The Making of Friends

I’d like to make a few comments before posting this. I mentioned a post or two ago that I was having trouble with a short work entitled Disciple of the Gauntlet.

Well, I kept having trouble with it, and found two of the reasons that I kept struggling were these: First, it was very long, and really more of two short stories that were only slightly related stuck together. Second, it felt more like part of a novel than a short story, which isn’t a huge problem, except that I was trying to make each individual thing self-contained.

Both of these problems stem from the fact that I wanted the readers to be able to read the story on it’s own, and still get it without having to read any of the other stories to do with Artifice. Well, I decided to forget that, and just fix the problem. Here lies the first of the two quasi-related stories, entitled The Making of Friends, and it is at least slightly recommended that you have read both The Glory of God and The Trick to Fish prior to reading this, although it is most certainly not necessary.

As a final note, if this feels a little half-finished, that is because, really, the stories of Sera and Terri are part of a larger work, and thus the story isn’t finished yet. Perhaps not that beneficial in the realm of short story, but this is stretching boundaries all over the place anyway, so here’s the bit-of-novel/short-fiction, The Making of Friends.


The first time Sera met Terri, was at the Pike Place Market, when Sera had been idly watching the show, and accidentally beaned Terri with a crab.

It had happened fast, and Sera hadn’t quite realized the significance of what had taken place that day. She had, as usual, been using her specs. She had just turned sixteen, and had gotten a new pair for her birthday the week previous. Her old specs had been clunky and too big—like those massive goggles that kids wore at the pool before they learned how to keep water from going up their nose. These were much better—they were to her old specs what a crotch rocket is to a little pink tricycle with streamers coming off the handlebars. Even sitting still on her face, they looked like they were going fast.

The gauntlet that had come with them wasn’t bad, either—great processing power, and a much more reliable wireless signal, so it was always in contact with the specs. Her old glove had looked like something an old lady would use for pulling weeds. This was a proper gauntlet—encased her arm halfway to her elbow, and was streamlined so that, for all the thing’s bulk, it didn’t look like she had a sledgehammer instead of an arm.

Sera had been watching the show from afar, using her specs to zoom in and record some of the more entertaining bits. She normally didn’t stop by Pike Place, because it had become a tourist trap over the years, and she didn’t like crowds. After all, she almost always had her specs on, and was at least a little more prone to run into other people than the normal pedestrian. She tried to stay away from streets, too, in case she took a real car for something that her specs showed her, and waltzed in front of it.

Today, though, she was shopping for a present for mom, and Mrs. Bevens was quite partial to the hand-made preserves that the stand just down the street from the fish market sold. She had stopped by, jam in one hand and gauntlet in the other, to watch the fish market just for old time’s sake.

She almost didn’t see the crab coming. It must have slipped from someone’s hand, because it was on a collision course from her head, and she only caught the tail end of one of its pinchers in her telescoped vision.

Pure instinct—Sera had always had good instincts, and good hand-eye coordination—made her reach up and catch the thing with a gauntleted hand before she knew what was fully going on, which earned her a small round of applause. With a few flicks of her pinky and a twist of her wrist, her specs became as translucent as normal glasses and left her staring at a pair of black goggled eyes on stalks like black marbles each glued to a bit of red macaroni. She gave a girlish scream, and flung it back in the direction it had come from.

That haphazard throw ended up changing the entire course of her life, because the crab had flown strait and true, and skipped off Terri’s surprised face like a piece of shale skipping off a pond. The tall girl—who at first, Sera thought looked more like a puppeteer’s marionette, stretched out lengthwise—fell over in a mess of gangly limbs, strawberry-blond hair, and orange waders.

Sera actually had the grace to look embarrassed when Terri got to her feet, stalked from behind a stand of ice-packed squid and up to her.

“You throw this crab?” she asked, holding up the offending crustacean at her.

Terri was tall—very tall. Sera wasn’t, and the older girl towered over her by more than a head’s-height.

“Ah, yes?” Sera offered, wondering somewhere in the back of her mind whether assault by crab was a punishable offense.

“Not a bad throw,” Terri said, waving the google-eyed thing at her. “Crabs are slippery, and it’s easy to botch. You ever thrown a crab before?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Sera said honestly. She was sixteen, and this imposing girl in big orange waders was clearly older—maybe even nineteen. Clearly in another class of adulthood altogether. Sera wasn’t used to being noticed by college aged kids.

Terri seemed to find this response funny, and let out a laugh that would have been more appropriate coming from a man. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Sera. Um.”

“Sera?” Terri asked. “Well, I’m Terri. It’s not a bad job, catching a crab whats been thrown at you, you know, Sera. You must have been paying attention.”

Sera wasn’t entirely sure that because this older girl was suddenly on a first-name basis with her that it worked the other way around.

“I try, um… Ma’am.”

Terri. It’s Terri. That’s what names are for, right?”

“Yeah,” said Sera, although she wasn’t as sure as she’d like to be. “I guess.” Her lips moved for a moment, as if trying to parse a detail from the conversation. “’What’s been thrown at you,'” she said softly. “What, you threw that crab at me? On purpose?”

“Yeah,” Terri said lightly, “I thought you were a Goggle Kid, and they annoy me. Quick crab on the head makes them wake right up, though.”

Sera found herself scowling. “I’m not a Goggle Kid,” she said frostily.

She wasn’t a Goggle Kid, although this hadn’t been the first time she was confused for one. After all, Sera was almost always wearing her specs, and the the folks at her school would be shocked to know that her right arm really did exist under her gauntlet. And she was a little more klutzy than most people, even without the specs on, and so it was easy to associate her with the society of the Goggle Children—the ones that became so wrapped up in the images on their lenses that they forgot the real world even existed. The ones that forgot what trees looked like, unless they saw them in a D&D game.*

But Sera always kept in mind that there was one key difference between her and the Goggle Kids: her opacity settings. Out of her own room in her own home, she never turned hers up past 50%, and settings that high were reserved for sitting on the bus while checking her mail, or working on a paper for school over some McDonald’s. She never played games while walking, or worked on schoolwork or anything. Out in the open, her specs were for observation—zooming in on an interesting scene without looking nosy, or taking a picture or movie when she wanted to remember something. But she never disconnected herself from the real world. There was a line there, and even if she was close to it she wouldn’t cross over. Not into Goggle Kid territory. She would keep her eyes open to what was really around her.

“I’m not a goggle kid,” she said again.

“Well, I figured not. You caught my crab,” Terri said. “I’ve hit Goggle Kids before. Sometimes with halibut. They normally only flinch a little. They never catch the thing.”

Sera found herself smiling, despite herself.

“That’s a nice rig you got,” Terri said. “You good with specs?”

“Pretty good,” Sera said humbly, because even though the computer guy at her school called her in to fix things, she didn’t want to assume anything about this older stranger. She found out, later, that she had made a wise decision.

“Great. Do you play Tourney?” Terri said, and she was smiling with a friendly, infectious grin that Sera couldn’t quite help but start to return.

Tourney was a game, and Sera did play it. She was a little nervous about saying so, though, because the game was rated Adult for bloodshed and revealing costumes for the women, and Sera wasn’t quite legally an adult yet, but Terri’s smile won her over.

“Yeah, I play.”

“What’s your username? Maybe I’ll come find you sometime, and we’ll play?”

Terri was still smiling. She had thin lips, and a lot of teeth. She looked slightly hungry. She had lots of hair, too, and it hung almost to her waist in a rather unruly manner, which made her seem much bigger and taller than she actually was. Sera looked up, a little intimidated, and thought of Eric Mathews, from her biology class, who was six foot one. She was fairly certain that Terri was even taller, and certainly more spindly.

“The Glory of God,” Sera squeaked out, and then, because she felt that this might require explanation, “so that when I kill somebody, it says ‘so-and-so has been killed by The Glory of God,’ see. I wanted The Wrath of God, but it was already taken.”

“Right,” Terri said, and rested her palms on the back of her head, bony elbows hanging forward on either side. Sera suddenly thought of a satisfied spider who had just felt a tug in her web.

“Well, I should be getting back to work. I have to stuff a mackerel down my drawers and dance around. If you’ll excuse me.”

She gave Sera a pat on the shoulder, and left towards the fish market again.

That was their first meeting—and Sera really didn’t think much of it. She didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when the words Once Upon a Time found her, and her story started beginning.


*In fact, almost all Goggle Kids did play all the latest Dungeons & Dragons software, and so not only did they almost all know what trees looked like, but most of them knew which ones to pray at to get a +9 defense against ogres, and which ones were infested with level 21 bark-goblins.


Giving Blood

“Would you like to give blood?” was the last thing that Seth wanted to hear, coming out of the cafeteria Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t just that the stupid red cross girl had asked him after every meal of every day this week, not seeming to get that ‘no’ the first time implied that the subsequent answers wouldn’t change. It was the test in French that he had failed earlier in the week, and that there was nobody to blame for it but his own non-foreign-speaking self. It was his roommate, who snored in his sleep with bare-chested gusto. It was how he very, very badly wanted to curl up to a good book and grumble like a crotchety old man when anybody interrupted him.

Karma was broken though, and the girl, with her silly-looking, fake nurse’s cap perked up as soon as he was through the glass doors to the cafeteria, chirping: “Would you like to give blood? You could help save a life!”

He tensed—lips pursed, eyebrows raised—and gave her a look normally reserved for telemarketers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

He had told her, of course, that he had been to Europe recently, and couldn’t, and that he had a blood disorder, and that his blood pressure was too low. As far as he knew, none of these things were true, but he didn’t know for absolute certain, except for the Europe one, and so consoled himself that he wasn’t really lying, he was just speculating.

He wouldn’t have really cared if he was lying, though.

Blood drives, he knew, were good things in a general, academic sort of way. This didn’t help Seth like them any more. He didn’t like the idea of getting stuck with a needle and then bled, like a pig. Maybe he was just prejudiced against people without enough blood—did that make him a bigot?

He wasn’t much more worried about being a bigot than being lier though.

He gave the brainless pretend-nurse a patient smile, and said “no thanks, I’ve already given blood.” It would have been very easy to get snide with her, which was the reason he was careful not to. Besides, if she couldn’t remember the countless excuses he’d already given, she probably wouldn’t realize that he was lying now, too.

The mismatched furniture of the student center had been pushed together and out of the way to make room for the cots, where people sat still, doing nothing while they bled for cookies and juice.

Instead of walking through the cots, like a sensible person, Seth took the long way around, crawling about and through stacked furniture when he had to, until he could just reach his bag from the coat rack around an upended couch. He snatched it—it was slim, like a briefcase—and slipped out of the building with a rush of soccer players, preparing to head out via bus to an evening game.

Seth wished them skill before turned off their path, heading to the English and Languages building.

There was an office there, where Seth made a habit of taking over on any evenings when French tutoring wasn’t already occupying the space. Him and Catherin, the French tutor, had an informal competition going to see who could get there first each day. The loser of the nightly competition normally ended up conducting business in a small, but comfortable, nook in the first floor hall, with a couch, a few folding chairs, and a vending machine. The winner got the office, which had a desk and a chair that spun.

If he ever happened to win firm dominance over the space, he might ask her to dinner one night, and sometimes he hoped that if she won, she would do the same. It might help his French grade, after all, and she was pleasant, for a foreign-language person.

Today Seth got there first, which surprised him—he was running late, and Catherin was normally more punctual than competitive. Not one to have mercy on a rival, he sat down at the desk and turned his chair so that he could see out the door to smile presently when Catherin walked by and pretended to ignore him.

Meticulously, he set his briefcase bag against the far leg of the desk, removing from it a stack of papers about a quarter inch thick, and a red pen. He uncapped his red pen, which was the kind with the long, needle-like nub and the clear bit of plastic in the middle acting as a window to the watery ink sloshing around inside. Thus far, it’s the only red ballpoint he had found that worked properly without petering out after the first few markings.

Licking his forefinger very lightly before turning each page, he leafed through the sheets of paper, idly considering what his project for the evening was going to be. He had started a new poem earlier in the morning which could already use some trimming, but there were other, older projects that needed observation before he lost all passion for them.

Finally, he selected an old essay, which he had originally thought to send in to NPR’s This I Believe, but couldn’t because it had been twice as long as the requirements allotted. He had pared it down considerably, but still had about one hundred words too many.

He pulled the two paperclipped pages out and spread them in front of them, so he could see both at the same time. He read the entire thing over without making a single mark. Then he reached down and drew a single strait line across the title of the essay, I Believe in Self Control, because it didn’t sound good on his tongue. He was thinking about what might work in its stead when the door opened.

It was Catherin, who had broken the unspoken condition of the unspoken competition, and opened the door while he clearly had control of the office. She was panting and out of breath, though, and her freckled cheeks were flushed, which was something that normally only happened in Seth’s imagination, and so he decided to forgive her.

“I’m about to go into an exam for French Regional Dialects,” she said, and looked horrified. “I forgot a pen.”

Seth looked up at her over his glasses, capped his and held it up. “Do you mind red?”

“Anything,” she said, and he handed it to her. “Thank you so much, Seth,” she said as she leaned out the door, pulling it closed with her. “You’re a life saver!”

Seth watched her disappear, and tried not to sigh. She really was an exquisite person. He thought for a moment about her panting, and began to think for a few moments more. Then, without so much of a shake of his head, he thought the word nepsis so crisply and cleanly that he might as well have said it out loud. Nepsis, he thought again, all images of panting and freckles fleeing. Nepsis—the control of thoughts.

Repeating that mantra, he reached to his suitcase, and pulled out another red pen—he always kept three of them on him at all times. Well, two, now, but he would quickly replace the lost one.

For a moment, he glared at the title, before writing in above the scratched out title, “I Believe in Nepsis.”

And then, because he realized that the title would require an in text definition and explanation, as well as a reworking of a few examples (which would add no less than thirty words, when he already needed to drop so many), he wrote next to it “Consider in an alternate draft.”

Then he proceeded to read the rest of the text a second time, very slowly. Each time he stumbled upon an unsatisfactory word, he would grimace like a carpenter seeing a poorly made joint, and his pen would sweep down like an angry bird. After an hour, the pages was littered with angry, red scratches, livid and sharp, like blood on the paper.


Some quick notes about this piece, it has nothing to do with Artifice, first off. Secondly, it is pseudo-autobiographical, in that I modeled the beginnings of Seth’s character off of my own habit of correcting what I write with a red pen and my unfortunate phobia of needles, which keeps me from even considering giving blood.

As a note: I have heard the words nepsis used by many an author, but I cannot find it in any dictionary. I think it might be a foreign word that a few of the more learned authors out there talk about from time to time. In light of not having a formal definition, I’ll supply one. Nepsis is the discipline of controlling one’s thoughts—and is no small task to accomplish.

On Plots and Pains

I am in the middle of writing a short story, thus far entitled Disciple of the Gauntlet. Just prior to writing this entry, I had three extremely different, half-finished drafts of it, and am completely baffled as to which one to pursue.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t worry—I would complete all of them, because there is no writing that is worthless. But this is not a normal short story. This one is important, and will define two of the most important characters to Artifice in a very deliberate way.

I’m not terribly worried about messing up. I haven’t started writing anything but short stories, yet, and so if things simply go completely wonky, I can simply scrap a few bits of text to the abandoned folder, and start anew. But, I get the feeling, that once I finish one of these drafts, the other two will become ineffective—something will have happened that I can’t take back, which seems silly because the content of the story itself is not of any great consequence.

I can’t figure out why I’m so hung up on it, but it doesn’t feel like normal writer’s bloc. I feel like this will be a point that will determine what direction this novel takes.

I’m worried about other things about the novel, too. Mostly failure.

I feel that, in the case of a single project, the novelist is the writer who risks the most. I poet can sit down, and write something of satisfaction in an afternoon. If, when she is finished, she finds she has something worthless, she has simply lost an afternoon, and can try again. The short story writer can write something in a week, and be happy. Write something bad, and all that has been lost is a week. Not so the novelist. The novelist invests years in the writing, and if, when the final words are written, what is sitting on the table isn’t good, the novelist has failed at the work of those years.

This thought terrorizes me. I am afraid to risk, because I am afraid to fail—the consequences of failure are terrible. But the terror is more than this: I fear letting the story I am telling down. You can’t re-use plots, as a novelist. Well, you can’t and still be great. If I screw this up, then Sera, Terri, Rebecca, and the others living within my mind won’t see the light. This terrifies me even more—that I won’t be able to craft the people as I see them in my mind. I fear that’ll I’ll only be able to make them into paper and words, and nothing more.

But then, I think, what can I do but try? My characters won’t become any more real for my procrastinating. If I wait until I know I’m ready, I’ll die before I touch the pen to paper. I must write and hope, and pray that I won’t fall on my upturned pen.

Generic updates

Well, I’ve now found a library that doesn’t charge me for biscuits whenever I want to use the internet. Thank god for that.

I’ve added an immense amount to the reading list, in order to better reflect how the reading is going. The local library is being most helpful. There are a few titles I don’t remember off the top of my head, but for the most part it is complete.

In addition, I’ve added another bit to the Blogroll, a wonderful person aliased Pyrogene, keeps a blog, Even So, which I just stumbled on through Chughes‘ page. It has some wonderful reflections on the arts of writing that nobody should miss, and certainly nobody who prides themselves on fiction of the speculative variety. She thinks like a lit. major, but takes Science Fiction and Fantasy seriously, which I’ve found to be a rarity in these days and age (Tolkein not-withstanding).

Check it out.

I’m working on about three works of short fiction, one of which involves the other characters of the other short stories I’ve posted.

I’m hoping the characters Sera, Terri, and Rebecca will eventually come together in a novel, which I think might be tentatively titled Artifice.EXE. I’m adding another category, and anything to do with the work will be added.

And, as a final note, while I’m good, for the most part, chugging along under my own steam, I do so enjoy getting comments, especially intelligent criticism, and especially on my fiction. I won’t demand, but I wouldn’t mind a comment or two here and there.



Sitting an waiting

Well, going about another Journal entry. Restlessness drove me to my Panera today, and even though I didn’t want to buy anything, guilt made me spend $1.50 for a croissant so that I could sit and think and write without feeling guilty for taking up space.

Been thinking hard about discipline lately, or rather, how much I seem to lack it. I doubly curse myself every day, once for being slothful—it doesn’t matter how much, even the slightest of wasted time is enough for me to curse myself—and again for expecting perfection.

I think about more than that, too, of course. I think about money, far too often. Can’t spend that here, have to spend it there, and save the two quarters for a newspaper today to page through the classifieds and then no more than two dollars at the Panera so I have enough for the Zoo tomorrow, and I can’t use the air conditioner because the bill will be terrible…

It’s sickening, that I won’t use that air conditioner. I have a fan, and I tell myself that’s good enough, when all it does is push the air of my apartment, hot enough to melt a stick of butter completely in two hours, closer to me. I complain about how I can’t think in my apartment, or work, because the heat inside clings to me and melts my energy like the stupid butter that I’m too lazy to put back into the fridge.

I think about home, a lot, and about how I hate how I can’t go walking in Grand Rapids, and nobody waves to me while I drive in my car, and I don’t know my neighbors. I almost scream every time I forget myself, and pull my computer away from the wall, only to have the monitor hit the table with a thud and hopefully no crack.

I think about internet, and how nice it would be not to have to pay $2.00 a day for an hour of the stuff and a baguette.

I hope, constantly, that I’m not spending all this money on apartment and food in vain, and that this trip to Grand Rapids, this summer sacrificed to language, will be worth it, and I fear, always, that my constant worrying will only become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I count down days on my calender. It’s 5 weeks now. 35 of them left. Days that is.

Last night, in a sudden bout of overheated frustration, I tore all my clothes from where they were, folded, washed, cleaned and scrubbed until my space was smooth and organized, all my intended reading stacked neatly in one corner, my bed in another, and my desk in another still. I washed my dishes and made my bed and cleaned the stupid beard-trimmings from my sink that have been there for the past two weeks. I made my appartment disciplined, even if I couldn’t be.

Afterward, I sat in front of a newly burning ‘baked-apple-pie-scented-candle’ scented candle, and took a few bits of fake Italian ice from a convenient, single-serving tub. It was, for the time, a momentary victory over myself, and while I have no doubts that my own sloth will return to haunt, perhaps I can manage to hold it off a little better.

I ran the air conditioner all night last night. This morning I made my bed.

I will try not to worry about regretting this trip, because if I do I surely will end up regretting. I must realize, that the point of this time is to discipline myself—not to spend money or save money or anything else I worry about. My job is to edit the manuscripts I am given, and do it well. In the time I have left over, I must learn to live life in a way that is good.

Gaining the ability to rule over myself is the work of the summer—and, I suppose, the rest of my life.

News from the land of Rivers

Well, one river, anyway. The Grand River. Well, the Rapids of the Grand River. Okay, the Panera in Grand Rapids.

Well, my computer’s still broke, but I’ve adjusted now so that its useable again. It’s just a pain in the rear to take anywhere, because I’m terrified of breaking it, so I’ll probably only be making internet once a week.

If it’s any consolation, it’s helping me work a bit more. I actually have one book review down, and another piece of fiction, both of which should be posted directly below this.

My reading is going well. I’ve got a library now, in addition to several book stores, and no small collection there. I’ve read two new Pratchetts in the last twenty four hours.

Things are beginning to look better. I’m off proofreading now, for a week, at least, and am back on macro-editing. If you don’t know what professional proofreading is like, it is terrible. Especially for a person who loves to get absolutely lost in books like me. It’s like looking at a Rembrandt portrait, and simply looking at each individual brush stroke, to make sure none of the bristles dragged.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the book review (Stephenson’s Zodiac) and the fiction.

See you next week,


Here’s My Badge

Began working on this after reading Zodiac, because I figured, the best way to understand a genre is to try to write it, so I tried my hand at noir. At least, that was how it was for the first five sentences. Then it got all silly on me, and ended up as this, which isn’t very noir-ish at all. I’m still tagging it as noir anyway, though, in case that brings in extra views.

I appologize, I’ve been reading no small amount of Terry Pratchett lately, and the Italian mob boss suddenly turned British on me the second I introduced him. I hope you’ll forgive me.

In any case, here it is, introducing a new character to the growing list: Rebecca Clives.


Inspector Clives was sitting calmly in the parlor of Boss Giovanni.

She was dressed in pinstripes, for the irony. Her legs were crossed at an angle that was specifically calculated to run parallel with the line of a sight with someone with a height of five foot nine, and revealed a tantalizing little triangle of space between her two thighs and the material of the skirt. It was a window—the perfect voyeuristic porthole, revealing several inches of pure skin before dipping temptingly into shadow.

She was reading a magazine, posture relaxed but good, even with the legs.

She wasn’t really reading, though. She was looking at a blueprints. Her glasses, which looked like the might be better suited for a secretary, weren’t glasses. They were high model specs. The latest edition. The insides of the lenses were painted a transparent blue, just clear enough so that she could, should she need to move quickly, see what was happening in the room she was occupying. The blue was cris-crossed with white lines, set at neat right angles to each other, to show a perfect floor plan of the parlor and surrounding rooms, scaled down to fit within the confines of each lens.

Casually, without moving so much as an inch, she hooked her right index finger into the air and pulled it downwards, like she was scratching behind the ear of some invisible cat. The images on her specs shifted; the current set of blue prints scrolled to the bottom of the lenses and disappear while a new set scrolled down into view from the top. Blueprints for the floor above her.

She didn’t think she would need it—a good escape plan—but it never hurt to have one.

Her index finger drifted into the air again, and repeated the motion, only backwards, and the previous floor appeared on her glasses again. She made the scratching motion with her middle finger, and the layouts of the two floor superimposed themselves.

The implants had been worth it. Before, when she’d still been using a gauntlet, something like this wouldn’t have been possible. Gauntlets stuck out like a sore thumb, and made anything stealthy impossible. Now the motion and pressure sensors that used to lay in the giant metal glove had been compressed into five microcomputers, and implanted under each fingernail of her right hand. It had hurt like having her hand in a meat grinder after the surgery, but the sheer convenience of it made the whole thing worth it.

Of course, the loss of the gauntlet had meant loss of processing power and memory, too—no room to put much of that in the microcomputers—but she made do with the built-ins of her specs and the few little backup storage units under her nails. She didn’t need much, after all. She didn’t live in her specs—not like the Goggle Kids. No, she just needed something to keep a few bits of data in—a few hundred gigs is all. not even a full terrabyte. They had offered her one, but it would have taken up all the room in her specs, and she needed at least one ear piece free for… additional hardware.

Now nobody suspected a thing. She always kept her specs on one-way view, so nobody looking in from the outside could see the images on the inside of the lenses. They looked like normal glasses—you’d probably find them on a particularly professional school teacher, or perhaps a personal aide.

As she sat, the receptionist walked in. In the old days, back when things worked the way they were supposed to and the Boss was always hanging out in a fancy office behind some close, family run business, this would have been the guy behind the counter, smiling and asking what you wanted. Of course, if you told him you wanted the exact right things, and then gave a little wink, you’d get in to see the Boss.

That, though, was the old way of doing things.

Now it was much worse. Now it was… honest. Giovanni didn’t hide that he was a Boss, anymore. Too much work, and not enough payoff. Now it said it on his business card.* This was, when one realized it, a genius strategy, because nobody really read business cards anyway, and the few that did only stared at it for a while before dismissing it out of hand.

There, went a great many famous last words, is a businessman with a sense of humor.

Well, with all the good natured honesty going about, Inspector Clives felt it would be good to return the favor.

The man—who spoke in an Italian accent and had an Italian mustache—was exactly five foot nine, and so his eyes fell perfectly to the tantalizing corner of shadow peeking from Inspector Clive’s skirt. Normally this would annoy her, but today it gave her an odd sense of satisfaction. It meant she had done her research well.

After a moments ogle, which was clearly not intended to be surreptitious—there was the honesty again—the man’s eyes flicked to her face. “Do you have an appointment?” he asked.

Inspector Clives put down her magazine. “Not an appointment,” she said, “but I feel Boss Giovanni would like to see me anyway. I believe he’s free at the moment. My name is Rebecca Clives.”

He was free, at least according to the her specs. This was unusual, which was why she was here at eight thirty on a Saturday. Boss Giovanni was a busy man, and finding a time when he didn’t have an appointment was a stretch.

The man smiled patiently—the sort of weasel-smile that would, on a more seedy man, involve gold teeth. “Perhaps I could check and see if he is keen to take any unscheduled visitors,” the man said. “What is the nature of this visit?”

“I’m a freelance worker,” she said, “here to assassinate him.”

There was a brief moment of silence. Inspector Clives has just handed over her business card.

But, of course, the man doesn’t read the card. Honesty, and whatnot.

He smiles again, and Inspector Clives once again expects to see gold teeth.

“I’ll see if he’s interested in dying today,” the man says politely, and turns to go.

As he is gone, Inspector Clives picks up her magazine again, and runs over some potential escape routes. Boss Giovanni’s office has windows in back, and is on the first floor. If nothing else she could put a few shots through it and jump through—that would be messy, though.

The man comes back, smiling. “The Boss,” he said, “Is interested. He will see you. You understand I’ll have to check for any hidden weapons and what. If you please.”

Inspector Clives understood that getting frisked by this man was likely to include a grope or two, but was entirely prepared for that. Putting aside the magazine again, she stood up, and thrust her arms out to either side. Her pin-striped coat pulled apart, and interesting things happened to the oxford covering her torso. The man’s eyes bobbed down from her face like a yo-yo.

She gave him a professional smile, and said, “Well?”

He was surprisingly professional about it, actually. A hair further forward on her sides that police regulations, and there was an obvious debate in the man’s mind before he decided against a blatant palming of her rear.

Things went smoothly until he found her handgun. She was half thinking he wouldn’t find it—for the same reason that nobody read Giovanni’s business cards. Honesty. He was, after all, looking for hidden weapons, not a firearm that was sitting right her hip.

For a moment he stared at it, as if not quite believing it was there, before staring up at her, smiling again. Amazing, thought Inspector Clives, he thinks this is some joke.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate that,” he said, almost apologetically, like he wanted to see what would happen if she got in to see Boss Giovanni with it.

Inspector Clives shrugged, and pulled it away from the holster. It was a trusty handgun. She’d had it custom made for her. She called it the Blacktail, on account of it being all black, and she liked the name.

She handed it over to the man, warning him that the safety was off. Casually, she lifted a hand and rubbed the right ear piece of her specs—a habit she had since she was a child. “Is that all then?”

The man’s face twitched, and he reached idly to scratch at his left cheek. “Yes, Boss Giovanni will see you now.”

Inspector Clives nodded, and stepped around him, back towards a door that looked remarkably like any other door in the building. She remembered the days when there was some drama about it—a big set of oak double doors, probably, and a big heavyset desk behind it.

She was about to grip the handle when there was a heavy thud behind her. The man wasn’t big, but he had fallen like a tree and hit the ground all at once, creating quite the sound. She turned around, curiously, and decided that she would take her Blacktail back, just to be on the safe side.

With it again at her hip, she knocked on the door and, without waiting for any response, pushed it open just wide enough to slip inside without the slumped body in the hall beyond to be visible.

Boss Giovanni was fat, but in a rather regal way that made you think of a man who merely appreciated a good meal, rather than bathed in it. On either side of him, standing with arms akimbo and completely-shaded specks over their disproportionately small heads, were two flunkies she immediately decided to call Thing 1 and Thing 2. It was likely that three of her, plus a small elephant wouldn’t have weighed as much as either of them. They were shaped remarkably like bricks from the Jurassic period.

Boss Giovanni smiled at her, not unlike a barracuda smiles at, well, anything made of flesh, really.

“Miss Clives, was it? Come in, please. I hear you are hear to assassinate me.”

“Inspector. Inspector Clives, actually,” she said, and as she walked forward she gave a courteous nod to Things 1 and 2, again rubbing the ear piece of her specs out of habit.

Thing 1 didn’t move.

Thing 2 raised a hand that could have enveloped her head like a ping-pong ball, and scratched at his neck with a finger like a French baguette.

“I’m not an official inspector, you see,” she said, briefly flashing a badge that made it look and awful lot like she was a real inspector, “but the title helps open certain doors you understand. Mostly I do freelance work. I can be Officer Clives, and even Detective Clives if necessary.”

Giovanni nodded appreciatively. “I understand the need to emulate certain branches of law enforcement entirely,” he said, in the same voice that craftsmen everyone talk shop with. “I take it you’re looking for employment?”

Inspector Clives shook her head, “I’m afraid not,” she said. “Work is pretty good this time of year, actually. I’m here to assassinate you.”

They hadn’t noticed her wearing the gun, yet, probably because they knew that nobody got into this room with weapons on them. They weren’t looking for guns.

For a split second, Inspector Clives was a little worried that they would notice, though. Honesty, she thought, was a troublesome gig, because there was always a risk that somebody might believe you.

But then Boss Giovanni smiled again, and laughed. “Very good, Inspector,” he said. “As it so happens, I do have a few certain errands that I could use some help with. I’d pay you handsomely, of course. And who knows, if I like your work, we could use you again in the future. Would you like a cigar?”

“No. Thank you.”

“I see, then,” Giovanni said, lighting his. “Nothing important at first, you understand. I can’t let you get in too deep to early, I think. Professional distrust is necessary.”

Inspector Clives nodded.

“In that case, I think that I’d-”

Thing 1 collapsed. Didn’t make a sound when he did so, other than the slow rumble as he fell: first knees, then the chest and, like a snowball following an avalanche, the head.

Giovanni looked at him, vaguely suspicious.

Thing 2 tensed momentarily, and collapsed as well. There was a slight burn mark on his neck, where he had scratched earlier. If Giovanni had time, he could take a very fine magnifying glass, or even perhaps a microscope, and look to see a very tiny red barb in Thing 2’s skin. It was pumping out electricity, and Thing 2’s body, which only dropped by his brain every few days or so to catch up on things, had just realized that it was no longer conscious.

The barb, if Giovanni really had time, could be seen to come from a very small, short range dart gun which used highly compressed air to fire the projectiles. The guns were very expensive, and always used for stealth operations. They were normally mounted in innocent looking things. Like the ear piece of a pair of glasses, for instance.

Giovanni had no such time, though, because he was sweating, and looking down the barrel of Inspector Clives’ Blacktail.

She smiled, a sweet smile, and said—


–and said…


Rebecca, who wasn’t really in Boss Giovanni’s office at all, sat up from her bed guiltily.

“Yes?” she asked.

The door to her room cracked, and someone poked their head inside. “Rebecca? Hows homework coming?”

Rebecca, more than just a little indignant that Inspector Clives’ final statement had been cut off, resisted the urge to say something nasty.

“Fine, mom,” she said.

There was a moment, while the head, which was haloed by the upstairs hall light, stared at her a moment. “You haven’t been playing, have you?”

Rebecca moved a few fingers inside of her gauntlet, and the half-written adventures of Inspector Clives disappeared from her clunky goggle-specs, and were replaced by a long, long list of half-completed algebra. “Of course not, mom,” she said.

The head looked momentarily suspicious—which made Rebecca nervous. If only the Honest strategy worked in real life.

“Well, dinner will be ready soon,” she said. “You should turn some light on. It’s not good for you to be in the dark all the time.”

She closed the door, and Rebecca was alone with her specs again.

Rebecca fiddled with her fingers, wishing that she really did have the implants. Again. The yet-to-be-completed adventured of Inspector Clives, appeared back on her specs.

“She smiled a sweet smile and said…” Rebecca dictated, and the words appeared on her lenses.

What did Inspector Clives say?

Rebecca had had an absolutely perfect one liner to cinch this up right before she had been interrupted, but now it was gone.

Rebecca pouted for a moment, saddened by her suddenly missing words. How was a freelance detective supposed to garner any respect without a suitable line before pegging the badguy?

She let out a sigh, and said “Bang!”

But it just didn’t feel right.


*Boss Giovanni – freelance policy enforcement, entrepreneurial assistance, sub-legal contract and loan broker


Zodiac is yet another title by one of my favorites, Neal Stephenson.

In Snow Crash, Stephenson dragged us through the virtual reality of Cyberpunk. In The Diamond Age, he yanked us through a nanotechnological world of post-cyberpunk sci-fi.

Now he gives us another time period and another genre—the time of Zodiac is now, and the style of Zodiac is noir.

Those of you who are familiar with noir already know that it came from the film noir movement, a style of film making that was infested with grittiness, both in the film quality and in the stories the films told. They had a propensity for violence, vulgarity, and a cynical, edgy feel that made them ideal for detective stories and mysteries.

Some of you may recognize the name Guy Noir, Private Eye, a popular character from NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion. All his exploits are captured in a farcically noir setting, full of busty women and intrigue. The old Loony Toons, where Daffy Duck ends always ends up saying Wait A Minute, I AM Dick Twacey! Both are light hearted mockeries of the Noir style.

Too be frank, I don’t much care for noir, especially as it is transferred into literature. It lends itself towards narrative devices that should be used with care, and infrequently. The substitution of people’s features for their names, for instance (a man with a pinstripe suit might be referred to as if his name is “Pinstripes,” and a man with a mustache becomes “Whiskers”) is a classic noir concept. Other tricks of the trade include: swearing a lot for no apparent reason; not fully describing anything beyond four letter words, to deepen a sense of mystery; having a cynical main character who runs a constant inner monologue of sarcastic thoughts about everyone and everybody throughout the entire course of the book.

In sum, Noir has a tendency toward non-descriptive, underdramatic writing, and tries to make up for it by having lots and lots of attitude. It is the antithesis of Pollyanna, that is, the standard romance novel, which has far-too descriptive and melodramatic writing. Too much of either one is not entirely good.

Zodiac applies noir styles to Neal Stephenson’s writing. Stephenson, I would normally say, has more attitude in his writing normally than any other novelist I’ve read today, but also a fair amount more brilliance in the art of description. When he dresses himself up in a grainy trench coat for a romp in noir, not too much changes. He gets more attitude, as one might assume. And he gets less descriptive—although only in quantity of metaphors. Even in Zodiac, when he describes something, he does it fiendishly well.

The plot he weaves is a detective story, too, in accordance with tradition—with a cynical, sarcastic main character named Sangamon Taylor who has an unusual propensity for figuring out the mystery in the nick of time, and a cast of gritty characters who you can never quite tell are good or innocent until the very end.

There’s a twist though: Taylor is no normal detective. He’s an environmentalist, and the crimes he busts are toxic—like companies dumping toxic waste into Boston harbor. Picking up the book, I was worried. I thought that Stephenson, who I always saw as a paragon of mere commentary in a world of messages, was finally trying to persuade me of something, and I was in for a moralistic tale of saving whales.

Nothing of the sort here—if you like a detective story, you’ll love this. Stephenson tells a story of crime, murder, and confusing science that would make even Sherlock Holmes sweat. There’s real mystery here, and a real sense of horror when you realize that a whole lot of the chemistry and biology Stephenson talks about through the detective work—as always, presented in a brilliant way that even the layperson might fully appreciate—is actually accurate.

It all starts when Taylor, being the professional corporate pain-in-the-rear that all environmentalists are, discovers some PCBs in the Boston Harbor—a form of toxin that, unlike most unhealthy water-bound things, tends to kill people within a week, from insides-turning-to-jelly instead of years, from cancer, like most poisons to.

As he searches for the culprit, he manages to get on the bad list of half a dozen corporations, the FBI, perhaps the mafia, and a group of satanic druggies who misheard PCB as PCP, and have been on a jealous craze ever since. An, in the background, the looming threat of a contamination that would wipe out all marine life grows steadily larger in the background.

I tend not to like noir unless it’s at its best, and I liked this very much. The things that annoy me about noir still annoy me about the novel, but I’m willing to let them slide in light of all the good here. If you are a noir fan, this is a definite read. If you aren’t, pick it up anyway, or borrow my copy—it’s worth it, if only for the education.

Not as good as some of Stephenson’s other works, but still far better than most.

Never ending cycle of pain and loneliness…

Well, folks, it seems as soon as I’m well enough to enjoy life again, it is seized away from me, again.

Today, as I was preparing to write something, there was a little snap and the monitor of my laptop suddenly went limp and splatted to the desk surface. I, thinking something was wrong, lifted it back to a healthy angle, about sixt five degrees to the desktop. It fell again, with no resistance.

After a bit of investigation, I find that a key bit of plastic has separated itself between the front and back of my monitor plastic, and no longer holds them together.

The end result of this is: I can’t really use my computer. I can, in that it functions, but one wrong move at the monitor could shatter, which would suddenly make me computerless for the summer, and about 400 to 500 bucks in debt to my school for repairs.

I’m obviously going to try to find a way to work around this, but until then, don’t expect to hear very much from me. I’ll keep writing, but on paper—a discipline that will be good for me. Wish me luck in fixing this.

~DK, hoping to be able to post again within the next month and a half.

Alive again

I live!

Antibiotics are wonderful things. And also, anesthetics that numb half of your face.

I currently have two book reviews done, two pieces of fiction, several brewing journal entries, and several more other bits in the works. Lots of stuff coming up. And also, I have to decide which movie to see this Saturday.

Transformers, Harry Potter, or the one about the rat that I’m not about to try and spell.

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