Stories from The World, Chapter 1: The Television Demon

{--- Previously | Later ---}

I cleared my throat, took a swig of coffee, and said "Cash, I guess. Let me guess, unmarked small bills, right?"

Another laugh. Nervous this time. "But of course."

"So, what's the rest of it? Or is that it?"

"Unfortunately, that is all I have for you. Demonology is most certainly outside of my specialty, though I suspect that someone of your obvious ability should have no problem... convincing... such a minor entity that its own interests lie in not interfering. I do confess that I find it curious that it would have decided on its own to meddle in your affairs. Do you perhaps have an enemy or rival who may have stirred it into action? I can refer you to the best private detective in the local digit of your Interdomain, but-"

I cut her off a little too abruptly with a request for where to send the cash. She gave me a PO box somewhere in Wichita and asked that I not mark the envelope with any red ink. I told her I'd have it in the mail shortly, and hung up.

Something she'd said much earlier in the conversation was starting to ring very true. I was in waaaaaaay over my head.

Training in a technical field had given me a no-nonsense approach to the problem of a knowledge gap - you research what you need to know, either by reading, or, failing the shoulders of giants, you make your best attempt given the principles of the thing involved, and beat it with a hammer to prove it's strong enough for your purposes.

I had a start - the classified ads in The Speaker - as well as criteria: Reachable by telephone until I could figure out what Interdomain and Glass Notation were, and having to do with general knowledge or demons. An hour later, I had two ads circled:

         ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE WORLD
GEN. REFERENCE - 10 VOLUMES - ARCHIVAL QUALITY
     AVAIL. 17 LANGUAGES - HISTORY - MAGIC
 MAJOR ENTITIES - CORPOREALS AND INCORPOREALS
    FULLY ILLUSTRATED - INTERACTIVE GLOSSARY
      ACCESSIBLE BY PERFMEIER 1 AND LOWER
    HOUSE OF KNOWLEDGE LLC, TEL 202 555 3115
        INTRODUCTION TO DEMONOLOGY
    SUITABLE FOR NEOPHYTES AND CHILDREN
NO-CONTACT INVOCATIONS AND SIMULATIONS INCLUDED
        P.D. REPRO, TEL 800 555 4774
     INTER 3-3-663 GLASS 3A4B5C 21.0 44.2

I didn't know what a Perfmeier rating was, but given that the witch doctor had assumed a totally clueless regular guy was below a 2, I figured 1 might be alright.

A few phonecalls later, I found myself racing to the bank to make a very large withdrawal in cash. Both companies had offered personal delivery direct to my door in twelve hours or less on COD terms. Again, the insistence of small unmarked bills and no red ink.

Two rather uneventful (other than the fact that the... deliveryboys... had appeared to be made of clay) deliveries later, I had a big, useless pile of books. THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD consisted of eleven books, plain black hardcovers of cheap imitation leather, marked only with the title in cheap gold lettering, and "VOL 1" through "VOL 10", respectively. The index had its own book, marked appropriately enough, "INDEX". The major problem was that I couldn't get any of the books to actually open. I could separate the covers slightly, and thumb the pages enough to feel that they were actually pages, but I couldn't actually get the books open enough to read anything but page numbers.

I set them aside and pulled out INTRODUCTION TO DEMONOLOGY. Given how much I'd paid for it, I had been so angry upon pulling it out of the box it came in that I had had to put it back in the box and set it aside for a while, literally out of sight. It was about fifty single-sided photocopied pages held together by a staple, with a DVD-R in a paper sleeve attached with clear tape to the back of the last page.

Still angry, I decided to call and at least ask what the problem was with THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. The chipper lady on the other end of the phone gave a little giggle, asked why I hadn't asked my mother or father for help before calling, and explained that "The query syntax is History Index Query: Subject". Before I could say anything else, she dropped what sounded like a very well-rehearsed line, "Thank you for calling House of Knowledge - House of Knowledge, if we don't know it, we can't sell it!".

She hung up so fast afterwards that for a moment, I thought the "click" of the receiver had been a strangely emphasized "t" in "it".

I stared at the phone, stared at the pile of books, and figured I'd take a shot in the dark. I took the Index off of the top of the pile, and put it on the table in front of me.

"History Index Query Subject", I said, trying to emulate the inflection of the woman on the phone.

Nothing. I tried to open it up again, thinking that I might have just said the equivalent to "Open Sesame". But, no, I still couldn't pry it open.

"History Index Query," a pause, "Subject!"

Nothing. So I tried again, with jazz hands and arched eyebrows.

Nothing again except the vague sensation that I was behaving like an ass.

But perhaps...

"History Index Query Interdomain," minus the jazz hands this time.

And then, something really cool happened. The index opened itself, flipped pages madly, then closed itself. As it was closing one of the other volumes opened itself, spilling the six volumes on top of it onto the floor, and flipped its own pages until it came to a page with the heading, "INTERDOMAIN EXCHANGE SYSTEM".

I began to read, and more importantly, to learn. The Interdomain Exchange System is something like a big, magical telephone system. There is an Interdomain Exchange Registry that assigns responsibility for domains and subdomains to various entities, and then individuals apply for a number in a specific subdomain. All you need to do for basic service is to simply acquire an Interdomain Exchange Terminal, which come in hundreds and hundreds of varieties. Most users of the system have a terminal that is shaped very much like a telephone, but certain things find that to be inconvenient. I wasn't sure at the time what those "certain things" might have been, and I wish I'd never found out, honestly.

Glass Notation has something to do with scrying glasses and the kinds of triangles you had to draw on them to "call up" another scrying glass. The entry for "SCRYING GLASS OR POOL" made me realize it was something I didn't need to be messing around with any further.

If you have ever stayed up all night on Wikipedia or TVTropes, following link after link after link, absorbing information with very little sense of direction, you will understand what I did for the next eight hours. I learned very quickly that any particular volume of THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD didn't really care where it was or what was on top of it when it decided to flip open, so I laid them all out separately on the floor around the recliner and simply grabbed whichever one decided to open after querying the Index. During my aimless queries, incidentally, is when I came across an explanation of the Perfmeier scale.

A Perfmeier score/rating/number is basically analagous to an IQ, except instead of purporting to measure overall intelligence, it purports to measure overall magical ability. A plain old-fashioned rock is a 0. Mary Poppins would have been about 650. The teacher from The Magic Schoolbus, or, hell, even the bus itself, would have been 2-3000 on the Perfmeier scale, if they'd been real. There are glaring flaws with the Perfmeier system. The most well known is, of course, that several kinds of "magic" aren't accounted for at all, because they are difficult or impossible to measure with any accuracy. Indeed, the entry for Perfmeier himself relates that he was often criticized for his definition of "magic", and although, like IQ, his rating system is flawed, it's widely used because it's generally useful.

There was also a fair bit about demons, enough to make me put off wanting to look at the waste of money sitting in the box on the other side of the kitchen.

They were described as being generally malevolent inasmuch as their only concern was themselves and their own gain, and that any action not immediately beneficial to the demon in question must be presumed to have hidden or ulterior motives. They were also described as being naturally adept at concealing the truth through obfuscation, circumlocution, or partial admission, as well as prone to subtly disguising or emphasizing the hypothetical, and "many other tricks and illusions of intent". THE HISTORY did say that demons were unable to lie outright, but again emphasized their ability to mislead.

Personally, they sounded an awful lot like a good lawyer to me. Able to say whatever they want within the confines of a few broad rules, without ever technically lying. It seemed like the best way to get a demon to do what you wanted was to make it worth its while, or at least make it think it was worth its while.

There was a section on DEMONOLOGY, too, but it was almost laughably inadequate. It said, simply, "The study of demons, as well as their summoning, invoking, capture, and the related arts."

I looked over at the cardboard box in the kitchen, the one holding INTRODUCTION TO DEMONOLOGY, and flipped it the bird before levering myself up out of the recliner to retrieve it.

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