Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pretty: Cowardice

"I'm sure you didn't come here to hear me scold you, or really even for the beer, probably. No, the fact that you're here and still sober, coupled with what you said about having had a cheeseburger earlier, tells me you're on a case and you need help."

"Actually, I'm not on a case anymore." Jack took out his notebook. "I was tracking down one David Eddington for his wife, Lucy. David is a supervising accountant for Bingham and Steed, or at least was until three days ago when he failed to return home. He had been acting somewhat erratically for the week prior to that, and then one night, poof. He disappeared. Lucy called me rather than the police because she was worried her social standing would suffer when the police found out that he was shacking up with someone from his office. Turns out that wasn't the case at all, but she still can't go to the police. Seems David was last seen in the company of a Muninite or two, eating dinner no less. Since then, zilch. As soon as I heard that he was involved with the Followers of Memory, I told poor Mrs. Lucy Eddington that I would no longer be working for her, with her, or near her. I returned the check she had given me when she hired me, and walked away. As far as she is concerned, I'm off the case."

Mitsunori's brow creased in thought as he put a beer in front of Jack. "How did she take it?"

"How did she take it?" A wild light crept into Jack's eyes. He put the beer to his lips and drained it in less than thirty seconds. "I just told her that her husband, whom she was worried was cheating on her, was not cheating after all but was faithful and probably still loved her, but had fallen into the hands of a criminal organization from which neither I nor the police would be able to extricate him. Additionally, I told her that I would not contact her again because I was, essentially, a coward. Which, I essentially am. She did not take it well."

As Jack was getting himself worked up, Mitsunori had taken the glass Jack drained and filled poured enough water in it to fill it halfway. He then rotated the glass three times clockwise and twice counterclockwise. Finally, just as Jack stopped speaking, he hit it with his hand so it spilled all along the bar away from him and Jack, who jumped away from the bar in surprise, even though he was expecting something of the sort.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Metapost: Site Update

I've moved the blog over to the new version of Blogger. Some nifty behind-the-scenes features, and theoretically it will quash the weird caching bug that you might not have noticed, where I have to go manually refresh my blog in my browser a few times before it gets updated to the point where other people can see my new posts. Hopefully this is painless, but if you see any problems, drop me a line, or add a comment here.

Pretty: Obligatory

People who went into the tubes regularly tended to fall into two categories: those who went once a year or so, and people who went regularly. Those who went infrequently typically went to deal with some government bureaucracy, renewal of some license or another, for example, would just leave their cold-temperature clothes at one of the ubiquitous coat-check kiosks just inside the tube. Most people who regularly visited the tubes, such as the bureaucrats that the first type of people visited, invested in a warming-charm that would protect them from the cold during the usually short walk from their home just outside the tube to the shimmering curtain that held Cold at bay.

Jack had a big duffel bag he carried with him whenever he went out. It was made of a very compressible fabric and would fold down fairly small; he stored it in a big pocket sewn into the back of his jacket. Often, his business called for him to go into the tubes, and having a duffel like that meant he could take off his jacket, overpants and mukluks and carry them with him rather than leaving them with a coat check near the entrance. That way he didn't have to leave the same way he went in, and he saved on coat check fees. The duffel was considerably cheaper than a warmth charm, which wouldn't hold up to the walk from the tube to his building anyway.

Duffel in hand, Jack walked slowly past the assortment of vendors that lined the first few chambers of the tube. The signs, mostly hand-lettered, offered everything from noodle soup to charms to weapons to "active participatory massage". The storefronts themselves were never much wider than a small door, but the tunnels behind the doors might be long or short, and could lead to a single room or a many-roomed complex. Most of the time, the busy bees who used this entrance to get to work breezed right past the mob of shoppers and onlookers who came to the commerce zone just to shop a little where it was warm. Jack sauntered over to a door with the word "Yakitori" emblazoned in asian-esque lettering. Pushed it open, let the duffel lead the way.

Inside, there was a longish walk down a twisty and narrow tunnel, with alcoves every now and again so people could pass each other in either direction. Somewhere around the halfway point, carvings started to appear in the tunnel walls, first rough and then more and more complex and baroque as Jack got close to the end of the tunnel. Jack idly wondered what Mitsunori would do when he had carved straight down to the front door of his little one-man restaurant. That wouldn't happen for a while yet, at the rate the carvings were progressing.
The duffel nosed out into the soft light of the gaslamps that were everywhere in the tubes. Jack followed, walked into the small room and sat on a stool in front of the long recycled-metal bar that separated him from the cook, a gray-haired Japanese man with a tall white paper hat.

"I figured it was you, Jack. Not many people eat what I'm serving this time of day."

"Well, Mitsunori-san, I actually just had a cheeseburger not too long ago, but I could use a beer."

Mitsunori harrumphed. "It may be dark outside, but that doesn't mean that it's okay to drink beer at ten in the morning, you know."

"I stopped looking at clocks years ago, you know that. What's the point? Up is work, tired is sleep, hungry is eat, and thirsty is drink. Clinging to the old ways is just tradition. Besides, it's more efficient this way: I'm out of your hair before any real customers come by."

"I suppose so", said Mitsunori as he worked a tap on a large oaken barrel that was behind the bar, and probably the most valuable thing in the bar, given its antiquity and the scarcity of wood. "Maybe it's just that I don't like seeing you, of all people, drinking at any time of the day."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." Mitsunori was a friend from way back, back before Jack got into the snooping business, actually, back when he didn't need the drink the way he needed it now.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Metapost: Names

I've got a problem: there are going to be far too many people in this story. The only name I'm really happy with thus far is "Leah", but that's because the story is about Leah, and I knew her character before I had even started writing the story.

All the other names in the story have been invented on the fly, and I've already felt somewhat stretched. So, I need your help. Put as many names as you can into the comment list. First names, last names, name combinations. Make them have different flavors and everything. Then, when I use one, I can cross it off and keep track of who is doing what.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pretty: Disappointment

"The stories are vague because they're very secretive, and have some control over what gets printed in the newspaper. They've got most of the police running scared as well. Anyway, the Followers and the Chasers are rival organizations, to call them gangs would be something of an understatement. They might have been around before the Coming of the Cold, but they really surfaced shortly afterward. They're involved in all sorts of illegal activities: kidnappings, extortion, assassination. Luckily for most people, they each spend a great deal of their energy attempting to get the better of the other, rather than actually doing anything to harm middle-class, everyday people. Street people, petty criminals, and the poor, on the other hand, know plenty about what the Chasers and Followers can do."

"My goodness", said Mrs. Eddington, "Why is it that the Infomancers have not put a stop to their activities?"

"Nobody really knows. Some say it's because they prey mainly on the lower class. Some say that they've found a way to circumvent the Infomancers. Myself, I think it is a bit of both: they're handy to have around in our society, as long as they don't hurt anyone important, so the Infomancers let them stay around, perhaps even set them up with an assignment if there's something dirty that needs to be done in a way that doesn't trace back to the Infomancers. You know, the Infomancers themselves have a decent amount of infighting and power struggles, it could be that the two gangs belong to different factions in the Infomancer circles."

"What I don't understand is what this has to do with my poor David?"

"That, I'm not certain of, and I'm not sure there's much I can do for you."

"What do you mean, you can't do anything for me or David. I'm paying you, aren't I?" Lucy's face starts turning red with anger. "You tell me that the police can't help, that you can't help. What am I supposed to do?" Hysteria starts tingeing her voice, it's setting in. They might have been having marital problems, which is why Lucy hired Jack in the first place, but David did not run off with some floozy, so he might be in serious trouble.

"Look, Mrs. Eddington, the best thing to do is sit tight. David will come back, or he won't. David was last seen with a Follower. There's not much anyone can do to find out where he is or anything, unless they decide to let him go. They might contact you, even. They might call you and ask for ransom, they might let you talk to him. It's just that if I go poking into this case any further, they'll probably just kill me, and you, and David."

"I just cannot believe that. I cannot give up, David wouldn't give up if it were me that was missing. He would go out himself, with a torch and a charm against the cold, and look for me, turning over every stone until I was home safe. Now, I've paid you your retainer, you might as well get on out there and look for David."

Jack grumbled deep in his throat. "You can have your retainer back, Lucy. I can't continue working for you." He dug around in his pocket and found the cheque she had written out, entitling him to quite a bit of money, payable on demand at the Barrington Financial center. He had not gotten around to withdrawing his pay. "The best thing you can do for David, and you, is just wait and be quiet. Don't tell anyone else what happened."

She was crying as he let himself out.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pretty: Upscale

After his meal, Jack bundled up and braved the Cold. It wouldn't be a long walk, his client lived in one of the condominium buildings near the Mouth. One of the nicer ones, it had a doorman making sure some people were allowed to enter and others weren't. Under normal circumstances, Jack would probably have fallen into the later category, but he had an introduction card from his client. After inspecting it, and checking against a list, the doorman gestured to an underling.

"Steve here will escort you up to the Eddington residence, stay with him."

Steve had nothing to say as he walked with Jack to the elevator and then to the floor where the Eddingtons lived. A few moments in the receiving salon, and Jack was ushered in to see Lucy Eddington, the woman who had hired him to track down her husband.

"Have you made any progress on my husband's disappearance?" Lucy was direct and to the point. Jack was hired help, so she didn't need to waste time with pleasantries.

"I think", said Jack, "that we can rule out an affair. I do not think that Mr. Eddington ran off with another woman, or man for that matter. Unfortunately, I think it might be much more serious."

"Serious?" Lucy looked worried. "Should I call in the police? If it's not an affair, I don't have to worry about the embarrassment."

"You might want to call in the police, but it is unlikely that they will help you. Your husband has gotten tangled up with some very powerful and scary criminals. Do you know anything about the Followers of Memory, or the Chasers of Thought?"

"Not much. I have heard of them, of course. I read the newspapers and all, but those stories are usually pretty vague."


Metapost: Retcon

Something is different. Something has changed. You look around, trying to put your finger on it, but it's hard to tell. If only you could trust your memory....

So, I had to change a little bit in the Cheeseburgers post. Just a heads up. Turns out, Jack didn't know as much about the people his Quarry were consorting with as I had planned.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pretty: Trees

"You were cold, were you? Can you tell me where you dreamt you were? Indoors or outdoors?"

"Both, I think. Or neither. It was an enclosed garden or patio, surrounded on all sides by columns, with a fountain in the center. I remember running water, maybe a fountain, but I did not look for it. I spent most of the dream trying to climb a tree."

"Was it day or night?"

"Night, I could see by moonlight and starlight, but the sun was down."

"Do you remember what kind of tree it was?" Details were important to whomever had created the Dream Record Protocol.

"The tall kind. Tall and straight, and the branches were out of my reach. Don't you want to hear about why I was climbing the tree?"

"If you think it is important, Leah." It wasn't important, on that the Protocol was clear. The features of the dream were crucial, the dreamer herself unimportant. The Doctor pretended to take notes as he struggled to remember: how many times had Leah dreamt about a tree? He couldn't remember. He would consult the Files.