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Showing posts from December, 2011

Art Pact 94

As I bowed my head and entered the narthex, the sound of whispering grew to a great ocean of sibilance, echoing, bouncing, reverberating from the inside of the cathedral's stone walls. The sound was recognisably the whisper of autoprayers, but unlike outside the sheer density of prayers trapped by the shell of the building enhanced the sound and shifted parts of it so that it seemed to fill the whole range of my hearing. For my first few seconds inside I could barely concentrate enough to keep walking.

It was nothing, though, compared to the sound as focused within. I turned left to take the commoner's route around the baffle at the back of the narthex and made my way into the nave proper. The great circular area of the nave was one hundred and fifty chains across, technically larger than could be covered by a hemispherical dome, but I knew that some clever trickery of the architect's art allowed the dome to be taller than its radius, which somehow allowed supporting str…

Art Pact 93

My mother was an actress first, a magician second. Although her stage act (The Mystical Nora) was billed as a magic show, it was considered to be something else by the other magicians that we came across on our tours. The Incredible Jones, for instance, sitting in the audience and paying more attention to the props than to my mother's spiel, pointed out to me that he had learnt every single trick in her show at the age of ten and that a most stage magicians would have been ashamed to be showing off such simple gimmicks to the crowd.

"There's nothing past a bit of card-forcing and some false-bottomed bags, see?" he said. I was not sure if he realised who he was talking to. He'd seen me backstage earlier on, when I'd been watching his own act from the wings, but I doubt he'd connected the spindly, unprepossessing young boy to the voluptuous Nora who swept around backstage like a tropical storm of drama and lust. "Mind you," he admitted, "th…

Art Pact 92

I don't know what it was that made me do it, but I reached out one trembling arm and the next second I had the key to the outer gate in my pocket and my heart was pounding so fast I thought I would pass out. Inevitably, I knew, one of my eagle-eyed uncles would have spotted what I'd done, and I expected that within a couple of seconds I would be desperately trying to explain why I had done it. But I waited, and I waited, and after a minute had gone past I realised to my surprise that no retribution was going to come, that by some miracle they had both been distracted for the vital second and that they had no idea that the bulky key ring with its heavy old-fashioned key was no longer hanging over the fire but was instead nestling uncomfortably in my breeches.

(I realise now, of course, that there was no miracle involved, merely the subtle agency of the thing that had me in its grip, extending its power towards the elders. The power that had such a complete grasp on my mind could…

Art Pact 91

Johnson walked slowly back to the lifter, heaved the kitbag off the back, then walked back to the tree, both arms stretched out full as the weight of the kit tilted him to one side. With an audible puff of air he finally heaved the heavy weight at Darwell's feet and stood in place, racing his eyebrows and waiting.

"Fine!" Darwell exclaimed, and kneeled down to begin. Behind the double-zip of the kitbag was the jumbled collection of machinery and battery packs, still tangled up and bearing witness to the hurried packing at the end of the last job. He began to pick out the wires and prop sticks of the cutter, twisting and pulling at the knotted mass until he could tease out the two connector ends, then working back from them and beginning to stretch the machine out of the back to either side. It reminded him of untangling christmas lights as a child, and again he cursed the feature of his memory that allowed him to recall every sensation, every smell and sight and sound o…

Art Pact 90

"That's clearly the worst thing that's ever happened to her," I said, staring down on the scene from above. "I mean, if you can't rely on your mother not to give you your birthday present at the precise instant on your birthday that you want her to, what can you do?"

"I don't suppose she'll ever be able to overcome the betrayal," Yasmin drawled. "That's it for her - over, the rest of her life ruined. She'll be driving around in that tractor with the pure taste of ashes in her mouth. It'll be like a burning ball of embarrassment and resentment in the middle of her gut. Oh sure, she'll be getting from A to B in style, she'll be fending off the envious looks of the lower classes as they walk, or cycle, or - god forbid - sit in a bus, but what good is all that when deep down she'll know that the whole thing is meaningless? The car will be a huge albatross around her neck, just weighing her down with the knowledg…

Art Pact 89

During the fiftieth day of the siege, much to my surprise and to the annoyance of the Shil who were billeted with me, I gave birth for the first time. I'd been supplying them with food, of course, and I could tell immediately I woke up that there was something different going on with me that morning. I crouched in bed and let the leathery egg-casing slide out of me with a few quick convulsions of my abdomen, the examined it carefully. The two Shil, who had begun to stir at the other side of the room, padded over and began the polite coughing routine that would work up to one of them asking when breakfast would be ready.

"Nothing today," I said, forestalling them. The egg-case rippled under my touch, and I bent over to sniff at it. It was subtle, the slight tinge of essence mixed in with the sulphur fumes and the slightly iron smell of blood, but it was definitely there. The oddness I'd felt was exactly what I'd thought it was.

"Nothing?" growled Lasta. &…

Art Pact 88

On the journey we didn't have too many festivals, apart of course from the annual festival of mourning. That wasn't as gloomy as it sounds, by the way - just one of those things, a remembrance of the tragedy, a chance to slow down from the constant bustle and worry about the mechanics of the journey and think about the ones that we'd lost. We both looked forward to it and dreaded it equally, because it was a time of great emotion.

On the ground they had festivals at the drop of a hat, though - great things that lasted for days and days, bustles of colour and excess, of dressing up and dancing, and eating on a scale that we from the ship could scarcely imagine as sane. Some of them were festivals we could understand, that revolved around important themes like the harvest, the landing, or the month in which babies were born, but others seemed to us utterly frivolous and inexplicable: the feast of the seventh tree, for instance (there were no trees on the ground, not like th…

Art Pact 87

There are several ways in which I like to spend my free weekends - I am a keen gardener, I paint miniature figurines (although don't get me wrong and assume that I'm some kind of table-top gaming nerd, nothing could be further from the truth), I enjoy watching old war films on TV and making fancy dinners for two which I then eat on my own over two days, dressed up nicely the first day so that I can feel like I'm in a swanky restaurant. Those are the ways that I enjoy my weekends, my respites from the daily toil.

What I do not like, I could previously have safely said and now can put a definitive stamp on due to the sad fact that I now have first-hand experience, is to spend my weekend running down back alleys and cutting through gardens with two of my business acquaintances while merely fifty feet behind us thugs from the Syndicate crash crazily along in our wake, firing guns and shouting promises about which of our bodily orifices are soon to be graced with which of our se…

Art Pact 86

The quickest way to get from the top of the town to the bottom was to jump from the town hall, of course, but it was not without its risks. When I was five my uncles raced from the atrium to the gateway (the longest uninterrupted distance in the town) to win a bet over a girl. Uncle Blanka misjumped, possibly as a result of the weak left leg that runs in our family, and hit a lampost by the gate. It was an awkward collision, the cross-bar underneath the lamp connecting with the point between his neck and his shoulders, resulting in a shattered clavicle that left him unable to use one of his arms (the left one, although when we were young and he wanted to get out of chores or particularly tiring games, he would often pretend that the effect had spread to hsi right arm as well). The council prohibited jumping along the town's axis from then on, except in cases of emergency, and there were propaganda posters to that effect on the walls of our senior classrooms - a stylised picture o…

Art Pact 85

The good news was that far from having missed the target, Simon had nailed it square on - the baseball punching the metal plate back along it arm and flipping the mechanism behind it. Their teacher seemed to hover in the air for just a second like a cartoon coyote, then his precious gravity got hold of him. His eyes were wide with surprise and shock, and as he began to descend he too must have seen Ms. Galvanos standing at the side of the cotton-candy stand, her mouth open ready to take one delicate bite from the top of the wispy pink cloud she was holding in front of her. His mouth opened, as if to try to explain something to her (even though she was far too far away to hear), and then an instant later he was in the tank with a gigantic splosh.

"You did it!" Boris yelled, pumping his fist in the air. Simon, still looking the other way, was buffeted from side to side as the three other boys shook his shoulders in triumph, trying to direct him to the sight of Mr. Quail thrash…

Art Pact 84

What's in a name, he'd asked, coming out of the registry office, and at the time I couldn't really give him any sort of a reply. It was important to me, and I was glad that he'd gone along with my request, but I couldn't articulate why it was so important. It would have been a deal-breaker, though, if he'd stuck his heels in and resolved not to take my name.

Now, having to explain who I was, it seemed like an awkward and petulant request.

"And you are his sister?" the woman in the uniform asks me.

"His wife," I tell her.

"Ah," she says, nodding, as if this explains everything. I am filled with a sort of of furious embarrassment. How can she judge me, now, of all times? I can feel my blood pressure rising, and below the lip of the reception desk, where they cannot be seen, my fists bunch up so tight that even an hour later on I will see the crescent-moon shapes that my nails are making in my palms. "Now, do you have some form …

Art Pact 83

Having made it the practise of her daily life to check the shed for wasps, Mathilda was the first to notice the little nest of eggs, the tiny white pearls wrapped in a loose silk container. She was not overly fond of insects as whole, but her particular fear of wasps left her with a more laissez-faire attitude towards their relatives, so she noted the nest with an apathetic disinterest and went about her day, safe in the knowledge that whatever else might be lurking in the family home, there were no wasps there.

Young, however, and therefore unaccustomed to the growth of most insects, she was not the first to comment on the less than usual manner in which the eggs began to develop. It was Mathilda's mother, on her evening sweep of the garage, who spotted that the eggs had hatched but had become individual cocoons almost immediately, rather than yielding some more mobile grubs or larvae. It was as if the cocoons had been directly inside the eggs, and had become visible the instant …

Art Pact 82

There couldn't have been more than a few days until the frost arrived, but life in the camp went on as though it were high summer, despite Nera's growing distress. Every morning she woke up as the sun crept feebly over the horizon, and every day she slept as the sun sank wearily down into the mountains again, but there was less and less time in between, and what light the sun did manage to throw down on them was a cold and discomforting, nothing like the strong warm like of the months past. There were fewer animals on the slopes below them, so few that some days the hunters would not be able to bring back even a deer, and yet the others scoffed at the sentiment that they should move on. Nera pointed mutely at the scrubby grass, tried to indicate that it was not growing, but the hunters simply pointed to the stacks and stacks of smoke meat at the back of the cave, the stockpile that seemed to be infinite, so large had it grown during the rich summer. Nera tried to show that des…

Art Pact 81

I had learnt that when Sally was in a proper rant that it was best just to sit back and let it burn itself out - any oxygen I expended attempting to mollify her would just power the flames, which freed of outside influence would simply die out in their own time.

"...the motherfucker, the cheap son-of-a-bitch, the two-bit child of seven whores..." she continued.

I tapped my pen on the desk and thought about the possibility of transferring positions. There was a space coming up in accounting, and normally I'd have sawed my own head off to escape such a job, but it was looking increasingly comforting. I could just sit back, fiddle with my calculator eight hours a day, and go home on time having spent perhaps less than half-an-hour a day being shouted at. I tried to imagine how that would be, but I had spent so long working for Sally that there was no longer any part of my brain that wasn't attuned to constant tension.

"...shove his proposal up his arse, the slime coc…

Art Pact 80

My dining companion, now so drunk that he was slurring his words and barely two-thirds of the wine in his glass was making it into his mouth. The hat-wearing woman at the neighbouring table had begun to sniff so violently and frequently that it sounded as though she were trying to inhale the restaurant. I was enjoying her discomfort, but my own had grown to such intolerable levels that I thought it would be a good time to take care of the bill and leave, which I did in one comfortable move by shepherding my companion out of his seat, slipping my hand into his pocket to liberated his wallet. While I guided him to the door I dropped a couple of hundreds into the waitress's hand (she had taken up a defensive position at the door in case we absconded without paying, a precaution I am sorry to say I had made necessary during my youth). It was comfortably twice what we owed for the meal, but since I wasn't paying I felt some compunction to make up for my earlier indiscretions, and s…

Art Pact 79

"There's the question of the payment," the old man said delicately. Brusca ignored him, but Examiner Folkes nodded gently, her hair bobbing out of time with her head. When it became apparent that the old man was in his turn ignoring her, waiting for some kind of signal from Brusca, she coughed into her hand and made a rolling "continue" gesture with her wrist. "Well, it came in twice."

"Twice?"

"Twice," he agreed.

"That's unusual. From the same account?" she asked. The old man shrugged: how would I know?

She'd stepped forwards to ask her question, and now in the window she could see Brusca reflected from behind her. He was examining the various certificates hung on the wall and fiddling with his cuff-links. Irritated, she wondered how long she would have to drag out the interview to ensure that he would miss his lift.

"If it was from two different sources," she explained to the old man behind the desk, …

Art Pact 78

I crept around the room as silently as I could, trying to ignore the sound of my own heart, the rustle of my trousers rubbing together as I walked, the low murmur of traffic from the bypass. The last was the worst - too far away to make me feel the comforting nearness of other members of humanity, too close to leave me the silence that would help me locate whatever it was that was making the noise. I closed the window, hoping it would drown out the traffic, but the old wooden frame was so ill-fitting that it seemed to prevent no barrier to noise.

As I rounded the end of the bed I saw something moving with the corner of my eye, but when I turned all was silent. Although it was dark the floaters in my eyes seemed to be luminescent with a mischievous light, causing me to jump at shadows that existed nowhere except in my own lenses. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, thinking it stop me from becoming distracted, but all it did was focus my hearing and bring the sounds closer to me. Depriv…

Art Pact 77

Wit a full twelve of our shields down, the chances of us getting back through the atmosphere looked slim, so we rolled the ship over and bounced off the air when it got dense enough, using our speed to throw us back up into our awkward orbit for another few hours.

"We can't keep this up," Jones told me, watching the predictions that the computer on the ground was feeding him. His face glowed red, a troubling hint to the machine's estimations of our chances. He said nothing, though, still nervous about how the captain would respond.

"He'll think of something," I said. But Captain Morello himself did not respond. His seat was at the front of the cockpit, and from my angle in the engineer's chair all I could see was the back of his head and one ear. I wondered if he was even listening to us - one of the cockpit's terrible design flaws was that the acoustics were terrible. The noise from the air recirculators was enough that if he'd turned off his…

Art Pact 76

It wasn't what I'd expected at all. From our homes under the bridge we'd only been able to see the surface of the water, thick and brown, and we hadn't realised quite how shallow it was. In fact it only came up to just above my father's knees, and since he was the shortest of us by a good hand, the rest of us were no worse off. The water was warm, too - I only learnt later that we should have been wary rather than pleased at that discovery, so we splashed happily in it, scooping great handfuls up to fling from one to the other of us. Although it had been dank under the bridge, and far from pleasant in a number of other ways, it had been good at sheltering us from the rain, so we had never had the experience of being properly wet before, not so wet that the water was running off us and our hair slicked to our heads. We laughed and ran around, all the tension of the trip down from our homestead dissipating as we realised that although we could never go back to our ho…

Art Pact 75

I had no way of calculating exactly, but judging by fullness of the mountain range to the west I thought that he was right - we probably were equidistant from all three of the kingdoms. I found it all rather depressing, the idea that there was no single footstep I could take outside the clearing which would put more time between my neck and a knight's sword. But he was positively glowing, as though it had been his life's ambition to wander out into the (precise) middle of nowhere and there to build his dream - well, to call what he constructed a house was perhaps to treat the word in too cavalier a fashion, but a cabin at least. He set about it with great gusto, using the measuring rope with him to fashion a giant right angle by some mathematical wizardry, then marking out lines and points in the clearing and hewing down trees left and right in order to make the clearing a perfect square. Well, as perfect as was possible given the tree-based substrate. The rope and axe seemed …

Art Pact 74

"Oh my beating heart!" she exclaimed, turning away from the window. Her face was a red bloom. She turned again slightly, sneaking a little peak, then back, redder still. "I never did!"

"Whether you did or didn't," I said coolly, "they are now. Which means that there's nothing for us to do except stay here and keep ourselves to ourselves."

"But surely you can't mean we're trapped?"

"There's only one way out of the tower," I told her, "and that's through the front door. Unless..."--I sniffed, and tapped the heel of my shoe against the table-leg--"unless you'd like to go out through the ladder in the basement."

I'd intended the possibility as a false option, knowing that she'd never condescend to descend into the dank maze of passages that had connected the buildings in the snow times, but to my surprise and dismay Rita took the suggestion seriously, so seriously in fact that s…

Art Pact 73

We bobbed on the water's surface. Zara had found a a storage tank with a flat top which was still buoyant, and she lay full length on it, hugging it like a child its mother. The rest of us clung onto fragments and splinters, whatever pieces of wood we could find that would help hold us up - I knew intellectually that I was lighter than water without the assistance of the long spar I was holding, but like the others I could not bring myself to release my grip and trust to physics. The parts of the old ship seemed like they were still protecting us, even now that it was destroyed, and to let go would be to forsake a lucky charm that had seen us through the night and (in a way) through the storm as well. The New Amsterdam may have failed in the face of the hurricane's might, but it had sacrificed itself in such a way that its remains were still helping us, even in the morning.

"I see land in that direction," Zara pointed, barely raising her head away from its resting pla…

Art Pact 72

(Bonus!: the art pact for the 6th of December, which I forgot to post...)

There's no telling how long we waited, but eventually the locals waddled out of the enclosure, accompanied by a few of the grunting noises that Asher theorized might be their means of communication. He reached out an arm to me and told me that we should wait until the locals left the room. I focused on his under-stream, which told me that he was thinking that the locals might not be able to detect us unless we made some noise. If they couldn't see us directly and couldn't hear us, he thought, perhaps they really did have no idea that we were there. I followed a route through him into Capstan's under-stream. It was no surprise to me to learn that he was more cautious. They're lulling us into a false sense of security, he thought.

The large wooden panel that separated the enclosure from the rest of the huge construction swung closed, and the opening mechanism clicked. They're gone, I sent t…