We spent a week in Vienna with not much to show for it. We hit up pawn shops, bankers’ wine bars, cash machines, asylums, churches, whatever we could think of, all over the Viennese suburbs. Ticket machines doled out tickets to me without even a single murderous tentacle. We even spent some time ruling out the dilettantes in the Tempelhofgessellschaft, and established firmly that we were under no threat of Nazi UFOs from Antarctica at this time. We cast bones, we rolled dice, flipped coins, drew from the I Ching; all the portents confirmed Vienna in general was at the centre of something big and horrible, but nothing more specific. Good old fashioned shoe leather parapsychology, uncovering bugger all. I flipped open perhaps my tenth copy of Wiener Zeitung to a random page and did a reading of the coffee grains in my otherwise empty cup. Yep: money, death, and destruction.
Jen’s team – maybe Jen herself – had quickly surmised the monk on the banknote was William of Ockham. Which confirmed a certain eastern continental trajectory from Surrey to Munich but didn’t give us much once we were here, except a theoretical razor practically useless to the occult professional.
Katerina from the Zurich office came up by train to try and help us. She’d been born in Vienna and was an old hand from the mind flayer D-mark campaign days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Meanwhile Satoshi, or something, had offloaded 200k of the original BTC motherlode. He was selling the newer coins first. This hopefully meant the ones with the mark were in the older blocks, but who knew for sure? Maybe whatever controlled him had just sorted them that way by accident in their spreadsheet.
Proxy, the demon’s nick, was no help either. Everything in our world intermediates. The team in London pored through corporate voting records and old chess tournaments without joy. I spent half an hour interrogating a jaded department store assistant in shoddy Deutsch on the semiotics of a new perfume, Munchausen, by Proxy. There was nothing there but fashion industry cynicism and garden variety voodoo.
It was Teresa who spotted the poster for Möbiusband, a six-piece indie outfit of local musicians self-confident or self-indulgent enough to use three guitars and an electric keyboard recorder-flute. The poster was covered in the same twisted loops as the possessed banknote. We studied the photo and the poster on the street, suddenly clear that the loops were always Møbius strips.
“Negativists,” Kat muttered.
At the time I knew nothing of that dangerous group of Mitteleuropean occultists called the Wiener Möbiusband, obscure even by the standards of my profession. Katerina explained that in the 1920s, a clique of students and intellectuals inspired by Wittgenstein’s dark secret text Tractatus Logico-Malificus had delved deep into necromancy and arcane blood pacts not expressible in human language. The resultant school of magic was taxing and corrosive even by thaumaturgical standards, and had been thought defunct, its practitioners dead and forgotten.
Our musical Möbiusband had a gig at Garage X on Peterplatz that evening. We went to scope the building out in the afternoon.
“This is the place,” Teresa said, before we had even crossed the road. “Evil is here. Mostly in the basement.” The neighbouring townhouses were occupied by offices for a software consultancy and a tax accountant.
We decided not to engage. The building had the regulation fire exits but somehow they didn’t feel like enough.
By the time we got back to the office, Katerina had more detail.
“This is the place,” she said. Decades and a dozen names ago, Der Nachfalter – The Moth – had been a trendy, slightly seedy, nightspot, matching Alice’s butterfly tip, and ground zero for brilliant bourgeois students amateurishly tampering with the forces of supernature.
And then there was the email from my boss.
From: Jen Smith
Subject: I'll arrange it
--- Forwarded message ---
Subject: Bring backup
Möbiusband were starting an extended, meandering cover of the Stone Roses when we arrived. I pocketed the receipt for our tickets so I could claim saving the world from diabolical finance hipsters as an expense later. We worked our way through a large, tolerant and lethargic audience.
I’m standing alone
I’m watching you all
I’m seeing you sinking
The team was Teresa, Kat and myself, again. We wanted to keep this small, if we could. After a pause to gauge the crowd, and a nod from Teresa, we worked our way over to the backstage door. Katerina explained to the nice 190 centimetre tall man that we were very diligent tax auditors. Which wasn’t exactly a lie.
I’m standing alone
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
We went quickly through the twisty maze of backstage passages, all alike. People don’t generally interfere with others moving with purpose. We pretended to be fire inspectors at one point, and roadies at another. Eventually we found ourselves at a locked door with a clear set of runes on it. Eternal loop something guard something devourer of worlds something something go away. I watched the corridor while Teresa kicked through the lock with a boot blessed by the head bonze of Zhinan Temple, revealing a room of violently angry cultists.
You know, I’ve watched video of a calligrapher painting a prawn in twelve strokes of an inkbrush; and I’ve since watched Teresa practice, in the dawn light, T’ai chi san, in her regiment’s exercise yard. And I was watching through each brief moment as she maimed, bludgeoned, kicked and stabbed those six deathpriests and thugs with her umbrella that evening, but I still have no idea how she did it. My memory simply doesn’t understand the movement; just the impression of naturalness and flow. I can more clearly recall the movement of my arms as I brained the last half-unconscious thug with an old-fashioned bound copy of a key volume of Austrian business tax regulations, before closing the door behind us.
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
The death priests were adorned with Møbius strips, on t-shirts, earrings, badges, cufflinks or necklaces, depending on their class or gender. We bound and gagged them for now, and blocked the entrance.
There was only one other door, and it led to a large, bare room, with no other exits, and empty except for a soft drink vending machine with the words Caveat Emptor in a large cursive logo across the front of the fridge. This part of the basement was old, dressed stone, maybe from the Hapsburgs or before, and looked very much like a dead end.
“It’s below here,” said Teresa.
The vending machine, which was clean and well maintained, explained the cost of cans with a small sign indicating €3 and a picture of a hand with three drops coming out of it, like a reverse of the usual corrosive chemical warning sign. It had the usual coin slot, and on the pressing of a spring-loaded button, a small chromed cup popped out, the contents of which flowed through a small channel back into the machine.
We tried washing drips of water off our fingers, then spit, hoping, but not really believing, it would work. Resigning myself to a forensic investigation of interplanar obligations by internal compliance if I survived this, I cut into my left little finger and squeezed out three fat drops of blood into the machine, and not a drop more.
The walls and floor rumbled, moved by some hidden machinery, and the floor itself slid slowly into the wall, leaving only a thin ledge the width of the vending machine, where we all stood. The next storey was perhaps five metres down, another seemingly empty room, with no means of descent visible. Maybe the death priests had a ladder or levitation spell with them, but they were on the other side of a chasm now.
The three vouchers I had left from the Dimension of Platonic Manufactures were for a Kalishnikov rifle, a fire engine, and a Jingdezhen blue and white porcelain fish bowl from the reign of the Yongle Emperor. Kat and Teresa didn’t have any better ideas, and I didn’t feel like breaking my legs, so I threw the fire engine voucher down into the pit and said the power word as best I could. At first, all we saw was a purple puff of smoke that formed itself into letters warning us we had only 150 days to take advantage of their karmic lay-by program, but soon after that a full-sized Seagrave Marauder II, bright red and ready to roll, erupted into existence below with a screech of metal against stone. The card, tumbling as it fell, had landed face down, so the grand machine lay rather sadly and awkwardly on its roof. We jumped down to the tyres and then clambered to the floor.
And there he was. One room over, behind a set of utilitarian stainless steel bars, sat a Japanese man in a blue t-shirt. He had a laptop, a toilet and a folding deck chair. It didn’t look such a bad setup for a programmer, excepting the prison bars.
“Satoshi?” Katerina asked, pedantically. He nodded.
“I guess you would be some sort of covert operations team,” he said, glancing down the corridor towards the upended multi-ton fire engine.
“Why are you here? Who is Proxy?”
“She’s a ghost. Her name is Adele.”