The thing that terrifies me about the universe is how quickly ones life can fall apart in it. How a place so solid can suddenly be liquid, how everything you build your life on can simply fall away and leave nothing else behind. There is a school for creatures from Outside the universe. I never went: the Deep School seemed to political, too driven. Too intent on making politicians. We don’t have those where I am from, but we have things like them. Creatures so adept at mimicry that they hide their true selves behind near-perfect masks. My experience of home and here is that the worst kind of monsters never look like monsters at all.
Her name was Myra Jeni, and she was a monster. A human one who made a deal with something Other for power. I don’t know why, or even to what end: the motives of humans confuse me even after forty years on this world, sixty before on another. The universe is solid. Real. But everything inside it can be as strange as those of us from Outside, all their certainties falling away to leave little more than fear behind. She had acquired a book made of smells rather than words, whose use could destroy minds in moments.
And so I showed her what I really looked like, when she brought the book into my office. And she is dead, and I am not. I have no passport in other names. No one I can call to remove corpses – human or otherwise – for me. And there is a magician. I can feel them circling the university, bindings and will gathering themselves together. I could fight. But the media studies department would be destroyed, my colleagues rendered mad if not destroyed. Universities are not conducive to sanity, I think: my battle against a magician would destroy too many.
I had not thought it in my nature to wait for death, or even banishment.
There is a knock on the door. A boy of perhaps 10, pale and thin, pokes his head in. “Hi? You’re Profethor Rafael Deyo?”
I have the body in the corner, behind the couch. The floor is decorated in stains. The walls are filled with old books, musty with age and power. The kid glances toward the body and then back at me, waits. I will miss this place. I stand and nod. “I am. You are not a pupil, I trust?”
The boy grins at that. “Nope. I’m Jay.”
“And that should mean something to me?”
He shakes his head firmly. “I hope not.”
“Is this some offer from the Deep School then?”
“Huh? No. I’m with Honcho. The magithan,” Jay says. “He athked me to talk to you before thingth got unavoidable.”
“I was forced to murder one of my students today. Magicians do not take kindly to my kind killing humans.”
“Oh, that.” He waves it away with a hand. “Humanth kill each other all the time. I think they get some kind of-of fun out of breaking bindingth. Like they’re all connected tho they have to prove they’re not. It’th really weird.”
“You are not human.”
“I hide my nature good,” he says. I am ancient and powerful in my own way; I could level the university with the movements of my real body, with limbs both real and not. I suspect I would bounce right off of Jay’s pride.
He grins hugely and gestures and the stains are unbound from the floor and gone, in ways magicians do not operate. I am huge and aweful in my true form, but there is no power in me to simply make bodies cease to exist, or to get rid of questions humans would ask.
“My secretary saw her come in.”
“Honcho can deal with that,” Jay says, and pads over to the body, picking up the book and flipping through it. He wrinkles his nose at the smells. “Thith ith a very bad book.”
He walks over and hands it to me. “You thould keep it. We travel a lot.”
“You would trust me with such a thing?”
“You were willing to let Honch banith you,” he says firmly.
“Yeth, that word. I don’t like that word much at all.” Jay pauses, eyes unfocusing again. “And Honcho thinkth that monthterth who become teacherth do it to teach and to learn. You had a whole life and you threw it away to thtop one perthon with an evil book tho that maketh you good.”
Jay lets out a huge sigh. “I jutht thaid so.” He holds out a hand. “Come on: there ith a thtore on the camputh and you’re going to buy me a computer game.”
“And Honcho will come and deal with the body and do magic thingth to make everything okay. Becauthe that ith what magicithans do.”
I pause. It seems like Jay is trying to tell himself that as much as me, but his nature is too hidden for me to be certain, and I do not know the magician waiting outside the campus at all. I do know few magicians offer second chances at anything, or even alliances with our kind. I take the boy’s hand and head out the door.
“What do I do if this happens again?”
“Make friendth who can help you deal with it,” Jay says firmly. “Making friendth ith an important part of being in the univerthe.”
I have colleagues and acquaintances, but I do not trust enough to have friends. I consider his words, and nod, and head to the campus store. A human voice whispers in my head briefly, the magicians touch gone as quickly as it comes. That the magician got into my mind so easily is almost worrying. I buy Jay just one game despite his request for a second and the pouts and pleas for another game are just as entertaining as the magician said they would be.