Monday, April 07, 2008

Pretty: Pies

The Doctor looked perplexed. "No dreams at all, Leah? That's a ... ", he consulted his notes, flipped back a few sheets of onionskin, " ... first. I think. Unless I forgot it. Or it happened before my time. But still, at least rare." He looked at Leah, trying to tell if she was lying or telling the truth. Despite his years of association with her and his intensive training, he could never tell when she lied. Or if: it could be that she just never lied. One could not rule out such strange behaviors simply because they were unlikely. Sane people lied all the time, little lies usually, but still. Only the insane told the truth all the time.

"Why don't we switch it around then, Doctor? You tell me about your dreams, and I'll listen instead?"

Subject shows interest in the thoughts of another person. This, too, was rare, and noted.

"You know, I don't dream much. Last night, I think I dreamed about my grandmother. Let me see if I can remember what happened."

Leah sat forward in her chair, propped her chin on her hands, her elbows on her knees. The Doctor was worried he might fall into her eyes for a second, that she might swallow him whole. He banished that thought, but it returned the other way around. She already knows my name, and I don't. What will she take next?

"I'm not a young man, Leah. And my Grandmother was old when I was born; I was ten when she died. But I remember her vividly. She was born before the Change, back before the Sun hadn't forgot its place in the sky. She had lived on a farm, a little thing out in the country. I think they called it Georgia. What a strange name. The farm, that is. My grandmother was named Luann."

"Grandma Luann had a huge collection of fruits that she had put into jars somehow, from before the Change. After, of course, we couldn't really grow fruits anymore, and by the time I was born people had pretty much forgotten what it was like back then. But not Grandma Luann. Every year, at Yule, she would open up one of those jars she had left and make a pie. She'd take the fruit and drain it, and bake it into the strangest pastry. She said that the crusts were better back in the day, but I never even worried about that. Fruit! Can you imagine that? It was so sweet, I was like to die from happiness. Every year, she made a pie."

"Ten yules after I was born, ten pies I tasted, ten times we went down to visit her in the Blocks. Of course, I don't remember all ten pies, but I do remember a few. Ten pies after I was born, she ran out of jars. Those pies had kept her going, in all the long, dark times. She was one of the last people born before the Change to die, and she didn't die until she made every last pie she could. That was my Grandma."

"Last night, I dreamed about her, that's right. I remember it now. She told me a story about her childhood. I don't know if the story is true, I don't know if she ever told me such a tale when she was alive, or if it's all just a figment. But I'll tell you the story I dreamed last night, if you can help me remember it."

Leah smiled and said, "I'll do my best." She reached out and touched the Doctor's forehead with one finger.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Pretty: Stars

Jack looked at the night sky. Now he knew he was dreaming. Stars.

Stars! So many stars! So much beauty! He stood there, neck craned, staring. He lost track of time, lost track of everything. He'd never seen stars before, nor had anyone really. Maybe some of the really ancient ones, the people who were alive before the Change. But not Jack. He'd heard stories, but they did no justice to what he saw.

There was motion out of the corner of his eye. He whipped his head around, fast enough to give him a stinger up the right side of his neck. His ear throbbed warmly. Nothing was there.

But wait. Something was different. He'd stopped moving when he saw the stars, stopped walking at least. But now he was farther along the path. There was some kind of wall ahead of him, stretching out to the left and right into the darkness. Where the wall crossed the path, an archway. Above the arch, a sign: words.

Jack couldn't see the sign well enough to read it, but he walked ahead, under the arch.

He entered a courtyard. The walls on either side of him seemed to curve in just a tiny bit before disappearing. He was in a huge circular courtyard, he knew. He wasn't certain how he knew, but he knew. The path led him forward.

He walked slowly, in a daze. He barely looked down from the sky as he stared in helpless wonder at the galaxies and planets whirling by overhead. His feet moved of their own accord.

Eventually, something rose up out of the darkness. It covered part of the sky well before Jack could see what it was. An endless parade of footsteps, one after another, as he got closer and closer to the center of the courtyard, and the tree.

It was a tree, its branches skeletal and leafless, hundreds of meters tall. Impossibly huge, a full ten meters across at the base. It stood there, in the courtyard, beckoning Jack.

He tried to speak, to hear, to do something. His lips were rebellious, his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. His ears might have been filled up, for he couldn't even hear the sound of his own footsteps on the flagstone.

Dreams follow their own peculiar internal logic. Jack had been brought here to the tree, he knew he had to climb it.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pretty: Hangover

Jack walked in a cold, dark place. Broad flagstones made a path that stretched before him. He looked back and saw more of the same. He knew, somehow, that there were walls not too far on either side of him, but he could not see them. His vision faded into inky blackness after a mere three meters.

"Okay, it's cold. That's normal. Dark, not so strange either."

Jack wasn't normally much of a mutterer, but sometimes you had to get some ideas out in the air. Operational security in his line of work meant that you never said anything you didn't need to say. But still, he had said her name, hadn't he? Right before he...


Wait, where was he? Jack looked around. He remembered going to sleep on the couch. Well, to be honest, he had passed out. But that was the last thing he remembered. Here he was, wearing the same clothes he'd passed out in, standing on some kind of path in the dark. He couldn't even see where the light was coming from. He just knew that he could see what was near him, but there didn't seem to be any kind of torch or glowbe. Strange.

"I could be dreaming, I suppose. But, usually when I dream, there are more pretty ladies around, right? And I don't smell so ... funky."

This was a lie. When Jack dreamed, or at least when he remembered his dreams, they were terrible, filled with staring and accusing faces. He drank so he wouldn't dream, and he drank so he could forget his dreams, forget the reason why he drank. A lie, but he can be allowed a lie every now and again. Jack had been through a lot, and he didn't entirely deserve his nightmares. Not entirely. His hands had been tied through most of that unpleasantness.

"So, what? Am I awake or asleep? HALLOOOOO!"

The darkness around him had a way of eating sound. There were no echoes whatsoever. Maybe the walls weren't as close as he thought. He looked up.

The sky was starlit and filled with beauty.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pretty: Enclosure

Leah knew something was wrong. She was missing something, something fundamental.

There she was, in her room. She could see her bed, she could see her walls, with the tile inlay that she loved to stare at. But there was something wrong, something not there that should be.

It was like a tiny voice in the back of her head was trying to talk to her, but it was speaking a language she did not understand. She laid down on her bed, closed her eyes, let her mind drift. It was no good. The voice was still there, and she could hear the words it said, but she forgot them as soon as they were spoken.

Without a map, she didn't even know what she was missing. Something was forgotten, but this was no simple thing. In the course of the day, she might forget, for example, whether or not she'd had lunch yet, but she did remember that there was such a thing as lunch. Here, it was as if she'd forgotten that lunch existed altogether, and was wondering why she felt so empty inside.

Empty inside. That was it. She was empty inside.

What was missing?

She must have managed to fall asleep, because when they came for her in the morning, she didn't see them come in. For the first time that she could remember, she did not dream.

She wondered what she'd tell the doctor this time.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Pretty: Continuum

Inessa blinked. "She?"

This was the first time that she had reacted to any of David's pronouncements. Everything that he had said before had simply been said. Whether or not Inessa processed his words, spoke them again, wrote them down, or simply unsaid them was beyond the scope of David's experience. David wasn't even quite sure what the job of an observer was. Each of the readers in the room had at least one. Some of the mumbling prophets had more than one. It was the job of readers like David to develop the information that was latent in these pages, and it was the job of observers like Inessa to know that information. David was fairly sure that she would eventually report something to the Followers of Memory that seemed to be running the place, but he really didn't know.

For a moment, as David contemplated the effect his revelation had on Inessa, he forgot what he was doing. Instead, he considered must have to happen next: somehow, this information would travel through lines of power and authority to someone who was actually interested in what went on in this room. It might be possible to find out what or who was behind the operation, if he constructed the proper informational probe, but ...

"She?" Inessa repeated herself, bringing David out of his reverie.

"She. Her name is not here, but ..." David gestured at the scraps of paper that covered his table. " ... that she is a She is clear. I do not know why you are looking for her, but I can say for certain that you must find her."

((Editorial note: This is, obviously, the first post in a year. As such, I'm a bit rusty and worried about breaking continuity. So I might retro-edit it in a day or two if I realize I broke something horribly. But as they say, you've gotta keep dancing - the steps will take care of themselves. More to come.))


Monday, February 19, 2007

Pretty: Backing

David twirled the paper in front of him. It was necessary to spin the paper as he read it, because the words were twisted in a spiral. Actually, calling them "words" might have been an overstatement. They might have been some sort of code, or perhaps a language that David had never seen; they were at least groupings of letters that were separated by spaces. He twisted the paper clockwise and counterclockwise, trying to gain some insight into the arrangement.

"Where do you people even get these things?" He didn't even bother to look up, he could feel Inessa's stare on the top of his head.

"Here and there. Garbage, street prophets, crazies. Books stolen and restolen. Everywhere. It doesn't matter, the story is everywhere. The world trembles with it, it is hard to contain. All you need to do is learn to read the story. You're making progress, I have been told."

The words of encouragement were his first, ever, from Inessa. They emboldened him to speak truth about what he saw in the random scraps of paper he was handling. David looked up, met Inessa's eyes stare for stare.

"She is in hiding. She is surrounded by protectors, and will not emerge. She is afraid."

Inessa blinked.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pretty: Insulated

David's head hurt. He'd had a headache all day. He blamed it on the lump that was on his forehead, acquired during last night's attempt at a skrying. The papers in front of him didn't help at all. He stared at them, shifted them around on the table. One piece of hemp-paper was a solid column of names and numbers. It was pretty clearly a page from a ledger, with debits and credits showing in different-colored ink. Only one page, though, and the names on the page did not have anything in common with the names on the other pages he had in front of him. Another was a single page from someone's diary, describing a purely mundane day in the life of a purely mundane person.

When he started working in the room, he tried to make eye contact with Inessa, but had quickly given up on that. There was something about her intent stare, the way she didn't blink enough, that made him look at her chin whenever he spoke to her. David turned and looked at Inessa's chin. "If you'd tell me more about what you're looking for, I'd be better able to help you."

"It's not that I'm holding something back, David. I do not know any more than you do about your task. The information you refine must be untainted by expectation, unshaded by perception. The people to whom I report know little more than I do, and I don't ask. Information can only flow one way here, and doing that is very challenging. Trust me, we've learned our lessons the hard way when it comes to ensuring a single direction."


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Metapost: Delays

Sorry about the delays, folks. I had a combination of writer's block, laziness, and lack of time. Back on track again, and should be back in the 2-per-week schedule that I'd like to be in.

Pretty: Latent

After his shift was over, David returned to his quarters. They were sparse, but comfortable enough. Even now, he was not really certain about his status. He wasn't precisely a prisoner, but neither was he free to leave. "Guest" was how Inessa put it. She was his guide and keeper; the only person in the whole compound who would actually speak with him. Others might speak at David, "go here", "sit", "eat this", but only Inessa made any responses to him. He would have broken down long ago if it weren't for her.

Since arriving here, David had started speaking to himself, the walls, his bed. "I thought I'd be important here", he said. "They told me I was special, that I had a gift that could be trained. But all they do is make me stare at nonsense words on a page all day. Where are my prizes? Where is the reward and prestige that should be my due?" He sighed.

David went to his sink and stopped it up with a plug. He let the water run until it was half-full. This was something new he was just starting to learn how to harness. He stared at the water, bringing his head down until it was even with the lip of the sink. He could see reflections in the water, tiny ripples. He held his breath.

Every word spoken in Londinium vibrated the city just slightly. Every footstep, every door opening and closing. Those vibrations went everywhere, from the tops of the towers down to the geothermal power plants and farms below the city. They even went out and contributed to the ocean's waves, ever so slightly. Anybody could look at a pool of water and watch it tremble. It took an Infomancer to extract meaning from the pool. David was not an Infomancer. Not yet, at least.

David focused his awareness through a series of mental exercises Inessa taught him. She didn't have the gift, but she knew enough about it to help him learn to use his gift. His perception shifted. He no longer saw the vibration in the water as just water, but as a cacophony of sound and a kaleidoscope of colors. His head felt like it would split open, from the pain and overload of the sensation.

He found himself lying on the floor of his quarters, with a bump forming on his forehead. He must have blacked out. The thump would, no doubt, contribute to the trembling of all the other pools in all of the city. David stood again, stared at his sink. This time, nothing happened. Still, he was encouraged that he was able to pull something out of the water the first time. Sooner or later, he'd get it.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pretty: Prophet

(The beginning of Chapter Two: David's Song)

The old man was mumbling again. Every time that happened, a much younger man would signal the room by raising his hand in the air. The noise in the room fell off to near silence, only the slight hiss of the gaslights that lit the windowless space. David waited for the young man to lower his hand. He had learned when to keep quiet. As he waited, he glanced around the room.

The room was spacious, housing about twenty people, all seated at round tables in pairs and trios. David was seated in front of a stack of papers, each of which was covered with a morass of numbers and letters, some neat, some scribbled, some written in what seemed to be direct confrontation with the natural order of linear ordering of words on the page. It was his job to make some sense of the pages, although he was not to write anything down. Everything he learned was simply spoken aloud. His watchdog, a young woman named Inessa, would listen to what he said and later do something with it. It wasn't David's job to know or ask what Inessa did with the information he extracted, he had learned not to ask.

The old man stopped his mumbling. David turned back to the paper when Inessa put her hand on his arm. Startled at this touch, he looked at her.

"Good news, David. The detective Lucy hired did the smart thing. He or she broke contact when he found out we were involved. We'll keep an eye on Lucy, of course, but it looks like she's resigned to waiting for your safe return." Inessa's cold blue eyes, nearly emotionless, were a stark contrast to the warmth of her voice. Did she really care about Lucy and David? David wasn't sure, but needed to hope that this all still might end well.