Quies turned over the plastic sign on his front door, the overly cheerful We're Open! showing through the middle row of the three-by-three glass panes of the old wooden door. He was proud of that door. He stepped outside of it long enough to lift the heavy chain gate that protected his storefront during off-hours, shielding his eyes from the bright morning sun. Before retreating back into the humid depths of his shop, he rehung the solid bronze bell that alerted him to customers.
The shop was dim in comparison to the outside world, though he had cases that held plants that desperately needed the sun; these were fed by skylights and mirrors hung in precise patterns above the drop-ceiling and controlled by a carefully balanced pulley system that he rewound every evening after closing.
Quies had all manner of customers, and as such, grew all manner of plants. He even held a closely monitored permit for a fair number of controlled substances, and though some of them could be used recreationally, he didn't advertise this fact. His stock was not intended for such use by amateurs.
His tottering and reverie were interrupted by the bell, and he checked his pocket watch, before turning to smile at one of his regulars. Seven after seven, right on schedule.
"Good morning, Mr Curo."
"And to you, Q. How's my artemisia1 doing this week?"
"Thriving, as ever. Come for your weekly clipping?"
"You know I have. Any new books catch your eye since the last time?"
Quies gestured to a box of books sitting behind the counter. "I'm still going through the latest batch, but I'll certainly set some aside for you if any catch my eye. Do you have any scraps of knowledge for me?"
"I have a new tincture that's doing well in my studies, but long term and side effects are still mostly undocumented."
"Indeed. What do I owe you?"
Quies weighed the clippings on the scale beside his register and peered into the book he kept tucked into his apron. "Two pounds ten."
Mr Curo fished a handful of coins from his trouser pocket and plucked three choice coins from the assortment. "Have a good day, Q."
The register dinged and popped out the drawer, into which Quies sorted the coins. "And you, Mr Curo. See you next week." His customer tipped his hat to him and strode out, his bag disappearing into an inner pocket.
Quies settled back on his stool, and resumed sorting through the box from where he left off the evening before.
In his study, Johan Curo kept an altar to Somnus2 and his sons, chief among them Morpheus3, Phobetor3, and Phantasos4. He offered them a short prayer and the collected leaves of past tinctures before settling into his meditation chair. The fresh cuttings from today's trip to The Elllong Yardlong were pulled from his coat pocket and sorted; small leaves went into his pestle, larger leavers went to his small, chair-side drying rack, while the rest went into a small clay pot to be added to the offerings.
After adding additional selections from his stock of vials to the pestle, he ground the ingredients together by hand before sifting them into a tea bag and stewing up a fresh batch. It was a calming and cleansing ritual for him, and his mind slowly cleared of distractions. When he was ready, he sipped at the tea, and with each swallow sunk deeper into a trance.
"Somnus guide me. Morpheus lead me. Phobetor shield me. Phantasos regard me. Somnus guide me..." he mumbled, the mantra opening him to the subconscious wilderness. When he opened his eyes, his study was gone and it was replaced with his dream home.
And so he got to work.
Aedan pulled off his goggles. His eyes took several minutes to readjust to the dim room from the glare of the VR headset, and they ached from staring into the screen for long hours. He sat up, pulling his chair back into its upright postiton and rubbed his neck.
Still tensing up. I really need to work on that.
He woke up the computer monitor on the desk in front of him, and details of his just-completed flight showed on the screen, including a cost calculator.
Good, I'm still under my estimate.
It was a bit of professional pride: ninety percent of his jobs stayed under budget, which was largely unheard of in his business.
It helps having my own VR rig. Nobody else has one of these yet.
Aedan bounced the tweaked Oculus6 in his palm. It still had a few bugs to be worked out.
Character: Johan Curo | Quies
1. Artemisia vulgaris, common name: mugwort.
2. Somnus, Greek god of sleep>
3. Morpheus, Greek god of dreams
4. Phobetor, Greek god of nightmares
5. Phantasos. Greek god of surreal dreams
6. Oculus, a high-tech virtual-reality headset