This is a small, self-contained short story I wrote on a whim. It's not perfect - the ending is a little abrupt and some of the ideas aren't conveyed in the clearest way. Nonetheless, it's a thing I wrote. So here it is.


It was another cold evening in the city. Blanch Rutherford, PD was stirred by the hellish glow of the Denny’s billboard outside his office. Clouded by the daze of the hangover from the Corona Lite he slammed at the keg party last night, he laid there on the floor, staring blankly at his ceiling fan. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, as if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had risen from Hell, and the Offices of Blanch Rutherford had been specially chosen as the new Fields of Megiddo.
Blanch wanted to say something along the lines of “Who the fuck is it!?”, but could only manage a slurred “Bluuuuarrrrgh!?”. There was a click as someone unlocked his door; it was Dr. Alan Orpheus, the client for the Orpheus case.
“I see you’re still in the kegging business, Blanch.” Orpheus said, not a hint of shock in his voice, “Get up. You’re solving this case, even if I have to tag along and force you to do it.”
Orpheus took his trademark umbrella cane and poked and prodded Blanch for what felt like an eternity. Eventually he attempted to lift Blanch with it, forcing out a stream of projectile vomit.
“Come on, I’ll brew you some Coffee.”
The last thing on Blanch’s mind was coffee, or anything consumable for that matter. He could barely contain the current contents of his stomach. As he came closer and closer to reality, he began to remember key details. Chiefly the fact that he exists, here and now, in the universe. That the universe exists, and it contains Blanch Rutherford. That he kegged far too hard at his apartment’s block party. That he is a human being, living on a planet in a solar system. And that the Alan Orpheus case is unsolvable.
It happened to Blanch about five years ago. A rotund, older man wearing a fancy tailored suit (White Tie event coloration,) a beige raincoat, round E-Spectacles and a bowler hat came tapping his umbrella cane on Blanch’s door. Were it not for the E-Spectacles, he’d have been easily mistaken for a historical recreationist, or maybe a man who fell out of one of those old silent pictures on the Web Archive. He came into the office, politely hung his coat on the rack which had *never* been used by even the most courteous of guests (unless you count the spiders,) sat in the guest chair, and began with a ridiculous question.

“Are you Blanch Rutherford?”
There was a long silence as Blanch tried to process the insanity of this question. Nobody can find Blanch without using a Net hiring service. His name is on the door. His name is on a plaque on his desk. Who is he, if not Blanch Rutherford?
“That’s... What they wrote on the door, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I’m sure it is. But *are* you Blanch Rutherford?”
This was beginning to trouble Blanch. He had heard whispers of schools of philosophy that delved into these lines of questioning, but they were wiped out in the Media Positivity Purges of the early 21st century. There were certainly textbooks and archives remaining, but he hadn’t heard of anyone who seriously believed in these things.
“I *am* Blanch Rutherford. I’m assuming you found me on those damn spy glasses of yours, because I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure there’s no *other* way to find me. There is no other Blanch Rutherford. You’re speaking to him.”
The two sat in silence for about twenty minutes. The whole time, Alan never blinked. He seemed to be processing something in his head, but Blanch was never sure what. Eventually, he spoke.
“Excellent. My name is Alan Orpheus, and I have a case for you.”
“Yeah, well, ‘Orpheus,’ I’m not exactly the most sober detective in town. Maybe pass it to Dylan Freebird over in Third District, he’ll -“
“I assure you, Mr. Rutherford, you are the only man suitable for this case. We will pay you handsomely.”
Again, the two sat in silence for a moment.
“How handsomely?”
Alan reached around in one of the inner pockets of his coat, and pulled out what Blanch assumed was the only other piece of modern technology on his person: A cryptocoin key, stored in a hardware vault.
“This is one of two private keys. This key accesses your advance payment, which will be more than enough to keep you paid until the completion of the case. The other key will be delivered upon completion.”
“Just what kind of case is this?”
Alan smiled, a wry smile that would haunt Blanch for the half-decade to come. “A simple one.”
Blanch’s reminiscence was abruptly halted by the scathing hot fury of liquid sober burning its way down his throat. He was in the present, and the crypto money was running out. Alan looked the same as he did all those years ago. Blanch considered the possibility that Alan is a robot, but it’s more likely he’s just old. He was impatiently tapping his fingers on the handle of his umbrella cane when he finally spoke.
“Tell me, Blanch. Do you remember what I asked you to do, all those years ago?”
Blanch tried to laugh a sarcastic laugh, but all that came out was a dry heave. “Yeah, I remember. Of course I remember. Who the fuck wouldn’t remember? You asked me to ‘Unlock the Puzzle of Furry Existentialism,’ whatever the hell that means.”
“Did your parents ever tell you about the furries?”
“Fuck no. My folks weren’t really big on the netizen scene back then. They did the big social medias. Dad dabbled in a bit of social influencing, I think, but it was just a phase. Lot of that shit was lost when the copyright laws finally hit.”
“Five years, and you never bothered to look up what the furry movement was?”
“Oh, believe me, I tried, old man.” Blanch knew that Alan was leaning so hard on his umbrella cane in anticipation of the end of this sentence, he’d nearly fall on his face. But he was going to leave it here. The things he saw didn’t paint a full picture of what “The Movement” really was, and the few pictures it *could* paint were dark and unsavory ones that made him feel nauseous in ways he hadn’t anticipated.

It was late Summer, perfect weather for scouting leads. Just two years into the case, and the money was far from running out. Blanch had just barely scoured the tip of what remained on the Web Archive. The problem with using Ol’ Wayback was that nothing on it had any context. If you weren’t there when it happened, chances are you don’t know the name of the site, and chances are you’re shit outta luck if you want to find it. Blanch didn’t like using digital devices in his workspace; everything was too personal. Personal assistants, personal tracking, personal biometrics. His privacy was important to him. He had to go antique shopping for a Rolodex just to keep track of his informants and contacts, and it was in this Rolodex that he found the name Jim Garvis, an old informant from the Couch on the Street Case (Blanch preferred not to think about the Couch on the Street Case.)
Blanch had adapted an old analogue telephone to be compliant with the new numbering system introduced after the waves of the New Plague wiped out a decent portion of the planet, and it was on this phone that he dialed Jim Garvis. Jim, a man with a twangy Upper Boston accent, picked up the phone.
“Blaaaanch, ya old bastard! Whaddafuck do you want!?”
“Y’ever hear of Furries, Jim?”
“Furries? Dafuck you want with Furries, Blanch!? Buncha goddamn degenerates! We’re better without ‘em.”
“Answer the goddamn question, Jim.”
“Yeah I know a guy. Down in the old VR immersion rest home on 5th. Now about that money you-“
Blanch immediately slammed the phone on the receiver before the Couch on the Street Case could come back to haunt him any further, but what he found in the rest home on 5th was far worse than any horrors he had endured in the Couch on the Street Case. Ushered in by a surly nurse, Blanch found rows upon rows upon rows of decrepit men and women from the turn of the millennium, all immersed in a type of amniotic fluid, their belongings kept in a salt mine below the building. Barely able to overcome the shock, he attempted to formulate a question.
“Can we... Is it okay if I bring one of them out to speak?”
The nurse, chomping on a cigarette in a no smoking area, shook his head. “‘Fraid not, guv. The fluid’s a type of life support. You’re gonna have to go in with ‘em.”
“Oh christ. Do I have to get in the fluid or can you, uh...” Blanch made a kind of twisting motion with his hands to imply bolting a VR headset to his face.
“‘Fraid we ain’t zoned for that kinda installation, guv.”
A deep sickness overcame Blanch. “Oh, hell.” He said.
This was his only lead in months. As far as he knew, this could be the only person (0r people?) left alive who even remembers what “furry” means. He had no choice. He had to immerse himself in the tank.
Nurses and technicians, the Surly Nurse among them, surrounded Blanch as the fluid rose in the chamber and the VR headset was lowered in place.
“Now guv, you’re gonna feel a slight tinglin’ sensation. This’ll be the catheter we’re insertin’ in your wingus, guv.”
“Oh, bloody hell. Did you sign the release form?” Darkness washed over Blanch, and the sounds of the Surly Nurse became a haze of “Did I forget to explain the release form again? What? Well what’dyou mean? No, I can’t just explain it to ‘im now, he’s in the bleedin’ tank!”
Immediately, Blanch’s vision was pierced by a bright light. He appeared to be sitting in a waiting room of sorts, surrounded by equally confused looking people. One of them, a balding middle-aged man, turned to Blanch and started casually chatting him up.
“You here to visit your folks too?”
“What? No, I’m a detective. I’m here to see someone about, uh... Furries.”
“Ah. You want door number four, that way.” The man pointed to a hallway that clearly wasn’t there before, extending off into a deep abyss of pitch black. Blanch attempted to get up, finding that somewhere, *somehow,* the technology of the pod was simulating these sensations for him. He didn’t pretend to understand it, he wasn’t a scientist.
The hallway seemed to extend for miles, but eventually it terminated in an exact duplicate of the city. But something was *off.* Something was *wrong.* Up in the sky, Blanch could see the holo-billboard for that new Harriet Potter movie the Disney Megacorp was coming out with, but the actress controversially chosen to replace fan favorite Raegan Revord wasn’t human. On the street, people walked along casually, some without *any clothing.* This whole experience, he decided, was revolting.
His stupor was interrupted, however, when two people came up to him who were indisputably people, and not a digital facsimile designed by The System. Both bore disgustingly beautiful and sculpted bodies, but spoke like they’re just two steps from the grave. The man spoke first, adjusting digital glasses which appeared from thin air.
“Eh? That you, Billy?”
His partner interrupted. She seemed like the brains of the operation.
“Harold, that’s not Billy. That’s a policeman!”
“Er... Detective, actually. I’m looking for info on the furry movement?”
At this, the old man lit up as if stirred from a long, waking dream.
“Furries? I used to be one of those, right Angie?”
“You still are, dear.”
“What was my, uh... Whatcha call it...”
“You were a magnificent horse, dear.”
“Oh yeah.”
Blanch was growing tired of this. He was in unfamiliar territory. Everything looked disgustingly wrong, and smelled like old. “Could we please move this along? Do you maybe have some infolinks I can access?”
Angie seemed confused by this request. “The hell’s an infolink, kid? We’ve got some old .pngs and .txts you can have.”
Blanch rubbed his temples in frustration. The “Future is Now” directive was possibly the worst thing to come out of the 49th administration, but that was before his time, and he had only heard stories of the way infolinks used to segregate their information out into conveniently sortable file formats. “Right, sure. Show me.”
The world around Blanch dissolved, and he was suddenly in an upper-middle class study with Angie and Harold. Angie pulled out what appeared to be a scrapbook, filled with photographs and tattered bits of paper.
“Bit rot’s been gnawin’ at it, but it should all be there.”
Blanch was afraid to know the contents of this book. Or at least, that’s what the VR program had chosen to use as the abstraction. It was, in reality, a collection of virtual information which had been downloaded to Blanch’s personal infolink interface, which he usually keeps off-site for privacy reasons.
But he wouldn’t have become a private detective if he weren’t terminally curious, and he opened its virtual bindings. And out spewed a veritable pandora’s box of every known and unknown vice, visualized in the realms of smut and described in the realms of prose. At the very back of the “book,” there was a brief collection of saved chatlogs, mostly inter-forum drama among members of a website Blanch didn’t recognize and couldn’t find on the Web Archive. Conversations about ruined imageboard layouts, draconian “tag rules,” complaints about artists being put on or removed from lists, and a swath of other petty disputes. From what Blanch could piece together, “Furries” were a niche group of netizens united in their worship of a thoroughly unattainable state of being. As he saw it, the only difference between this and any other organized religion was the rampant practice of abhorrent deviancy.
Harold finally died of dementia two years after Blanch visited for the information. As far as Blanch was aware, Angie was still kicking, but Blanch wasn’t exactly itching to dive back into their den of iniquity. And that was that. That was all he learned about furries, and before Blanch knew it, he was back in the present, walking down the street with Alan Orpheus, his umbrella cane “clack”-ing on the concrete with every step. Alan broke the silence of Blanch’s contemplation.

“You didn’t need to tell me. I know what you found.”
Blanch nearly tripped over himself. “What!? Then why the fuck did you *ask* me?”
Alan smiled that same smile. “The same reason I asked who you are, when we first met. Just testing you, in my own special way.”
“Well, you can stuff your tests up your ass. This case can’t be cracked. And even if it could be cracked, I don’t think it *should* be cracked. *Nobody* needs to know the answer to your question. This information is better off buried.”
“Is it? What gives you the right to decide what information is and isn’t important? The Romans assumed that right when they burned the Great Library at Alexandria, and we’ve been slowly picking up the tattered remnants ever since.”
“Fuck me. Eggheads and your goddamn Library of Alexandria. Don’t you have any other historical metaphors?”
“Sure. There was the burning of books in Nazi Germany in World War II. The burying of scholars in China in 460 BCE. The repression of information in the old dictatorships like North Korea. The destruction of historical artifacts by rebel factions in the early 21st century. Need I go on?”
“I’d really prefer that you didn’t.”
“In any case, to get back to my earlier statement, I know what you found. Because I know it too. It’s why I asked you on this case in the first place.”
“What, so you’re one of -“
“In a manner of speaking.”
“What the hell is this all about?”
Alan paused for a long while. The skyscrapers began to lower as they walked further and further into the old city, where sky traffic was minimal. Eventually, he spoke.
“Tell me, Blanch. How do you think our universe was made?”
“Me? I... I guess I never really thought about it.”
“There are, or were, two dominant theories. There were likely others beyond the two, but the two were the dominant two. The first (and oldest) held that the universe was created ‘ex nihilo’ - from nothing - either by an unknowable cosmic law beyond space and time, or by an intelligence far beyond our comprehension.”
“Yeah, that’s usually the model held by faiths. Wasn’t that disproven?”
“Not really. It’s just that evidence made the second (and newer) theory more favorable. The theory in question holds that the universe wasn’t created, but in fact started one day. It has always existed in some capacity, and even if it rips apart or decomposes, it will still continue to exist in some form.”
“The model held by objectivists and atheists?”
“You’re a good detective. For most of my life, the two proponents of the theories fiercely battled each other. The proponents of the first theory clung to it because, in their view, the absence of a creator figure entailed the absence of a metaphysical reality for consciousness after death. To them, the second theory wasn’t existentially gratifying.”
“Uh... Yeah?”
“The proponents of the second theory, in turn, clung to it as a sort of substitution behavior. In the absence of any faith to stimulate the ‘god’ center of the brain, they became zealots of science. Science to them became an immutable and unbreakable force, and the second theory must be true because Science points to it as being so. They believed this in spite of the fact that Science is little more than a construct devised by mankind to impose order on an orderless world, but I’m getting far ahead of myself.”
“I’m with you. I think?”
“My belief is that the second theory discounted the first theory without realizing that its very implications prove the reality of metaphysics better than the first theory ever could. The existence of a creator deity does not preclude the existence of a reality after consciousness, and if the universe has always existed and will continue to exist in perpetuity, then...?”
“Oh no...”
“Yes, Blanch. You’re finally piecing it together. When the Universe was little more than a condensed mass of protoatoms, the stuff of Furry was there. When Galaxies had just begun to form, the stuff of Furry floated freely in the ejecta of distant quasars. When our solar system was a protoplanetary disk, the stuff of Furry intermingled with the dense matter that would become the planets and the moons. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, the stuff of Furry loomed aloft in the Oort Cloud, waiting to strike down the once-dominant species of this world. And long after humans have left for space, the stuff of Furry will be here and beyond.”
“But Furry is a movement. It’s information, and information dies.”
“Information is just an abstract of the electrons, photons, protons, emissions and radiation that comprise ‘furry’ and its translations to your brain. If we believe in metaphysics, there’s a possibility that just like the human soul, it too could be reborn, either in another physical plane or another galaxy.”
Blanch fell silent. He was speaking to the last true existentialist. He didn’t know what to say.
“You’ve done your part, Blanch. You’re right. There’s no cracking the code. Here’s your other half of the pay.”
“Thanks, I...”
And before Blanch could finish his sentence, Alan Orpheus was gone. Maybe he was a manifestation of the WorldMinds that were supposedly evolving up in Canada, Blanch thought. Or maybe he was a holograph, sent from afar to protect the client’s privacy. Or maybe he was never really here. Maybe he died along with his school of thought, and the universe simply manifested him to reincarnate the information in Blanch.
Ultimately, none of it mattered. Blanch had the second private key, and he had a deposit to make. Enough money to last another decade. And that was that.