The Quantifier by Pete Warner

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SUMMARY: An entry for the October flash-fiction contest

'There is a thief among us.'

A thought so alien in shape that Quantifier Stricker experienced an uncharacteristic feeling of uncertainty.

'Borrowed perhaps. A return to follow. Or an oversight. Grovelled apologies and appropriate remuneration. Abject shame, perhaps forgiven after a few years.'

But no, she despised delusion in its every form. She would never let it take root within her, no matter how comforting. Thus, a mental excision with the cold, razor edge of her will. Swift, precise strokes. No bleeding doubts to swab. Not even the hint of a scar.

This crime... the extravagance of it astonished her, the sheer... brazenness of it. Even if Croot, God of idiots, was to manifest in this very room, why even that pathetic deity would discard the idea of stealing from a Quantifier as being too ridiculous.

Rigid and symmetrical, she sat before her desk with her back to the single window, facing the only door. The early morning sun lit her white hair like a pallid halo above a meticulous angel. She stared at the aberration on her desk. Disorder. A putrescent stain offending her until she could bear it no longer. She rose gracefully, made elegant with anger. Turned and stared from the window. Stricker had long ago tired of the view. One-thousand, seven-hundred and fifty-three trees. Two-hundred and seven buildings. Sixty-two streets. Three gallows. She would update the tally once a season, account for changes in permanence but the transient quantities of the city, its people cavorting through their sordid daily stupidities...it held no interest for her. Once, in a single day from that single window, she had dutifully recorded two murders, eleven assaults, three rapes, and the buggery of a mule, presenting all the details to Arbiter Prile, believing the magnitude of his gratitude would be equivalent to that of her effort. She had been appallingly naïve. His guards had sniggered when she'd left his office.

Two guards, ten sniggers.

The memory preceded the realisation that she'd have to suffer the fool again. A waste of time. Seven and a half minutes of wasted time just reaching the idiot. Nevertheless, she would follow protocol and report the event. And Prile's incompetence was irrelevant. She saw with a singular precision, unclouded by uncertainty. Beyond obfuscation.

'I will set to watching my colleagues,' she decided as she strode from her office. 'I shall choose eighteen paces along the corridor choose to see them as things that can be - sixty-six steps, spiralling anti-clockwise through nine full rotations and thee levels can be quantified. Their actions understood, and then predicted. Their motivations calculated one hundred twenty-one paces, turn right, fifty more steps and mind the eleventh one that tilts calculated and valued.'

Seven and one-quarter minutes after she left her room, Quantifier Stricker approached the Arbiter's door. Cursing her own haste, she waited a further quarter of a minute before she knocked.

***

Arbiter Prile knew immediately who it was that stood outside his door.

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