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Just the facts ma'am

Started by Malaul, April 12, 2005, 08:35:01 PM

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Quote from: LMNOThe City.  Cold, grey, full of angles jutting at odd, predictable angles.  A place where anarchy lies just a gunshot away from the uneasy order that has slowly taken over.  Gee, I miss the suburbs.

It was a grey morning, as I groggily lifted my head from my desk.  I vaguely wondered who had cracked open my brain pan & replaced it with charcoal in mid-burn, when I noticed the bottle next to me, a half-inch of amber liquid left.  Right.  Another night of self-pity, in the City that doesn,Äôt care.  Coming fully into painful consciousness, I grabbed the bottle & poured the rest of the cheap scotch into last night,Äôs glass, fighting the nausea of a new day.

I leaned back in my chair, and looked out the window, at the concrete prison of Ideas that is the City.  There was little traffic this morning, as most people only come to the City when they have to.  Government, Inc. had proclaimed today to be a holiday for tax purposes, so the worker bees stayed in their hives, fearing to tread in the unpredictable streets.

Hearing the outer door open, I ran my fingers through my hair.  Graying already, my temples turning the color of the pavement.  The knock came as I straightened my tie, trying to make it look like I didn,Äôt spend the night passed out in an alcoholic haze.

When She walked in, it was like a Krakatoa sunrise.  Short red hair trained to hold the curves of her skull like it was the president of the Clara Bow fan club, and a dress to match.  Legs that went for miles, all standing unsteadily on a pair of heels that could be used as weapons.  What the fuck was she doing here, in this room, in this building, in this City?  She was the kind of woman who threw the unfeeling vastness of the City into pure focus, just by standing there, radiating life.

,ÄúAre you LMNO?,Äù
,ÄúSome call me that, yeah.,Äù
,ÄúI hear you,Äôre a dick.  I need someone to be a dick for me.,Äù
,ÄúDid I mention I,Äôm a fan of double entendres, as well?,Äù  

She smiled, a quick, no-teeth smile of condescension, but I could tell from her eyes she was holding something back. It took a lot to stand the City.  We all have our armor, some of us just hide it better.  ,ÄúWhat can I do for you,,Äù I asked.

,ÄúIt,Äôs this,,Äù she said, tossing a playing card on my desk.  I picked it up, and noticed it wasn,Äôt a playing card, but a Tarot card.  The Tower, to be exact.


She looked worried, and in that moment, it seemed like the entire Universe wanted to protect her, reassure her. ,ÄúWhat is it?,Äù she asked.

,ÄúAre you trying to tell me something?  Dames like you don,Äôt just walk in here and throw Tarot at me.  I usually leave that to the Gypsies.,Äù
,ÄúSomeone slipped this into my box last night.,Äù
,ÄúWhat did I tell you about entendres?,Äù
,ÄúLook, LMNO,ÄîWhat kind of name is that, anyway?,Äù
,ÄúMy parents were librarians.  They liked keeping everything lined up.,Äù
,ÄúI,Ķ See.,Äù She gave me a look like she wasn,Äôt sure whether to believe me.  ,ÄúWell, I,Äôve been getting mysterious phone calls over the past few weeks, and now this.  I,Äôm frightened.,Äù
,ÄúWhat kind of phone calls?,Äù
,ÄúIt,Äôs embarrassing.  I won,Äôt tell you, unless you want to take the case.,Äù  

I thought about next month,Äôs rent, and the dwindling case of scotch in the closet.  What the hell, I thought, at least it,Äôll be interesting,Ķ  ,ÄúSure, dollface, I,Äôll work with you.  Now why don,Äôt you tell me about it from the beginning,Ķ,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOShe sat down in an old, creaky wooden chair. She looked down at her hands, slender and tipped with nails like rubies.

,ÄúIt all started 23 days ago,,Äù she began.  ,ÄúI started getting calls on my cell phone.  At first, there was this buzzing, squeaking noise, like a mouse trapped in a fax machine.  I thought it was just some sort of weird atmospheric thing, but after a few times of this, I started to hear,Ķ messages,Ķ Oh, I don,Äôt know if I can go on.,Äù

,ÄúRelax, have a seat.  Would you like some pie?,Äù


,ÄúSorry.  Inside joke.  Drink?,Äù  I grabbed a glass from a desk drawer, and wiped down the rim with my shirttail.  I stood up, feeling the joints in my knees pop, and the labor union that was my lower back decided to go on strike.   Wincing, I made my way gingerly to the closet, where the last lone bottle of scotch lived.  I cracked the seal, & poured her a finger or two.  ,ÄúNow, what did these voices sound like?,Äù

She sipped on the liquor, and made a face. ,ÄúDo you have any ice?,Äù

,ÄúWhat?  Do you prefer crack?,Äù

,Äú,ĶI,Äôm not sure I,Äî,Äú

,ÄúIce?  In scotch?  You dames,Ķ,Äù

Dagger-eyed, she gulped down another sip.  ,ÄúThe voices,,Äù she continued pointedly, ,Äúwere more like muttering.  Whispers.  But gurgled, like they were getting over a head cold.  But also distorted, like a Big Black song.,Äù

Wonders never cease, I thought.  Where did a classy broad like this find out about Big Black?  ,ÄúSo, what did these,Ķ eldritch,Ķ voices say?,Äù

,ÄúI couldn,Äôt figure it out, so I wrote it out phonetically.,Äù  She reached her delicate hand up, and teased upon the neckline of her dress, slyly slipping her fingers between the fabric and her skin, allowing not so much as a square centimeter of flesh to show, but making anyone looking believe they had seen the hills of the Holy land itself.  This chick is a born tease.  Her hand withdrew from her cleavage, and between the index and middle fingers was a slip of paper.  She unfolded it, and the light scent of her flesh filled the narrow and dusty office.

At that moment, the weak light bulb, not the most friendly of appliances at the best of times, decided to revolt against its electrical masters.  With a flash and a pop, the office grew noticeably darker.  Even with the bright morning light, the grime and soot on the offices windows was reluctant to improve the optics inside the room.  Startled, she took a step back, and raised her hand to her delicate ivory throat.  

,ÄúFuck,,Äù I muttered eloquently.  Reaching into my pockets, looking for a match, or a witticism, I finally produced a lighter, and used it to beat back some of the shadows encroaching on us.  ,ÄúIt,Äôs ok,,Äù I said.  ,ÄúThe wiring in this place sucks, but at least the rent doesn,Äôt cost me a kidney.,Äù

She smiled uneasily, then bent her head to peer at the paper in her hand.  ,ÄúThe voices said,Ķ ,ÄòAye, eeyo.  Kootooloo fagthan.  Better check on the baby.  Eevoh-hay, Pan-janitor.  And that,Äôs how I saved Christmas.,Äô  LMNO, what does this mean?,Äù  She quickly lifted her head, and looked into my eyes.  I felt like time would stop as her green eyes locked into my blue, it felt like she was crawling up my optic nerves and into my brain, driving those perfect fingers into my cortex, twisting my brain stem around her little finger.

Grunting, I broke the eye contact, shaking my head like some beast with a nose full of porcupine quills.  How did she do that?  I took the slip of paper from her, desperately hoping our fingers didn,Äôt touch.  ,ÄúLet me look at that.  Oh, and if I,Äôm going to take you case, I better know what to call you.,Äù

,ÄúYou can call me Erin.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNO,ÄúWell, Erin, let me see this cell phone of yours,,Äù I said.  She reached into her purse (purse?  Did she have a purse when she walked in?  How could she have kept that hidden?) and pulled out your typical-style phone.  High-end, no doubt, but just the same as any other:  Black, smaller than a deck of cards, and vaguely sinister-looking.  She laid it on the desk, and glanced up at me.

,ÄúI know it sounds stupid, but I,Äôm almost afraid to touch it,,Äù she said.  Looking quickly at the phone, not wanting to get lost in her eyes a second time, I noticed it had a few deep scratches in the back, where the battery gets recharged.

,ÄúWhat,Äôs this?,Äù

,ÄúWell, after about a week of these strange calls, I lost my nerve, and sort of,Ķ snapped.  I threw the phone at the wall.  It didn,Äôt stop the calls, though.,Äù

I picked up the phone, opened it, & began dialing a string of digits.  ,ÄúWell, let,Äôs see if we can figure out where these calls are coming from.,Äù

,ÄúI tried ,ÄòStar 69,Äô, but it didn,Äôt seem to work.,Äù

Letting another innuendo slip by, I said, ,ÄúWell, that,Äôs because you use the Government, Inc.,Äôs services.  You know as well as I do that ever since the National This-Is-For-Your-Own-Good-Just-Trust-Us Act of 2006 passed, no information request will ever provide accurate information, just add your name to the ever-growing list of people who want to Know Too Much.,Äù

Looking around nervously, she said, ,ÄúI had to take a chance.,Äù

,ÄúDon,Äôt worry about it.  These days, the list includes about 98% of the population.  Government, Inc. uses Quantum Information Storage, but they haven,Äôt gotten around to figuring out how to make a Quantum Processor yet.  So it,Äôs like finding a speck of dust in the middle of the galaxy.,Äù

A small smile flickered at the corner of her mouth.  I noticed that her lips, full and red like the promise of a pomegranate just before the bitterness sets in, had a small, almost miniscule scar running from the top edge of the left cupids bow diagonally to the bottom lip, like she was delicately brutalized at some great distance in her past, or had fallen out of a willow tree as a child.  It was the smallest and most perfect of flaws on a flawless face, the unnatural error of symmetry calling attention to her impeccable beauty.  ,ÄúSo how is it, Mr. LMNO, that you plan to get around Government Inc.,Äôs little plan?,Äù

,ÄúAh, it all depends on your connections, dollface.  I know a couple of Scrids down at MegaTeleComTech, and they owe m a favor.,Äù

,ÄúThey use Scrids?,Äù  Her forehead folded upon itself slightly, and I realized that was the look of someone who,Äôs not used to being puzzled, when the muscles have all but forgotten the feeling of a frown.

,ÄúWell, with the millions of signals coming down the wires & flying through the air every second, who else but genetically-modified, hyper-intelligent Giant Land Squids are they going to use?,Äù  The phone on the other end of the line was ringing, so I held up one finger, not wanting to be any ruder than I had to be to Erin.  After all, if she was going to be paying me, she was my employer.  The line picked up.

,ÄúHey, Randy? ...Yeah, it,Äôs LMNO,Ķ I know, I know, not since September,Ķ Mmm Hmmm,Ķ How,Äô the brood?  ,ĶGreat, great,Ķ  Look, Randy, I have to call in that favor,Ķ  No, that didn,Äôt count, because I wasn,Äôt the one who got the wires crossed,Ķ  Yeah, well, tell it to the wall,Ķ  Ok, fine.  25%, and a sack of mollusks.  Listen, Randy, what I need from you is to keep a tracer on this phone, number 333-2342, and to track all incoming calls,Ķ.  Yeah? Great.  If you can do this for me, we,Äôre even,Ķ. Right,Ķ  Ok.  I,Äôll call you again when I need the number.,Äù

I hung up, and looked at Erin, still struggling with the glass of scotch.  Pouring another for myself, I said, ,ÄúWell, that,Äôs that.  All we have to do now is wait for another call.,Äù

Suddenly the phone rang.  I snatched it up, and a sickly whine burst from the receiver.

,ÄúKkkkkkkkkssssssssBellandBookandFlamesssssssskkk kkkkFeartheComingOfAeaiiiinSooooffffhhhUsurperoftheClowntroddenggggggggggggggggggg,Ķ,Äù  The line went dead.

,ÄúThat was pretty freaky,,Äù I said.  I turned to look at Erin.  She had contracted somehow, drawing herself into herself, her eyes wide with fear.  She grabbed my glass, and drained it, her face never changing expression.

,ÄúIt,Äôs ok.  I,Äôm calling Randy now.,Äù  I dialed up the Scrid, and waited as the connection was made.  ,ÄúRandy?  Yeah, it,Äôs me again.  I need to know,ÄîWHAT?  How is that possible?  ,ĶNo, I don,Äôt think you,Äôre lying, that,Äôs genetically impossible, that,Äôs why it,Äôs so much fun playing poker with you,Ķ Could you triple-check that?  ,ĶI see.,Äù I hung up.

,ÄúWhat?  What?,Äù  Erin was literally on the edge of her seat, chest heaving with anticipation, temporarily driving all other thoughts out of my head.  Coming back to myself, I put the phone carefully on my desk, and drew my gun.

,ÄúHe said the call was coming from inside the phone itself.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOI don,Äôt like guns.  I mean, when I have to use them.  Sure, target practice is fine, and it gives you a certain ,Äúmanliness,Äù quotient, holding the powerful and explosive Doom Cock like some hero from TV, but when it really comes down to needing to use a gun, everything becomes uncomfortable.

Case in point: Right now, the nine millimeter in my hand felt all too heavy, and the smell of cordite and oil filled my nostrils.  I held Death in my hand, I wielded Violence.  And right now, it was pointed at a small piece of plastic on my desk.

Erin started, ,ÄúWait.  How can the call have originated inside the phone,Äî,Äú when the phone rang again.  But it didn,Äôt so much ring, as shriek.  Digital feedback, mixed with good old fashioned Screaming of the Damned, from what I could tell, filled the office.  The scratches down the back of the cell phone widened and split, following some sort of pre-described demarcations, splitting the top half down the middle, and spreading out either side, while what looked like legs began sprouting from the lower half.

,ÄússsskkkkskkskkkkkkYourASoulWillSufferAgonyssskkkksttttshshshhhhhTearYourSkinUntilPainBecomesYourOnlyFriend... akehhekkksskkkkskkkkksssYouWillKnowNoFriendButThePainOfYouSoulandTheEmptinessOfYouLifeskjjehhddded,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúOh, My God,,Äù Erin cried.  ,ÄúIt,Äôs EMO!,Äù

Wings burst through the back of the phones, and buzzed furiously.  Launching itself

The editors of ,ÄúLMNO-PI,Äù would like to interrupt at this point and note that the ,Äúface-raping bat,Äù scene has been deleted, seeing as how the Author of this petty drama is currently both sleep-deprived and hungover, and wrote, what we here all agree, was a pretty bad and tasteless scene.  Needless to say, this chapter is filled with weak adjectives, and horrible similes, such as ,Äúplummeted through the air like a Pearl Harbor bomber,Äù, and the like.  The Editors would like to apologize to the readers, and to assure you that this passage should contain Horrific and Wildly Exciting descriptions of LMNO,Äôs ferocious and chaotic gunfight with the Strangely Demonic Face-Raping Bat Cell Phone.  We apologize for the interruption.

,ĶThe last bullet hit home, and hit true.  The phone exploded into shards of plastic and bits of newly-formed flesh, and what seemed to be fluttering bits of paper.  The newly found silence was almost stifling compared to the screams and gunshots.  I slid the gun back into its holster, and grabbed one of the slips of paper out of the air.  It was completely covered with Ones and Zeroes.

,ÄúDamn.  I,Äôm not enough of a geek to read machine code raw.,Äù

,ÄúWhat. The fuck.  Was that!?,Äù

,ÄúI,Äôll explain it to you in the car.  Right now, we have to get out of here.,Äù

,ÄúI put that up to my EAR!,Äù

,ÄúI know.  It likes that sort of thing.  But we have to go.  I need this translated.,Äù

,ÄúWhere are we going?,Äù

,ÄúI need this read, fast.  So we,Äôre going to a bar.,Äù

,ÄúWHAT?  Are you serious?  We just got attacked by that,Ķ that,Ķ thing,Äî,Äú

,ÄúFace-Raping bat.,Äù

,Äú,ÄîWhatever, and you,Äôre thinking about getting drunk?  Not to mention, where are you going to find a place open right now?,Äù

,ÄúEasy.  It,Äôs the only bar open at this hour of the morning.  The Open Bar.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOI grabbed my shabby leather trench coat as we left the office, making our way down the dimly-lit, musty corridor to the street.  The wiring here was as bad as the office, and the flickering bulbs did nothing to calm Erin,Äôs nerves.  Against my better judgment, I offered her my arm.  With a wan smile, she placed her palm in the crook of my elbow, and drew close.

The scent coming off her, like the fields of Amsterdam, like the first rain of summer, mounted a frontal attack on my brain, as the pressure from her fingertips made me think of what those hands could do, in another time, another place.  Dammit!  Get a hold on yourself, L!  And yes, I know that was another pun.  Shut it!  Don,Äôt think that she,Äôs gonna get over the Face-Raping Bat anytime soon!

Turning towards me, Erin said, ,ÄúI still don,Äôt see why we,Äôre going to a Bar.,Äù

,ÄúNot just any bar, honey.  This one is,Ķ Special.,Äù

,ÄúSpecial like ,Äòmine is the power and the glory,Äô special, or special like ,ÄòI need help wiping my own ass,Äô special?,Äù

I chuckled.  ,ÄúNeither, doll face.  There are some pretty weird characters who hang out there who might help us with this.,Äù  I pulled the scrap of binary code from my pocket, & she flinched, but kept her cool.

,ÄúYour friends, I bet.,Äù

,ÄúWell, some of them.  Others,Ķ let,Äôs just say we have an uneasy truce.,Äù

,ÄúHmph.  Sounds like any other joint in the City.,Äù

,ÄúAh.  But can you say that any other bar will talk back to you?,Äù  Leaving that last comment hanging, I opened the front doors onto the street.  

The City loomed through the threshold, the grim oppressiveness pushing down on your shoulders almost immediately.  It wasn,Äôt supposed to be like this, originally.  There was something about the way the City was built.  ,ÄúPsychotecture,Äù they called it.  The theory was that the brain interpreted angles in the same way it interpreted feelings and emotions.  Make the angle big enough, prominent enough, and it will affect your mood.  Of course, the possibilities were huge, and Government, inc. ate that shit up like pancakes.  The designers got to work, like Frank Lloyd Wright on steroids, plotting out the buildings, the streets, even the lampposts.  Great idea, right?  Make the City what you want it to be:  The financial center attentive, focused, precise, the Restaurant district warm, inviting, etc.

When it was finished, the designers submitted the City to Government, inc. who then did what they always did:  Auction off to the lowest bidder.  Who, of course, will cut corners.  Literally.  The precise distances and angles the designers calculated were eyeballed, estimated, and (occasionally) eliminated.  When it was all done, the City was a mockery of itself, a concrete and steel grotesque, oppressive and forbidding, even on the brightest Spring day.  Needless to say, the suicide rate in the City shot up 1723% in the first year after completion.  No wonder no one left their windowshade up for long.  

Pulling up my collar, we hunched against the psychic assault of the City in all its vast malevolence, and made our way to the car.  A silver, beat-to-shit late model beast, it contrasted sharply against the sleek and sinister beauty of the latest models parked nervously alongside.

,ÄúHoly shit,,Äù Erin said, bemused.  ,ÄúDoes that thing run on gas, still?,Äù

,ÄúNever got around to installing the hydro cell converter.,Äù

,ÄúWhere do you find the cash to refill the damn thing?,Äù

,ÄúI try not to use it that often, but today, we,Äôre in a hurry, and since there,Äôs no one on the road yet, I figure we can get away with it.,Äù

,ÄúDamn, I think I will need a drink after riding in that piece of junk.,Äù

,ÄúJust get in.  We,Äôve got to get to the Open Bar before the Troll gets too drunk.,Äù

,ÄúWe,Äôre actually looking for a Troll?,Äù

,ÄúA collective, actually,,Äù I said, hitting the started, & gunning the car to life.  The engine fought me for a second, as if it knew it wasn,Äôt long for this world, and just wanted to fade away into rust, but then it remembered why it was made, and let out an angry roar as it cleared its pipes of any carbon that might be in its steel throat.

,ÄúWe,Äôve got to find Aini.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOWe drove in silence for a few minutes.  Well, relative silence, anyway, as the car grumbled, coughed, & roared its way through the mostly empty streets of the City.  I glanced over at Erin.  She had a look on her face like a John Singer-Sargent painting, deep but not revealing any secrets.

,ÄúOk.  Fine.  You,Äôre saying the only way to figure out whatever that,Äîthat,Äî,Äú

,ÄúFace-Raping Bat.,Äù

,ÄúYeah, Face-Raping Bat,Äîwas doing is to find a Troll collective.  Fine.  But what do you mean about the Bar talking back to you?,Äù

I sighed.  ,ÄúListen.  This is a delicate subject, because I,Äôm not sure if Government, Inc. knows about it.  You remember when they came up with Quantum Storage, so they could collect almost infinite data on everyone in the country?,Äù

,ÄúYeah.  There was a big protest about it.,Äù

,Äú,ĶUntil most of the protesters were killed in the ,ÄòAccident,Äô.  Anyway, a few who got away went underground, where they were able to hack their way into Government Inc.,Äôs system & see what was really going on.  What they found was, like I said earlier, a system of storage, but no way of processing the information fast enough.  The Quantum Processor simply couldn,Äôt survive the massive amount of energy required to make it run.,Äù

,ÄúBut what does that have to do with a Bar?,Äù

,ÄúI,Äôm getting there.  These underground hackers decided that they were going to try & beat Government, Inc to the punch and develop their own Quantum Processor, so they could stay a step ahead of the Christ Squads and to keep tabs on the Claw Shrimp.  Their breakthrough came when they realized the only solution was to bring the Quantum process to the Macro world.  That way, the larger bodies could handle the energy needed without breaking down.

,ÄúTheir next problem was to somehow manifest tangible Quantum symptoms in a visible form.  Luckily, these weren,Äôt your usual Hackers.  They decided to throw everything they had at the problem, so they tried combining their technical and mathematical skills with some... unorthodox methods.,Äù


Yeah.  They hooked up with a Kabbalist (a real Kabbalist), a couple of Ceremonial Magicians, a Tarot card reader, and combined that with their resident Tantrist--,Äù

,ÄúSex Magic?  Are you serious?,Äù

,ÄúSerious as the Pope,Äôs feeding tube.  She was able to raise enough kundalini to manifest a fairly good representation of the Tree of Life as pure energy, but it wouldn,Äôt stay still.  It was too unpredictable.  It kept changing, & breaking down.  After taking a break, they had some tequila, and realized that it they had to embrace the unpredictability, not control it.  Perhaps it was because they were all pretty drunk, but they decided that since perception helped shape quantum actions, then they should make the laboratory into a bar, which is perhaps the most unpredictable place a person can go.,Äù

,ÄúNow you,Äôre putting me on.,Äù  Erin began to pout, and I almost drove the car into a streetlamp before I pulled myself together enough.

,ÄúYou,Äôd think I was, but get this:  By adding the element of chaos to the probability equations of Quantum mechanics, the Orgone energy from sexual charge, and the altered consciousness of Magic and Tarot, something happened: Tangible, macro, collapsing wave states.  In that environment, in that place, you could, just by thinking about it, create whatever you wanted.  Granted, it wasn,Äôt quite the Quantum Processor they were looking for, but damn, it was fun.  They decided to not only keep it a secret, but keep the bar part up and running, with entrance available to only those who know.,Äù


,ÄúI know, it sounds like bullshit.  It gets worse.  A few months ago, the bar somehow gained sentience.,Äù

,ÄúThat,Äôs it.  Let me out of the car.,Äù

,ÄúWait.  Think about it.  Whet is the human mind but information being strung together in random ways?  What is consciousness but an enormous probability?  The Macro wave states had existed for so long, they started self-regulating.  You,Äôll see.  We,Äôre almost there.,Äù

Softly, subtly, we had slid into a darker part of the city.  We had left the relative eeriness of the City,Äôs residential district, and had entered the pseudo-psychotic Warehouse District.  Graffiti dedicated to Hastur and Nyarlotep fought with each other, and you could see the glint of wide eyes and sharp knives in every dark angle large enough to hide a body (or two).  The occasional working streetlight did nothing but push the surrounding darkness to a more sinister, inky mess.

,ÄúI gotta warn you, dollface, the Open Bar is a little different than most of the places you,Äôve probably been to.,Äù

,ÄúOh, really?,Äù  She finally smiled again, briefly, like she had more secrets than she knew what to do with.  ,ÄúAnd how do you know where I,Äôve been?,Äù

,ÄúI,Äôm just saying, even with the self-regulating Quantum consciousness, the wave states are unstable, and need constant maintenance and upkeep.,Äù

,ÄúMeaning what, exactly?,Äù

,ÄúWell, why fix what isn,Äôt broke?  The same processes that brought it into being are used to keep it going.,Äù

,Äú,ĶYou mean, tantric sex, excessive drinking, and strange pagan rituals,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúExactly.  And Math, of course.,Äù

,ÄúOf course.,Äù

I stopped the car.  ,ÄúWe,Äôre here.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOAs she stepped out of the car, Erin said, ,ÄúYou,Äôve got to be kidding me.,Äù  

We were standing in front of a narrow door, attached to a cramped, squat, suspiciously non-Euclidian building sandwiched between two hulking behemoth towers that loomed overhead, windows shattered like broken teeth, or spare eye sockets gouged out of the walls.

,ÄúI know, I know.  They like a certain sense of mystery abut it.  Makes ,Äòem feel dangerous.,Äù  I took her hand (the sensation of my fingers entwining with her made me think of copulating Seraphim, of snakes in the spring), and led her to the door.  ,ÄúHey, OB!,Äù I shouted at the door.

,ÄúWho are ,ÄòThey,Äô?,Äù Erin whispered.  I didn,Äôt have a chance to answer, as the surface of the door swelled, and suddenly had the appearance of a round, friendly face, about three times the size of a normal head.

,ÄúL, how are you?  I,Äî,ÄúThe huge eyes rolled towards Erin, and scowled.  Erin let out a muffled shriek and flinched back, as the door looked her up and down.  ,ÄúWhat do you think you,Äôre doing, L?,Äù

,ÄúShe,Äôs a client, OB.  Play nice.  We were just assaulted by a cell phone.,Äù

,ÄúYou sure?  She looks too good to be one of yours,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúHey, thanks a lot, OB!  Now, are you going to let us in, or am I gonna have to do this the hard way?,Äù

The door grinned, ,ÄúOh, I was just kidding.  We know your credit is good here.  C,Äômon in.,Äù  The face disappeared, and the door was a door again.

Erin looked at me quizzically.  ,ÄúWhat,Äôs the hard way?,Äù

I chuckled.  ,ÄúDarling, there is no hard way.  The Open Bar likes to play that it,Äôs just a little kid, having awoken only a few months ago.  But really, it basically could control everything that happens in itself.  This includes entering.  It,Äôs a good thing we raised the energy through sex and not violence.  I wouldn,Äôt want that much negative energy in one consciousness.  I prefer his silly goof at immaturity.,Äô

OB,Äôs face popped out of the door again.  ,ÄúI heard that.,Äù

,ÄúYou were supposed to.,Äù  The face disappeared again, and I grabbed the doorknob.  Turning to Erin, I said, ,Äúyou ready for this?,Äù as I swung the door open.

,ÄúI guess so,Ķ Holy shit!,Äù  On the other side of the door was an enormous room, wood-paneled, with large wooden columns supporting a stories-high vaulted roof.  There were tables scattered about, an enormous mahogany bar with brass railings, a stage off to one side, and what looked to be private rooms in back.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,Äô cover of ,ÄúAll Tomorrow,Äôs Parties,Äù emanated from nowhere in particular.  The place was about three-quarters full, and filled with all sorts of odd types: Scrabblers, Emo kids, Metalheads, Drunken Buddhists, Renegade Kareokists, and the Ubiquitous Barflys.  I led Erin over to the bar, where a man with an enormous polystyrene nose was wiping a glass down with his shirttail.

,ÄúHey, Mangrove, two martinis.,Äù

He looked up.  ,ÄúLMNO, haven,Äôt seen you here in a while.  Who,Äôs the lovely lady?,Äù

,ÄúAh, yes.  Erin, this is Mangrove.  Mangrove, Erin.,Äù

,ÄúA pleasure,,Äù Mangrove said, as two martini glasses filled with expensive gin and a lemon rind delicately twisted along the rims materialized in front of us.  Erin looked at them dubiously.

,ÄúIt,Äôs ok,,Äù I said.  ,ÄúLook up.,Äù

The ceiling was barely visible, as there were oddly shimmering darts of light folding in upon themselves, in a perpetual mobius strip of color and illumination.  ,ÄúWhat is that?,Äù asked Erin, enraptured.  I turned to her to answer, and was momentarily caught up in the sense of wonder she radiated, the raucous noise of the bar dimmed, the rest of the world faded away.

,ÄúUm.  The, ah,Ķ,Äù  I followed her gaze up, and came back to myself.  ,ÄúThose are the collapsing wave states.  They,Äôre what made the Open Bar.  When you concentrate hard enough, one of the wave states will fold the universe into what you were thinking about.  That,Äôs how we got this place to look the way it does.  Apparently, OB can fold space-time.  Mang here decided that a good bar should always be almost full, but never packed, because it adds to a atmosphere of solidarity and community.  Or Something.  Did I get that right?,Äù

,ÄúIndubitably, L.  Now miss... Erin, was it?,Äù


,Äú,ĶErin.  LMNO tends to get snobbish about his drinks, I was wondering if you would like anything other than the bitter taste of gin?,Äù  Mangrove had a sly grin on his face as he asked.  I knew what he was up to.

Erin smiled back.  ,ÄúA white wine, if you please.  Sauvignon Blanc, preferably.,Äù

,ÄúAbsolutely.,Äù  A chilled glass of wine appeared in front of her.  I decided to step in before things got out of hand.

,ÄúMang, we,Äôre looking for Aini.,Äù

,ÄúWhy the fuck would you deliberately look for her?,Äù

,ÄúFace-Raping Bat,Ķ  It,Äôs a long story.  I,Äôll tell you later.  Anyway, is she around?,Äù

,ÄúBack corner.  Just look for the large amount of people deliberately avoiding her.,Äù

,ÄúThanks.,Äù  I grabbed my glass, and took a long pull.  This was gonna be tough.  ,ÄúOne more thing, Mang,,Äù I said.

,ÄúWhat, pray tell?,Äù

,ÄúLemme get a cold wrought-iron crowbar.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOWith the cold iron crowbar in hand, I inclined my head in Erin,Äôs direction.  ,ÄúLook, if you don,Äôt want to deal with this, you can stay here with Mang.  Not only would he enjoy the experience, he,Äôd also the closest to the Bar, so you,Äôd be perfectly safe.  Not to mention, I think OB has a crush on you.,Äù

,ÄúWhat do you mean?,Äù

,ÄúLook to your left.,Äù  A bouquet of flowers had appeared, hovering in the air, and lowered itself into a vase which rose from the bartop.  Then a box of chocolates appeared.  ,ÄúSee?  What a hopeless romantic.,Äù

A voice emanating from nowhere in particular said, ,ÄúI heard that.,Äù

Erin patted the railing, smiled, and said, ,ÄúUm,Ķ thanks, uh, ,ÄòOB,Äô, but I really have to take care of this.,Äù  Straightening up, she looked at me with steely determination, and said, ,ÄúSomebody, somewhere, is trying to scare me, and just recently tried to hurt me.  So I,Äôm in for the long haul.  Let,Äôs go do this.,Äù

,ÄúFair enough.,Äù  I turned, and began searching out our Troll.

It wasn,Äôt hard to find her:  There was only one place in the Bar that people were reluctant to go.  A moat of empty tables and chairs surrounded a hazy mass that only slightly resembled a young woman with wings on her back.  From a distance, it looked like an out-of-focus photograph, but it shimmered, like a heat mirage.  Then you could hear her:  From where we were, it was a low buzzing, like cicadas from a mile off, but as we drew closer, you could start making things out.

,ÄúMeep,Ķ3.14592,Ķ A FAGGOT WHO LOVES TO MASTURBATE WHILE EDITING POSTS INTO PERVERTED MESSAGES,Ķoracles are dumb, and psychics are always wrong,Ķ meep,Ķ 65358979323846264,Ķ I sprinkle you with fairy dust...,Äù

Erin stopped.  ,ÄúWhat,Äôs going on?  What is that?,Äù

,ÄúThat, is the Aini collective.  Millions of nano-bots, all loosely connected by a driving urge to annoy as many people as possible.  The thing is, each of the bots has a tiny spark of independent thought, which makes her a bit tough to talk to if you don,Äôt get her attention first.,Äù

,Äúmeep,Ķ 3383279502884,Ķ Stop changing what I say...,Äù

,ÄúBut why does,Ķ she... it,Ķ,Äù Erin trailed off, dumbfounded.

,ÄúI know, she has that effect on people.  Let me handle it.,Äù

,ÄúHow?  How are you going to be able to deal with nano-bots?,Äù

,ÄúThe thing is, she thinks she,Äôs a fairy.  She,Äôs convinced herself so much so, that she actually plays by the ancient rules of fairly lore.,Äù  I hefted the crowbar.  ,ÄúHence the cold wrought iron.  Oh, which reminds me,ÄîTurn your pockets inside out.,Äù

,ÄúI don,Äôt have pockets.,Äù  She motioned downwards at herself, and I foolishly looked.  Her tight red dress clung to her hips like clingfilm, detailing the smooth curves of her body, a shallow dip where her thighs met, the gentle and slight protrusions of her hipbones.  It was the promise of heaven, the inevitability that all men succumb, the literal birthplace of desire.


Aini,Äôs incessant ranting brought me around again.  We were now face to faces, the bots coalescing, trying to approximate a face and a body, but their independence made them unable to agree on an appearance.  The result was not unlike seeing the corpse of a young girl covered with insects.

,ÄúAini, I want to talk with you.  This is Erin.,Äù

,ÄúThis is Erin,Ķ 1971693993751058209749445923,Ķ I want to talk with you,Ķ meep,ĶI ate yew.  Yum!  Squirrels are stupid,Ķfairy dust,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúI,Äôm serious.  Hey!  Are you listening?,Äù

,ÄúAre you listening?...I didn,Äôt say that, why are you making me say that?... 06647093,ĶGOAT FUCKER!,Äù

,ÄúEnough of this shit,,Äù I muttered as I drew back with the crowbar, and swung it as hard as I could at Aini,Äôs head.  The front part of her face sheared off, as hundreds of bots died, falling to the floor, no more than silicon and nanowires.  

Aini shrieked, and quickly rose from the table, up, and up, her faux wings pretending to flap, as the nanobots quickly re-arranged themselves to form a bow in her hand.  ,ÄúI shoot an arrow at your head!,Äù she cried, and let loose a stream of bots.  Erin screamed, and ducked under a table.

,ÄúFuck you.,Äù  I swung again, and the ,Äòarrow,Äô dissolved into angry dust.  Using the crook of the crowbar, I hooked Aini,Äôs foot, shearing it off at the knee.  ,ÄúOB!  Window!,Äù I yelled.  A beautiful stained glass window appeared in the wall, just as I hurled Aini,Äôs leg.  It shattered in a beautiful rainbow of glass, the shards of which disappeared before falling among the other patrons.  A few cheered and clapped in appreciation of the show.  I owe Agent Compassion for that move, I thought.  Damn, I owe her a dollar.

,ÄúAini! Listen up,,Äù I yelled.  ,ÄúI need your hyper math!,Äù

,ÄúOh.,Äù  She fluttered down.  ,ÄúWhat,Äôs up?,Äù

I sighed.  Why is it always this hard?  I handed her the slip of paper I got from the face-raping bat.  ,ÄúThis looks like machine code.  I need to know what it says.,Äù

,ÄúDid you know I can find out anyone,Äôs IP address and then change it at will?  It,Äôs easy!... Meep,Ķ,Äù

I swung the crowbar again, this time catching her in the side with a satisfying crunch.  I could hear the thousands of tiny robots pulverized.  Damn, it felt good.  ,ÄúPAY ATTENTION!,Äù

,ÄúOw!  Dammit!  Ok, ok,Ķ It,Äôs mixed format,Ķ it,Äôs repeating ,ÄúXVI,Äù and ,Äú16,Äù a few times,Ķ  Oh look, the inevitable ,Äú23,Äù,Ķ  It,Äôs throwing a lot of purposeful gibberish between ,Äú7,Äùs and ,Äú8,Äùs,Ķ ok, a few words here... ,ÄúNeztach,Äù,Ķ ,ÄúHod,Äù,Ķ Stupid psychics,Ķ  Ok, skipping a bit,Ķ  Ah.,Äù


,ÄúHope you like the bohemian scene.,Äù


,ÄúWhatever this is, and wherever you got it,,Äù Aini said with what approximated a knowing grin, ,Äúit came from the shop at 42nd and 13th.  Don,Äôt forget your beret... meep,Ķ,Äù

I knew when not to push it any further.  I abruptly turned around, grabbed Erin by the elbow, and quickly walked away.  ,ÄúDon,Äôt look back,,Äù I muttered.  The crowd parted for us as we made our way back to the front of the bar.

,ÄúGOAT FUCKER!!... I didn,Äôt say that, you made me do it,Ķ 64709384460955058223,Ķ yer not kewl, and yew know it[/size],Ķmeep,Ķ meep,Ķ,Äù[/size]

,ÄúJust ignore her,,Äù I said.  ,ÄúIt will soon seem like a dream.,Äù

,ÄúIt already seems like a dream.,Äù

,ÄúMang!  More drinks!  Make ,Äòem doubles!,Äù  

Mangrove,Äôs nose awaited us, with the rest of him behind it.  ,ÄúHell, after that performance, why don,Äôt you just take the bottle?,Äù

,ÄúFine by me.  Make it scotch.,Äù

Mang rolled his eyes.  ,ÄúBut of course.  Erin?,Äù

Demurely, she said, ,ÄúBetter make it scotch for me, as well.,Äù  She turned to me, and said, ,Äúso, did you understand anything she was babbling about?,Äù

,ÄúYeah, one or two things.  I have to work out some of the details, but I know where we have to go next.,Äù

,Äú,ĶAnd that would be,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúWhat do you know about poetry?,Äù

,ÄúIt,Äôs usually bad, and it takes place in coffee shops?,Äù

,ÄúRight both times.  But don,Äôt worry.  The coffee there is excellent.,Äù
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOGetting back into the car, Erin asked, ,ÄúSo now what?,Äù

,ÄúNow we go to the place your phone originated.  Somewhere in that bit of code was its Location of Origin.  Those kinds of devices tend to have Meta Code built into it, so any one line of code contains up to 23 other aspects of the program.,Äù

,ÄúAnd that Troll was able to read that?,Äù

,ÄúYeah.  Aini may be fucking annoying, but she has her uses.  Sometimes.  But I try not to push it.,Äù

,Äú,ĶAnd it came from a Coffee Shop?  No, wait, let me guess,Ķ It,Äôs actually a transdimensional Communist Dojo actively engaged in bringing down the Establishment.,Äù

,ÄúActually, that,Äôs more the NSRA,Äôs style.,Äù

,ÄúThe what?,Äù

,ÄúNew Soviet Red Army.  I,Äôm not willing to get them involved yet.  You know things are going poorly when you need to get them involved.  Kinda like killing a mosquito with a bazooka.,Äù

,Äú,ĶBut, a coffee shop.,Äù

,ÄúIt really does seem ridiculous, doesn,Äôt it?  But these quasi-bohemian college-lifestyle hangouts really are the best places for breeding dissent, and for staging unpredictable acts of subversion.  What Cop is going to be able, not only to fit in, but to be able to sift through the conversations going on in one of those places and figure out which ones are flights of fancy, which ones are honest plots, and which ones are coded messages?,Äù

,ÄúBut LMNO, you seem to know these places pretty well.  You even seem to be friendly with some of these people.  And you say my phone came from there?,Äù

,ÄúTechnically, yes, according to Aini.  But all she really knew was what ,Äòhome base,Äô the phone was programmed to report.  And since there,Äôs no screening policy at the shop, and they have public computer access,Ķ  Well, there,Äôs no telling who could have been there.,Äù

,ÄúAh.  Hey,,Äù Erin motioned to the dank streets and storefronts of The City.  ,ÄúWe just passed the Starbucks,Ķ,Äù

,ÄúYou are aware, of course, that coffee is not a trademarked beverage, yes?,Äù


,ÄúAs it turns out, marketing material aside, Starbucks doesn,Äôt own coffee, nor the practice of making it.  I swear, usually I joke about Illuminati plots and the Starbucks conspiracy, but when they were able to successfully outbid and out-brand virtually all other coffee companies, I wasn,Äôt so sure.  Suffice it to say, any current alternative coffee places are Underground.,Äù

,ÄúLike the Bar we were just at?,Äù

,ÄúWell, not so underground.  The place isn,Äôt conscious, and it,Äôs open to the public.  But it,Äôs run by a very stern mistress:  The Caffeinatrixx.,Äù

We pulled up to a freshly-painted monstrosity of concrete inside the University Row District.  The beams and rebar the contractors used in this section of the city were of such poor quality, they started folding in on themselves almost immediately.  The precise angles, meant to relax and mentally stimulate, were horrible to contemplate now, and produced such headaches of anyone looking at them for too long that the college dropout rate eventually became 100%.  The hum of human activity inside the building compared to the barren street would be welcoming to even the most claustrophobic sociophobe.  We stepped inside before the psychotecture became too much.

Inside, the air was thick with exotic cigarette smoke and the rich smell of roasting coffee.  There were hundreds of people here, sitting at small tables, some trying to pose as sophisticated intellects, others trying their best to stay awake, their eyes skittering to and fro, their fingers twitching slightly.

Erin grabbed my arm, and leaned in close, her perfume cutting through the atmosphere of the coffee shop, making me dizzy, thinking about rope swings, and summer ponds.  ,ÄúWhat the hell is that?,Äù

I looked in the direction she was pointing.  At first glance, it was a woman.  A beautiful woman, bound by a black leather corset and a mini skirt.  But then a second look revealed the differences: From her head sprouted two cat ears, and poking out beneath her skirt was a tail that swished lightly in the air as if testing the environment for prey.  She was talking to a small table of people, and when she smiled, you could see the needle point of her razor sharp teeth.  But cat ears and a tail weren,Äôt the oddest things about her.  When she moved, it became obvious that her knees bent in the opposite direction, much like a cat standing on its hind legs.  ,ÄúThat,Äôs Malaul.  The Caffeinatrixx,,Äù I said.  Her ears twitched in my direction, and she turned.

Scowling, she stalked over to us, a growl in her throat.  She flexed her fingers, and claws extended from where her fingernails should have been.

,ÄúMaybe this wasn,Äôt such a good idea,,Äù I said,Ķ
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNO,ÄúWhere the FUCK have you been?,Äù

Malaul crossed the final three yards between us with one bound, and she was up in my face.  ,ÄúYou think you can just walk in here, after slipping a way like that--,Äù

,ÄúHi, Mal, I--,Äù

,ÄúDon,Äôt give me any of your sweet talk, L!  I know you too good for that.  Don,Äôt think you can just waltz in here,Ķ Mrurrrrrrr,Ķ,Äù  Quicker than a blink, she grabbed me, pulled me to her, and kissed me.  

She smelled like the desert, rich with heat, with the ever-looming sense of danger, and death.  She tasted like chocolate and coffee.  Her claws dug into my back, and her tail wrapped around my leg.  I,Äôll never get used to that tail, I thought.  I eased back into the kiss, like a song you only remember at dawn.  Her rough tongue lapped at me, as I did my best to avoid cutting myself on her teeth.

Abruptly, she let me go, and I stumbled, trying to catch my breath, and my balance.  Malaul had noticed Erin, and her eyes narrowed into slits.  Uh oh.  

,ÄúL,,Äù she breathed.  ,Äúdon,Äôt tell me you brought one of your new sluts into this place, after al this time.,Äù  Her sharp teeth glinted in the light.

Erin glared back.  ,ÄúLook, whoever-you-are.  No one calls me a slut and gets away with it.,Äù

Malaul laughed, and swiped at Erin,Äôs face, her claws missing by a centimeter.  Erin flinched; Malaul smiled.  ,ÄúWe can settle this right here, bitch.  We can charge admission as everyone watches me tear strips from your skin.  Won,Äôt be the first time.,Äù

I decided it was time to step in.  ,ÄúMal.  Mal.  She,Äôs a client.  I,Äôm on a case.,Äù

,ÄúThe hell you are.,Äù

,ÄúSeriously.  This is Erin.  Erin, Malaul, the Caffeinatrixx.  Mal, Erin has been getting strange calls, and her phone just turned into a face-raping bat an hour ago.,Äù  I took a chance, and reached up to scratch Malaul behind the ears.  Her claws withdrew to wherever they go.  

,ÄúMurrr,Ķ So why are you here?"

,ÄúOver at the Open Bar, Aini said that the phone was directed to go here.  Probably from one of the open terminals.,Äù  At Aini,Äôs name, Malaul,Äôs ears flattened back, and she scowled.  

,ÄúAnd you believe her.  Hmph.  Well, I guess that,Äôs the risk you run when you run an open source caf?©.  The logs are in the back.  You two want something to drink while you wait?,Äù

,ÄúEspresso, with a splash of grappa.  Erin?,Äù

,ÄúJust plain coffee, please.  Black.,Äù

Malaul laughed.  ,ÄúHoney, in here, it,Äôs never plain.,Äù  She walked to the end of the caf?©, gliding in only the way a woman whose knees bend backward can.
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOWatching Malaul disappear behind the swinging doors of the Caf?©'s kitchen, Erin turned to me and said, "You seem to know her quite well."

"Well, Mal was the original and Lead Tantrist involved in creating the Open Bar.  I met her just before she started work on that.  She's spent much of her life exploring the various sensual disciplines, like Tantra, Taoist sexual techniques, the Kama Sutra, Thelemite sex magic, and the like.  The Hackers were lucky to find her.  That was one of the last projects she did before the change."

"Projects?  Change?"

"Well, as it turns out, after years of practice and personal fulfillment, Malaul decided to share with the world.  She had so much excess Kundalini energy, she dedicated herself to, essentially, recharge humanity's Orgone batteries.  The Hackers convinced her to use that extra energy in constructing the Bar.  Soon after that, she went in for genetic body modification."


"Yeah, you didn't think all that was simply prosthetics, or grafted on, did you?  That goes down to the genetic level.  As it turns out, when you alter your DNA, the chakras move as well, and the act of raising Kundalini changes.  Mal was thrilled, for she had new worlds to explore."

"So why is all of this taking place in... well, places like this?"

"I figure it's half a joke.  The whole college/university/bohemian thing not only creates a relaxed environment for the participants, but what Cop in their right mind is going to try to monitor a coffeehouse like this, and attempt to filter out what's a real conspiracy, what's simply stream-of-thought bullshit, and what is actually coded messages?  It adds a level of security, all neatly wrapped up in unpredictable chaos.  You can't get a better system of disinformation that a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals sitting around getting jacked up on coffee."

Through the din and the crowd, I could see Malaul walking back with our drinks.  Setting them down, she said, "Well, I hate to admit it, but Aini's right.  Whoever was using the terminals tried to hide their tracks, but I think I can get some information out of it.  I'll get one of my boys to work on it."  She glanced at me, and turned her head towards Erin.  "Sorry about all that earlier.  You know how it is."

Erin smiled thinly.  "I suppose."

"Oh, don't be like that."  Malaul looked Erin up and down slowly, and arched an impossible eyebrow.  "You know, L," she said, never taking her eyes of Erin, "I have a few... experiments... in back that I'm sure both you and... Erin would be interested in."

"Tempting, Mal, but she really is a client.  Maybe next time?"

She sighed.  "I suppose.  You just stay here, and enjoy your coffee.  I'll send a boy out when the information surfaces."  Malaul walked back to the end of the caf?©, catching the eyes of several patrons along the way, and disappeared in the crowd.  Erin sipped her coffee.

"My god!"

"I know.  It's almost criminal to have something this good."

"Starbucks should be burnt to the ground."

"Don't think it hasn't been tried by the Church of Foamy."

Just then, the door burst open, and dozens of people spilled in the door, making a hell of a racket, carrying bottles of rum and whiskey.  They were mostly unkempt, disheveled, drunk, and had a crazed look in their eyes.  They ran for a corner, and began chanting, "A challenge!  Hear, hear!  Who now wants to challenge us!  They shall be destroyed!"  The Caf?©'s  other customers began giving them room, some hastily grabbing cups of their precious coffee and trying their hardest not to be noticed.

I stood up.  "We better move somewhere a little quieter."

"What's the matter?"

"Didn't you hear that?  5-7-5.  They're starting a Haiku Battle."

The yelling intensified, and I noticed more then a few of them looking at us.  Too late, I thought.  The chant shifted.  "It's LMNO!  You should know better than that, to come back in here!"  They streamed out , forming a rough circle around us.  I turned to Erin.  "Sit tight, and keep your head down, this may get messy."

I slowly turned in a circle, until I found the greasy-haired degenerate I was looking for.  "Hello Paul.  What's this?  A glutton for punishment?  I don't have all day."

The crowd cheered.  The Battle was on.
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOThe historical tradition of Haiku Battle dates back to when the intelligentsia were blacklisted by Government, inc.  Over-educated and under-employed, grad students, MENSA candidates (the society itself was outlawed and driven underground in '07), and previously tenured professors fell through the cracks; and like any marginalized and underprivileged social group, soon tribalized and turned rogue.  In the beginning, they were still unaccustomed to violence, and settled on spontaneous haiku to work out any confrontations.  Several years toughened them up, however, and now the haiku were merely preambles to savage beatings, and occasionally death.  Paul was their current leader, and a fairly sharp poet.  I was going to have to play this one carefully.

The crowd traditionally called out the topics.  I sized them up, trying to see what disciplines they were leaning toward.  I soon found out:  "Irrational Numbers!" a scrawny kid with glasses shouted out.  Paul cleared his throat, and began:

"An endless number,
Square root of negative one.
Math is for the birds."

The crowd murmured appreciatively.  Well, at least they chose an easy one to start with, I thought.  I said:

"They do not exist
Except inside our own minds.
Magic, to be sure."

Silence.  Then a brutish thug of a Classics professor wielding a bat stepped up, and calmly swung hard into Paul's shoulder.  Paul didn't flinch, but you could see the rage in his eyes.  After all, he was used to this, and while I may have crossed paths with him once or twice, he did this for fun.  A young woman stepped forward.  "Mayflies," she uttered, and stepped back.  It was my turn to begin this time.  Mayflies?

"Pesky little beast.
More than one hand can deal with.
Where's the flyswatter?"

Guffaws erupted from the mob.  Shit.  A dread-locked English Lit grad student shouted, "He ended with a preposition!  He ended with a preposition!"  Paul, with an evil grin, puffed his chest out, and said:

"It lives for one day.
An Eternity for them;
For us, a moment."

Ok, that was pretty good, I thought, as Paul grabbed the neck of a rum bottle and swung it at my head, catching me directly in the mouth.  My lip split wide open, blood splattering the faces of a few nearby Pure Math hoodlums, who giggled psychotically.  I felt a tooth loosen, and the room grew dim.  A moment later, the pain caught up with the trauma, and I found myself on the floor, with Paul's boot trying to make a soft spot in the back of my head.  It took a couple of Latin students to pull Paul off-- After all, there was one more haiku before the melee could really begin.  A delinquent Philosophy professor spoke up.  "The history of the Universe."  Paul was quick to speak up this time.  A total ringer.  What a crock.  Total set up, I thought groggily.

"There was a big bang.
Heat, and light, and life, and death.
We go to the void."

I was still down on one knee, and I could hear the cracking of knuckles as the crowd tensed up, ready to go to work.  My lip was essentially useless.  How could I even speak, let alone think of a decent haiku right now?  I just hope I can make it through the beating.  I tried to relax my mind and my body, preparing for the inevitable.  

I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder, and a smell like the forest on an early October morning.  Erin stood next to me, squared her shoulders, and cried out:

"Chaos; then order.
We make all these things happen.
Order; then chaos."

A few gasps ricocheted through the crowd.  Paul stood, stunned.  "You... you can't substitute," he stammered, breaking form.  "That's not the rules."

"Bullshit," I said, getting to my feet, trying to speak through the blood and loose tissue.  "I know the rules as well as you.  Substitutes allowed if they're willing to take the punishment as well."

"Fuck you, Mr. LMNO.  You're not getting away from me."  Paul curled his hand up into a fist and walked forward.  "And the bitch is gonna get hers too, you better believe... Urk," Paul stopped, and looked down at the sword that just sprouted from his chest.  With a blur, the sword disappeared, leaving a bloody hole.  In an instant, Paul's right arm dropped to the floor.  Screaming, Paul wheeled around, just as the sword ripped through his stomach, spilling his intestines onto the floor at the feet of a tall man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  He looked around at the crowd.

"yuo knwo teh ruels.  L geos free.  Adn I buy ihm a drnik."

I stared.  "Horab?  What are you doing with these freaks?"

"Latre.  Let's get taht faec of yuors fixde."
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock


Quote from: LMNOWe made our way to a table, where a busboy, dressed only in tight jeans and an apron, was waiting with a bucket of ice and some gauze.  Mal knows how to dress up the help, I thought.  Horab and Erin made their introductions, and then he turned to me and said, "Yuo shuold knwo bteter tahn to mess wthi thsoe guys."

It was still painful to talk.  "Yeah.  I know.  Still, how..."

"I was in teh sotry next door, lokoign for my satrt button, adn word caem dwon form teh zebra that j0 were haedign to teh Caf?©.  I herad yuo had a new caes, so I deicedd to see how j0 were doign.  On my wya donw, I ran itno the Savage Intelletculas, and we all sotr of tumbeld in togehter.  Good thign, too.  Yuo're not taht good at haiku, are j0?"

"Shut it.  I was doing fine."

"If yuor plan was to get codl clokced and have this lovley peice of wrok," he motioned to Erin, who nodded her head at the compliment, "come adn saev yuor ass, tehn it went off wihtout a hicth."

Erin spoke up.  "There was one hitch, actually.  I believe it's called 'murder'?"

"Don't wrory.  Those guy sfell off teh grid years ago.  Not olny do tehy hold no statsu positoins in scoiety, a few of tehm are Abbie Hoffman disipcles, and nkow how to dukc teh systme, so tehre's nohting to track.  So L, excatly what are j0 wroking on?"

I did my best to relate the story so far through my busted lip, with Erin providing most of the details.  After he was caught up, Horab looked thoughtful.  "Yuo siad Erin got a traot card?"


"Well, why haevn't j0 gon eto see teh Triple Oracle?  It wuold maek sense, rihgt?"

"I haven't gone, because it's always about doom with them.  Remember?"

"Get ovre it, L.  Evenutally, it's awlays abuot doom.  Anywya, they colud probbaly keep pointign j0 in the rigth diretcion.  And yuo can get good infromation, proivded yuo haev an in.  And I heav an in."


"Dind't j0 hear?  I'm srot of marired to oen of their dauhgters.  Let me go adn try to find her.  I tohught she'd be here, somehwere..."  Horab trailed off, stood up, and wandered off deeper into the Caf?©, which had more or less returned to normal, save for the two handsome baristas who were given the unenviable task of cleaning up Horab's mess.

"Did he say a 'zebra' told him where you were?"  Erin looked like she was just about out of patience with all this.  "I'll tell you, L, this is all getting pretty weird.  And what's with his accent?"

"That's just the way he talks.  Truth be told, sometimes I don't know what the hell he's talking about sometimes.  But he's a solid guy, and (when he's not killing people) he's good for a few laughs."

"He sounds like a nut job."

"Look around you.  Look at the City.  Look at what became of our country.  You should believe me when I say that Horab is merely synchronized with the times at hand."

I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  Malaul was coming back to the table with a ream of paper.  She scowled when she saw my face.  "What did you do now?"

"It wasn't me.  I was drawn into a Haiku battle, and Horab had to kill Paul."

"Yeah, right.  So, where's he now?"  Malaul glanced over at the corpse removal job, and let out a small hiss.  

"He said he was going to look for his... sort-of wife?"

"You mean Hoshiko?  She's at the gaming tables, as usual."

I stared.  "Hoshiko?  And Horab?  Is that even possible?"

Malaul gave a wan smile, and shoved more ice into my face.  "Hush.  They did it as a joke, but it kind of caught on.  They're sort-of married, sort-of divorced, and entirely independent of each other."

"...Whatever you say.  So, what have you got for me?"

"The information was encrypted, but that didn't take too long to crack.  The problem is that the info itself is in code, or something...  Have a look."

The first few lines of the top page of the stack of papers read:


"Now this," Malaul said, pointing to the page, "is at least somewhat familiar.  I think "Neztach" is Hebrew, and it's connected with Tarot through the Tree of Life."

I sighed.  "Looks like I'll have to track down the Oracles of Doom, for sure.  Because Erin was sent the Tower card, as well."

Malaul let out a low whistle.  "Well, you'll need some help getting them.  You better hope Horab finds Hoshiko."

"Is she still..."

"Yeah.  You know what they say.  Once a Scrabblist, always a Scrabblist."
Coito ergo sum
O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy,the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon.  --Comedian Chris Rock