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.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Metapost: Londinium

First of all, new post is here, don't miss it just because this metapost sat on top of it. But second of all....

Okay, so I feel a little weak naming the city where the action occurs "Londinium". I had some issues with the name, as I have issues with all names. The fundamental image I was trying to convey is: It's a Major City, It's different from Cities we know, It's largely western european but with other influences (Konichiwa, Mitsunori-san). Any other suggestions? I've got a chapter-thingy that I'm planning on centering in Shanghai (or the like), also.

Pretty: Interlude

Interlude: Watching the Watchers

The tower was truly out of place in a modern world; it looked as if it had been constructed by peasants in some long-gone era. The stonework was rough, but solid, and there were slits in the walls starting at twenty feet above the ground, spiralling up the tower until it reached its apex at two hundred feet in height. The very top of the tower sported defensive crenelations, but they were probably for show, what kind of military action against an invading army would require cover at that height?

Regardless of the seeming anachronism, or perhaps in deference to it, the tower top also housed the makings for a giant bonfire. There was a wooden roof that was designed to both protect the fire logs from the weather and go up in flames as well, should the watchers decide that the lighting of the fire was necessary. There was a guard with a torch lit at all times, he could throw the torch onto the pile and have it blaze up in a matter of moments. What would come next was a mystery, because in the fifty years of the tower's existence, the bonfire had never been lit. There had never even been a readiness drill.

Of all the watchers, Jake Chen was the only one who really enjoyed Torch Duty. Of all the watchers, Jake Chen was probably the only one who took his job seriously. Every day, he would bundle up against the vicious cold that blanketed the land and walk out to the top of the tower. From his vantage point, he could see the warm, pulsing metropolis of Londinium to the south, the blocklike, windowless aboveground structures built after the Cold, and the old-fashioned buildings (some of which even had glass windows!) dating from before. East and west of Londinium were the suburban towers that housed nearly all the human population left in this region of the world. They huddled together just like sheep in a storm, using each others' waste heat to keep themselves alive. To the north, Jake saw only ocean, frozen and otherwise.

Jake could spend hours staring out at the world, sometimes his mind would soar over the ocean waves to the north, as if he had taken the body of a falcon instead of his own flesh, which was leaden with cold. Over the waves his mind would fly, as the torch in his hand slowly burned down, marking the time of his shift on top of the tower. As the torch began to gutter out, he would walk back to the trap door which allowed access back down into the tower. Another watcher would be waiting there, but he would not actually do much watching. He'd stay up near the top of the tower, but inside. He might glance out the functionally useless arrowslits that lined the staircase, but he'd never, ever go to the very top. The wind and the cold saw to that.

Perhaps if there had been more like Jake, the watch would have been kept. But then again, not even Jake knew why the watch was kept, not any more. For the watchers, it was just a job. Stand near the top of the tower, torch in hand. Every week, lug up a new batch of wood to construct a potential pyre. Never actually light the pyre. None really remembered the reason why the tower had been build, a mere four and fifty years ago. None of the watchers even recalled their full name, the Watchers against Nightfall. None remembered the great failure that led to the Cold. Memory in these days, history, was dusty and forgotten. These young men (always young men, never married) watched, but through a profound failure to remember, they forgot why they were watching, and for what.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Pretty: Link

How many drinks had he had so far? Jack looked at the bottle: it was half-empty. Did he remember opening a fresh one when he came back from visiting Mitsunori? He wasn't sure, but that very level of uncertainty meant that he was certainly doing the right thing with his drinking. He poured another.

Jack looked around the room that served as his office, and frequently his flop. Not very spacious, but big enough to house his desk, a few wooden chairs, and a sofa off to the side of the room where he spent the night more often than not. He got back to his real apartment once in a while, when he really needed a shower, for example. He wasn't a bum, no sir. He might have a thing for the bottle, and perhaps rambling on now and again, but he kept himself clean. Mostly.

Sitting on the sofa was the package he had received this morning, or whatever time it was when he woke up. Still empty, still mysterious, still information-free. Jack poured himself another drink and got the old neurons good and lubricated. Given his line of work, and considering his past, a mysterious empty box shouldn't be just ignored. He cogitated. Then he thought. Then he drank a little, followed by some rumination. He had gone through the mulling phase and was in a full-on contemplate when his skittering thoughts hit on something Mitsunori had said earlier. He was being pulled in to a big, information-dense case. Someone had made contact, but he couldn't tell who or how. The box must have been the contact. He had a drink to celebrate that little breakthrough.

If someone were going to contact Jack in such a way, it would be to bypass Infomancer snooping. The package itself was very information-neutral. It had little inherent meaning or content, especially to a third party. There would be no hidden compartment or invisible ink, that kind of dodge wouldn't fool the little birds. No, this would be a straight up empty box, whose only purpose in life was to get Jack thinking and drinking enough to cast his memory back to the whole reason why he had started drinking in the first place. The reason he was in this dump, living a half-baked, half-boiled, and wholly empty life.

His scotch bottle was empty, but that was okay with him. He didn't feel like drinking anymore. He laid down on the sofa, uttered a single word and drifted off into an oblivion he was thankful for.


(the end of chapter one: introductions and excitement)


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pretty: Cogitating

Back in his office, Jack poured himself a glass of scotch. Today was a good day; he wasn't drinking it straight from the bottle. He swirled it around and stared at it, deep in thought.

Item: People have not had any real privacy for at least fifty years. There aren't all that many Infomancers, but there are enough and the Infomancers can use their their ripple pools and their little rainclouds to figure out who is doing what to whom anywhere in Londinium or on the planet for that matter, if they put their minds to it.

Jack took another drink from his glass.

Item: For the most part, the Infomancers don't care who is doing what to whom. They could care less about assignations and assassinations, unless either (a) it interfered with their business, or (b) there was some money or personal gain in it for them somehow.

Corollary: If you have enough juice, either money or political power, or preferably both, you can make sure that if you're the "whom" in that above situation, you can make sure an Infomancer will keep track of who is doing what to you.

Item: Jack's clients sometimes ran afoul of people of the above type. In either the white market or the black, capitalists were capitalists, and were ruthless whether they dealt in natural gas or drugs. Both had money and power to burn, and if they had had scruples in the first place, they wouldn't have gotten either money or power.


Issue: It was likely that David Eddington was involved with people who were of that type. He was a fairly high-level cog in a very important financial institution, and was last seen in the company of a high-level cog in a very important criminal institution. Both stripes of suit were going to be watching after not just David Eddington, but looking for people asking questions about David Eddington.

Solution: By forcefully completely severing his ties with Lucy Eddington, returning her payment, and leaving her dissolved in tears, Jack had likely removed himself from David Eddington's informational halo. Jack was no longer a who doing any sort of what to anyone associated with David's whom. Mitsunori had confirmed that he was outside of David's halo.

Item: Jack was now somewhat free to make discreet inquiries into the whereabouts of David Eddington without the little ripples of information he generated in his wake entering into to the pools of any Infomancers keeping an eye on David. Unless Jack actually contacted David or Lucy, and unless the snoops were actually focusing their attention on Jack and his bottle of Scotch (gulp), Jack probably wouldn't show up in David's halo for some time.

Question: Should Jack try and find out what had happened to David, or play it safe and stay away?

Jack poured himself another drink.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pretty: Expected

"I said, whaddya want? What're you doin' there, walkin' around lookin' like that? You're askin' for trouble, aren't ya?" The tattooed man grabbed her upper arm. Leah could make out his scent, cigarettes mainly, but with the sour, sweaty undercurrent that comes from too many hours in the same clothes with no bathing. The other man spoke as he moved behind her, she was surrounded.

"You look cold, girl. Why don't you come in with us? We can warm you up. We can warm you up good."

Tattoo reached up to touch her face, brush her hair back from her cheek. "Yeah, we can take care of you, pretty girl."

The touch of the tattooed arm on her face shocked Leah into clarity. These men were real, this was not a dream, and she was in grave danger. She looked at the tattoo. Munin. This man had a tattoo of Munin on his arm. Had she seen that before, somewhere?

What followed afterward was entirely unexpected for Ryan. He would remember the pain for the rest of his life, both minutes of it. They found One-Pill later, still sitting dumbly in the slowly freezing pool of Ryan's blood. The blood on One-Pill's hands and the drugs in his pockets were enough for the police to convince themselves that he had maybe taken some really potent bad mojo and gone apeshit enough to tear Ryan apart the way he did. One-Pill was never able to coherently talk about what had happened, or what he had done to the rest of Ryan's body, the parts they didn't find, but then again, he was a mojo addict.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pretty: Changes

All of that changed one morning in his nineteenth year, when Ryan woke up with a tattoo on his arm. This wasn't some late-night drunken tattoo that he had hazy memories of getting, no way. No tattoo artist with an ounce of self-preservation would even think about inking someone with the tattoo Ryan had. Back in the day, before people knew what the Followers were about, people might have done it. But some serious shit went down, and now nobody would think of faking one of those tattoos. Wouldn't matter no-how if they did, anyway, since the higher-ups could always spot a fake, and then you'd be in pretty bad trouble. Couple of old guys with no arms still floating around the blocks to remind people about that.

Ryan had been marked with the sign of Munin, and that meant that he was, for some reason, about to begin his rise within the Followers of Memory, or as they called themselves secretly, Muninites. He gained some responsibility, and was still learning the ropes of being a lieutenant in the organization instead of a grunt when his life was changed again by a chance encounter with a pretty girl. He had been hassling a dealer, One-Pill, that the higher-ups thought might be running a side scam with the clients. This kind of thing needed real finesse, you couldn't just go and break One-Pill's face, you had to find out what he was doing and with who. Trace it back, and it'd sure be the Chasers. But whatever, One-Pill might be Ryan's track to his first real trophy, a Chaser with his guard down.

A chick like that shows up, smokin' hot, in her pajamas and barefoot, smelling clean and clearly in an altered mental state, that just blew a hole in the way Ryan had learned to think. Suddenly he was fourteen again, a project reject, never gonna get a girl the right way, the soft way, only the strong wrong way. He made a grab for Leah.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pretty: Block

Itsjustadreamitsjustadreamitsjustadreamitsjustadream. Running through her head, uncontrollably. Leah couldn't move, couldn't talk, couldn't even think straight. She stared down at the cobbles in the street, fascinated by the way her shadow wavered in the gaslight.

The tattooed man was named Ryan. Ryan had grown up in one of the cold public housing blocks that covered most of what used to be the suburbs. After the Cold, people who could afford it moved into the centers of the cities, where the Tubes were being built. In a mass tide, they displaced the poor from their traditional center-city homes and pushed them out, out away from the still-warm centers of population to the fringes. Like sheep huddling together during a winter storm, back when there were still sheep, the ones in the middle stayed the warmest.

Most people, living in the blocks, turned to crime out of sheer disgust with the system. If the Law told them to do one thing, they'd do the other, just because the Law was why they were stuck in those hastily-constructed poor houses that got most of their warmth from the city's composting piles. Massive amounts of organic matter, decaying and giving off precious warmth and oppressive stench. Save the gas heat for the rich, the poor get shit heat. So they flaunted the Law, taunted the Law, and did whatever they wanted. As long as the crime in the blocks stayed in the blocks, the Law didn't care. It had bigger problems.

Ryan was a prime product of the blocks. By the time he was ten, he had already learned hard lessons. He had been savagely beaten not once, but twice, both over some trifling violation of the protocol of the street. He had beaten others for similar offenses. He had killed a man for a sum of money that would not even pay for the lunch of one of the rich slicks that lived in the Tubes. By the time he was fourteen, he had fallen in with the Followers of Memory. It was a fruity name, he thought, but they gave him structure, a family. They gave him a job and a purpose and someone to call enemy. He went to the gatherings like he was supposed to, listened to the hooded and robed weirdoes talk about the All-Father and shit like that, but he didn't really care. He became a fairly proficient mover of illicit substances. He would take deliveries of whatever highs the crank spellers were cooking up from someone whose face he never saw, and he would distribute them to the street sellers. He never dealt in money, that was somebody else's job, but he did get to deal in discipline sometimes. If he thought the seller was getting into the supply, he'd break something to drive home the point. If he knew the seller was getting into it, he'd do more than just break something.


Metapost: Pink!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I'm part of the crowd, so I will turn my website pink during october as well. Pink Power!