Monday, July 31, 2006


Not part of the storyline, gasp. I've got something else on my mind today.

Lying awake in bed, thinking about a mouse. Why did you have to choose my kitchen to live in, to poop in, to spread your diseases and chew on my walls? You could have moved somewhere else and lived a longer, happier life. You never really had a chance, did you? Once I saw that shadow out of the corner of my eye this afternoon, your fate was sealed. I set the trap, baited it with peanut butter (I think I might be growing an aversion to peanut butter, scented with the deaths of so many cute little vermin), and waited. Awoken at two in the morning by the sound of death. Snap. Cleaned and reset the trap. Helpless little thing, looks soft (don't touch it, what, do you want Hantavirus?) Wish it had picked some other house to live in. Well, I hope you were a bachelor, Mr. Mouse.


Head back downstairs. There's another one. This one was quicker, head in the trap, reaching for that peanutty goodness. Don't forget to wash the peanut smell off of your hands.

Now I just have to worry about when the babies decide their parents aren't coming back with food and head out into my kitchen to forage. Baby mice are not as smart, they'll just wander around, lost, and not even run away from you, they're so hungry they've lost all sense of self-preservation.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pretty: Redux

Lunch came and went, at least for Leah. The Doctor rarely ate more than one meal per day. After lunch, he would return to an earlier tactic, the Empathy Protocol clearly was not going to work today.

"Okay Leah", he began. It helped to say her name somewhat forcefully, otherwise she would just sit there, staring at your hands or the paper, or the table until you got her attention, at which point you would have to repeat yourself. "Let's start with last night. Did you sleep well?"

"I did, actually. But then I seem to remember that I always sleep well."

"I would have to check the notes on that, but I agree, I cannot recall you ever telling me you did not sleep well in all our sessions together."

"All our sessions, Doctor. Do you know how many sessions we have had? I am not sure I remember."

"I don't remember either, Leah. I will check the notes. Back on track, though. Did you dream?"

"Of course I did. I always dream when I sleep. This time, I dreamt that I was cold, very cold. I shivered and tried to stay warm, but could not."

The Doctor flipped a page over on his clipboard to and noted down, 'Subject's primary characterization of dream is: cold. Question: is this a common theme? Search Files for cross-references.' There was a scrawl across the top of the Dream Record Protocol Sheet, not his handwriting: 'Do NOT ask Subject about her nightly excursions again.' The Director must have heard about what happened yesterday. Oh well, thought the Doctor, at least I gave it a shot. Too bad it turned out the way it did.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pretty: Obscured

The Doctor laid a card in front of Leah. He wanted to see if she had the ability to empathize with the animals and people pictured on the card; she clearly had very little affect and he was curious how deep this went. He asked Leah, "What do you see here?"

Leah stopped staring at the Doctor's hands and looked at the card. "I see a card."

"Can you tell me anything more about it?"

"It seems to be approximately six centimeters by nine. It has rounded corners, and looks sturdy."

The Doctor annotated his file. 'Subject's spatial sense is again demonstrated to be excellent. She is able to estimate sizes and distances quite accurately.' He laid down another card. "What about this one?"

"It is another card. I would say that it is the same size as the other card".

"Good, good, now just one more." He laid down another card.

"Yes, it is another card, although this one is just a tad bigger."

"Besides the size difference, is there any difference between these three cards?" Uncertainty was creeping into the Doctor's voice. He knew there was supposed to be something more than this to the interview, but couldn't remember.

"No, they are all the same."

The Doctor made a note. 'Subject has correctly identified three cards in the empathy test, and noted that each card is approximately six by nine'. He struggled with his memory, poking it and prodding it to come up with the next step in the Protocol. His memory was silent on the matter. He had a deck of these cards, but why should he continue to show them to her if they were all the same size?

"I suggest, then, that we take a break for lunch and continue our session later."

Leah smiled at him, a rare thing. "Yes, I think I must be hungry, and enjoy eating."

He took her to the room where she ate and left her in the care of the Attendant so he could go back to his office and review his notes and put his mind in order.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pretty: Cheeseburgers

"Welcome to the Chuckles Cantina! The coat check is over there, and I will find you a table while you're taking care of that. Smoking or Non?" The hostess giggled, for some reason Jack couldn't quite fathom. Perhaps it was required.

"Non-smoking, please." Jack smoked on occasion, but the man he was looking for didn't smoke, so non-smoking made more sense. After shucking off all of his cold-weather gear, he was led deeper into the restaurant.

Jack did not pay much attention to the menu, he ordered a cheeseburger. These days, of course, it wasn't really a cheeseburger, but it looked similar and almost tasted the same, and it wasn't like better restaurants had better stuff, they just cooked it differently.

"Been working here long?" He was working on the waitress, priming her, really.

"Yeah, it's a good job. Good hours, decent pay when you folks tip like you're supposed to. No real grab-asses to worry about like my last gig."

"Don't fret about the tip, I've got one for the pool and maybe a little extra just for you."

"You do, huh? That's awfully pleasant of you." Suspicion crept into her eyes.

"Don't worry, it's just a question or two. I'm trying to track down a friend of mine."

"A friend, huh? Seems to me a friend would have told you where he went. But go ahead, what's your friend look like?"

"It would have been two days ago, around eighteen-hundred. He's about a hundred-sixty cents tall, weighs maybe sixty keys or so. Green eyes, dark hair. I have an sketch of him if you want me to show you."

"Your friend, would he have been alone?"

"I'm not entirely sure, actually. He lives around here, and I know he made it as far as the Mouth on his way home from work. Sometimes he stops off for food, sometimes not."

"Show me the sketch, it was a kind of busy night."

Jack took out his notebook and flipped back a few pages. He was a pretty fair artist, and had drawn this picture with the help of the person who had hired him. He saw recognition in the eyes of the waitress.

"Yeah, I remember your friend and his associates. Not much in the way of tippers, I'd say."

Associates? Jack slid a twenty across the table. "Remember anything else?"

"Well, the other guys, they had tattoos, matching ones. Some kind of bird on their forearms."

This was probably the worst thing she could have said to Jack. "Some kind of bird? Would you say it could have been a raven? Black bird, mean-looking?"

"Yeah, that's it. Big mean looking black bird."

"One last question, were the tattoos on the guys' left arms or right?"

"Umm, right, I think. One of them signed the check, and I think he was right handed."

"Thanks a lot. You might have just saved my friend's life."

Jack's quarry, it seems, was involved with Followers. This was going to get tricky.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pretty: Avocation

As long as Jack was awake, he decided, he might as well get some work done. He wasn't sure of the time; like many people since the coming of the Cold, he did not own a clock of any sort anymore, it was just not worth it. If he was awake, as far as he was concerned, he could work on his cases. He did not have all that many cases, but the ones he had he took seriously. They represented people who desperately needed help from someone, anyone. People who could not go through the usual channels to get help, they were too shady for the authorities to help and not shady enough to get help from the underworld.

He did not have the same kind of resources that the authorities or the gangs might have had, but it was surprising how much progress you could make toward helping people just by walking around, paying attention, and asking the right people the right questions. The Infomancers, of course, had a much easier time with it all, they could find out what you had for breakfast, or when was the last time you took a leak, all without leaving their plush, warm estates. Then again, they had to make a lot of sacrifices to be able to do that, so they deserved it, or at least they said that they deserved the luxury.

Jack bundled up as best as he could before stepping out into the cold, dark city. One reason he could afford his rent was that his building was somewhat far from the Tubes, so he got a lot more outdoor time than he really wanted. At least that way he knew anyone who showed up at his office really needed the help.

The entrance to the Tube was surrounded by a ring of commuter condominiums and their attendant commercial zone. Jack pulled out a notebook and checked his list. He had already been to four of the eateries near the Tube, there were two left. Without the notebook, it would be hard to remember which ones he had been to and which he had not. His memory was not what it used to be, and these restaurants were all the same, perky waitstaff and tchochkes, meant to reassure those eating there that their experience would be exactly the same as it would have been at any other restaurant near any other Tube.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pretty: Anamnesis

Instead of a window, there was a band of tiles running around the room, at about chest height. The tiles had been painted in a way that led to a series of intricate, overlapping patterns. Leah would stare at the tiles, slowly shifting her focus so one set of squares would leap into the foreground, then another, then tighten in on a single tile, and release out to a pattern of diamonds or triangles or even larger hexagons. She could do that for hours, which was just as well, since she didn't have much else to do. At least the room was warm.

The room lacked not only a window, but a door as well. Whenever she had to leave, the Doctor would fetch her. She never went out on her own, until now she had never even thought about leaving, but something about the way the Doctor looked at her during their last session made Leah want to work out how she could get out on her own. Next time, she promised herself, next time she would pay enough attention to her comings and goings so she could re-create the doorway that must be there in order for her go to her sessions. She would try very hard to remember.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pretty: Groggy

Jack woke up because a red light was shining in his eyes. Sitting up blearily, he took stock of his surroundings. He was in his office, sitting behind his desk. He had fallen asleep earlier, face down on his desk. He probably had a crease from where his cheek had laid on a pen.

It took Jack a minute or so to remember the red light, but there it was. He looked at it again. The red light on his desk meant that he either had a package or a visitor down at the front door. Jack poked the little light on his desk, extinguishing it, and stood. He walked over to the sink and mirror that took up one corner of his office. Washed his face, combed back his hair, rinsed the yuck out of his mouth. Sometimes it felt like he needed to shave the fuzz off of his tongue.

Down the rickety stairs two flights to the lobby. The front door, of course, was thick, opaque, and heavily insulated, but long ago someone had installed a peep-hole in it. The building management decided not to fix it, probably because it was useful, given the building's clientele, to be able to see who was outside before opening the door. Jack didn't bother with looking; he undid the latches and bars that held the door shut, and swung it wide open, admitting a blast of cold air.

Nobody was there anymore, but there was a small brown package on the doorstep, clearly labeled with his name. He took the package and went inside. As soon as the door was again closed and dogged, the building started to warm back up. Management might not be diligent about keeping the place looking good, but they kept the heaters running.

At one point in his life, Jack would have subjected such a suspicious and unexpected package to a thorough scrutiny before opening it. He had made enough enemies to warrant it and enough money to afford all the latest in explosive and incendiary detection. Not anymore. Nevertheless, Jack delicately opened the package, trying to keep his face from what he imagined would be the direct blast if someone had finally tracked him down and decided he had not yet suffered enough.

The package was empty.


Monday, July 03, 2006


Just in case you didn't notice, I put a link in the sidebar over there that goes to a web page that lists all the pretty entries in story order, and each entry has a link to the next one. That might come in handy if you find yourself trying to read a few entries in a row, since they go from the bottom to the top. Maybe if I could figure out how to make the page upside down. Hmm.

Pretty: Fringe

Leah sighed. "Can I see your pen for just a second?"

The doctor made another note. "No, I need it right now. Maybe later, after you've told me about your shawl. What color was it, and did it have a fringe?"

"The shawl was yellow. It had a row of tassels around the bottom, each approximately one inch long, and all of the tassels were light brown. The whole thing was pastel-shaded, not bright at all, and as I said, it was not my color, but I was cold."

The Doctor-who-wouldn't-share-his-pen made another note. "Okay, today I'm going to skip the rest of the dream." For an instant, his eyes changed. Normally, even though they had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with respect to her dreams, Leah liked the Doctor. He had a kind of secret smile that he did not let touch his lips, but his eyes would show it. But now, the Doctor's eyes showed no hint of a smile; they were dead and hard, and they reached out and took hold of Leah's perceptual focus. She could not look away from his eyes. "Today I want to ask you one question, and then I will let you look at my pen. Today, my question is: Where did you go last night?"


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pretty: Dream

"At any rate", the Doctor-with-a-penchant-for-stealing-pens continued, "we were talking about your dreams. You were going to tell me what you dreamed about last night."

Leah had always had vivid dreams. In fact, it was not until after she reached puberty that she was told that there was a line between waking and sleep, and the things that happened in dreams were not actually real things, but fancies made by the random firings of neurons at rest. She never truly believed that.

"I dreamed that I was in a palace. No, not exactly a palace, but a large place. Hallways twenty feet wide, marble flooring. Paintings on the walls, ceilings recessed so far that you have to squint to see them, and frescoed to look like the sky. I look up, and feel like I might fall into the ceiling, indoor spaces shouldn't be that large. It is very cold, my breath condensing in front of me. I shiver and pull my shawl around me."

The Doctor interrupts, "A shawl?"

"Yes, a shawl. It is made of a thin fabric, not much help at all, actually. Perhaps a thin wool? Maybe linen. I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that it is yellow. Not my color, but my arms are goosebumpy, so I pull it tighter around me, kind of hug myself for warmth."

"Did the shawl have a fringe?" This was the kind of trick they liked to play. They ask you for extraneous details, seeing if you can remember them, or perhaps if you change your story upon repeated tellings. Leah didn't understand what motivated the Doctor to ask her these questions, she could never tell what he would be interested in. Why did he focus in on the shawl, but not ask about the paintings in her dream? Those paintings were fascinating; she could have spent hours staring at them if she weren't so cold.