All that was left between was words, proof we had both failed each other.
Ever wonder why Big Bird is so big? Of course you have, everyone has, everyone does, but why haven’t you, why hasn’t anyone said it aloud before now? Printed it, posted it, presented it before now? Because those robber barons in the balcony – those Muppet bastards, cut from the same cloth but different – control the papers, and they control the plant at the far end of Sesame Street.
Once, once upon a time, once at a date we all remember – if not personally, then collectively, then in spirit – Sesame Street was a paradise, but now mutants stalk the sidewalks, counting bricks and bats, devouring cookies, living in trashcans, demanding you tickle them. Sickening – and that is the daytime horror. Have you ever been on Sesame Street at night?
There is no starlight, no moonlight. At night Elmo and Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, Oscar, the Count, and the Letter H shuffle to work in the Statler-Waldorf Sweat Shop and Car Wash, and the late night smoke stacks made starry nights starless. The muck and the filth that they spew into the water supply is why Big Bird is so big, why Elmo is so red, why Oscar smells so bad, why Ernie needs his rubber ducky security blanket in the bath.
In the water, toxins swim, but no one told us this. No one warned us. For three months we have lived on this street and drank from our faucets and cooked with and bathed in … the water has become a part of us, and I can feel my insides tightening. My skin is cold. Yours feels like felt. So, tonight we say goodnight for the last time with open throats.
I want to save the world
To be your carbon footprint
There are few magicians in the worlds of the waking or the dreaming, and fewer with every year that passes. If I had been told what would hunt me when I became a magician, what would haunt me, what it would do to the only life I’d known – I think I would have found some other path to walk. But I did not know, and the world does not need magicians any less to mend the walls between the world and what lies Outside. Magic is the smallest part of that.
I walk. The city of New Grimsby isn’t large or even new. Two elementary schools, one over-burdened highschool. It is falling apart in ways people can sense but seldom see until it is too late and streets are littered with empty shops and houses are no longer homes. There is darkness in the world as well as things lurking beyond the dark. A magician deals with things. I wander. I repair. I fix. Some would be told of what magicians do, and think it as useless as holding back the tide. But we can hold back the tide. We can draw lines in the world that Entities cannot pass, make gardens bloom and prevent them from ever failing.
It is not enough, not all the time. But we can leave the world better than we find it, or at least safer. It is enough, some days, if I do not think too long and hard on what I have done to reach the present. I focus my will, draw power from within and without, whisper words of binding that flow into the world, knitting together pieces of light and making the darkness before me a little less deep.
Jay wraps his right hand in my left beside me and squeezes, needing comfort. He looks to be about ten, all thin and pale, like a waif out of a movie. He is from far Outside the universe, bound into my service to save himself from being eaten by things far larger that he could ever be and the journey into the universe left him damaged and weak. That he trusts a magician is proof enough of that.
“Honcho?” he says in a small voice.
“I don’t like thith placthe,” he mumbles, not quite trying to tug me away from it. The lisp is a sign of the damage down to him, that he cannot even speak his own true name.
I study cement walls ringed in interlocking fence, a parking lot empty of everything save weeeds and two lone lights serving only to make the shadows seem darker still. “It is an elementary school. There is school of thought that a magician should be in every school the world over.”
“Oh. I can thee why,” he says firmly. “It’th all twithted up and-and like an ache that can’t go away.”
I grunt, pulling my hand free of his. Jay sees the world in terms of bindings and loosing, able to see bindings I never could dream of. “Did my binding help the school?”
Jay says nothing. I look down. He bites his lower lip hard.
“Jay. Did my binding help?”
“Honcho,” he says, little more than a whine.
I repeat myself a third time, threading power under the words. Jay jumps a little at that, eyes growing wide. I don’t force the bindings between us often, and not without cause.
He shakes his head, saying nothing, lips tight together.
I pause, then crouch down to eye level. “I’m not mad at you.”
Jay gulps. “Really?”
“We’re bound, me to you, you to me.”
“You get mad at yourthelf all the time,” he says.
“But not you.”
He thinks it over, then says: “The darkneth felt you coming and went deeper?”
“So the binding is a band-aid and not a real binding?”
Jay grins at that, wide and huge. “Yep!”
“And you thought I’d be angry at you for saying that?”
“You thought it had worked and it hadn’t.”
“I’d only be angry if you didn’t tell me that, Jay. Failure means I can try again; thinking I succeeded when I failed means I can’t. Got it?”
He looks puzzled but nods. I stand, ruffle his hair and turn back to the school. “There is a darkness to this place that will make the hearts of teachers harden, grow cold, become armour against wonder. That is what schools do, for so many reasons. But you are affecting the children as well, and that goes too far.”
I reach into the school, letting my will and the magic brush the walls, and loose the light I find inside. Nothing happens on any visible level, but Jay lets out a gasp beside me and blinks a few times, rubbing his eyes to clear them.
I take a breath, focus, and loose the darkness in the school as well, and then I call up the echoes of what teachers are to bind both light and dark. As cleansings go, it takes more time and energy that I’d like to spend, but Jay gives me thumbs up when I look down at him and his pride radiates through the binding between us. Even magicians learn, though we know to hide it well.
You said time was the compounded failure of our dreams. I said perhaps you weren’t dreaming as hard as I was then. You said, softly tired, that no two people dream of the same thing.
I kissed your lips by means of reply.
We have not spoken with words for two days now.
It was a strange, strange night:
The moon was full and gleaming,
The stars eternally bright, and
All the clouds they had silver linings.
I was standing by a river
That does not have a name,
Looking for a giver
Whose love I could tame.
The sky was full of questions
I could not dare to ask,
Answers without solutions
And the knowledge nothing lasts.
Today I put up my ninth entry for garnet’s fun challenge. I … have stories written for the next 4 days (1 and 4 are done, 2 and 3 need another draft/fixing). It is meant to be prose and poetry; I’ve done 1 poem and the rest has been prose so far.
… this may be one reason I seldom do challenges like this :)
On the plus side, the entry for tomorrow is in the magician series. The other stories are now all being tagged darverse tales; I have no idea how long I’ll do them or even how it it all going to end. I had one story in my head. It has morphed into 11 so far….
The thing about being a mechanic is that you fix things. It gives you a certain respect, because you held hold the world together and make sure it doesn’t fall apart as best you can. The thing about working in psych is that you hold people together, and nothing destroys the world faster than people breaking down. Which is why Jaci gives me no choice when they show up at my quarters on the McLan, point out in certain terms that I have spent four years without a vacation and even sneak in work on the rest days I take each monthly cycle. I would protest at the invasion of privacy, but Jaci has been a friend for over three year cycles and I have no doubt they are prepared with an even longer mandatory vacation if I try and get out of this one.
Which is why I end up bound for Garnet IV with Orien. Medics are bad at taking vacations as well, though they generally have better reasons than a mechanic does. Mine is mostly that I’m not human in the technical sense: when you’ve had your mind transferred into another body, you can only think of yourself as still human for so long. I haven’t in quite a few years, though I mostly keep that to myself. Most of the first-generation transfers have killed themselves long before now, and the second-gen use of the technology was largely creative assassination. It’s possibly to temporarily copy of someone’s mind into a Construct for messages, but those degrade quickly. Transfers are permanent, reserved for accidents and injuries that can’t be solved any other way.
There aren’t many of us anymore. A lot of people simple decide they’d rather die than become one. I wasn’t given a choice, being eight when the accident happened. I’ve known people who have made the choices, and those who have refused it. I don’t think any side is braver than the other. I know I’m an anomaly for surviving as long as I have, but I don’t know why that is so. I need to keep my systems charged, but I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. I pointed that out to Jaci, who cheerfully said that they didn’t care, the flight had been booked and if I wanted to consider it a journey rather than vacation, it was entirely fine by them.
I’m a little worried at how well Jaci knows me, even if Adjudicators are trained psychs.
Orien and I are the only people on the small transit craft leading down to Garnet IV. He used to be a battlefield medic until a bomb removed his arms, legs and some of the rest of his body. Synthlimbs had replaced it all, synthskin hiding the damage entirely, but he was discharged anyway and ended up as a medic on the McLan. I helped fix some of his systems once, he insisted on checking me over in turn. We’ve been good friends ever since.
Enough that I’m not even having my projection up, just pacing the small craft up and down on my treads. The projection is a human-seeming over me, semi-solid illusion that people prefer to interact with over a cylindrical shape on treads with over a dozen arms inside a chassis and a viewscreen with a projection-face. The projection looks like me, if I was in my twenties, and is quite well-made. I upgrade and fix my body as the closest thing I have to a hobby.
“Are you finished being grumpy?” Orien says dryly.
“I’m not grumpy.” I turn my projection on and cross my arms and glower at him. “I’m miffed.”
“I don’t like vacations anymore than you do, but it’s not as if we have a choice. Medics are medics wherever we go, but Garnet IV is different. We’re talking high-class vacation – the whole local system, not just the one planet – and staff who won’t bat an eye at you. If you stop being miffed.”
I flick the projection off and let out a huge sigh, moving over to wait beside him as the docking process begins. My vocal interface is very good, sometimes better than I like it to be. “You’ve seen the specs too.”
“No infoweb access at all. A whole week of updates and data we’ll both need to catch up on.” Orien gives me a gentle poke in the side. “You can’t tell me you don’t look forward to that.”
I grin despite myself; the viewscreen face-projection gives away too much as well, sometimes, and my grin definitely looks as wicked as it feels.
“If we play our cards right Jaci won’t send us on another vacation for a long time, at least not to a system without the infoweb. But it does mean we have a whole week to ourselves with no one bothering us. The staff won’t care that you’re a transfer – or even that I am on this vacation with you – but I doubt the other guests will want to get to know you.”
I flick my projection on long enough to shrug, shut it off again. “I’m used to that.”
He lets out a sigh of his own, but doesn’t push the issue. “What was your last vacation like? You must have had at least one before now.”
“I had a lot of downtime before I left Earth, when business was slow –.”
“Dar.” He says nothing else. Waits.
“The journey to the first world off-Earth I worked at was relaxing,” I say finally. “I had no idea what to expect from them, and Max had given me his security clearances so I had more access to the infoweb than I ever had before. I was drunk on information the entire journey. It was nice.”
“Being free. For a little while. Setting up my shop again and getting custom was just too much work, so I sold it all off and ended up on Docking Stations, and then worked my way out to McLan.”
Orien studies me in silence. I don’t turn on my projection, or turn off the viewscreen, even though I feel nervous under his gaze as the shuttle finishes docking. “You’re telling me you’ve never had a real vacation,” he says finally.
“I guess not, at least not in the sense you mean?”
“I see.” He pauses a moment, then follows me as we leave the landing craft. The sky is a hundred fresh colours, the world full of the hum of life so different than the sounds of Docking Stations and machines. And the Infoweb is gone entire, closed off, a void left for the world to fill. I move out beside Orien, taking it all in slowly.
“Nice, isn’t it?” Orien says.
I pause. “Am I allowed to say no?”
He kicks me in the side; I yelp, as much from how casual it is as the fact that he does it. “I extended the vacation just before we docked. Two weeks, the second week is going to be a journey through the hundred islands along the north coast.”
“When is the last time you went camping?”
“Never,” I mumble.
“Exactly. Life is a journey, and if you don’t make journeys during it then you’re doing something wrong.” He grins. “We can depart early if you really want to, okay?”
And he is serious about that, too. “Okay.” I continue forward, extending a limb to rub my chassis where he kicked me. I don’t have limbs designed that are suitable for kicking anyone; I make a note to change that once we’re back on McLan.
The morning they told
me that Andrew died, I
ran to the room with
yellow curtains and
sobbed prayers into the
sheets for rainstorms.
The June sun folded
up his smile and pressed
it into the hollow between
my wrist and my palm.
Every inch of my skin
felt like stomach bile
the color of rotting
I wanted to know
that wherever God was,
he was howling.
I wanted to know he
was knitting new waves
into the ocean; I
wanted every angel to cry.
But the sky stayed blue.
The room with yellow
Today I am grateful there is no such thing as ghosts. Because if there was, I could not bear to haunt the person you have become.
chriswwriter replied to your post “And so the day came to pass that the Illuminati were replaced by the…”
All under the watchful gaze of … the FB eye. 0.o
Hah! Very good :)
The princess in the tower was waiting for a prince
They all do, the prince knew. It’s why they ended up in towers.
At midnight’s hour he climbed the wall with assassins gear
(the better to deal with brothers, my dear), prepared to rescue the princess in the tower.
Only to his shock there did appear an old witch with the girl of hair spun of gold
And the witch was cleaning the young girl’s hair until gleaming
Which hung long enough to reach the ground the prince was sure.
“You are so lovely princess,” the witch simpered and the sight blinded the prince
Who fell down to his doom and scratched his eyes on blooms
And the witch and princess folded together in embrace
Never seeing the blind prince’s face as he fled from the princess in the tower.
And so the day came to pass that the Illuminati were replaced by the Twitterati and no one realized until it was far too late.
It is raining on top of the office building, a light rain dancing into an earth made artificial, the garden atop the JetSyne skyscraper existing to make some kind of statement. According to Richard, it is an attempt to be hip, which he said in a deeply sarcastic tone. Richard Brown is as drab as the name, the kind of person almost destined for management at some faceless conglomerate of a company. Though, on the face of it, I probably would be as well if my blandness was not an act of conscious choice as much as a statement of my nature. I have no idea what he did to owe favours to the magician Wu Ming, but he did so and she sent a messenger to me in turn.
Because, as she put it, if she could not destroy me – not even in her own city – then she could well use me. I am not like other magicians: I can wander, and I have bond myself to a creature from Outside the universe who bound himself to be first. Jay has been left in a hotel room with a TV and snacks and is desperately trying to hide his fear from me through our binding. Jay is very, very good at hiding and I’ve borrowed that power to walk through the JetSyne wards and sit in on a meeting about company productivity. Which as near as I can tell involves more work for less pay.
I am starting to think that anyone who wants to attend meetings should not be allowed to.
The current speaker is one Melissa Engelbert, the CPO. Chief Planning Officer apparently means co-ordinating events. It also means making arrangements for the wards and protections the company has against magicians, especially the one who is the city. I could take the wards down from inside and let Wu Ming in; I haven’t yet. It takes an interesting kind of courage to try and close a part of a magicians city from them, even if it only one office tower: there are many reasons to do so, and some of them are even benign.
It is, after all, a very quick way to get the attention of said magician if you want to.
Ms. Engelbert, the ‘Ms.’ thrown out into the room like a drawn sword, is talking about graphs and production values and the company pension plan. I have no idea if it is my being here, or something Wu Ming asked of Richard, but he raises a hand.
“Excuse me, but we import much of our products from China. Whose record in human rights is frankly appalling at best: I am not sure JetSyne can dare to claim that it is going to deny insurance to workers for moral reasons given that. At least not without being duly laughed at.”
She pauses mid-flow. The CEO, one Albert Spencer, lets out a low rumble of laughter from his vast seat at the end of the room. He is quiet, the kind to listen more than speak, and reminds me of a magician as he stirs in his chair. The stirring triggers a memory and I am almost certain I know what he is, which is all the more reason to keep quiet.
“We are about profits and productivity,” Spencer says. “People are a distant second to the accumulation of wealth, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I wouldn’t,” Richard says.
“Ah.” The CEO lets out along breath. “Recently married, are we?”
Richard looks confused but nods.
“That would explain it. It is unwise to let pangs of remorse limit oneself. Continue,” he says, waving a hand to Ms. Engelbert.
She talks about mining operations, though calls it datamining and apparently means the internet. Which is reason enough for a company to not want magicians to be involved in their affairs, but perhaps not enough to go this far. I listen for at least ten minutes to her lecture on a subject everyone else in the room seems to know before a man with no chin stands and begins talking about shareholder return and market value and the need to be trim and lean.
I cough. Heads snap about, suite rustling like scared pigeons. I’m wearing jeans, a cheap jacket, t-shirt. I don’t belong and as far as they can tell I wasn’t in the room a moment ago. I stretch from where I’ve been leaning against the wall and feel Ms. Engelbert draw up power. Practitioners aren’t magicians, but they can use magic. Enough time, enough effort, a large enough source of power and they can do small things in a small area. It took all her skill to make the wards, that and more beside. I feel out her power, and the sacrifices made to bolster it.
“You would solve a lot of issues if manpower and time wasn’t wasted on wards,” I say softly. “Or if half the interns didn’t have their own future drained out of them to help power said wards. There is this saying, you know that we borrow the land from our children. Which means we’re leasing it from them at a rather enviable rate, don’t you think? We are always in debt to the future, especially companies forced to straddle it.”
Ms. Engelbert speaks a Word and the air shudders under it, the other suits spinning to stare in shock. I don’t know how many knew of magic, or even her, until that point. Most large companies have at least one person whose job it is to keep out gremlins, leprechauns and the like. It tends to be uncommon knowledge at best.
I catch the Word and unravel it between my fingers. “I am a magician, Ms. Engelbert. I could unmake all the wards now, let the magician who claims this city know what you’ve been doing here. But you haven’t been doing anything wrong, just being too paranoid for your own good. Being a corporation instead of people. That, too.”
Richard has gone still and pale; whatever he expected of me, this wasn’t it. Neither will be this, I think.
I turn to the CEO and bare my teeth in a smile. “How has JetSyne been treating you, Albert Spencer? Is this an acceptable hoarde?”
He stirs, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of banked fires in his eyes and greed so deep nothing will ever fill it. No one else recognizes a dragon; myth conditions people deeply. They expect scales and wings, not a hunger without end, not glimpses of what a dragon must give up for power. A dragon’s fire can burn a magician to ashes but can’t he hot enough to replace where their heart, their soul, where they used to be. Only wealth touches that coldness, and it’s never enough at all.
“You could kill me,” I say, low and hard, for his ears alone. “But you would lose JetSyne and Wu Ming would kill you in turn. I would wound you enough for that at the least, and I am not without allies who would avenge my death if even my enemies like her failed to do so.”
“Magicians are not welcome here,” he says for everyone’s ears, and nothing more.
“If we were, I would be worried.” I bow to him, and undo the wards about the place. It is easy from the inside, so easy that Ms. Engelbert grips the table to stop herself from crying out as how quickly I undo years of work. I don’t tell her she could have been a magician if she’d wanted it enough; I have no need to be that cruel.
I just turn and walk to the door. “We have no reason to interfere in your affairs, not truly. Your company is not doing anything other companies would not do if they could. But if you push this, I will call in the debts owed to the future and you will learn just how far your hungers take you and to what end they always need. It would help if you have less meetings,” I finish with, closing the door and heading down the stairs.
Security does not stop me when I leave.
(Loosely inspired by this and the desire to ‘write about a good meeting’ as a response to it. Said ‘prompt’ was sitting in my drafts folder for over a year before I went: “Oh, right, I meant to use that!”)
I snap the arms back into place in a moment, test linkages and fit the legs back in a moment later. Orien lets out a breath and flexes his limbs, stands, stretches slowly. His synthskin is state of the art: aside for hearing a few automated systems regulating his body below it, one would never think one of the medics of Docking Station McLan had over sixty percent of his body as synthetics. All limbs, one lung, part of his torso, some of his head: the bomb had taken out four soldiers; another battlefield surgeon had managed to save his life.
He’d retired to being a medic here: have too many synthetics and one was considered more a hazard than useful on battlefields. At the very least, one became more costly to upkeep than a regular shoulder. I’d noticed his left shoulder being off, offered to help, fixed linkages and then got a little carried away with other repairs.
“And you’re a vehicle mechanic,” Orien says, flexing a hand. “You have a gift for this, you know.”
I flush; it’s one of the benefits of a projection. I can show emotions better with it than with my real body. “I had a friend with cybernetics long ago: the principles are the same and I try and keep up with developments. It’s easier to fix limbs if you fix them all at once, even if it’s not comfortable for you to be without them. I prefer a holistic scan of an entire system to fix the root problems rather than patch each piece up alone; and my scanners are pretty much designed for that so it doesn’t take as much time.”
“I did notice that.” He pauses, studying me thoughtfully. “Could you lower your projection for me?”
I pause, but I did just remove and fix all his limbs. I flick the projection off: under the image of a human male is my chassis, my real body: a mind transferred into a cylinder on treads that tapered off to a viewscreen at the top my ‘face’ was visible in. People find it easier to interact with transfers when we have a face. Orien just looks me over critically from botton up to top and down again.
“What do you need fixed?”
“I’m fine,” I say, and my vocal interface is too quick.
“That is what I said as well. Mechanics get damaged: you’re going to need someone else to be able to fix you sometime, Dar. I barely knew you. You barely know me.”
He says nothing else. I gulp, move back. Pace the room, rolling from one side to the other nervously for almost a minute before I come back in front of him. He’s just watched, said nothing. I realize I didn’t put my projection back up before pacing. “I’m not…” I trail off into silence.
“It doesn’t have to be today. Just some day,” he says quietly, reaching out to poke my chassis with a fingertip before pulling it away. “You’re a good mechanic, Dar. And you’ve been around for a long time, as transfers go. You’ve adapted your body, changed it, modified it. I imagine another mechanic can repair you, but it will take time you might not have.”
And under it: would I want someone to? is unvoiced, a question I never have the same answer to whenever it is voiced. I haven’t been good at trust for a long time. I know that. “I know,” I say, to the voiced and unvoiced. I stop. Stare at Orien. “I’m scared.”
“And I wasn’t?” he says, but mildly.
I undo linkages, trigger commands. My projection flickers, and then appears a good two feet from my body even as my chassis opens up in the middle.
Orien stares into my body, then over at me. “I assume there’s a practical reason you made your projection able to, ah, project?”
“I can check my body for scuff marks and damage I might not notice.” Projection-me shrug. “And it helps a little when fixing errors. I can see through the projection, my sensors and the viewscreen all at once for a time, if I need to. I’m just using the projection right now.”
“Fascinating.” He begins doing scans over apps and linkages he recognizes as I watch, biting my lower lip and trying not to look as scared as I feel. Orien begins asking questions about modifications, about some things I’ve done to my body and shared only with the transfer community. I tell him, because some people outside the community should know. Explain how my ‘mind’ is spread throughout the chassis, how I can replicate my core from most any piece if I had to.
“Have you had to do this?”
“Twice. The damage was never extensive enough to really worry me.”
“Huh.” Orien points out a few linkages I can improve, checks other systems, gently disengages a few for a closer look. “You modified a battery drive to charge with movement.” He holds it between his hands. “And two smaller ones, judging by links, but this is the main one?”
“It is.” My voice is small even to my ears.
Orien looks back at ‘me’. He pauses. “Are you all right?”
“I didn’t damage –.”
“No! I’m fine It – I’ve never had someone hold my primary node in their hands in-in a long time.”
He smiles. “So I’m holding your heart in the palm of my hands?”
I giggle at that; I’ve never done that, not in a long time either. I’m terrified, and cover it with words: “I can run without it for enough time to make a new one, but this is – scary.”
Orien replaces it, triple checking his work, asks a few more questions and then pulls back. “I think that’s more than enough for today; we can look over your treads and hoverjets and limbs a different time.”
I let out a breath and close up my chassis, check everything is working and disengage the projection. I engage a couple of limbs to run them over my chassis, making sure everything is locked down out of paranoia even if I know its fine.
“Everything okay?” Orien asks when I’m finally done.
“Yes. Thank you,” I mumble.
He stands and a wall slides open to the left of me to reveal a large room with ten charing ports. Everything from medical supplies to small servitor-bots could be charged in here even if the rest of the ships grid failed. “I use this for charging in private. If you want to join me?”
I normally book a small charging room for myself once a week for an hour, sometimes two. Lock it down, charge. Be nervous most of the time. I can use my limbs a little when charging, but I can’t disconnect easily or activate the projection. I say nothing, not moving.
“I did hold your heart in the palm of my hands,” the medic says with a grin.
I have to grin back at that and move into the charging room, set one of the units up and plug into it. Orien connects into the one beside it, sitting down. He shuts down every system he can, going into a deep sleep. Trusting me to do nothing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve used a charging station long enough to charge every one of my systems. I relay commands, relax, let myself drift into the noise. Let the medic hold my trust, and it feels good to trust anyone this deeply.