Suspect Ratio
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Previously: The Dedekind-Infinite Demographic

Old enchantments meant the dead didn't rest easy in the halls of the UIU; new problems meant that neither did the living.

After an uneventful auto-rickshaw ride to the local branch and the usual security checks, the trio were ushered into the spacious office of the branch's head. Even if Landen hadn't already explained the reason for their visit, the look on the escort's face would've told Ari and Noemi how serious it was. Their boss' slightly disapproving expression only confirmed their suspicion.

Cora Delacroix was a tall, gangly black woman with a shaved head and a smile that faltered only in the most severe situations. If she frowned, someone else in her place would be throwing people through windows — the emotional impact hurt the same as the literal impact, though. "Ah, Landen. I assume you got the memo, then?"

Landen ran a hand through his hair and nodded quickly. "The memo about Sandusky, yeah. Sorry I took so long, we were out on the outskirts consulting Noemi about a case-"

"So I heard." Cora sighed, drumming her fingers on the wood of the desk. "It's good she's here now, though. Apportation'll be the only way you'll get where you need to be in time, and Agent Thorne is indisposed."

Ari coughed into his hand and lifted a finger to interrupt. "Wait a sec. Why aren't any of the Ohio agents doing something about the situation, if it's so urgent?"

"There are certain obstructions to their progress that Landen's—" Cora glanced in his direction. "—contacts would help him get rid of. Not every Skipper's as friendly to us as the ones at 64, Ari, and sometimes we need to take advantage of the resources at hand."

"Of course, the old appeal to nepotism." Landen mouthed the word 'sorry' at Ari, who just slumped. "So while my boyfriend and Noemi're off saving the Skippers' ass, what am I gonna be doing?"

"Working your new case, of course." A hint of Cora's smile peeked back into her expression. "You've got evidence to process and a file to start writing, no?"

Ari grumbled, but made no protest beyond that. Noemi cut into the silence a beat later: "So. I'm going to need a lot of EVE to punch through universes: what're our aetheric storage rings looking like, ma'am?"

"Nominal. Might need servicing soon, but that's a question for another time." Cora rolled her shoulders back as she settled into her chair, fishing something out of her desk's drawers with a hand and tossing it at Noemi. "If the ghosts in the basement give you grief, feel free to use that."

Landen glanced over at the trinket Noemi had just caught. The thing was shaped like a tiny can of pepper spray, though the casing's gleam would be more fitting for a wedding ring. Noemi sniffed the device and raised her eyebrows at Cora, lips twitching up in a half-smirk. "…sea spray, spices… salt and sage?"

"You got it." Cora's smile had returned, wan but there. "Now hurry up before Agent MacAllister starts breaking things."

A few years ago, the Mayor had passive-aggressively left letters about power usage at the doorstep of every building in Three Portlands. Savvy wizards took notice and installed heavy-duty EVE sinks in their laboratories — instead of generating EVE with power-hogging Everhart resonators, they could just recycle the leftovers from their last experiment.

The UIU's laboratory was no exception, with their sinks being giant stacks of ornately-engraved osmium rings set up at the cardinal points of the room. Their ability to mop up stray patches of thaumic energy meshed badly with the anti-occult sigils engraved in the building's walls, though, so every so often the restless souls of paracriminals who'd died in Three Portlands would get dredged up to scare and irritate the wizards who used the lab.

Landen tried not to imagine a mass murderer's ghost touching him as he walked through a cold spot in the doorway. "Noemi, I think they're acting—"

In response, Noemi shook the can and sprayed. A moment later, the air was filled with the smell of Sunday roast and banished ghost. "They're not now," she grumbled, shoving him towards a metal ring embedded in the center of the room. "First questions first- have you ever been apported before?"

"Once or twice in training." Landen bounced on the balls of his feet, taking deep breaths to calm his jangled nerves. "Not exactly eager to repeat that experience."

Noemi had crossed to a screen embedded in the wall and prodded at it a couple of times, selecting a pattern from the ones it displayed. As Landen glanced up at the ceiling, the projector mounted almost directly above him lit up, throwing a complex fractalline curve on the floor. "Good. I don't want to, either." She nudged Landen aside so she could stand opposite him inside the circle, lining herself up with a line projected on the floor and motioning for him to do the same. "Second question. Have you eaten anything in the past few hours?"

Landen hadn't even thought about touching food since he'd been dispatched to the Library, but now that she'd reminded him he felt a gurgling of protest from his stomach. "Is it bad if I say no?"

"Yeah," Noemi sighed. "It means I'm gonna be the only one who throws up my dinner on the way."

He blinked. "Oh."

"Now start thinking of Sandusky. I've never been, so you're gonna need to guide us where we need to go." She gave him a rueful grin as she took in a deep breath in anticipation, the suddenly-shifting aetheric currents in the room raising hairs on Landen's arms as they swirled around the pair.

He smelled ozone as the wizard lifted her hands. Static arced and flashed between the rings on her fingers, the crackling making him shiver involuntarily. "On the count of three. One, two, t-"

And the world itself seemed to complete the word for her.

The first law of thaumaturgy is that when you push on the universe, it pulls back. What Noemi had just done was a 'push' in the same way that getting guillotined is a paper cut, and the universe responded in kind.

Maroon storm clouds gathered over the UIU's office in Three Portlands, blood suddenly bucketing down onto the weathered stone before the Mayor noticed the commotion and hastily dismissed the projection. The EVE sinks rattled and whined in their housing as they strobed red and white with sudden heat, before the thaum lab was filled with the sound of tortured metal screaming and snapping as they finally gave out.

Inside her office, Cora found a single slice of lemon peel on her desk, which was quickly disregarded as the lights in the building died. As she let out a breath in surprise, it fogged and frosted, icing over her desk.

Ghosts, she mused, as the lights flickered back on. Nothing out of the ordinary, and the sigils would keep any EVE leaks in the storage rings too contained for them to get too problematic.

She glanced out the window behind her desk, saw the red staining the outside of the building, felt her chest tighten.

Alright, so the sigils might've been dampened, but a little sage spray would keep them at bay for her long enough to do a quick repair job-

-the sage spray she'd given Noemi.

A thin wisp of fog escaped from her lips as Cora frowned slightly, then pursed her lips.

The lights went out again and there was a high shriek as the form of something fluorescent and screaming lit up for a moment, before vanishing.

When the power next came on, Cora's smiling lips were stained the colour of crude-oil.

Today was going to be fun.

"Hell of an entrance you made back there," Quinn Macallister deadpanned.

Were it not for the vomit on the windshield and the wizard sleeping in the back seat, the jeep would have looked like any other passing through Sandusky. At least nobody wanted to be outside in this backwater even if it wasn't bucketing rain, so the traffic was non-existent.

Landen, in the shotgun seat, massaged his shoulder and winced as something let out a pop in complaint. "It was a one-off thing, trust me."

Instead of putting them anywhere sensible, Noemi's working had dumped them fifteen feet above the ground. Luckily, Quinn was parked on said ground to refuel; the car's roof caught their fall and the windshield caught Noemi's dinner. The beleaguered agent had ended up walking out of the service station's grimy toilet to find Landen in a bruised heap on the concrete, Noemi snoring on the bonnet and the attendant giving her a pointed look.

"You'd better hope so, for her sake and mine." Quinn absently ignored a sputtering red light as she glanced back at the passenger seat. Noemi's body was draped awkwardly across the pleather, and her hand had landed in a cupholder after they'd gone after one speedbump or another. "Did she actually hurt something doing that, or is she just unconscious?"

Landen gave an uneasy shrug. "It's hard to tell with wizards. She might've bruised a rib or two hitting the car, but if you're asking me about magic…"

She grimaced. Her last runin with thaumaturgy hadn't exactly been one for the books; she was pretty sure Darnell had never recovered from the experience. "How long's she going to be out, then?"

"A stunt like that- an hour? Two, maybe?" He rubbed his forehead, taking the time to tuck a couple of dripping strands of hair back into place.

Quinn tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. "So you guys were meant to be my backup. And now half of my backup is going to be out cold for the rest of this assignment, probably."

Landen's shoulders slumped, producing another pop and 'ow'. "I mean, you're not wrong, but it's not helpful, either…" He searched for anything that could possibly make the conversation less dour, noted a glimpse of silver around Quinn's finger caught in the sodium lights. "…You and Harley got hitched?"

"How—" Startled, she almost slammed the brakes, before noticing how Landen had clued into that. "Oh. Yeah, at that point it was pretty much a formality, but the Gag Order wouldn't be lifted if it wasn't a formal marriage." Then, another question popped into her head. "…How'd you know her name was Harley, anyway?"

"I met you guys at the parade in Backdoor Soho, a little while back?"

"Ah, that…" Quinn nodded along, desperately trying to cover for the fact that the parade had become a pleasant, lavender-scented gap in her memory. "Yeah, uh, you and your…"

"Boyfriend," Landen supplied quickly.

"R-right. How've you guys been doing, if I can ask?" *Smooth, Macallister.*

"He's, uh…"

Inside one of many cubicles in the Three Portland branch office, Ari looked down from the display of his terminal to find thick black ooze dribbling from between the keys of the attached keyboard.

"Did I download a fucking ghost?"

There was silence.

And then a whole lot of noise as the screen exploded.

"Good," Landen concluded. "We're going alright, all things considered."

They filled up the rest of the drive with the same level of smalltalk, awkwardly exchanging