artemis poked a button on the CD changer.
“Any thoughts as to why I might bring that up?” Dia said.
“You want to amend it so you can knock boots with Old Man Jenkins?” Artie found the CD she was looking for. She skipped past Angel of the Morning and I Do (Cherish You) to settle on You and Me by Lifehouse.
“You can’t call every client over fifty Old Man Jenkins,” Dia said.
“So that’s a yes?” Artemis swayed along to the music, clearly not tuned into the conversation at all. Daydreaming about her “so totally not a serial killer guys” crush. No doubt imagining them slow dancing at the Smallville prom, or the Dawson’s Creek prom, or the Gossip Girl prom-any prom where it was absolutely fine for twenty-somethings to pretend they’re still in highschool.
“No,” Dia said. “Because-”
“Shut up. We’re here,” Artemis said.
“Here” didn’t really look like anything. Nexus points never do until you enter them. So “here” was a field outside of Fresno. Only a sign for a shitty fruit stand that didn’t exist demarcated the location of the nexus point.
Artemis threw the Bronco in park and bailed out of the rig. Her speed suggested that maybe she had more of an idea where the conversation was heading than she let on. Dia decided to table the discussion because food, the other great love of her life besides knives, beckoned. They grabbed a couple bags of gear from the back of the truck and moved out.
Both women jumped the fence and marched through the field. A group of children sat in a circle, eating a picnic. Artie and Dia stepped on their sandwiches as they passed. The kids through the sandwiches away and dug out more from their bottomless picnic basket. One moment they were avoiding piles of cow shit in the tall grass and the next they were inside a grand banquet hall. A viking style mead hall, gave way to Lucky’s Diner, gave way to a particularly contentious Thanksgiving dinner, gave way to a feast of the Gods.
The feast stretched for miles. Every food you can think of and plenty I guarantee you can’t. Bone marrow, Juicy Lucy’s, Croque Moussier. Raw oysters, fresh from the ocean, commingled with lemon wedges packed in ice. The gore of cracked pomegranates spilled from great grey enamel urns. Smoked rattlesnake on a bed of chile rellenos. Deadalive fish, fish kept alive while being deep fried. Chili dogs and garlic fries. Dandelion wine, gin and tonics, and Surge. Lutefisk, pepperoni pizza, rocky mountain oysters, Fugu for the brave, white cheddar striped with raspberry, bird’s nest soup.
Several people sat at a table. Napkins over their heads, hiding their faces from God as they consumed Ortolans. Songbirds drowned in cognac and roasted. Eaten whole.
Dia snaked a plate out from under someone’s fork and dumped the contents on the ground. She then proceeded to treat the feast as her personal buffet. Prime rib, basque lamb shanks, yellowfin tuna sushi, birthday cake, ceviche, tampiquena, caviar, haggis, candied grasshoppers, and fried pickle chips.
Artemis had her eyes glued to the map as they walked, figuring out where they needed to stop to exit into the correct reality. Her face curled in disgust. “We’ve gotta turn here,” she said. “Don’t grab anything off this table.” She carefully squeezed between two tables and avoided eye contact with the impeccably dressed gentry delicately picking at horrifically red meat. Artemis tried not to notice the woman with hair that could rival Marie Antoinette’s. Instead of pearls and ribbons, her hair was woven through with painted human teeth.
Dia eyed the noblemen and women then turned her eyes to her very rare prime rib, then back to the people, steak, people, steak. Artemis dry heaved behind her. Dia briefly considered discarding the prime rib, she could tell Artie desperately DESPERATELY wanted her to, but she said a mental “eh whatever” and kept eating. She would not succumb to peer pressure.
They got past the table then walked parallel to it for a few steps before they exited into a diner. They were, in fact, standing on top of a table. The people eating there paid them no mind. The diner smelled of Mexican food. People ate pancakes and juevos rancheros. Local art dotted the worn out pink adobe walls. They climbed down off the table. Dia stole a pancake off the plate of one of the feasters. She added it to the plate of food she still carried, wiping off her syrupy hands on the jeans she’d borrowed from Artemis. Artemis watched this with a sour look, she’d been planning on wearing those jeans for at least another week.
“Think we should call Ares and Demeter?” Artie said.
“Nah,” they both said at the same time. They both had a “why step on toes, when you can stomp on them?” philosophy when it came to their fetches who weren’t each other.
“You know what we could do though…” Artie said.
Dia smirked. “I like where your head is at. Still got your keys?”
Artie jangled them in Dia’s face.
“Let’s boogie.” Dia said.