Meeting Old Pete

The rest of The Karmic Mirror was pretty unexciting. It was a lot of history and background, with the practical part being fairly minimal. Still, I’d learned some valuable stuff. The other tidbit I got out of the book was that Jobs and skills used the same rarity system, and that Mr. Sutherland was fairly certain that the highest rarity was A. He noted that there were rumors of tiers of rarity beyond that, but that he could not speculate on what they were.

There had been a lot of that in the book, actually. Talk about how things were unknown, or secret. The book didn’t even mention specific examples of skills or jobs. That was another thing to put on the list to research. Was San Tadeo full of secret societies and sects, all of them hording hidden knowledge from the masses? Were there rare versions of light side classes that you could only get by going to the right university or joining the right fraternity? If I went into a hospital, would I see a Doctor showing “Elite Doctor (A1)” as their job? What I really needed was someone, a native, that I could just talk to and ask these questions.

I stood up and walked back towards Practical Philosophy. My plan was to return the book and try to find something more recent, and maybe wring out a few more practical details. That plan was derailed by three young guys sitting at a table nearby.

They looked like high schoolers, or first year university students. They were quietly talking, laughing, and ignoring the table full of open books in front of them. Reflexively, I used Customer ID, and to my great surprise it succeeded again. One of the three pinged as a customer.

I set The Karmic Mirror down and started to walk towards the trio. I’d only got a few steps before an old man stepped in front of me. He blocked my way entirely and looked directly into my eyes.

“You don’t want to do that in here, Mack,” he said.

I recognized the man. He had long gray hair and a thick but neatly groomed beard. His skin was like old mahogany, setting off his bright blue eyes.

“Old Pete”

Unlike the last time, this time I could see his name, since we were both in shadows. The homeless guy that had been talking to his gaming group.

“Sorry, do what? Who are you?” I asked.

He smiled, showing me bright white teeth with a few gaps where some had gone missing.

“You know who I am, I felt you ID me. You also know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen that look in a young man’s eye before—you’ve spotted a customer. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes level skills for me to figure out what you’re selling, either,” Old Pete said.

So many questions popped into my mind. He claimed that he felt me ID him. If that was true, then there was a skill, and me just randomly IDing people all the time might offend someone. Great, another thing to worry about.

He’d been spot on about what I was doing, also. He was right, it didn’t take a lot of brains to deduce that the guy dressed like a marijuana clown might be selling marijuana. That was kind of the point, after all.

“You got me, why not?”

“You young guys always think the rules don’t apply to you; I know. I was you once. But they do, and neutral territory is an important one. Believe me, it’s not worth it. More importantly, you wouldn’t have got away with it. Look over my right shoulder.”

I did, and saw a middle-aged woman loitering at the end of one of the stacks, pretending to be busy. She was dressed in a long green skirt and blouse and her grey hair was up in a bun.

Janice Blythe, Junior Librarian (E2)

The nameplate was overkill, as almost anyone could tell from looking at her that she was a librarian. Why they all dressed in that same style, I couldn’t tell you. It might as well have been a uniform. Maybe that was the reason they wore it.

“Janice over there has been watching you. The second she saw you sell you’d be out the door and barred. I would not have held it against you, but others in the shadows might. The ladies that run this place are kind and forgiving of our lifestyles. They don’t have to be, and people abusing neutral ground can spoil this place for all of us.”

“The tragedy of the commons,” I said.

He smiled again. “Exactly right.”

“I didn’t know about the neutral territory thing,” I said. “I’m new. I’m just having a hell of a time finding somewhere to sell. Everywhere has either got cops, or it’s some gang’s territory.”

“Ah, The life of young gangster. I’m glad that’s far behind me. Listen, why don’t you come sit down with me and we can chat. I know Janice will feel better. She has real work to do, and it’s not her job to watch you.”

I didn’t know Old Pete, and he didn’t know me. We could see each other’s names, but that was it. Maybe he was just the guy I needed. Someone I could be honest with, and not have to worry about that honesty impacting my new life here. What was he going to do, report me to the authorities for thinking I’d come from another world? Not that I was planning to tell him that, but I needed to ask someone a lot of stupid questions. Maybe he was the one to answer them.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” I replied.

He led us to a small table with two comfy chairs, and Janice bustled off as soon as she saw old Pete take me in tow.

“The librarians know you here, do they?”

“I’ve been coming here for many years. The ladies trust me, and I do my best to maintain that trust.”

“Last time I was here I saw you; you were with a few other people. I overheard you talking about a game.”

“Did you? I would swear I’d never laid eyes on you before.”

I simply shrugged. I didn’t know what admitting that I’d been in the light at the time would do. Would that be enough to shatter the mirror? I didn’t think so but doing so didn’t seem wise.

“Yes, I do run a group here. It’s my own system, a homebrew mix. Magic, orcs, elves, goblins that sort of thing. Do you play?”

“I used to play D&D,” I offered.

“DND? I don’t know it,” he said.

“Dungeons & Dragons? Really?”

“It sounds interesting. It must be new. I haven’t been into a game store in several years.”

I wrote that off as yet another difference between our worlds and didn’t push it.

“You said that you’re glad you don’t have to worry about stuff like territory anymore. That means you used to be a gangster?” I asked.

“Long ago I was in the game. I’ve been retired for some years now.”

“Can you give me any tips? I need a place to sell that where I won’t get hassled.”

“Claimed territory is easy to avoid. Just look for the tags, and don’t sell there. It might seem like the whole city is claimed but trust me it is not. There are many spots the gangs have left fallow. They simply couldn’t afford to claim the whole city.”

I thought about what he said. I couldn’t remember not seeing graffiti anywhere, except places like the college where they had armed security and maintenance crews painting over the graffiti. And what did he mean about not being able to afford it? Paint wasn’t that expensive.

“That doesn’t make any sense. There are tags everywhere. How am I supposed to tell when it’s a gang tag, and when it was just some dipshit making a mess with a spray can?”

“You really are new. A territory marker isn’t just paint, Mack. Paint is only one of the ways to mark your territory. Whatever marker is chosen, it needs to be imbued with the essence of the gang. If that essence has faded, the territorial claim is no longer valid.”

I boggled. More magic in my extensively technological game world.

“Hold on, you’re saying that when they tag there’s some kind of magic energy in the paint? I’ve seen gang tags, they don’t glow or look like anything special. It’s just paint.”

“Kids these days, woefully uneducated. We are literally surrounded by knowledge of the world. Come with me.”

Old Pete stood up, and without checking to see if I was following him strode into the stacks. I blinked and hustled after him.

Pete knew this library like the back of his hand and took me directly where he wanted to go. That was a small shelf of books with the title Urban Culture. He scanned the shelves, running his finger along the spines, muttering to himself.

“Drat, it’s not here. There’s a better text, but this one will do you for now.”

He pulled a book free and handed it to me. A fairly thick hardcover, it was obviously a lot newer than The Karmic Mirror.

Tags and their significance in urban society by Lionel Washington

Value: ???

“Read that. Take notes. Detailed notes. Read it like you’re taking a test on it, got me?”

“Yeah. But why? Also, I haven’t got a notepad or anything.”

“This will help solve your problem. Read it, understand it, be able to take a test on it. The next time I see you, I might be able to help you further.”

He hadn’t really answered my question, at least not directly. I didn’t usually read non-fiction, but if he was right and it would help me figure out gang tags, I’d try it.

“I’ve got to leave. Take this,” Pete said, and handed over a mostly-used yellow legal notepad and a cheap blue pen.

“Thanks,” I said.

“We meet here every Tuesday and Thursday night to play. I’m usually here a couple hours early to prepare. Feel free to come by and say hello. Good luck, kid.”

With that, he left me. I found a spot at a study desk and sat down. It had been a while since I’d studied intensely, but it came back to me quickly. The book was more interesting than I expected and time passed quickly as I read it closely and took notes, filling quite a few sheets of yellow lined paper.

I was about three quarters of the way through the book, fully in the zone, when a pop-up interrupted me.

Skill Unlocked – Sense Territory Markers (E) Level 1/3
Allows you to sense if something is being used as a territory claim marker. With 30 seconds of concentration, the name of the claiming organization is known.
Earned: $0/$1,000