September 2011


We called ourselves ‘Supprimerlesens,’ which was a bit of an in-joke. Pierre, the lead developer, liked to say that video games subsumed and deleted the senses, so we slapped together the French phrase ‘supprimer le sens’ with no spaces.

It was a very innovative game, and a special processor in the arcade board allowed it to do amazing things with vector graphics…scaling and motion unlike anything else at the time, and more vectors on the screen at once than even dedicated vector systems. We combined it with a series of sophisticated, high-resolution sprites that formed the title, backgrounds, and some gameplay elements. It was all very abstract and geometrical, which is why we called it ‘Pythagoras.’

Of course we were our own testers at first. Everything was going well, and we had a working mocked-up arcade cabinet with schematics for mass-production and several interested arcade companies. Then we brought in outside testers from a local university. One of them had a grand mal epileptic seizure after just a few moments of gameplay. All those flashing lights and spinning colors…

The testers who weren’t susceptible to seizures loved the game, so we modified it and removed the backgrounds. We thought that was enough, but within a month the testers began suffering from a variety of neurological side-effects. Amnesia, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors…even a suicide. That should have been the end of things, but the French DGSE signals intelligence unit learned of this and bought us out. We produced a limited run of 10-12 machines, which were each modified by the DGSE before being distributed to ‘test markets’ in the United States.

Washington State, Maine, Montana, the upper peninsula of Michigan…we were told that the DGSE was going to iron out the bugs while using the game cabinets as dead drops for field agents. We beleived them, or told ourselves that we did…we were young, and ambitious, remember. The first murder-suicides put an end to all that.

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“It’s not the same book. Not even close.” Maya said. “What were you thinking?”

“It was awful,” Arthur blurted. “They brought it to me…a great book, they said, a bestseller by a Thai author just waiting for an international audience. But the book was terrible. Half of it was untranslatable, laced with popular idiom and depending on cultural factors for relevance…something American readers wouldn’t understand!”

“That’s no reason to rewrite Mr. Hangpa’s book.”

“It’s every reason,” Arthur snarled. “I never could get published, you know. Never could make it or get anyone interested. But with that book…someone else’s name, the skeleton of their plot…”

“T. T. Viol,” Max read. “1780.”

“Sounds like an Italian name or something,” Carlson said. “You sure the parchment’s authentic to the Revolutionary War?”

“Near as I can tell,” Max said. “I’d have to cut it up to be sure.”

“Can you make out anything else?”

Max squinted and moved the paper around more under the ultraviolet light. “There’s a list of some kind. I see the phrase ‘port of’ here, and I think this is ‘rope’ or ‘barrel.'”

“Ship’s manifest,” Carlson said. “Signed by the captain or quartermaster.”

“Could be,” Max allowed, “but if what Nesbith told you was true, that trunk has been in her family for generations. And I’m sure you know that in 1780 this was all wilderness, with no port for a hundred miles in any direction!”

It’s safe to say nobody cared much for Edward “Bitter” Tannen. When he’d first come aboard at Delacroix & Masterson the office wags had taken to calling him “Biff” after the character from “Back to the Future.” But it soon emerged that this Tannen was anything but the swaggering, aggressive fictional character. He was a morose man, face always lined in worry rather than age, and any conversation with him tended to turn quickly to recrimination–against unnamed persecutors, Tannen’s ex-wife, his grown daughter, Canadian society at large, and so on.

So to his back he was “Bitter” Tannen. He’d have been fired long ago if he hadn’t been, in addition to all that, a stellar researcher, brief writer, clerk, and all-around workaholic. Tannen took on jobs that people with an eye on making partner wouldn’t, and he did them well. That was enough for Mme. Delacroix and Mr. Masterson to overlook any complaints about his behavior in the office. He was, in the words of a co-worker, a cog who needed twice the grease for three times the work.

When he died at his desk late last July, no one noticed until a brief wasn’t handed to the right person nearly two days later.

Arthur “Hoc” Hocker Jr. was arrested for embezzlement on June 19. His gambling debts were such that he didn’t have the money to post bail, and the arrest came at the tail end of a long, slow slide from grace that had ultimately driven away any friends or relatives that could have helped him out. Even the local bail bondsmen refused, as several had been clients of Hoc’s accounting firm and therefore defrauded.

That much is clear: Hoc, undone, rotted in the city lockup until his trial. CCTV recordings, affidavits from attending officers, and interviews with myriad cellmates confirm this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

What, then, are we to make of Hoc appearing at his ex-wife’s house on June 21? Or his partner’s summer cottage the next day? In all, police counted seventeen appearances of Hoc in the outside world while he was incarcerated. Witnesses attest to this, but more concrete proof is offered in the form of voicemails (Hoc made no phone calls from prison) camera footage (Hoc’s wife lived in a gated and monitored community) and, most convincingly, fingerprints. The latter were found at the partner’s summer house, where Hoc had never been as a free man.

Strangest of all, witnesses report that Hoc explicitly apologized for his behavior to the people that he had harmed the most, and that he urged them to go on with their lives without regard for him or his fate. Indeed, at his trial Hoc expressed just such a sentiment, and bemoaned the lost opportunity to deliver it. He was, in point of fact, sentenced without ever leaving jail save trips to the courtroom.

But what, then, are we to make of that strange psuedo-Hoc?

“Miguel Villaponte is one of the most important authors that nobody knows about,” said Meghan. “His inventiveness and facility for the whimsical and the bizarre makes him easily the equal of Carrol, Borges, or any number of other literary luminaries.”

Danielle cast a wary glance over the disheveled pile of manuscripts on her sister’s desk. “So what’s the problem? Have your college put out a book of his stuff.”

“Why do you think he’s still so obscure?” Meghan barked. “It’s not just because people are lazy. Villaponte wrote in Galician, a language related to Portuguese, and it’s never been translated into English.”

“So translate it. That’s what all this is for, isn’t it?” Danielle thrust a finger at the degrees, honors and other shingles decorating the study wall.

“That’s not the only problem,” Meghan sighed. “A lot of Villaponte’s work is laced with nonce–er, with nonsense–words. How do you translate something like pageretal that has no meaning in Galacian or any other language? Worse, his nonsense words follow Galacian syntax precisely and lend a certain cadence to the language–in addition to being used, modified, references, and reinvented throughout the text!”

Danielle shrugged. “Make up your own nonsense.”

“I can’t just make up my own words–I need to settle on something that’s nonsense but fits the text, in English. If I do it wrong, the whole translation comes tumbling down like a house of cards.” Meghan cradled her head in her hands. “Did you understand any of that?”

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe,” Danielle said. “Does that answer your question?”

“Which one of you here is Leah Botchpot?”

A loud clang echoed from the furthest part of the kitchen, and a puddle of steaming water spread out from behind one of the many fireplaces.

“Does that answer your question?” the head cook said.

Henry made his way back and stepped briskly through the spill to find a woman on her knees with a rag, furiously trying to soak the water up.

“Oh, is it any wonder they only trust me to boil water?” she muttered.

“Leah Botchpot, is it?” said Henry. “I need to talk to you about your father.”

“He’s dead,” the woman said without looking up. “If he hadn’t been friends with the owner I’d have been fired long ago, but I can’t say he’s done much else for me lately.”

“And his research? His notes?”

Leah Botchpot looked up. “His what?”

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