It's a nice size; holdable (by me) in between the thumb and fingers of one hand cupped. The screen is very nice when not updating. It's so slow as to make it completely pointless that there is web browsing functionality. Given that that's not its job, that's not really a minus. The form factor as a whole (I was using it without the 'book cover') was appealing in terms of function. It was light enough to hold one-handed for a long time, and heavy enough to not feel too fragile to loll around with.
PDFs. Amazon claims you can convert them. LIES. ALL LIES. Well, maybe you can - but don't count on the results being usable. Bleah.
The whole selector deal is odd. Since the screen can't handle a pointer and doesn't have touch anyway, you end up using a menu with the scroll wheel. It reminded me unpleasantly of ATM machines. When reading, who cares? But for all other stuff, meh.
The keyboard is even worse, functionally, than it looks. It is an obscene waste of device estate and aesthetics. As silly as the thing looks, 90% of the problem is the damn chiclet keyboard. I kept thinking 'Coleco' for no good reason.
Upshot for me: nice book reader, but I don't spend enough on current hardcovers to make the extravagant price worthwhile, no matter how much I travel, and I'm willing to buy and toss a cheap paperback for roughly what Amazon seems to want for it in e-form. Plus I can leave those on the plane for the next guy or girl.
If it was $200, I'd buy one. If it did PDFs right, I'd consider buying one at $300. If Amazon told me they'd give me the books I'd bought from them in the past six months as ebooks free, I'd seriously consider buying it. As it stands? Nope.
There's an old, old rule that applies to drinking in New York. It will keep you safe in the worst bars, in the worst neighborhoods - even the ones where the stockbrokers drink. A cabbie once told it to me when I was seventeen, which in New York terms means three years past drinking age. "Kid," he said as he let me off in front of an Alphabet City bar which had been colonized by bikers, "What the hell are you doing going in there?"
There wasn't really a good answer to that, since I wasn't really sure myself. "I'm looking for someone," I had told him, almost entirely truthfully.
He'd shaken his head at me in the rear-view mirror and then turned, cabbie style, one arm across the front bench seat to look through the hazed Plexiglas window that separated us. "Can I give you some advice?" he'd asked. I'd looked at him, then at the bar out the passenger side window. Two enormous men dressed in decorated leather jackets were urinating against the front of the bar while a third lounged with his arms crossed, leering at a girl who was walking by in the company of no less than seven teenagers whose clothing screamed `GANG MEMBER.' She shrank from his gaze and all eight of them hurried their steps.
"Sure," I said.
"I ain't gonna tell you not to go in there, `cos it looks like you're gonna no matter what I say. But look me in the eyes while I tell you this."
I looked him in the eyes. "Go on."
"You got three inches of space around you, son. That's your personal Red Zone. When you walk in there, if your Red Zone touches anybody without them meaning it, you say `excuse me, sir' and you keep walking. If anybody comes into your Red Zone like they mean to do it, you give `em one chance by walkin' around em. That's courtesy. Shows you ain't looking to cause shit. If they come into the zone a second time, you ask `em if you can help `em. If they don't make nice, then that's three strikes, you got me?"
I nodded, swallowed, then asked the question. "What do I do if they get three strikes?"
He grinned at me. "That's your problem. What I'm telling you is this: if you follow those rules, the only people who you're gonna have to deal with are the ones who were gonna start a fight with you no matter what you did once you walked in that door. You might still haveta fight or run, but you'll always know you had no choice."
I'd tipped him double the fare. He shook his head while he drove away.
I walked past the three huge guys at the front door, making a slight jog so my Red Zone didn't touch theirs. They looked at me but didn't say anything. I went into that bar that night, and I found who I was looking for, and I got out of that bar that night. I'm not telling you I never got in fights, but I'm telling you that that cabbie was right; every time I've followed that rule, I've never had to fight anyone that wasn't doing his or her damnedest to make sure we squared off no matter what I did.
Unfortunately, some days there's just one of those jackasses in the bar.
I was in a dark and dusty corner joint in Washington Heights, the kind with an Irish name but nary an Irishman in sight and where the beer is decidedly American but the rum, if you know how to ask for it, is dark, wicked and unnamed. If you did know the name you'd probably have to report the owner to the Customs and Excise people for illegal trafficking with some dark and mysterious South American lost city.
I like rum like that. That's one of the reasons I was there.
The other reason was rumors. I chase rumors much of the time. It's what I do. The leather bandolier across my chest is strung with the fruits of those pursuits, and has saved my life more times than I can count.
Would my life have been endangered if I hadn't pursued those rumors in the first place? Ah, well, that's another of life's questions. I sipped rum and sniffed appreciatively at the odors from the illegal propane grill midway down the bar where the bartender was frying something that smelled a lot like pork and plantains.
Anyway, there had been rumors. The weather had been ferocious in New York this summer so far; thunderstorms, even hail. Global Warming was big on the radio, as was El Nino, but the buzz Uptown was that Someone was in town. Someone was upset.
I was poking around to find out who it was, and if they'd talk to me. That's why I follow rumors. I talk to those who have few others to talk to. Mostly because my grandmother once taught me that too much respect just creates a wall of loneliness, and loneliness can be worse than death.
I love my grandmother.
The rum was even more evil on the third cup than the second. I had been listening to conversations all over the bar for a couple of hours, and while people were talking about all manner of things, none of them seemed to be talking about the shitty weather or about mysterious visitors from out of town. This, too, was normal; most of the chase involves sitting around listening. I'm good at that, too.
Sometimes I trade on the markets. You'd be surprised at what listening to the communities of New York as a full-time occupation can tell you. I don't do too badly.
Three drinks is usually my limit, though. Time to find another bar. Nobody had bothered me, and I hadn't bothered anyone, just had my drinks. I was rising from the booth to go when my Red Zone flashed a warning and I sat back down quickly to get my hands beneath my table. A slender man in a dressy shirt and slacks slid into the seat across from me and smiled. I didn't know him, so the smile made me instantly wary. "Can I help you?"
"Probably." He didn't go away. Strike two.
"How?" My hands were still below the table.
"Well, for one, you can put your hands on the table." He had both of his in view, resting on the table in front of him.
"Really. Is that a threat?" Belligerence was creeping into my voice. I wasn't sure what was going on, so this was opening move 47-j - test the waters.
"I rather think so, yes." He was still smiling and his hands hadn't moved. I narrowed my eyes.
"Why should I do that, precisely?" I gave him a once-over, visibly. I'm not a very big guy, but I was larger than him, and there was little doubt I was in better shape. The intimidation behind that once-over? Secondary move 32-q.
Didn't work. His eyes got a little harder. "I really don't want to make a nasty scene in here."
Strike three. Time to move to my favorite weapon. I ran my mouth. "Is that so? That's just terrible. I'd hate to drop you down the popularity list in the neighborhood watch. Your compadres here look like they'd take it terribly amiss if your fur got ruffled." I waved my left hand at the other denizens of the joint, solid South American blue-collars all.
My boothmate didn't rise to the bait and look away. He lifted his hands from the table in what looked at first to be a placating gesture, palms towards me - until I noticed that his fingertips were curled slightly inwards. "They won't notice a thing. Not a thing, I assure you."
Okay, so the hands were a bad sign. He was armed, and in a nasty way, or at least he knew enough to make me believe he was. I looked at his hands, then at him. "What do you want?"
"I want you to very, very slowly open your coat and then hand me the leather bandolier that you have strapped across your chest. Without," he continued with calm emphasis, "touching your palm to its center at any time. I know you can unhook it at your waist."
Damn. Now he was making me nervous. Nobody should know that much about me. My mouth continued firing. "You want me to undress for you? That figures."
"Mr. Wibert. You won't make me angry. You will annoy me, but that won't cause me to lose control or even distract me, although it might make me do terrible, horrible things to you, later." His voice assumed a nasal tone at the end. "All I want is the bandolier, and I'll leave. You have no right to them, in any case."
"Oh really? Why is that, may I ask?" I knew his answer, of course. I'd heard it before. Sure enough, real anger colored his response.
"Because you have no concept of the power you hold. You have no birthright to it; you have no ability to direct or use it. You are a shadow, Wibert. Just like the rest of them." At this, he waved one hand slightly at the rest of the bar. Surprised by his motion, I glanced over. Everyone else in the bar was frozen in place, the lights dimmed. There was a blur over the doorway that I knew would prevent anyone outside from deciding to enter.
Crap. This was bad.
"Wow. That's pretty good," I heard my mouth say, still running on automatics. "Do you do lighting for high school plays?"
His eyes flashed, but he was under control. "They will, as I told you, notice nothing. If you refuse to give me the bandolier, Wibert, I will be forced to harm you and take it from your corpse."
He could, too. The guy was manipulating time flows, from the look of it, with some power and a great deal of expertise. I looked at the bar again and noted that the area extended at least as far as the walls. I looked back at him and shrugged. "Okay."
His face flickered. "You agree?"
"Don't look so surprised, Senor dipshit. I don't like death." I reached for my waist and unfastened the bandolier at my left ribcage, then drew it slowly over my neck.
"Slowly!" His hands returned to face me. I paused with the bandolier still over my head, the ends of it held in my left hand, the center dangling uselessly in midair.
"See, I'm guessing here. Do you mind if I speculate? I can't touch the talismans here-" I shook the bandolier above me- "-and I'm insanely curious, not having any Power my own self."
He glared at me for a second, then looked at the bandolier. "Very well. Put the bandolier down on the table with the center fold towards me."
"Sure," I said agreeably, and did so carefully. The vial and pocketwatch, snug in their pockets, were pushed out towards him, out of reach of my hands now.
"And so you know," he said with a cold smile, "if you attempt to shoot me from under the table, you will fail. I have a shield up that will simply accelerate the cast I am prepared to make at you using the strike of your bullet as a source of power."
Damn. "Oh, I figured that," I lied. Think, damn it. "I just wanted to know, though. See, you're holding entropy down in the rest of the bar, and we're still talking. I'm guessing you're working with balances, here?"
He cocked his head, hands still poised. "Continue."
"I figure if you cut loose at me, what's going to happen is that all the time that isn't passing over there-" -I nodded at the bar- "-is going to happen right around me. But really fast and really hard. Probably satisfy some form of arcane math involving energy decay and volumes."
"That is correct, Mr. Wibert." Ooh, I was a mister again. "Astute of you for someone with no talent himself."
Asshole. "Oh, I have talents," I told him. "Just not like you. That was a shitty Peter Lorre imitation. May I go?"
He studied me carefully. "If you stand carefully, and walk slowly to the door, I will allow you to leave. I will hold these others as hostages to your good behavior."
"Yeah. I figured that." I looked at him carefully, searching for the signs I was looking for.
Found it. Sweating, just below the hairline.
I stood up, carefully, and with two fingers gently slid the bandolier over to him, then stepped back from the table. He turned in his seat to keep his hands focused on me. "Mr. Wibert?"
"I have one question. Allow me an answer to convince me of your motives."
"Why do you give me these so easily?" he nodded at the bandolier. He was sneering, but only half - he was actually curious.
I shrugged. "I've got other tools, whoever you are. And one of the reasons I'm still around despite playing in a world inhabited by things like you is that I know when to walk away." His eyes tightened at the insult, and I wondered if I'd overplayed it, but he nodded.
"I understand. Very well. Thank you. Please accept that you were simply outmatched here, and there will be no need for another meeting."
I looked at him stonily for a moment, and then turned away towards the door. He called behind me, "Please walk slowly. I will extend the field with you." I nodded without looking back and began a measured pace to the door.
Step. Step. I passed a pair of men drinking, one caught in mid-laugh, perhaps a foot away. Neither budged. So he had fine control of the field. I had a clear path to the exit. Step. Step. I was nearly to the bar's corner, perhaps eight feet from the door.
When I reached the blur that blocked the doorway, I turned to face him, still sitting in the back booth. "Hey, you'll need to-" but as I spoke, I whipped back my coat with one hand and drew the big pistol with the other. I had time to see his face tighten and his hands clench; then there was a rippling feeling around me, but by that time I had taken aim and fired.
The Desert Eagle roared tinnily in the space that was tightly enclosed by his talent, the sound ricocheting up the airspace around my arm and to my ears. I felt the blast compress the skin on my right arm, gases burning my wrist, and then the bullet punched through the propane tank propped behind the bar a few feet down from the grill.
Blue and orange flame flowered from the tank in slow motion, coupled with a sudden massive rise in the ambient temperature around me as the entropy from the explosion was channeled through whatever the little git was doing to my immediate vicinity. I roared in pain as my exposed skin burned, and suddenly there was a blast of cool air on me. I opened my eyes at a sudden change in the nature of the roar of sound to find myself standing in the middle of the bar holding the Desert Eagle. There was a rising hubbub of voices around me.
I looked at the bar. The propane tank was split open and blackened, but no flame issued from it.
The booth where I'd been sitting was a pyre of white flame. A high, thin scream issued from it as the chronomancer struggled to escape the storm of energy his channeling cast had been funneling when the overload of energy blew his control. I dashed towards the back booth, stuffing the gun into my coat, and grabbed the end of the bandolier which had been knocked off the table in his thrashing.
Without looking back, I barreled into the rear of the bar and out a narrow door into an alley as a fire alarm began to blare from the front of the building. I didn't know if anyone had gotten a good look at me, but I didn't want to chance it. Jogging out of the alley, I turned away from the avenue and began making distance, fastening the bandolier around myself.
Yeah. Three strikes. And every time one of those supercilious motherfuckers tries to tell me that I'm homo deprecatus or whatever and he's the Next Evolutionary Thing, I have to remind him of the golden rule.
Homo sapiens took down everybody else to become the apex predator on this planet, and not because we were bigger, badder, sharper, faster, harder or more frightening than anybody else.
We're tool users.
Just like me.
The loss of the Towers has put a slight crimp on my activities in Manhattan. It's difficult to negotiate with those who live in the Heavens when one can't get as close to said Heavens. Luckily for me, Art Deco has one thing the Towers didn't.
A lightning rod on the same building as the Observation Deck.
I stood on the northeast corner of the Empire State Building and looked out over Manhattan Island at night. The air was muggy, oppressive and loaded with the sullen energy of thunderstorms licking their way across eastern Pennsylvania and up the Jersey shoreline. Off in the distance, flickers of heat lightning backed by the real thing could be seen even through the ochre haze of streetlights.
The deck was deserted. It had closed some three or four hours before. I had hidden myself in a corner, helped along by some of the talismans in the leather bandolier beneath my overcoat. The glass vial had rippled me out of sight as the guards swept through, kept the light off me as they passed, and now here I was turning the smooth angled shape over in my hands and waiting for midnight to come.
You'd think that it would be too cliched for the lightning storms to arrive at midnight, but you'd be wrong. Where do you think the cliches come from? From just this sort of situation. I sighed, once, and tried to calculate how quickly the flashes in the distance were coming closer. It looked like the western approach would make the cut, tonight; the front would push across the Island to the sea before being shoved north by the Gulf stream.
The weapon in my hands was ancient, cracked and weathered but still whole. It was perhaps eighteen inches in length, shaped unevenly but with care. I held it to my eye and sighted down its off-white edge and looked down towards the Battery. Light reflected dully off the surfaces.
An hour to go.
It had taken a year and a half, this time. Mostly dry and dusty study, to understand who it was who peered down at me from the barred and closed-in sky; research to determine whose face I was trying to make out in the clouds over midtown. Was it pity? Fear? Anger? Which? Important to know, crucial - especially if one were to unlock the bars as I knew I wanted to. Even then, I knew.
It's what I do. I find them, seek them out where they've been hidden or where they're hiding. They all come to New York, eventually; there's sin here, and grace; there's power and there's puerile anonymity. Some are curious, some hungry, others lost.
The old Gods all come to New York.
It had taken me six months and a lucky break to identify the faces looking solemnly down from the center of Manhattan. A photograph, done in high dynamic range techniques to commemorate and display the changes in the skyline, caught the face as it gazed down from a sky thick with smog and moisture, and my Talent and will made out the forms in the mists. I can Hear, and See. That's all. But that's enough, for I'm a hard bargainer.
His name is Bobbi-Bobbi, and he's Australian. Original, Aboriginal, and lives in Dream. He's a snake with features, and he was first friend to Man - he gave Mankind his first prey, the flying fox. When the foxes grew too clever and flew too high, Bobbi-Bobbi gave us our first weapon.
I turned it over in my hands again. The rib bone from his side, planed smooth; a half year of searching in Australasia, advantaged only in that I could See the fakes and the frauds. I'd found it, finally, in the hands of a man living in a stand of swamp as his ancestors had. It had taken me a month to convince him to pass it to me. His sons had gone City; but I...I could See what he could See, and he handed me the bone boomerang wrapped in handkerchief before he died of cancer.
The Desert Eagle rode under my right ribs in its holster beneath the overcoat. I'd gone to Australia with a Glock there, but he'd taught me that that was wasted economy. The gun was a desperation defense I'd only had to use twice, before I met Willant; by the time he died, he'd shown me what a fool I'd been. I'd replaced it with the heavier machine upon arriving home.
I stepped to the middle of the Western face of the deck and looked out at the storm, closer now, visible over New Jersey. Perhaps approaching Newark. Lightning was visible branching between the clouds and the ground. I held the boomerang up before the light and watched its surface; as the lightning flickered off in the distance behind it, the cracks in its surface glowed slightly, in sympathy, small glow-worms of purple and blue runneling between the bone surfaces for moments before grounding into the ivory.
There was a soft gong behind me. I spun around, trying to place it, and even as I shoved the boomerang into my inner coat pocket part of my brain was cataloguing it as elevator - but the doors were sliding open inside. I was caught silhouetted, not expecting the sentry to return for another hour, so I froze rather than offer movement, but too late. The doors clicked and one swung open to admit four shapes onto the deck, three of whom were decidedly bigger than I.
"Michael. What a surprise." The voice was rough but cultured. I sighed and relaxed, bringing my hands to unthreatening positions midway between my sides and my shoulders.
"Mal. How are you."
There was a brief rasping sound, followed by the red glow of a cigar. "I'm doing well, thank you, you young interloper. What have you got there, now?"
The smallest of the four shook his head and blew out a cloud of tobacco smoke. "Oh, come, Michel. In your coat, boy. In your coat."
"Just my usual, Mal." I didn't move my hands. I was trying very very hard not to sweat, but was fairly sure I was failing. The man across from me was handsome in a very rough sort of way; his face was heavily lined, as from outdoor life, but his eyes were bright and his shoulder-length hair glossy black. His fingers were adorned with silver rings, and his nails long. I could see that most of his clothes were dark leather.
Also, he was uncountable thousands of years old. Story had it that Malsumis was created, along with his twin Gluskab, from the dust left over when the Abenaki god Tabaldak created man. Gluskab thought man was a pretty cool idea and was generally a booster. Helped us out. Brought forth game, fish, crops, all that kind of thing. He and Bobbi-Bobbi would have gotten right along.
Malsumis, though - yeah. He was most definitely not on the happy and peppy list. He and I had run across each other three times in the past, as I went my way through New York - meeting, searching, gathering. Our first meeting had been a disaster, and I had barely escaped with my life. Only an idiotic amount of luck had allowed me to wriggle out of his reach, and that had only made him interested; the next time we'd met, I'd been doing my research and was upgunned to within an inch of clanking in my Burberry. I'm still not sure if he was actually wary of my hardware or just so amused at my array of charms and trinkets that he let me go for the humor value, but it had worked. The third time we'd actually had interests in common, and a truce had prevailed for the hour we'd spent in each other's company.
Now, however, he was eyeing me with an avid look which said I had something he wanted and he had three really big guys to pry it out of me. That didn't bode well for any form of cooperative venture. He sucked on his cigar again and cocked his head, looking at my coat. "That's an awfully big gun you have there, boy. You do know that can't possibly hurt me."
"I do, yes. So there's no reason you should feel offended or worried if I keep it." It was true. Mal was pretty much invulnerable to kinetic impact. He reacted almost exactly like an enormous tree if he was hit by bullets - he oozed, very slowly, but it made no difference at all for several months. By which point he'd certainly got done killing you and, most likely, dealing with the wound.
"No, no, by all means." He waved a hand negligently. "I'm much more interested in that throwing toy you have in the other pocket."
Damn. Well, at least two of the heavies had looked at each other when he mentioned the gun. They probably weren't immune.
"This? Just a toy, as you say, Mal."
"No. Won't do. Bring it out, Michel."
I sighed and reached carefully into my coat with the fingertips of my left hand (Mal nodded approvingly) and brought out Bobbi-Bobbi's boomerang, dangling it from my fingers.
"That would be it. Hand it here."
I looked at him. He looked at me. His eyes narrowed, and he threw his cigar over the railing of the observation deck. "I said," he said more quietly, "give me the bone."
"No." I said it carefully.
Malsumis made a pursed-lip motion akin to spitting, then turned his head to his left. "Kill him. Bring me the bone."
There was a moment's pause, which Mal used to step backwards twice. Then Goon One and Goon Two, at his sides, stepped forward once towards me. I cringed somewhere deep inside, prayed to the Gods of physics and practice, flipped the bone from my left hand to my right. Turning ninety degrees, I drew back my shoulder as the three Goons started to move more quickly; they were perhaps eight or nine feet away now. With my right hand I threw, hard. The boomerang sailed out into the night sky over Manhattan, vanishing into the sodium and mercury light haze. Mal's head turned to follow it, as did two of the Goons. The third was tracking me as he continued to close, but my left hand had unsnapped the holster and pulled the Desert Eagle out to meet my returning right hand. By the time the Goons were all back in motion, Goon Three (the mover) had almost reached me, and the gun was up in ready position.
There was a series of extremely loud explosions, six in all, in three pairs.
When they were done, the Goons were down on the deck in various positions. My wrists ached, there was a stink of cordite in the air, and the magazine of the Desert Eagle was in midair on the way to the deck flooring. My right hand was moving to my belt for the reload. Malsumis' face had gone hard and angry, but he hadn't moved. I finished reloading and brought the pistol to bear on his chest. He looked at it, then at me, and scowled.
"Boy, you and I both know that toy will do you no good. I'll still rip your lungs out through your ribcage, and neither of us will have the damn-"
There was a meaty THUNK as the boomerang sailed in from the night sky and hit Mal in the back of the head, pitching him forward onto the deck before dropping to the ground. I danced backwards three steps, keeping him some fifteen feet away. He roared and leapt back to his feet, pivoting around his toes in an impossible levering motion with black blood on his lips and nose. His eyes were glowing electric blue with red at their pupils. He quite clearly wanted to kill me, and considered the momentarily sting of a .44 round to be well worth the tradeoff.
I slapped my left hand once to my chest. Anchored there, in its leather bandolier, was a lumpy shape. I saw the slight ripple spread out from me as my hand touched it. Mal saw it, too, as he lunged forward, and I had time to see his eyes draw together slightly in puzzlement.
Then I extended my left hand out, fingers spread towards him, and fired the big pistol with my right.
The pin hit the first cartridge of the new magazine. Powder burned. Physics exulted, and the enormous bullet sang down the barrel, several dozen grains of steel-jacketed lead slamming out the front of the gun towards Mal's oncoming form -
But before it could reach him, the watch at my chest pulsed, once.
The kinetic energy flowed from the bullet midflight, back, back down the funnel projecting from my left hand, into my body. I felt the waters of Baba Yaga flare in their vial, changing the energy; the vial pulsing silver, the energy flew back down my right forearm, down the gun, rushed out the barrel and past the now slowed bullet and struck Malsumis as he rushed towards me.
In a circle four inches wide, that energy did one thing, and one thing only. Flavored with the water of life in Baba Yaga's bottle, touched with the Water of Death, it made him flesh; it made him alive; it made him mortal, it gave him death.
His eyes widened.
The Desert Eagle's slide cycled, and it blazed again, once, twice. Both bullets flew down the silver path of entropy and life, straight, as straight as practice and wrist exercise could hold the gun, into Malsumi's chest.
Blood, red and human, exploded out the back of his body. He jerked to a halt in midair, and then staggered backwards against the railing of the observation deck and slid to the ground. One hand went tentatively to his chest, and then he looked up at me with a peaceful expression of vast surprise. "Michel?"
I knelt in front of him, the Desert Eagle smoking. "Mal."
"What have you done?"
"You're not going to die, Mal."
"I can feel it happening, Michel...I can feel blood, in me-"
"You're a god, Malsumis. You won't die."
He forced his gaze to me. "This...this is the most..." he coughed twice, blood coming up. "...the most interesting evening I've had in years, Michel."
"Yeah." I was very, very tired. "Think about how you felt, Mal. Think about how we feel all the time. You know you're going to make it, now. But you didn't, for a moment. That's how we feel, every fucking moment of every fucking day. That's how they felt." I waved at the remains of Goons one through three.
Malsumis coughed again. "It's...just a bullet." his expression was firming.
"Yeah?" I stood. "Guess what." I holstered the Desert Eagle and gripped his coat lapels.
"Michel? What are you..." he coughed blood again. "What are you doing?"
I held him up to my face. "I don't like you, Mal. I respect you. But you don't think about how we feel. Not ever." And I dragged him over to the edge of the roof deck, hoisted him up the safety fence. His eyes widened, finally.
"What are you...you can't..."
"Sure I can." I hunched my shoulders and threw him over. He went without a sound.
I turned and sighed. I walked back across the deck and picked up Bobbi-Bobbi's boomerang, looked at my wristwatch, cheap Casio. Five minutes. There was no sound from the corpses, and no sound other than the rumble of the City. I leaned against the fence and waited.
At Midnight, the lightning came down and struck the tower. I held the boomerang up to it, and the power came; the sky ripped open, and Bobbi-Bobbi peered down. I shielded my face from the glare, and when the lightning had gone, there was a jet-black man in a thong crouched on the deck in front of me. He was holding a lethal-looking spear and had an elegant knife. I nodded to him.
He looked around, saw the corpses. He shook his head. "Death still walks among you all, down here. This is why I don't come down."
"A god brought that on them. But that's not why I'm here."
"Why are you here, Michel-who-talks-with-us?"
I held out the boomerang. "This is yours."
He took the bone weapon, surprise on his face. "And what do you want in return, trading man?"
"Nothing." I sat down, wearily. "It's yours. Take it back."
He looked at me, then sat as well. Looking over, he prodded the corpses with his spear. They rose up into the clouds, fading into the mists fifteen or twenty feet above the observation deck level. I ignored them. "This has been lost a good number of years, Michel trader man. Done much harm."
He stood again, slapped it against his palm once then held it to his side where there was a scar. I saw a brief flash of light, and it was gone, along with the scar. He grinned at me, teeth brilliant in the gloom and angular floodlights. "Maybe we talk again, Michel trader man."
"You know where I am, Bobbi-Bobbi."
He looked me up and down, nodded. Then he turned and climbed up on the safety fence. I watched him. Before stepping off, he turned again and laughed. Reaching up, he twisted the head from his spear and tossed it to me underhand. "For you, trader man. One weapon for another. You got build your own spear for it, though; no giving you the whole thing this time."
I caught the stone shape, feeling the warmth in my hand. I looked at him and nodded my head. "I understand, Bobbi. I'll be here if you want to talk."
"Maybe, then." And he stepped off the roof.
I tucked the spearhead into my bandolier, feeling the edged power of it crackle against the watch and the vial. A grin cut across my face. Carefully, I picked up the Desert Eagle's magazine and empty shells, taking twenty minutes until I had counted all those I'd used.
Then I let myself off the roof deck and descended into the sea of New York light.
"I'm William Shatner, and I'm a shaman."
UPDATE: Okay, the inimitible Mr. Teichman has informed me that there is a reg'lar web browser in the prefs, and that the device can be mounted as a USB Mass Storage device for backups. Two objections down.
Eventually, I guess, I'll get to hold one, and then I'll think about it more. But no order from me. I'm actually quite happy reading on my iPhone, even though getting HTML text onto it is not for the faint of heart. It also means I don't have another device to carry, and I personally don't mind the tradeoffs.
I sat in the Cafe at Grand Central, watching humanity move into Manhattan with the measured flow of blood. The corridors pulsed with marble muscles moving the rush along, New York City mainlining its fuel for the day while I crunched on ice made opaque and sweet by the remnants of cream and liqueur in the bottom of my glass.
Morning was best at the Cafe. The sunshine came through the tall windows, recently cleaned, in angled beams which struck downwards for the vast expanse of the Main Lobby's floor. People moved through the bars of light and dark, intent on errands and time, faces hidden and revealed as they pushed past. I waved my hand at the bartender, who nodded and turned her head back to the low shelves of bottles, selecting the vodka and Kahlua.
I watched as she mortared ice from the cooler, leaving it fine-grained in the glass, and poured in equal amounts of the dark and light liquors before topping it with cream and shaking it once, twice and sliding it down the bar towards me. I stopped it with a hand, gently; none spilled. She smiled, one-sidedly, and returned to cleaning glasses, watching me as I took a drink.
I was trying not to watch her, my right hand clutched around the pocketwatch in my jacket pocket. Old-fashioned, heavy and expensive, it was a Patek Phillippe that had taken me two years to save up for, and three years more to invest properly. Now it was my shield and sword, and my only hope.
Another sip. The tender's hair was the fine white of snow, her face unlined with strong features, the skin soft and unblemished, her eyes dead and cold. She had finished polishing the final glass in the row and was standing with her arms crossed, watching the commuters. I closed my eyes and tried to still my heart, drawing the warmth from the pocketwatch up my arm, the power building in my chest and surrounding my heart. I didn't know if it would be enough, but I hoped so - it was all I had.
"Excuse me, miss?" My voice was rusty, the old accent all but gone.
She turned, one eyebrow arched. I noticed the row of potted plants behind the bar, blocking the view of anyone behind it, and my voice firmed with the recognition. "Please note, I'm not asking this - but if I was to ask the bar to turn its back to the forest and let me in-"
I hadn't finished before she jerked forward, reflexively, arms arched as if to claw. I stumbled backwards, taking the stool over with me; I caught myself on the bar's edge and managed through main force not to turn away. She and I looked at each other, eyes locked, for perhaps ten seconds, perhaps a century -
- and then she turned away, shrinking, behind the bar.
I let out a breath, slowly.
When she turned back, her eyes were brilliant, twinkling. Her skin was as wrinkled as any I'd seen, her back bent, and her hair, while still white, was coarse and stringy. Her voice came out a croak. "Well met, young 'un. Well met."
"Nothing, Baba. Nothing. I didn't ask. I said-"
"Aaaaahhhh, yes. You said, if you were to ask. Clever boy."
She laughed for a time, an honest humor, leaning on the bar. No-one else came past; below, the commuters continued their one-way dance into the city. I took up my drink again with trembling hands, sipped, and found that all the ice was gone. The cream had curdled, into solids; I spat it back into the cup, placed it on the bar as quietly as possible, but she saw anyway and swept it into the sink. "Ah, the milk. It'll happen, grandson. It'll happen. Let me get you another."
"Baba, may I-"
She looked up, sharply. "Is that what you came for?"
"I came to ask what you would have, in return, for that mixture."
She looked at me for a moment, then sighed, reached across and chucked my chin with her fingers. They felt dry and cold, winter's sticks in summer awaiting the fire. "You'll come and speak with an old woman, boy?"
"I would, grandmother."
I took the watch out of my pocket and laid it on the bar, turning it to face her. "My word, Baba."
She looked into the watch, and a smile crossed her ancient face. "Ahhh. He comes through here, betimes. He would say your word is good, eh? Belike." Reaching under the counter, she brought out two bottles, one dark, one light, and mixed them in a jigger, then swiftly poured the result into a small crystal bottle which she produced from beneath the bar as well. Stoppering it with glass, she shook it once, twice; at each motion, reality shivered in ripples away from the bottle and I felt the power shake my liver and lights.
Then she handed it across the bar to me. I took it in my hands, the waters of Baba Yaga, and tucked it into my inner jacket pocket next to the Patek Phillipe. She nodded at me. "You've places to be. Come see me Thursday morning."
I'm a hard trader; I'm a user and a bastard, but I could hear the quaver of the lonely grandmother in the instruction, and that more than anything else ensured that it would be obeyed. I leaned across the bar and kissed the old woman on her dust-dry chilly cheek. "I promise, Baba."
I slid off the stool, both my talismans leaching power into my gestalt from under my jacket. Faerie fire flickered from my fingertips before I could muffle it, the power sliding out and grounding itself in the decades-old marble of Grand Central Terminal with the appearance of purple lightning. I slid my belt around, the polymers of the gun neutral even against my skin, and moved off into the flow.
The cold gaze of the white-haired fashion model watched me go.
Of course, some of 'em won't be revolutionaries. Some will just be people thinking it's about time to take a brick to law enforcement for spouting useless stupid crap, without any other political agenda.
And thus the Security State propagates itself. When it can't find credible threat, it co-opts dumbshit organizations and people to create the threat for it.
Gravitonic bomb? Yeah. Great. Next Big Thing. Gonna Revitalize the National Laboratories. Make Weaponeering Relevant Again. Break the Nuclear Stalemate. We all heard the slogans. That cold-as-living-fuck New Mexico morning, standing out there in the desert, we all expected scenes of great devastation; the wags were setting up parabolic reflectors to light their cigars and wiggling plastic figurines of Kali in homage to Oppie] Some had started smoking pipes and wearing Hombergs for that same purpose. There were, I don't know, perhaps seventeen of us in the Core Physics Group who had some acknowledged contribution to the Widget ("It's like a gadget, but better!") and all of us were standing out there at that ungodly hour in cold-weather gear waiting for the firing time and generally clowning around in a nervous group.
All except Rafe, whose design it really was. He claimed to have had the inspiration from watching a bad episode of Star Trek while flying on homemade acid at CalTech, but nobody knew how much of that was true. What we did know was that over two billion dollars of Uncle Sam's money had been spent in a little over five years once he and his advisor had managed to get someone at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to watch their presentation.
Thirty seconds to go, announced the tower speaker. People started quieting and facing the sandy expanse out towards Pit Five where the Widget was buried. Nobody knew what, precisely, was going to happen when the thing did its thing; they just knew nobody was going to be within ten miles of it, that was for sure.
Rafe would only say with assuredness that the Widget was going to erase a certain amount of matter by forcing spontaneous creation of a certain amount of matter. What he didn't know, he said, was how much turmoil there would be at the boundary. He tended to start lapsing into torsion figures and spacetime tensors at that point, and people - even on the CPG - started glazing over. The sixteen others were there because they were the only ones the Government could find who could follow the conjectured process as far as "...and then it goes bamf...which of course means it has theta-sub-tau time before it goes zoop!" If you could prove that you knew what that meant, you were on the Core Physics Group. Even though none of us really could take the math past that point. It was that point of our mutual disunderstanding, however, which had led us to name the Widget that morning while we huddled around a couple of thermoses of coffee in the viewing room.
"So at theta-sub-tau, we get zoop, right?" That was Graff, who was wizard with the actual instigation mechanisms but fairly hopeless with the event math. He'd been christened the Widgeteer and had a badge on which had a stylized crescent wrench on it.
"...and whatever's in the region of spacetime subtended by tau-zero..."
"...goes zoop." Various members of the CPG took it in turns to answer his almost plaintive questions.
"Right. And when everything inside tau-zero zoops, it does so in a fundamentally new way, correct?"
"We hope. Theoretically, it zoops so hard it stops affecting the region gravitically."
Graff looked around, a light dawning. "Then it's zooped right out of existence. It's a Universal Destructor. Has anyone got an Acme logo sticker?" Those had been popular in the lab for a brief fad of a couple of months when someone realized how much like Wile E. Coyote one of the lab's administrative heads looked.
There was a brief silence, everyone struck by the aptness of his pronouncement, coffee cups stilled. Then a voice spoke from over by the railing, Rafe weighing in on this lese-ing of his baby. "Universal Destructor it is."
A cheer went up. The clock hit zero. There was a slight shudder in the fabric of the World some ten miles away and a klick underground. The quantum foam suffered a slight disruption; five pairs of positrons and electrons popped into existence inside the Casimir radius of the Widget during the Instigation Interval, and only four met each other half an orbit later and vanished.
The Widget sucked in the fifth positron, entangled it, and teleported it sideways some three centimeters, where it met its death nigh-on-silently inside a beryllium block. The resultant surviving electron completed an orbit of its creation point and then - smack! - hit another quantum foaming pair just as the Instigation Period ended, supercapacitors burning out with the strain. These two particles shifted paths just enough to miss each other, and smacked into two more. With the suddenness of a snow avalanche, a torrent of matter spun from nothingness into the vacuum inside the Widget, and twenty-five microseconds after the Instigation period ended, the beryllium block was shoved into the Casimir chamber by a delicately placed block of Hexium explosive and one of Graff's slapper detonators.
Mass continued to erupt into the universe as the block intruded, and there was no vacuum to receive it. The Widget vanished immediately into a glare of Teller Light as the process caused several antimatter annihilation reactions to spew various decay products at the edge of the rapidly-expanding ball of matter. The fireball at its heart grew with heartstopping suddenness to several centimeters, and then the matter fountain at its center had poured enough mass into existence that, with a bright flash of Dopplered X-rays, several hundred meters of matter in all directions vanished into the newly-created gravity field, collapsing into a minute black hole. Even before instruments could register the black hole's creation, the process outran the imagination of sixteen of the seventeen CPG scientists and climbed into Rafe Echevarria's head, and the sudden influx of mass into the unstable zero point caused the entire process to rotate smoothly out of the Einsteinian universe, leaving behind an absolute vacuum. Matter already accelerating inbound towards the now-vanished black hole's mass crashed together in a merely-fusion-hot ball, and just before a kilometer of rock vanished into a strangely-salted fusion flare, an observer in the chamber would have heard a deathly silence, penetrated by a single sound.
* * *
While the rest of us were still sleeping off the hangovers produced by the party which had been sparked by both the success of the test and the realization that we hadn't event-horizoned the planet (some of the CPG had, loudly but anonymously, worried about the possibility) Rafe had moved on to step two.
* * *
"You want to what?" The Air Force general was disbelieving but quiet, having not remained immune to the party following his project report the night before. Six months after the Widget test, the total was two billion dollars successfully spent; an entire class of weapons produced for less than the original cost of the first atomic bomb. He was expecting this to do wonderful things for his career.
"I want a dedicated Shuttle launch, general. With modifications to the tank, which will remain in orbit. I want the apparatus currently in my lab ferried up to the ISS and installed into the tank, which I want made habitable."
The General laughed heartily, then ran down when he saw Rafe wasn't smiling. "Son, go have coffee."
Rafe sighed. "General Flynn, I'm not kidding. I want this done, and I want it done as soon as humanly possible. It's not negotiable."
"What the hell are you on about?"
"I'd hate this to be confrontational."
The Air Force officer was rapidly losing his good mood; his hangover and his rising irritation combined to produce an instant pulsing headache which fueled his well-practiced junior-officer-flaying thunder. "God DAMN IT, boy, you've been coddled because you're important to-"
"General, shut up." The interruption was so unexpected that it actually had the desired effect. Rafe smiled, once, thinly, at the puce man sitting behind the desk. "I'm sorry, General, I really don't have any desire to anger you. Please, just hear me out."
The other sat down slowly, rage fading to a sort of fascinated fury.
Rafe nodded. "Thanks. Look, I'm sorry. I just need this mission. I made sure you need me to get it. I'm not trying to threaten you, General. I just want you to understand that the entire math sequence for the Instigation Event which you have in your cores is incomplete as well as wrong. In other words, no more Widgets unless I get what I want."
"-could probably manage an instigation event, yes. But they certainly couldn't manage to produce the continuum rotation mathematics, as you well know, and that would mean you'd get a Universal Destructor you couldn't stop Destructing. Not very useful, is it?"
"Damn it, I'll have you-"
"Oh, be serious, General. A single shuttle mission. A tank you're going to fly up there anyway. My gear will fit into any one of four of the remaining ISS construction missions with room and mass to spare; I and two assistants on the ISS would handle all manpower for refurbishing the tank and installing it. That's all."
"What do I get out of this craziness?"
"What, other than a working weapon?"
"ONE I PAID YOU FOR!"
"Well, yes, but you weren't offering to sell what I needed."
The general deflated slightly. "It's not going to be that easy."
It wasn't, of course. But the general did have friends in high places.
* * *
...six, go for main engine start, three, two one, |SRB ignition, zero, LIFTOFF-"
The Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted for the ISS carrying Rafe Echevarria, Thomas Graff, and a junior research assistant named Ellen Gennary who had far outscored everyone else on the CPG or their immediate staff on a combined metric of CPG physics and zero-gee dexterity. Graff was wearing his C-wrench button on the outside of his spacesuit and an awed shit-eating grin on his middle-aged face. Gennary had a look of absolute completion on her slight features and was clutching, hidden inside her left gauntlet, a small square of cloth against her palm. It contained the emblem of the United Federation of Planets.
The professional Astronauts were frozenly proper to the three interlopers at first. That lasted until Graff fixed the zero-gee toilet for the third time, each time fixing it to correct design flaws. Gennary had rewired a redundant systems monitor into a functional equivalent of a TiVo which was BitTorrenting Battlestar Galactica and Lost episodes onto storage space the ISS had intended to store trash and sewage management records, and Echevarria had recalculated the algorithm governing the reaction control wheels to extend the time required between Angular Momentum Dump thruster burns by over 250%. At that point, the Russian cosmonaut currently in residence admitted to a stash of truffle chocolate, the American 'found' his bottle of Kentucky bourbon, and Graff made himself more popular by sniffing it and spending twenty-three hours producing a completely functional and completely invisible still embedded within the ISS' life support plumbing which produced pure grain ethanol. Rafe surprised them all by figuring out precisely how to crack the abominable barbecue sauce in the NASA ration packs using a vacuum distillation process to extract the smoke flavoring, which, when combined with a bit of tweaked sugars, produced a fairly interesting bourbon analogue.
By the second week, the five of them were nearly family.
The third week, Graff went outside to take off the little paired grinding bots that he'd attached to the Shuttle External Tank which was floating down-orbit from them a few hundred meters. The little bots had spiraled their way up the tank, powered by the sun, keeping their place on its surface by a hoop-shaped tether joining them on opposite sides of the structure as they toiled. According to a complex plan of Rafe's, they burred the ablative shielding off the tank in a fairly intricate geometric pattern, studded with a few bare spots. When that was done, ignoring the muttering of the permanent 'naut community about pollution of the local vacuum, the three CPG team members went out and drilled holes through several of the bare spots, culminating with a two-day procedure cutting a large square hatch into the base of the tank at a precise spot. Affixing hinges to the aluminum, they sealed it messily with quickset gasket, hauled Rafe's gear inside module by module, and shut the door.
Several days passed, with solar panels popping up onto the tank and a slight stream of gaseous ejecta showing that CO2 scrubbers had gotten into operation inside the tank. The permanent crew astronauts had several running bets on what the hell was going on and how; when Graff came over one orbit to borrow a flex coupling, mumbling bitchily about broken internal plumbing on the reactant vessels, they nodded sagely to each other and the American passed the Russian a sawbuck. The CPG was using the leftover H2 and O2 in the tank for water, oxygen and power.
Over the next week, broken only by the ferrying of meal packs into the tank by Ellen and Graff, the tank slowly accumulated several mysterious painted labels, a few communications dishes, what appeared to be salvaged Apollo-design attitude control thrusters and several camera blisters, along with a large sloppily painted logo with an arrow pointing to the base of the Tank reading THIS END UP. When the tank blipped ice crystals and steam and rotated wobbily in place, more nods and a fin passed back the other way indicated another wager settled. That night, all three CPG came over for dinner.
"Gentlement, thank you so much for all your help." Rafe was expansive, for him; they hadn't really heard him say much. Graff was busily negotiating with the Russian sotto voce for the past week's output from the still.
Commander Remington, the U.S. Navy astronaut, toasted the three of them with a squeezebox of ethanOJ. "You're welcome, Rafe. Gotta admit, you guys pulled your weight up here. Atlantis will be here in two days. You guys ready to hit gravity again?"
There were furtive looks. "Well, yes. It's getting a little uncomfortable in the Tank; we're not set up to spin it, and although it's pretty organized, we'd all like to feel Down beneath our feet again." Rafe took another sip of his own Bourboff (as Dmitri called the smoke flavored distillate).
They ended the party with gifts; the Astronauts handed over mission patches, signifying their acceptance of the amateurs as actual spacehands. The CPG team handed over wrench badges. Then the CPG crew headed back to the Tank to bunk down.
* * *
General Flynn was not accustomed to being awakened in person by his subordinates. Not in his bedroom at home. Not, in fact, since those lunatics from the CPG had left his project - and it had cost him in terms of favors for that! - had he in fact suffered a day that did not hew to schedule.
"Umf. What?" He rolled over. Grimacing, he put a finger to his lips, got out of bed and followed his aide de camp into the next room so as to avoid waking his wife.
"What the hell is it, man?"
"Uh, sir, you're wanted on the phone, pronto."
"Do we have any kind of alert?"
"No sir. They, um, just want you on the phone."
By the time the general got to his office and onto the scrambler, he was most upset to find the remaining fifteen members of the CPG clustered outside it, looking as if they, too had been rudely awakened. Unlike him, however, they looked more excited than unnerved or surprised, and that made him extremely nervous. He considered collaring them right here and having his security beat answers out of a few of them, but before this admittedly lovely fantasy could be implemented, the ADC stuck his head out the office door. "Sir, the link is up."
The general swept into his office and brought up the videowall. A scene of orderly chaos filled it, apparently the Blue Room at NASA's Johnson Space Center. A gaggle of military uniforms were outnumbered by the rolled-up sleeves and crumpled ties that seemed to serve as NASA admin uniforms, taken from 1960s Apollo newsreels. A NASA bigwig swung to face the vidwall as Flynn sat.
"There you are, Flynn. What the flying hell are these idiots up to?"
"What idiots, sir?" Flynn's stomach sank. He knew what was coming.
"Those idiots you paid for a taxi ride to the ISS for out of your project budget!" the NASA administrator snarled. "LOOK!" He swung the camera to point at the display wall and pointed.
The ISS was visible, icon blinking steadily in its assigned orbit. A window graphic next to it showed the ISS floating serenely against a backdrop of stars. The scene was so normal that it took a second for it to sink in. "Where's the Tank?"
One of the other Air Force general officers broke in. "That's the problem, Flynn. We don't know. We thought you might. Did the young idiots vaporize themselves?"
"Well, unlikely, sir, or the ISS would..." Flynn trailed off, thinking. One of the NASA men filled in the pause.
"The ISS crew was asleep. They swear they woke up and the Tank was gone. Poof, not there. Whatever happened, it didn't wake them up, and the Tank was only two hundred meters down-orbit from them."
"Do we have video?"
"No." One of the controllers behind the group visibly hunched down at the words. "Somehow, we have several stored hours of Battlestar Galactica sitting in our environmental video log files. Believe me, we've taken that up with them."
At that moment, another phone rang. It was on Flynn's desk, and he had always - up to now - been amused by the fact that it was red.
He picked it up, dread making his fingers icy. "Flynn."
The voice was calm with the precision of both training and the assurance that its owner is going through an unscheduled drill. "Sir, this is SPACECOM Colorado Springs. We have an unidentified target outbound from Earth orbit, approximate starting position colocated with the ISS."
Flynn waved frantically at the screen. One of his colleagues noticed him holding the phone, paled, grabbed his own phone and started punching buttons. A few moments later, he nodded and put the phone down. Everyone on the NASA end was staring at it. Flynn hit his own speakerphone button and told his ADC "Get everyone in the corridor in here right now."
As the Lieutenant hurried to comply, he turned back to the red deskset. "SPACECOM, Flynn. Target size?"
"Sir, target size matches that of an STS External Tank almost precisely."
There was a silence. Flynn frowned. "SPACECOM?"
"Sir, target is accelerating. Current velocity is...is..."
"Sir, it appears to be seven point seven three kilometers per second, and increasing."
There was a deep, ringing silence. Then a massive cheer broke out, startling everyone on both ends of the videolink; Flynn looked up to see fifteen pajama-clad members of the CPG capering around the office. One of them actually produced a champagne bottle from under his bathrobe and another produced a pair of champagne flutes from...somewhere in her intimates. Flynn looked away quickly but reached out and grabbed the nearest one by the scruff of the neck, dragging him into range of the vidwall camera. "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"
The noise quieted. When Flynn loosened his grip, the young man stopped making choking noises, looked at him reproachfully, accepted a wild smooch from the girl who'd produced the glassware from her panties and took on a professorial air (not a bad trick for someone in a set of cowboy pajamas, Flynn thought numbly). "It's Rafe, Ellen and Graff, obviously, General."
"Oh! That was Graff's idea, actually," said the young man. "His and Ellen's. That's why they got to go, the lucky bastards." Another cheer.
Flynn controlled the urge to throttle him. "How. Are. They. Boosting? They don't have the Isp to manage anything like that kind of delta-V, even if the tanks were full - they just don't have the hardware!"
A voice broke in from NASA. "They're up to..." there was a swallowing noise "...eighteen point six kips, now."
The CPG scientist, one arm around the girl (who was mostly in panties, Flynn noted) schnozzled warm champagne. "Oh! They're using the Universal Destructor."
"The Widget! See, Rafe was all worried that we'd end up wiping out the planet in an uncontrolled cascade, originally. Once he beat that, mathwise, he relaxed, but then Ellen and Graff explained what that meant. It took him six months to work out the math for this part, and it took Graff to work out a bunch of the hardware, but, well, see, they've got the Constructor engineered down into a controllable system, not just a bomb."
"What does that have to do..."
The other waved impatiently. "Don't you see? He started the Instigation Event, but managed to make it not zoop!"
Flynn looked murderous.
"The matter cascade is rotating out just slightly out of phase! There's a black hole appearing in front of the Tank, and the tank is moving towards it - gravity, duh - and then it's rotating out when the tank gets slightly closer, and a new one is cascading just further out from it. It's a spacetime tank track. The key is that it's a Universal Destructor - as you fall towards the mass point, you can actually destroy it - remove it from the equation - so that it doesn't just pull you back as you go past it. So long as the widget keeps operating, there's a black hole in front of the Tank trying to pull it in, and it's going to keep accelerating."
There was a vast silence.
"But..." the voice was one of the NASA contingent. "Why didn't they tell us? Where's he GOING?"
"Oh, I dunno. I think he was mumbling about wanting to see what happened if he let the Tank get within Tau-zero, if it would actually stably wormhole out-"
Flynn knuckled his forehead, and answered. "Because we wouldn't let him drive. He's just going to cruise around the neighborhood for a bit, before he brings back the car." He looked up at the NASA crew. "We just have to pray he doesn't total it. And next time, when he asks us for a favor, remember to say yes, okay?"
This story is dedicated to Ed. Keep on rocking free of the world, Ed.
My gran'mere taught me to negotiate for smalls and ways in the unlit parts of the city; she taught me that there were things that lived in New York, that were New York, who could be treated with and flattered or threatened or spoken to over a cup of chocolate or a mug of beer.
I was seven when she knew.
" Police car! Police car!"
"Hush, Michael. No police, see? No police."
"But they're driving! I hear them!" It was true; the siren was laying two-toned brushstrokes of warning down an avenue unseen one block over. Gran'mere looked sharply down at me, my little smooth hand in her small wrinkled one there on Eleventh street on the way to the market.
"You hear them driving, Michel?" When she had something important to tell me, my name changed. The Old World intonation shifted it from something cheap and coarse, borrowed unimaginatively from a shoddy cardboard bible, into something mysterious that spoke of dew-lined trees and forests ancient with tales.
"Yes, Gran'mere. I do, I do! Can't you?"
"I hear it, Michel. But listen, now, that is not police."
"Is it firemen, Gran'mere?"
She looked down at me, and turned uptown on Hudson towards the playground to sit on a bench and pull me onto it beside her. "No, Michel. That is not the firemen. Can you still hear it?"
I listened. The sound was barely audible, moving downtown, before it suddenly stopped. "It stopped, Gran'mere."
"Yes. It is not firemen, nor is it an ambulance."
"Then what is it, Gran'mere?"
"Do you see anyone around us looking for the sound?"
"No, Gran. But unless it is close, no one ever does."
She laughed, once, softly. "That is true. It is true. New York, the city of the unconcerned. Listen to me, Michel." She patted my arm, and her unexpected tenderness was frightening to a child used to cold distance, if affectionate remove. "You can hear the djinn. You must know what he is."
"Yes, mon cher, he. He is the djinn. Have you heard of the djinn?"
"Ah, if you lived in France, you would have, at your age. No. He is a creature of vast age and power, the djinn; he is magic, magic itself. He comes from Araby, long ago. He came to Paris in the time of Napoleon, and when Armistice came after the trenches he came to America with the soldiers."
"He is a magic man?"
"No, cher, he is not a man. He is magic, but not a man. He is a creature of the desert and of the wind. Have you heard of genies and lamps? That is America's poor understanding of the djinn. He would lift up beggars into riches and cast down kings for his sport and fun; torment brave men and rescue cowards to balance sufferings in favored villages, or play great games of pretend and cause great confusion over whole lands, at which he would roar with laughter."
I stared at her, transfixed. "He is here? In New York?"
"Yes, cher. He is. He has been here since the Armistice; but he made a terrible error, and he cannot leave."
"Why not, Gran?"
She waited a moment, looking into my eyes. "Michel, I tell you this because very few people can hear the djinn. If you can hear him, that means you will be able to see him, and to speak with him; and if you can speak with him, you can ask him for things, do him favors. You will be able to see other things most people cannot. But-" and her hand tightened sharply on my arm- "you must understand what it will mean. If I tell you the rest of this story, you will have to let me tell you many things, teach you what you can and cannot do." She sat back, relaxing. "You are young, but already so old here in this world, I don't know if you will understand me."
I gulped. "Gran'mere, I want to hear about the djinn. Why does he make that sound like the police?"
She looked into my eyes, one after the other. "You will listen to me when I teach you?"
"I will, Gran'mere."
A rare smile. "You're a good boy, Michel. Bien, I will tell you. Listen. The djinn came to New York, and he did not understand how very many people there are, here in New York. You see, the djinn's powers, he can only use them in certain ways."
"What ways, Gran'mere?"
The question seemed to please her. Her eyes sparkled and she patted my arm again. "The djinn has no body, Michel. He is wind and darkness and light. He is a shape, no more. In order to speak, he must live inside a person; he must live within their body. Do you understand?"
I sat up, shocked. "He is demon?"
"Yes! Yes, a special demon. He must possess a person to exist and use his power. That is why the stories say you must rub a lamp to see a genie - the djinn can be confined in a vessel or container, but when you touch it, he will possess you. What he wishes you to see, you will see, for he can touch your eyes from the inside, non? And once he is inside you, he can use your body to perform his magic, to grant you wishes as the happy stories go."
"Would he really grant wishes?"
"Ah, that depends. You see, the problem is that the djinn is usually in a container because he has been imprisoned there. If he is grateful for his release, he will perform magic for you before moving on; if he is angry, he will perform a curse before doing so."
"But why do all the stories say he grants wishes?"
"Ah, well, some stories say the wishes are ones that make the wisher regret them later. You see, the djinn dare not hurt you directly, for he is actually inside your body, do you see? If you were to die, or be harmed, it would not hurt him - but in these stories, the lamp is usually hidden somewhere very remote, and if he were to kill you, he would just likely be pulled back into the prison container when your body failed. What would be the point?"
"How does he escape, then?"
That earned me another pat. "You see, a djinn moves from person to person when the person he is in touches another. He cannot help it; he is pulled into the new person. But he is a helpless passenger, unless he can capture the mind of the person he is inside and so take control of them. Once he has done so, he need no longer transfer from person to person upon touch, and he is then 'free' so long as he keeps his body healthy."
I thought about this. "Gran, what happens to the person whose body he is using?"
She smiled sadly. "That person is sleeping, until the djinn leaves. Sometimes for years. If it is that long, when the djinn leaves, they almost always go mad - or those around them usually think them mad, for they remember nothing of the years since they were pushed aside. Sometimes they never return, and the djinn remains until their body dies."
"Why would a djinn not do this all the time?"
"Why, because the longer a djinn stays in a body, the more human it becomes, and the harder it becomes to do magic. Most leave after no more than a few months, before the majority of their powers desert them. When the djinn leaves, their powers return."
"Why is the djinn I hear making that noise? You haven't told me."
"Why, so I haven't. He has been here for many years, you know, cher. And the problem is that in order to capture the mind of a person, that person needs to be quiet for many hours - in sum, they need to go to sleep, really. Do you see the problem, yet?"
I thought about it. "No, Gran." I looked down. "I'm sorry."
She laughed. "Of course not, cher. You have grown here, and it is your home. It is not strange to you." She stood up and waved around us at the avenue, the people rushing back and forth. "You see, from the moment he got off the ship, he has moved from person to person by touch. No New Yorker ever can avoid touching others for an entire day; or, at least, no New Yorker ever has gone from the time the djinn has found him to his bed without touching another - and those that have been touched just before retiring have not slept long enough, or slept alone. The djinn has wandered the streets these long years, moving from person to person, never sleeping, never able to direct his movements."
"But why do the people he posesses not see what he wishes them to see, or accept his wishes?"
"Ah, because those that do are thought mad. He is weak, you see; he has been shuffled from person to person so quickly that his power is confused. He dares not even speak to most he touches, for fear they will become afraid and harm themselves - and those he tries to touch will usually immediately seek help, and be touched."
"It sounds so lonely."
"That, mon cher, is why he howls. It is that which you hear. Sometimes when he is riding the trains, or in buses, he will howl his sadness- and I am not sure if the police sirens were made to sound like him because someone heard him once long ago, or if he has come to imitate them."
"How do you know all this, gran'mere?"
"Ah, I have spoken to him several times."
"Yes. If you know how, you can see him when he lives within someone. If you touch that person, he will be pulled into you. If you can see and hear him, you can speak with him."
"But will he not hurt you?"
"He might. But cher, think of it. He is so very lonely. If you can keep yourself from being touched, and so long as you are not unwary enough to fall asleep, why, he cannot harm you if you do not make any foolish wishes. And he is often so very desperate to talk to someone, even if only for a few minutes. He is usually quite grateful for the chat, and his happiness allows the return of some of his power - which he has used to offer me favors, betimes."
"So if I were to find him-"
"Yes. You may be able to ask him favors."
"Oh." I thought about this for a time. "What should I ask him?"
"Oh, that is up to you. We will talk about what is appropriate. But he is so powerful, that his gifts are best used to help you in your dealings with the others who are New York."
"There are others?"
"Oh, yes. Ever so many others."
"Who? What others, Gran'mere? Can I see them too?"
"We will see, Michel. Come, we still have to go to the market. When we are home, we will try some small things, to see what you can see."
I'm not saying we shouldn't ground them. I'm saying that this is yet another example of our nation demonstrating that it's not at 'full military power' - which, to me, is what our military (especially the Air Force) is for. If you're not fighting to preserve core objectives (and by definition, if you can shut down a major component of your ground strike, you're not really as a nation doing so) then take a good hard look at why and where you're fighting.
Is this trip really necessary?
...there are no hard drives in the drive selection window. WTF?
Try running disk utility. It finds my internal drive but not the partition. This freaks me out. I exit Disk Utility without touching anything. The Macbook Pro was running beautifully on Tiger 1 minute prior.
Search the web. Find this thread at Apple's support forums. Wait, let me get this straight - during an OS upgrade/install, one of the more stressful and careful-tippytoe-making times of a computer user's experience, the damn installer just won't bother showing the drive until it's completed a drive check it doesn't tell you about?
What the fuck?
So I did as recommended. I got to the Drive Selection window and I waited.
Ten minutes later, my internal HD popped up in the pane.
That's...just...Apple, that's just fucking stupid. No warning at all that the thing is busily checking the drive integrity? No notice that it knows the drive exists at all? I'm so lucky I didn't panic in Drive Utility and decide to repartition or some such to get the thing to recognize it. (Well, okay, I'm not lucky, I know better, but a lot of users might panic...)
Apparently, too hard for many people. Where's my credit card...
This irks me.
I have an enormous amount of respect for the men and women who make up the U.S. Military in general. I have a deal of contempt for certain specific individuals in that organization, and when talking about them, name them. On the whole, though, I believe that the U.S. Military is composed of - well - just people, many of whom are aspiring to a sort of noble behavior by doing something active, in contrast to the many who aren't doing anything.
In fact, on many questions, the U.S. Military tends to be closer to the ideal of America that I want to subscribe to than said trashhumpers who so ardently want to defend them. Case in point: Four active-duty service JAGs, and now four retired colleagues of theirs, have come out in eloquent support of the position that waterboarding is a) torture and b) illegal.
These eight people are and were entrusted by the Military itself to ensure that the behavior of its members conformed to U.S. and International law. If any enforcer in the world can be argued by position to be slack on the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their actions, it might be their own in-house watchdogs. I sure don't see that here. I see those watchdogs offering their interpretation of the tactics ordered and espoused by the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, and their interpretation is that "they suck and are forbidden."
Now we have Mr. Mukasey, who as the nominee for AG is waffling like mad on the subject of these very techniques. The Administration will claim loudly that he must retain flexibility so as to protect our 'brave men and women in uniform' who are doing all they can to protect us.
But the JAGs have just shot a pointed rusty dildo through that theory. They have primary investigative and enforcement authority over the actions of U.S. military personnel, and they have said, with no waffling, that the practice of waterboarding is torture, therefore illegal, and Not To Be Done.
So who is Mukasey's flexibility intended to protect? Well, that's kind of obvious, isn't it? Those involved with the use of this practice who are not under the jurisdiction of the JAGs.
In other words, the civilian administration who instructed them.
Couple that with his refusal to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the goings-on at Justice, and what you have is a shriveled-old-white-man wrapping tightly shrunk around a diamond-clear Get Out Of Jail Free plan by those in the U.S. Executive branch.
Fuck that, people. And if the Democratic Party in Congress (as well as the Republican party, but I've given up hope there) had any sense of being American enough to defend our core values, they'd give the nomination the finger. As John Dean (who has some experience with lying sack of shit presidents) has written:
Before the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee completely cave-in to Bush, at minimum they should demand that Judge Mukasey appoint a special prosecutor to investigate if war crimes have been committed. If Mukasey refuses he should be rejected. This, indeed, should be a pre-condition to anyone filling the post of Attorney General under Bush.
If the Democrats in the Senate refuse to demand any such requirement, it will be act that should send chills down the spine of every thinking American.
Note: not the fucktard's word 'right-thinking.' Just plain 'thinking.' Which says something about the fucktards that I agree with.
I hadn't done a full verify/repair during the install, only a perms check - so let that be a lesson to me.
On the other hand, I stand by my kvetching about interfaces. Also, as another friend pointed out to me and I verified, X11 is now limiting X11 windows to the machine's main monitor, which is...annoying.
Time Machine, after spending four hours or so doing its first backup, hung my machine when I came back the next day. It was hung during what looked to be a later backup, because instead of the 1.8MM+ files in the status window, it said something like 31k; however, it wasn't doing anything. It also wouldn't let me do anything related to disk access. Nor would Finder relaunch. On hard-cycling it after letting it sit there for 45 minutes just in case it was stuck on some big file, I found that Time Machine thought that there was no backup on the disk I'd designated - and my main drive was suddenly a Time Machine drive according to its icon and the fact that I had no write perms to it, although Time Machine's prefs showed nothing of the sort. A full reboot 'fixed' that.