Friday, October 31, 2008

Burning Your Own House Down

Lady CoyoteAngel Dimsum added her own twist to the protest over the Openspace sim policy change: she burned down her own sim.

The devestation was impressive.

However, it was perhaps a little extreme. One is reminded of the cliche regarding babies and bathwater.

Then again, what do I know?
More seriously, the chat on ISC has had a number of people discussing moving to the Open Life grid. I'm all for competition, and having a viable alternative to SL would be nice, but - how can I say this nicely? - Open Life isn't ready for prime time. The lag is unbelievably bad, even with no one else around. The Noob look is distressing, and, while some have said there are freebies and one can adjust one's appearance, I could never do so. There is no currency, no economy. Other than the joy of participating in the world's growing pains, or the satisfaction of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, it's not clear why one would abandon a far more mature and, yes, stable platform. Not at this time, at any rate.
Perhaps in the future Open Life will merit a re-visit. But, all cliches aside, I see no reason to uproot myself. I can only hope my fellow citizens, disgruntled as they now are, eventually feel the same way.

Update 11/1/08 12:51 p.m. SLT: Dr. Mason reports that Lovelace and Carntaigh have joined in the arson. (Is it really arson if you own the place? Well, whatever it is, burning stuff down.) It saddens me to see so much creative talent engaged in destructive efforts.

Intrepid in Trepid Station

I arrived at Trepid Station, an abandoned and, according to accounts, haunted train station. The station was the site of a series of killings. Although I was skeptical that the evil in the building lingered, I was determined to investigate. Prior to the station's closing, the coffee shop had at least one customer who was willing to read about the horrific deeds while sipping his coffee:

After the killings, passenger traffic decreased substantially. Who would want to wait for a train when a murder may lurk around the corner? No one wants to spend eternity at a train station. (Then again, that's not much worse than Amtrak's on-time record.)

As I crept through the deserted waiting area, now slowly succumbing to the ravages of time, I would occasionally hear sounds: creaks and clanks, moans, and the faint call of someone in distress. Was someone else there, higher up in the tower, or was this just a trick of my imagination?

Investigating further, I was relieved that the station's owners were very civic-minded:
One can only imagine their pride. "Our passengers may fall victim of a serial killer, but, by golly, no veneral diseases or unwanted pregnancies at this station, even if the passengers engage in random hookups out of boredom!"

Drawing my pistol, I climbed higher into the tower, in search of the voice calling out. Occasionally, I would see an apparition, if only for an instant. Some of the spirits clearly did not want me there:
"Go away"? That didn't seem very hospitable.
At the very top of the tower, I found where the slaughter must have occurred. The psychic energy was very strong here, and the vision of devestation remained constant:
I took a tentative step, and then another. As I entered the room, I came face-to-face with the demon still possessing the tower:
And then...I found myself flat on my back on the ground. I stood, checking that nothing was broken. I looked up at the tower, sixty feet off the ground. Surely I must be dead. Was this the afterlife, full of pumpkins?
Finally, I pieced together what must have occurred. The demon's energy blew me out the window, sending me spiraling down toward what was an almost certain death. However, the air beneath my skirts created just enough drag to slow me down, and the Jameson family has always been blessed with ample padding to cushion falls. This combination doubtlessly saved my life.
I must confess I have no scientific explanation for what I saw and what happened to me. Was it the result of evil spirits haunting the station? I believe in Science and Rational Thought. Yet even the skeptic in me admits the possibility that malevolent energy can linger where evil has been done. And as we believe in God and His benevolent angels, should we not also believe in Satan and his minions?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Soul Camera (Part 2)

“His Grace will see you now,” the liveried butler intoned. I had taken a hansom to the town house of Lord Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle. He was one of the members of the aristocracy who did not take himself too seriously and, equally importantly, did not hold a grudge against me for previous newspaper accounts that might have been less-than-flattering. I had good luck in catching him at home. I hoped my luck would hold when I asked him for a very large favor.

“What can I do for you, Miss Jameson?” Lord Edward asked, after the usual pleasantries. He sat back in a leather wingback chair and crossed his legs, smoothing out the crease in his trouser leg. He looked as though he was dressed for a day outside, shooting grouse. I felt confident that the creatures would not stand a chance.

I explained that I was seeking four invitations to the Guvnah’s Halloween ball. He raised an eyebrow higher than I thought possible, but his breeding held, and he said nothing. I told him about the hijacked silencers, and a concern that whoever stole them planned to use the occasion of the ball to attempt an assassination of one or more prominent members of society. Rather than have a contingent of Caledonian police disrupt the ball, I would ask Captain Armstrong to have his men ready outside while my sister Kathy and I looked for the plotters. Of course, in order to make our cover look respectable, we would need to bring escorts; hence, four tickets.

Lord Edward appeared ready to erupt.

I added my sweetener: “I thought having Roland Luminos as my escort…”

“Luminos? Wasn’t he recently involved in some dueling episode in the Moors?”

The answer to that was yes, but I ignored the question and moved on. “…and Professor Diggory Foster as Kathy’s escort.”

The Duke’s eyes grew wide. “Foster, eh? I’ve heard of him. Didn’t he claim he had developed a special camera?”

So Foster had told the aristocrats about the soul camera! I had thought that might intrigue the Duke. “Yes, he is the inventor of the ‘soul’ camera. I’m certain he would arrange a demonstration for you, should Your Grace desire one.”

“Not that I believe a word of it, mind you, but it might be amusing.” Or it would be if we ever recovered the camera. He sat silently for a moment. “Very well, Miss Jameson. I will find four invitations for your group. Just promise to introduce me to Professor Foster during the ball.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

He stood, and I stood, and the audience was over.

Now I just had to break the news to the gentlemen – and to Kathy.

* * *
“You said I’d do what?” Kathy Jameson exploded. “Do I look like the sort of girl who prances about in ball gowns and dances with men? Are you out of your mind, little sister?”

This was not going well. I appealed to her civic duty. I appealed to her sense of adventure. I pointed out that I was not asking her to engage in any intimacies with Professor Foster, merely to blend in by appearing as his date. Finally, I observed that this was a masquerade ball, so that Kathy could use her ingenuity to appear suitably costumed.

“Hmm.” She looked thoughtful. “I suppose I could come as Pestilence…”

“Charming.”

“…or perhaps just the Angel of Death…” I let her go on in this vein for some time. As long as she agreed to go, we could agree to negotiate the terms of her costume later.

* * *
The four of us arrived at the Guvnah’s mansion on the night of the ball, and disembarked from the hired carriage. Roland was dressed as a Mad Scientist, which I told him seemed like typecasting; Foster was a cave man, dressed in tattered skins and carrying a large foam club; Kathy, as promised, was the Angel of Death; and I came as a winged faerie. As I looked down at my skimpy costume, I hoped I would not have occasion to hide a gun.

“You had to have wings, too, didn’t you, Rhianon?” Kathy groused as our wings became entangled.

“My other choice was a cave woman, and (a) Professor Foster is your date, and (b) there was even less to that costume than this one.”

We made our way inside, where the party was getting started. The ballroom was filling with costumed guests. Pirates abounded – in Caledon, that seemed like more typecasting. Kathy waved to Mr. Vivito Volare, who was dressed in full pirate captain regalia, including a patch over one eye. The way he ogled my sister, I wondered if the patch was covering an actual black eye given to him by Miss Fogwoman Gray, his date. Winterfell’s Seneschelf, Miss Serra Anansi, was dressed as a librarian, while her date, Caledon Librarian JJ Drinkwater, was dressed as an elf. Lord Edward, dressed as the Headless Horseman (including a pumpkin in place of a head), was talking to a rough-looking man dressed as Napoleon. Other guests were less recognizable because of their elaborate costumes, and I despaired of trying to identify a gunman in the group.

Lord Edward made his way to our group. “I’m so glad you could make it, Miss Jameson. And this must be your lovely sister?”

Kathy made a passable attempt at a curtsy. “At your service, Your Grace.”

“And Professor Foster and Dr. Luminos.” The men shook hands. “Any progress on our…problem?”

“Not so far,” I replied.

The Duke turned to our cave man. “Professor, I understand you are the creator of a unique machine. Able to see into Man’s soul – amazing!” He turned in my direction. “And, Miss Jameson, you are a woman of your word, I see – having arranged for a demonstration of that very machine tonight!”

The four of us looked at one another as though one of us had held out on the group. Finally, Roland spoke up. “Dear chap, I mean, Your Grace, whatever are you talking about? The camera is here?”

Lord Edward looked confused, and replied, “Why, yes, that fellow, Napoleon, was telling me that he had arranged a special ‘VIP’ demonstration of the camera. We are to be upstairs, in the Guv’s private quarters, in one hour.” He seemed a little embarrassed. “Normally, I don’t go for that ‘VIP’ treatment, but I very much wanted to see the camera in action.”

Kathy slapped a hand to her forehead and seemed on the verge of saying something rash. I interjected, “Your Grace, I fear that this may be the occasion we discussed: a roomful of dignitaries, separated from any security, unable to escape, would be at the mercy of assassins. The stolen silencers would ensure that no one downstairs could raise the alarm.”

He granted the possibility. “What do you suggest?”

“You are about the same height as Dr. Luminos, though of somewhat greater build. The two of you could change costumes, and let Dr. Luminos go in your place.”

Roland looked alarmed. “Me? Old bean, I hardly think…”

“You are the only one of us who can do so, Uncle Roland. We cannot call Captain Armstrong’s force to come inside, or we will surely alert the conspirators.”

Kathy looked impatient. “Get moving, you two. We’re losing time.” Lord Edward looked startled at being addressed so peremptorily, and Roland still looked unsure, but the two made plans to quietly withdraw to a side room where each donned the other’s costume. Lord Edward’s Headless Horseman looked a little large on Roland, but we agreed it was a fairly good fit and would pass a quick inspection. Certainly no one could identify the wearer of the costume by sight, not with the large pumpkin head obliterating any distinguishing features.

“What if they use the soul camera, and the picture of mine differs from Lord Edward’s, eh what?” worried Roland.

“It’s a fraud, you old fraud!” exclaimed Kathy.

“Not a fraud, young lady, not at all,” replied Foster. “However, as no one has ever taken a picture of His Grace’s soul, that problem seems unlikely to arise.”

I agreed. “No, the bigger problem is what happens if the conspirators insist that Roland take off the costume’s head so they can visually identify him.” Roland gulped at that.

Lord Edward said, “I understand how you plan on getting your man into the arena, so to speak. But how are you to prevent the crime?”

“We are going to hope that those responsible have retained some good sense,” I replied. “If their foul intent is discovered and a cry is raised, they will have no incentive to carry through their plans, particularly if they are made aware of the police presence outside and understand they will not get away. Kathy and I will follow Roland at a discreet distance and sound the alarm when – if – we are certain of their plans. In the meanwhile, Your Grace, do nothing to indicate that anything is amiss.”

Having developed this plan, I was not at all confident in its success, but it was all we had. Roland set out for the private chambers upstairs. Kathy and I followed at some distance.

* * *
When Roland reached the closed door, he knocked politely. Kathy and I were crouched in a doorway nearby, and could hear the tumblers of the lock turn as the door was opened. “Come in, Your Grace,” a voice behind the door said. Roland entered, and the door was locked again.

We looked at one another. “This throws a spanner into the works,” Kathy said.

“We’ll never get in that way,” I agreed. Several other costumed party-goers arrived and were similarly granted access.

When they passed, Kathy said, “The orchestra is scheduled to start up at half-past the hour. Along with the silencers, the music will help muffle the shots. We have about fifteen minutes to get into that room. I have an idea.” With that, she crept back down the stairs before I could object.

I had my own idea, however. I walked to the door and rapped lightly. The door opened a crack, and Napoleon looked at me. “Sorry, this is a private meeting.”

I made myself look as adorable as I could in the faerie costume and said, slurring my words some, “I know. Big party here. I’m the party shurprishe.” I tried to enter the room, but Napoleon shoved hard with one straightened arm and, as I attempted to maintain my balance, he said, “Take it somewhere else, you tart,” as he slammed the door shut and locked it again.

The grandfather clock in the hall showed twenty past the hour. I had no choice but to run downstairs, out the main hall of the mansion, and locate Captain Armstrong, where I breathlessly explained the situation. He barked out a command to his men, and a half-dozen uniformed officers followed their Captain into the mansion at a run, guns drawn.

The clock in the town square sounded the half hour.

* * *
Meanwhile, Kathy had taken a more direct route to the locked room. After she left me, she opened a window in the ballroom as astonished guests watched her climb out. The orchestra finished tuning up, and the conductor readied the first waltz. Using her lithe body and gymnastic ability, silently she climbed the outside of the building, using various projections in the brickwork as toeholds. Now at the second floor, she grabbed hold of a smiling gargoyle and, using the stone figure as an anchor, she pivoted around the figure and hit the window feet first.

Glass flew in all directions, and the assembled dignitaries and their captors saw the Angel of Death glide into the chamber. “Hello, boys,” she said with false bravado, as four guns turned in her direction.

By that time, Captain Armstrong and his men had reached the second floor landing with me, and I pointed out the door to the chamber. Two solid hits on the door by a burly uniformed officer cracked the jamb and the door flew open. One of the thugs fired a shot in the direction of the door which, fortunately, went wide. Napoleon shouted, “Stop it, you fool! It’s over!” He placed his weapon carefully on the floor, and his men reluctantly did the same.

Captain Armstrong took the pistols while his officers made the arrests. “Is anyone hurt?” he asked. The various dignitaries shook their heads. My Angel of Death sister had suffered numerous small cuts from the flying glass, but was not seriously injured.

Roland pulled off the pumpkin head and said, “My stars! That costume needs better ventilation!” He looked at the ungainly camera set up in a corner of the room. “Diggory will be delighted to have that back.”

A little broken glass and a murderous plot was not enough to stop a Caledonian party, so the dignitaries returned to the ballroom to continue the revelry, feeling a little foolish but otherwise intact. Roland exchanged costumes once again with Lord Edward, but decided he had had enough excitement for the evening and headed home. Professor Foster excitedly reclaimed his camera and similarly set out for his laboratory.

I helped Kathy wash her cuts and apply some sticking plaster, and then the two of us agreed that, between drinking and dancing, having a serious drink was a much higher priority. Besides, our “dates” had both departed. Captain Armstrong accompanied us to the Flying Anvil. The bartender looked at the barrel-shaped policeman, the Angel of Death, and the faerie. “Nice costumes.” Armstrong glared. “Oh, sorry, Captain, I didn’t recognize you. What’ll you have?”

After several restorative whiskies, we compared notes on the evening’s activities. “What do you suppose they were after?” I asked the captain.

He put down his drink. “I don’t know. We’ll sweat them, and eventually they’ll tell us why they did it and who else was in on the plot. My guess? They’re anarchists, and figured killing the leaders of the Realm of the Roses would create chaos.”

“Or they had designs on running the entire Realm themselves,” I suggested. “After all, their leader was dressed as Napoleon.”

Kathy tossed back her whisky. “Land barons. They wanted to devalue the Realm’s land, then buy it cheaply.” Well, it was as good an explanation as any.

* * *
And what of the soul camera? The next day, Diggory Foster received a telegram from his chemist. In apologetic terms, the telegram noted that the last batch of silver nitrite had been compromised, and, as they were certain he had already discovered, would produce no usable images on the photographic negative. They were most sorry about the inconvenience this must have caused, and they would replace the batch immediately.

Foster was a broken man after that, his dreams of untold riches dashed in an instant. But he was a proud man, and to this day when asked about the camera manages to mumble that he is working on it and expects to be finished any day now.

[Both parts are available as a single file at Calameo: Click Here]

Mama Take My Guns Off of Me, I Don't Need Them Any More

Miss Orr had posted a Journal entry about the:

Yes, the Haunted Castle of the Damned! The fun is that the sim is damage-enabled, so when the zombies attack, and the werewolves attack, and the...I don't know what it is, but when it attacks, too, one eventually dies. I like a challenge.

I started out with my trusty Wilks & Co. Clock-Loading Pistol, from Miss Malaprop, but discovered I could not shoot fast enough. I tried a machine gun, but it shot too many bullets too fast, I filled up the sim, and then had to wait for the bullets to de-rez before I could shoot again, meanwhile being bitten to death. Finally, I found the right weapons: a pair of 9mm Glocks.

Could I face down an army of zombies?

Well, no. I never found a way to kill them fast enough to stay alive, at least not without cheating: I would fly above the zombies and pick them off one at a time.
Whatever it takes, my friends. Whatever it takes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Soul Camera (Part 1)

[Author's note: A light entertainment for Halloween. A little Mad Science, a little gunplay, and scantily-clad women! The pacing in Part 2 is a little fast, which is what happens when I need to make a deadline. But it was fun. Apologies to any Caledonians, Winterfellians, or Steelheadians whose likenesses have been expropriated for the purpose of this tale. - RJ]

“Have you ever wondered what your soul looks like, Roland?” With that question, Uncle Roland and I became embroiled in a fantastical adventure.

The scene was the Prop Spinner’s pub in Steam Sky City, where the eccentric inventors and mad scientists of Caledon would occasionally gather to discuss their latest triumphs and failures over a pint of ale and, no doubt, conjure up some tall tales and wishful thinking as well. The interlocutor was Professor Diggory Foster, a plump man of about fifty, with long hair in the back compensating for the thinning of the crop up front, whose work in electromechanics had lately been superseded by an interest in metaphysics; and his victim was Dr. Roland Luminos, a somewhat elderly, decidedly eccentric inventor-of-all-trades, notoriously scatterbrained, and a close friend of mine, though no biological relation.

“Pish. No such thing, old man.” Roland did not like to drink; he merely liked the social atmosphere of the pub. Consequently, he looked at his nearly-full pint as though the conversation had never occurred. Several people around him were busy with their drinks, and the bartender was working feverishly to keep up with demands for refills.

Foster looked hurt. “Not pish at all! Look here, don’t you believe you have a soul?”

“The jury is still out.”

“Well, allow me to assert that you have one, whether you like it or not. If so, why would it not be possible, in principle, to view the soul? Not the way one would view an ordinary object, of course, but if one could develop a mechanism to convert the particular ‘form’ of the soul into light waves in the frequency that the human eye can decipher, one would have what is, to all purposes, a daguerreotype of the soul.”

Roland replied haughtily, “Sounds tautological, old chap. If it exists, you can see it. Possibly see it. True enough.”

Now Foster looked exasperated. “All right, then. See for yourself.” He reached into his satchel and brought forth a series of daguerreotypes. Roland peered at them. Each had a series of lines that swirled and tapered off, dancing across the print in an apparently random set of sequences. The backgrounds ranged from pale to nearly inky black, with the latter rendering the darker whorls nearly invisible.

“These are souls?”

“Indeed. Just look: the background color reflects the basic character of the subject. The lighter the color, the greater is the individual’s propensity for good; the darker, the greater is the propensity for evil. The various swirls reflect different ambiguities within the individual. I won’t pretend to be able to interpret them, at least not in any great degree, but that is the next stage in the project. Well? What do you think now?

Still peering at the nearly-black print, Roland answered, “I’m not sure how this proves anything. How does anyone know what this is? Science is about objective reality. You sit here and tell me this is a soul, but how is anyone to really know? It looks to me as though the silver solution you used to develop the pictures is tainted. Even if this does reflect some sort of aura or emanation from the body, old bean, why should it necessarily be anything as metaphysical as a soul?”

“You really can be quite annoying, Roland. I don’t know why I bothered. I supposed, foolishly, that, as a fellow man of science, you could appreciate the depth of my discovery. At least, proof positive that man is different from animal in some special way. Proof that there exists within us some level of spark that extends beyond our consciousness. Proof that notions of good and evil are not just abstract concepts, but have some underlying basis in science, and are innately part of us. At most, a demonstration of the Divine.” He drained his pint and signaled for another.

“Don’t sound so agitated, Foster, my boy. As one scientist to another, I merely thought it appropriate to apply the tools of our trade, as well as a healthy skepticism, to your claims. As a friend, I am perfectly happy to accept your claims at face value. As a member of the Church of Phillip, my faith allows me to accept the concept of evil, but not the concept of a soul. If Phillip has none – and the evidence is fairly convincing on that score – then surely lesser beings should not have one.”

Foster chuckled. “Don’t try to drag your religious mania into this conversation. But I’ve saved the best for last. These pictures were not taken randomly. I know each subject quite well. I tell you, Roland, that the degree of goodness or evil in each subject corresponds perfectly to his outward personality. It cannot be mere coincidence!” He went on to identify the subjects, most of whom Roland knew. A rather dark one with ominous swirls was that of Doctor Obolensky, a subtle shade of gray was identified as Colonel O’Toole, and a pale cream color with wild spikes radiating in every direction turned out to be that of Miss Gray. (“I always knew that fa├žade of villainy was just pretense,” Roland muttered.) Foster pointed to the nearly-black print and identified the subject as Lord B___, a government Minister. That sealed it for Roland, who had had no end of difficulties from the man’s calumnious behavior.

“You’ve convinced me, my boy,” said Roland. “The relationship between your colors and what we know to be the character of these people is too strong to be a coincidence. Whatever you’ve captured – call it the soul, if you like – it appears to be something real.” He turned back to his glass and contemplated the dissipating foam. “But whatever is it good for?”

“That’s the easy part, Luminos. Think of the applications: do you want honest employees? Use the soul camera and see whether an applicant is good or evil. Do you want politicians who will work for the people and not for themselves? Ask candidates to submit to the soul camera. Worried that your daughter will marry a scoundrel? Insist that the lad pose in front of the soul camera. The possibilities are endless!”

“You really have thought this out, Foster. I take it you think the camera is ready for commercial uses?”

He nodded. “Well, just about. I have a few more bugs to iron out, and I’d like to be able to make some headway in how to interpret the lesser marks, the whorls and such. But I think there will be amazing demand for the product as it is.” He sounded almost gleeful at the obscene amounts of money he planned to make. “In fact, I have an appointment with a financier this evening. If he likes the camera, we agreed to form a small company – he’ll provide the financing while I provide the technical know-how. He knows how to market the thing, too.” Foster checked his pocket watch. “I should be heading there shortly. Why don’t you come with me to my lab, and I’ll show you the camera before I report for my appointment?”

Roland nodded, and set his three-quarters full ale aside. One of the regulars lifted it and poured it in his own glass before the two scientists had left the pub.

Foster led the way from the pub to the transportation hub in the sky city, and from there the two made their way to Aether Isle. Diggory Foster suffered from vertigo, and only the promise of ale and good company drew him to the Prop Spinner’s pub; a home on the sky city was out of the question.

The pair reached Foster’s cottage. Roland looked at the door, then at his companion. “I say, did you have to smash in your door the last time you came home? I’m always forgetting my keys, but I usually just take the spare from the box labeled ‘Spare Key’ next to my door, and Bob’s your uncle.”

Foster’s eyes grew wide. He pushed open the ruined door and looked about him. Even by bachelors’ standards, the room was a wreck. It was clear the place had been ransacked. “My God, I’ve been robbed!” He ran for the cellar, Roland one step behind him, and fumbled for the lamp cord. When the room was illuminated, Roland could see that this was Foster’s laboratory: pieces of electrical equipment lay everywhere, along with boxes and devices of varying shapes and sizes. Only one spot was clean: the very center of his work table.

“The camera! Someone stole the camera! What am I going to do, Luminos? This is an utter disaster!”

“Surely you have notes and such. You can build another, can you not?”

“I can eventually build another one, but it’s no easy feat. But once the original camera is out there, buyers will be willing to pay much less for mine. All that work, ruined!” Foster could see the Linden dollars floating away, like so many dust motes. Roland was beginning to get a sense for the way his friend weighted Knowledge and Money. He wondered whether the soul camera also captured a man’s greediness, and, if so, what color it was.

“Really, Foster, it’s the expansion of scientific boundaries that’s really important, isn’t it?”

Obviously not. “Oh, God, what am I to do?”

“You could call the constabulary. That sort of thing is just up their alley, eh what?”

“Heavens, no! Those buffoons are no help at all. Just get in the way.”

Roland wondered why this was his problem, but he admitted to himself that the idea of a soul camera intrigued him. “I don’t know much about this sort of thing, sleuthing and all that, but this sounds more like the sort of thing Rhianon would know how to tackle.”

“Rhianon?”

“Miss Jameson. Family friends. Known her for years. She’s a journalist – ”

“A journalist! Are you crazy, Luminos? All I need is for this to get in the press. There goes my funding!”

“As I was about to say, she works as a journalist, but would be very discreet, if I asked her to do so. Really, old man, I’m trying to help.”

He sighed. “I suppose I should give it a try.”

“Capital! I shall send for her posthaste.”

And that is how the Case of the Soul Camera came to my attention.

* * *

“Who else knew about the camera, Mr. Foster?” I asked. The time was 10:30 in the morning, and I had just been awakened from a sound sleep, and was in no mood for small talk.

“Why, no one, Miss Jameson. I am the soul of discretion.” I stared at him with an expression that suggested I would hurt him if he failed to tell me what he knew. “Oh, I suppose I might have dropped a hint here and there. Can you blame a fellow? I was so excited at my discovery.”

It turned out that “dropped a hint” meant “gave a full accounting” and “here and there” meant “to every member of the aristocracy to whom Foster came into contact. They had all been sworn to secrecy, but I gathered that every one of them, no matter how skeptical about the properties of the camera, wanted to know what his soul looked like.

I sighed. “Even if we assume everyone who knew of it directly was discreet – a bad assumption, knowing how those old women like to gossip – that leaves an uncomfortably large number of suspects.”

I agreed I would make careful enquiries among my contacts, and returned home for a soothing cup of tea with a drop of distilled restorative in it. At a more decent hour, I started to reach out to various information sources to see what they knew.

However, the next piece of information came not from those sources, but from the police. Late the next evening, my doorbell sounded. My old friend Captain Armstrong stood on the porch, bearing a weary expression on his face. I let him in and poured him a large whisky as the little man made himself comfortable in my sitting room armchair. I fixed another for myself and sat on the couch, tucking my legs under me. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure, Captain?”

He took a deep drink before saying, “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that what I’m about to tell you is highly confidential…”

“Indeed you do not. So let us pretend you did not say that.”

“…but I thought you might be able to help us.”

“Again.”

A wry smile passed his lips. “Again. You see, earlier today, a shipment of pistol silencers – the very latest design, supposedly quiet enough to deaden a large-caliber report effectively enough that it can’t be heard in the next room – was on its way from Ordinal Enterprises to the Mainland, where the military government was most interested in procuring two dozen of this model, when the shipment was hijacked in Port Caledon. The driver of the wagon was killed, as was the dock master. The silencers were removed from the rest of the cargo, and disappeared. We’re concerned that they are meant for some nefarious purpose here in Caledon, and I’d like to find out what before it’s too late.”

“I shall see what I can do, Captain.” He finished his drink and rose. Making his good-byes, he continued on, doubtlessly determined to work late into the night. I sat back on the couch, sipped slowly, and wondered what a stolen shipment of silencers might have to do with the disappearance of a soul camera.

* * *
Nothing useful came from my sources about either the camera or the silencers; I hoped the police were doing better. I was sipping a cup of tea at Steamperk, idly flipping through the latest version of Caledonian Strand magazine and wondering whether hemlines would fall again next season (I was strongly hoping not), when Molly Lundquist sat next to me, wiping a bead of perspiration from her forehead. Molly was a manager of Steamperk and the Steampunk Resource Centre, and was forever coming up with tweaks to the building. She explained that she had just been rearranging the wall of Steampunk pioneers, and was stopping for a well-deserved coffee and pastry.

“I suppose the peak social season is upon us,” she observed.

I nodded. “First the harvest dances, then the Christmas formals, followed by the solstice balls. Not to mention various house calls, charitable events, and the occasional parade, and the calendar is packed. But ’tis the right season for it: when the temperature outside falls, there is little else for couples to do but…” I wiggled my eyebrows, and Molly had the decency to blush.

“In fact, the season starts next week, with the Guvnah’s Halloween ball.”

“That’s right! A costume ball, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s at the Guvnah’s mansion in Victoria City, and he has invited anyone who is anyone this year. The entire Caledon aristocracy, of course, and I’ve heard the Vicerene will be making an appearance, as well as the Guv himself, and the Winterfell Seneschelf, the Steelhead City Mayor…it’s the ball to go to.”

Sipping some more tea, I replied, “If you can wrangle an invitation, that is. I suppose my destiny is to mingle with the common people.”

Molly laughed. “That’s good isn’t it? Because I’m one of the common people.” She finished her break and returned to pounding nails. I looked back at my magazine, but my heart was no longer in it. I thought instead about masquerade balls and silencers.

[Concludes tomorrow!]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of Evil Scientists...

I left the Independent State of Caledon last night in a happy state of affairs - ISC chat was heating up the aether with a discussion of lesbian vampire movies, or some such - only to find that much can change overnight. The Lab That Dare Not Speak Its Name announced a substantial price increase for Openspace sims - on the order of a 2/3 increase in tier, and a substantial increase in the purchase price as well.

TLTDNSIN motivates this increase by claiming that users of Openspace sims have put excessive burdens on these properties by, I assume, treating them as normal sims. I have no reason to dispute the Lab's claim, although it seems to me that the prim limits on Openspace sims should have reflected any decrease in performance. But let us assume that TLTDNSIN has a legitimate problem that it is try to solve, rather than assuming, oh, that the timing of the price increase, just after the marketing blitz for the new Nautilus sims (and not so far after the opening of the new Bay City sims), is not a coincidence.

The Guvnah met with various citizens and fellow travelers last night (for a transcript, see Baron Wulfenbach's post at http://steeltopiaempire.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=2439169%3ABlogPost%3A87) and, quite rightly, urged calm reflection rather than hasty action. Of course, broadcasting the announced changes loudly and as widely as possible, through our Aetheric Journals, also seems like a wise course of action.

Demand for void sims is, presumably, downward-sloping, so that a price increase reduces the quantity demanded. If TLTDNSIN had been pricing like a good monopolist, so that demand elasticity was -1 at the old price, this implies a reduction in demand of about 2/3 - or around 13 or Caledon's 20 void sims. Now, for various reasons, this is likely to be a substantial overestimate of the fallout, should the price increase go through (as Carl Metropolitan noted, That Lab often rescinds or modifies unpopular policies after announcing them), particularly in Caledon. Nonetheless, I would not be surprised if some owners of void sims give them up - the Duke or Duchess relinquishes the title and becomes just one of the Little People (no, not leprechauns, just Regular Folk) - while others absorb the price increase that the Guvnah will be forced to pass on. I feel for both groups.

Caledon has a strong sense of community, so I believe it will weather the storm - this time, at least. Other themed communities may not be as lucky. Certainly no area will be expanding as quickly as previously planned. Everyone who participates in these communities will be worse off, as the void sim owners provide a great deal to the community, from waterways and skies that can be enjoyed by all, to large ballrooms or meeting halls that can accommodate well-attended gatherings.

I cannot help but feel that, in the long run, TLTDNSIN cannot be better off reducing interest in long-established themed areas and reducing the incentive to develop new ones. As Mr. O'Toole points out (http://hiberniaskids.blogspot.com/2008/10/new-void-sim-price-hike-will-destroy.html), a variety of other activities, on-line or elsewhere, vie for the attention of the Second Life dweller. Mr. Excalibur Longstaff, on the Forums, announced that this will spur his efforts to develop a competing 3D social environment, and I cannot imagine he is alone in his efforts. (And please, when you all leave for happier environs, invite me along!) I understand cost increases, I understand suboptimal pricing of the sims in the first place, and I understand the desire not to undermine TLTDNSIN's own land sales. But such a large price increase is difficult to understand for any of those reasons - particularly when the alleged problem relates to region performance, and changing the pricing does nothing to change the performance of void regions that continue to exist. If there is a legitimate problem, solve it in a more direct way. If this price increase is really about protecting TLTDNSIN's own sales, then restrict the amount of new void sims it offers. I simply do not understand the relationship between a massive price increase and performance, and I truly do not understand how this is good for the company.

I have rambled enough. In addition to the links above, other people who have already commented, no doubt more coherently, include, in no particular order: [Edited several times to add links, most recently 10/29 at 10:34 a.m. SLT. I have seen other posts as well. Suffice it to say that opinions abound.]

Miss Fogwoman Gray http://fogwomangray.blogspot.com/2008/10/openspace-changes.html

Miss Eva Bellambi http://redroseofcaledon.blogspot.com/2008/10/unexpected-news-from-linden-labs.html

Miss Bamika Easterman http://steampatent.blogspot.com/2008/10/emergency-town-meeting-in-caledon.html

Mr. Otenth Paderborn http://otenth.homefries.org/2008/10/28/linden-research-inc-sleight-of-hand/

Mr. Edward Pearse http://victorianaesthetic.blogspot.com/2008/10/early-new-years-present.html

Mr. Darien Mason http://darienmason.blogspot.com/2008/10/linden-labs-trick-not-treat.html

Miss Ordinal Malaprop http://ordinalmalaprop.com/engine/2008/10/28/shouting-into-the-void/

Dr. Rafael Fabre http://voyagesofdrfabre.blogspot.com/2008/10/open-space-sim-discussions.html

Miss Eladrienne Laval http://caledonstroll.blogspot.com/2008/10/oh-le-sigh-lila-what-have-you-done.html

Baron Wulfenbach http://klauswulfenbach.livejournal.com/24453.html

Miss Emilly Orr http://razorblade-cookies.blogspot.com/2008/10/youre-running-after-something-that.html.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Can Evil Scientists Change Their Labcoats?

My eyes widened when I heard Capt. Red Llewellyn refer to the “good” Doctor Obolensky in ISC chat Saturday. Surely this was just a glitch in the aether causing me to mis-hear! But no, Capt. Llewellyn insists that the scheming bounder has changed his ways and works only for the forces of good these days. Then again, Miss Llewellyn’s ardor for the Doctor seemed suspicious in itself. But hey, it’s a crazy world out there, and if a pirate captain and an Evil Overload-turned-Do-Gooder can find some happiness, well, here’s good at ya, kids!

Still, I was suspicious. However, Capt. Red’s statement triggered a stray neuron, and, sure enough, Dr. Mason mentions in passing “Doctor Obolensky's new "synister ray" which reverses the moral compass of its victims. In fact he tested it on himself and turned into a philanthropist for a short period of time!”

I traveled to Clockspire, the Doctor’s island lair off the coast of New Babbage, to snoop around, er, look for evidence of the Doctor’s conversion.

This skull looks a little ominous, no?


They say a stopped clock is right twice a day, but I’m not certain about this one. At least, I hope it’s not right twice a day.

Does a "good" Scientist really need a scary-looking tower in the sky? I think not.


How about an escape airship? And what's with all the fog, anyway?


The heart of the power system. Hmm, not just for burning the toast, is it?


No, I am far from convinced that the good Doctor Obolensky is now the Good Doctor Obolensky. We shall keep our eyes on you, sir!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Story Discussion in Winterfell

Some days the most enjoyable parts of my time are the ones that are completely unplanned. Yesterday was a case in point: I was aimlessly wasting time when Miss Serafina Puchkina announced she would be leading a discussion of The Amber Spyglass, by Phillip Pullman. Having thoroughly enjoyed the His Dark Elements series, despite some serious reservations about Mr. Pullman's views, and so rarely having the opportunity to discuss a book I knew something about at a time I was available, I hastened to Winterfell where I had a delightful time. Mr. JJ Drinkwater, Miss QuantumMeruit Bing, Miss Scandaroon Beck, Miss Verona Skytower, Mr. Mavromichali Szondi, Miss Puchkina, and I had a spirited discussion, involving good and evil, free will, and, ahem, adolescent nookie.

I must have been too wrapped up in the conversation to take a picture, but the assembled group was quite eclectic. A good time was had by all!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Always Preferred Gas Lamps

Miss Falcon had a spot of trouble with one of her Tesla Towers the other day. The tower on Aether Isle was completely destroyed.

Well, the sign did say "Danger."

Although I confess to using this newfangled "electrical" power, I prefer the tried and tested method of gas lamps. So much safer! Of course, there was always the possibility of burning down one's house, or setting fire to one's self, but can one really say that this "electricity" is better? I think not.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Impermanence of Permanent Structures

One of the aetheric journals I read regularly mentioned the demise of Laputa, a sky city. (Naturally, I cannot remember the source, or I would gladly provide a link. Feel free to refresh my memory.) I feel a pang of discomfort at the loss of a wonderful steampunk-y build. It is a reminder, though, that nothing is permanent - not even the parts that look permanent.

I had visited once upon a time, meant to visit again and make a more thorough exploration, but never did. If, as is sometimes said, nothing is truly gone until it fades from our collective memories, I offer the following picture:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Viva Las Vegas...er, la Vida

Hamlet Au reviewed this art exhibit, and it looked interesting, so Kathy decided to take a look. An exhibit about life? Sounds deep. And, indeed, at the end, there are multi-colored arcs, and projectors, and the number pi, and men and women stick figures, and...well, see for yourself:


After all the ponderous wandering through the various rooms is over, there is dancing, so that celebrates life, I suppose.


And some of the creations were nothing short of fantastic - Not Possible in Real Life for certain!


Oh, and speaking of unrealistic, here's the notorious impious Kathy Jameson...praying? Hmm, some deep Satanic land must have frozen over.


But it hits the visitor over the head again and again. The exhibit is at altitude 666 meters - yes, we get it. And after going through several rooms with prose about enjoying life, yada, yada, we get the great revelation that...war is bad. And war with children is really bad. Oh my. Thanks for that life lesson. Having learned that, we head outside, to the big ark (lordy, symbolism alert!), where we dance and celebrate life. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Newbie Horror

It really must be open season on newbies this year, as Kathy found out. (No, she wasn't responsible - the deed was already done when she arrived.)


Hat tip to Miss Orr again for the haunted house . But the real horror came when the well-manicured lawn behind the haunted house turned out to be attached to the Bound and Determined Fetish Club. Whoops.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Caer Blanco

A ghostly shipwreck and an open coffin - can Count Dracula be far behind?

This monastery is intact, suggesting a newer model than...

...the ruins of this one.


Spirits conjured up from old bones and sacred incantations...


All at Caer Blanco . I dropped in for a visit during a dance at the monastery. As I wasn't invited, I took a look around the rest of the isle. The sim is to be the site of several fund-raising events: see Hotsput O'Toole's journal, or that of Duchess Avie, Miss Bellambi . As they take place beyond your humble scribe's time for beauty rest, I can only point others in the direction of these events.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sympathy for the Devil

I had a great deal of fun visiting Animus Imperium , a timely offering from Miss Emilly Orr, Mr. Fawkes, and Mr. Rucker. At least, a great deal of fun at first. “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming,” as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in The Lost World. And I found what Dr. Alter did with the giant tentacle thing .



I walked into the spectral estate, and nonchalantly sat on a convenient coffin as wraiths flittered before me.



What’s a girl to do, all alone in a creepy yard? Visiting the graves of recently-departed spirits was possible.


But spirits are not much fun unless they are animated by being conjured up from the netherworld. And, really, what’s the worst that could happen? Consulting my spell book, I folded my arms and concentrated. Soon, I began to levitate,


then whirl.


Making a fire and throwing in the bones of the unburied,


I summoned the forces of darkness and bade them to obey me. (Really, this is one of my all-time favorite poses :).)

Whose blood was this, if I was alone in the house? The demons came, in the form of giant skulls with fiery eyes,


lightning, and the enormous demonic hand (of glory?).

As in all such stories, however, I could not control the power; it controlled me. With my last flicker of consciousness, I realized that the blood I had seen earlier was a premonition, and the blood was mine.

In the end, the demons collected one more soul that night.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Strange Lands, Strange Customs

Having returned from a long and dusty journey, I offer a daguerreotype of one of the locales. (Only one more. I promise. Few things are more dull than someone else's vacation pictures.)



'Tis a strange land indeed, not like our temperate climes. One scarcely imagines how things grow in such an arid place, and, yet, grow they do.

Then, from the sublime to the ridiculous...
All ideas of propriety must be discarded before entering this Gomorrah. The city is the antithesis of Victorian charm. The inhabitants - at least, the temporary ones (no offense to the permanent residents who, no doubt, avoid the worst of The Strip as one would avoid, well, Gomorrah) - are sullen and suspicious, and dress with a complete indifference to their appearance. They sit silently, feeing money and pushing buttons in a solitary ritual, both desperate and resigned, knowing that even success is fleeting. Noise is everywhere: machines bleeping, rhythms pounding, all enforcing the code of silence while creating an artificial atmosphere of excitement, a shared conspiracy, as everyone knows the only real winner is the house...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A (RL) Trip Through the Vortex

My typist unilaterally decided to travel away from the keyboard for a little over a week. I thought we had a deal - I get consulted on such things - but I suppose that was too much to ask. We both may wind up in Aetheric withdrawal by the end of the trip. Part of this journey will take her to a strange land called “Arizona,” to a strange town called “Sedona,” where, I am told, Caledonian customs typically do not apply. This area of the world is said to contain “spiritual vortexes,” which, in addition to demonstrating a shaky grasp of Latin declination, sounds a bit frightening. It sounds a little as though one’s soul could be sucked down the spiritual drain. I shall be certain to report back if the area seems to have a higher-than-average number of zombies or other soulless creatures.

In any event, barring some unexpected ability to make newfangled miniature technology work in this “Arizona,” I shall not be updating this Journal for about ten days. In the meanwhile, I expect that the mayhem and mischief in Caledon and associated lands will be kept to a minimum. If I miss too much excitement I will be most vexed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Westward Ho!

As I was flying over Kittiwickshire tonight, I noticed that the world no longer ended to the west of that town. Consulting an updated Map, it appeared that a new land, the Duchy of Teslace, had sprung from the ocean. Yes, the Guv has expanded again!

The Duchy is a void sim, owned by Miss Cornelia Rothschild, Duchess of Teslace, and Mr. Karsten Rutledge, Duke of Teslace.

From these photos, they appear to have docked their sailing vessel and are in the process of settling in.


One can only wonder what part of the ocean will yield land next - and what new land the Guv will have set his eyes upon!

Fever Dream

In another life I must have been bad
In another life I must have been real bad
Stripped down, break my pride
Straight through the other side
Rip through my memory
Nothing that I want to see

I love the way you punish me

In another life I must have done wrong
In another life I must have done wrong
Don't tell me what I've done
Don't see what I've become
Ravish me, tear me down
Stub my life into the ground

I love the way you punish me

(Steve Wynn, “The Way You Punish Me”)


The day was unusually warm for late September. I discretely blotted my brow with my handkerchief – at least, I hoped the action was discrete – as I leaned back in my chair. Mr. Donald Chisholm and I were having a cup of tea at Steamperk and I was wondering why I felt feverish while, simultaneously, I attempted to keep up with his explanation of how he planned to make a great deal of money in a falling real estate market. I was failing at both tasks.

Mr. Chisholm was a land speculator, and had graciously agreed to give me an hour of his time to explain his business to me for a newspaper article. He was in his early fifties, with a full head of hair, albeit mostly gray, and a handlebar moustache that was inexplicably nearly jet black. He was dressed as one might imagine a land baron to be dressed, in a new suit from Mako Magellan’s and an ivory walking stick with a gold knob. Except for the moustache, which made him look a little like a theatrical villain (and whose color was both vain and silly), he was a handsome man with an athletic build. Although I felt I was reasonably clever with figures, his dazzling manipulation of borrowed money, tax dodges, depreciation, ruthless foreclosures, and sheer speculation on a further decline in the market was quite beyond me. I took notes and nodded at what I hoped were appropriate times. In truth, the interview was a coup for me, as Mr. Chisholm preferred to operate privately and fairly anonymously. I wondered why he would grant me an interview, much less one of such length. It was possible that the brevity of my dress in my initial visit to his office was more the deciding factor than my renown as a journalist; I chose not to dwell too deeply on that point.

“Is it hot in here?” I asked, breaking my guest’s flow of words.

He looked up, startled. “What? Hot, you say? Mmm, perhaps just a bit. Now where was I? Oh yes, tax credits. I anticipate Governor Shang will be anxious to recapitalize the market, and will eventually be forced to grant a tax credit to anyone willing to extend credit to the real estate…”

I fanned myself, which got Mr. Chisholm’s attention, and a frown crossed his face. He was annoyed, which was bad for me. I knew I should apologize, but for some reason the words refused to come out.

“Miss Jameson? Are you all right?”

I wanted to say yes, I wanted to tell him to go on, even though I knew by this time I was seriously ill. If I made any sound at all, it was not intelligible to the human mind. I slumped back in my chair. “Miss Jameson?” He was now standing over me, with an expression of concern on his face. At that point, Miss Sea Beaumont, the proprietress of Steamperk, noticed the commotion and came to our table.

What happened next I discovered only after the fact. Although I was conscious, I was unaware of what went on around me. Mr. Chisholm wanted to leave immediately, but his sense of honor would not allow him to do so. He asked Miss Beaumont if I lived nearby. Miss Beaumont replied that I lived across the street, which seemed to greatly relieve Mr. Chisholm. He picked me up and the three of us made our way to my house. My front door was, naturally, unlocked, and Miss Beaumont led us into the sitting room, then into the adjacent bedroom. No doubt she looked around her in horror as she saw various articles of clothing strewn about, and the bottle of absinthe on the bedside table, a half-empty glass by its side. Mr. Chisholm placed me on the bed, removed my shoes, and, despite my fever, was about to pull the covers over me. Miss Beaumont thanked him for his service and sent him on his way, saying she would send for the physician. Somehow she managed to maneuver my semi-conscious body to unhook and remove my dress. She poured water from the ewer into the basin, soaked a cloth, and placed the cool cloth over my forehead. She then returned to the coffee shop and sent her boy to fetch Dr. Stanley, my physician.

The coolness of the cloth eased my fever, and after some time I fell into an uneasy sleep.

#
I was a child again, no more than ten, standing before a large desk, as though I was an errant schoolgirl awaiting punishment from the headmaster. In fact, I seemed to be in my old school, in Headmaster’s office. My eyes searched the room, taking in the calendar, which advertised a new carbonated drink called Coca-Cola; the globe, in which Caledon was only one-fourth its present size; and the flag of Alba, our nation, prominently displayed, as though to call attention to Headmaster’s staunch patriotism. When I looked up, I saw Headmaster, dressed as he always did in a black academic robe pulled tight across his ample waist, but this time his eyes were a deep red, as though his skull contained flames waiting to escape. I was paralyzed by fear, unable to move or speak. He began to lecture me on my sins, but I could not understand his language. As he continued, however, my brain slowly started to process the words and understand his meaning. “…will be consumed in the eternal fires of Hell…You have condemned your soul to the darkest pits…” Over and over he repeated this mantra.

“I have done nothing wrong!” I wanted to scream – I tried to scream – but no sound escaped my mouth..

“…must punish you…”

And now he stood, rising to his height just over five feet, which was nonetheless enough to look down on my ten-year-old form, but he kept growing, filling up the room as he growled, “Let the punishment fit the crime…let no one escape the wrath of an angry god…”

As I continued to attempt to speak, four older students strode into the office. Instead of wearing the school uniform, they wore military-style dress, with a wide sash over the tunic and crisply-pressed pants. One stood on either side of me, and each grabbed an arm. One stood behind me to prod me with a baton, while the fourth led the procession out of the office and down a series of twisting passages. Part of my mind knew this was not real, that Headmaster, despite his shortcomings, was not a demon incarnate, and the school, despite its age and architectural foibles, did not have endless twisting corridors. A different part of my mind continued to process the scene as entirely real, however, and the courage of a shy ten-year-old had given out long ago. The teenage guard marched me to the entrance of a tiny closet. Their leader opened the door, the two holding my arms threw me inside, and the fourth slammed the door shut behind me. It locked with a dismaying click. Inside, it was pitch dark. I heard the retreating footsteps of four pairs of boots, and then all was silent as well.

The sheer terror of the situation started to subside, and was replaced by a feeling of hopelessness. I began to cry. I had no idea what I had done wrong, or why this was an appropriate punishment, or how long I would remain here. I cried at how unfair this was, and because I was afraid.

Much later, after the sobs had turned to sniffles, I had a feeling that no one was ever coming back for me. The twisting corridors were a route to some other place, not part of the school or even the same physical dimension. When the guard left, the corridors disappeared, leaving me cut off entirely from the world. Cold and miserable, hungry and thirsty and dirty, I hugged my knees in the dark. Exhausted, I finally slipped into an uneasy sleep…

#

…and now I was twelve years old, standing before my Uncle Eamon in my bedroom. He had the same flame eyes as the demon headmaster, and again I knew I was to be punished, though again I knew not my crime. Uncle Eamon liked to strike both Kathy and me, for crimes real and perceived, but he would always give a reason before ordering one or both of us to lie across the bed, face down and bottom up. This time, Uncle Eamon gave no explanation, only intoning the words I knew he would say: “You will be consumed in the eternal fires of Hell…You have condemned your soul to the darkest pits…” He spoke in the same unknown language as before, though I could now translate every word. I stood there mutely.

As before, part of me knew this was not real, that it reflected some panicked corner of my mind. But I was so hot, and that made the nightmare appear real to me. Uncle Eamon pushed me onto my bed and began to hit me with his meaty hand, strengthened and roughened from his years in the mills. The pain was intense, and tears welled in the corners of my eyes, but I determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. As he continued to hit me, he continued his insane chant, never varying the words or his intonation, almost as though none of this was personal to him. Yet his actions were those of a man who had been deeply offended and was taking this very personally.

When he had spent his fury, he grabbed me by an arm and manhandled me down the stairs and outside. He pulled open the doors leading to the cellar and fairly flung me down the short flight of stairs. I landed on my side, doing no real damage, but the fall knocked the wind out of me. As I struggled to sit up, I heard Uncle Eamon slam the doors shut and thrust the wooden slat in place to lock me in. Daylight wormed its way into the cellar through cracks in the stone where the masonry had crumbled, but there was precious little of it, and the light was growing dim as night started to fall. The cellar was dank, and a musky odor filled my nostrils. I could hear no sounds from the house above me.

Still sore from the beating I took, I did not want to sit, but I had no energy to stand and the damp, cold air was making me shiver, so I found a corner of the cellar and curled up into as small a form as I could manage. My eyes were damp, but again I vowed not to give my uncle the triumph of knowing I cried. Kathy would be home soon, and she would get me out of here, I thought. Uncle Eamon was no more fond of my older sister than he was of me, but she would find a way to release me.

Night fell, with no sign of Kathy. Hunger was eating at me. My fear grew. Suppose Kathy had suffered the same fate, or worse, and was now in her own prison on some other part of the property, unable to help me? Fatigue overtook me, and I felt myself drifting into sleep, but, strangely, I felt myself getting warm again…

#

…and I was sixteen, at boarding school. I was with Sally Burke, my closest friend, walking through the town at night. The gas lamps provided dim, flickering light, causing shadows to form and dissolve at random. Walking toward us were four boys from the town, swaggering in their open-neck shirts and well-used boots. The lead boy had the demonic look I knew well by now. All four intoned in unison in the strange language: “The sins of the girl are now the sins of the woman…You have condemned your soul to the darkest pits of Hell…” They continued advancing on us. Sally and I were frozen with indecision. I looked around, but saw no exit. All around us were building, long closed for the night, and fences. The nearest cross street was nearly a block behind us, and we could hardly outrun all four boys.

By now they were close enough that I could make out their faces. I recognized none of them. Their leader was spotty with sallow skin and long, greasy hair. Two were attempting with little success to grow facial hair. One was more neatly groomed than the others, but still affected the swagger that suggested they aimed to cause trouble.

The leader pointed at me, and the other three ran at Sally, who tried with no success to fend off their grasp. They dragged her away from me as she screamed into the night air, but I knew no help would be forthcoming; the streets were otherwise deserted, and I saw no lights other than the gas lamps.

I tried to run, but the spotty boy was surprisingly quick, and grabbed my arm and held me fast. Placing his arms behind me and his hands on the front of my shoulders, he started to drag me down the street. “What do you want from me?” I cried. “I have no money I can give you – I am a poor student!” He did not reply, but merely continued his chanting.

We came to an old factory building, and my captor opened the gate. He pulled me into the building, which once housed an enormous furnace and equipment for manufacturing something, but was now abandoned. The demon boy dropped me on the hard floor of the factory, then opened the coal bin of the furnace. He produced a match from his pocket. He struck the match and threw it on the coal. The surface had been treated with some sort of accelerant, and the coal burst into flame. I could see the inside of the furnace starting to become red hot. Sweat rolled down my face.

“I will not give you the satisfaction of begging for my life,” I said defiantly.

The demon boy appeared not to hear. When the furnace was glowing, he picked me up from the floor and dragged me closer and closer to the furnace door. The heat produced ripples in my vision; it was almost hypnotic. I could take no more and I screamed, the sound echoing off the hard surfaces of the factory.

At the sound, the boy dropped me, and blew on the blazing pile of coal. Amazingly, the flames died instantly, and the bright red furnace darkened. He left me on the floor as he turned and walked out the factory door. I heard the lock click into place behind me. For a moment, the lack of heat was so refreshing that I did not mind being shut into this place. Then I realized I had no means of escape: the front door was secure, and the windows in the factory were at least twenty feet off the floor, with nothing I could use to elevate myself enough to reach them. I was left in the cooling night air to contemplate my fate…

#

I awoke in my bed, my fever broken. Molly Lundquist, Miss Beaumont’s partner at Steamperk, was sitting at the foot of the bed, reading a book. She looked up as I stirred.

“You look much better, Rhianon. How do you feel?”

I looked around me. Everything looked normal. I could see no glowing eyes, could hear no intonations in strange languages. “Weak…but alive. What are you doing here, Molly?”

“Dr. Stanley came and did what he could for you, but he said you were in God’s hands, not his. He asked Sea if someone could stay with you until the fever broke or…well…Someone has been here most of the time – principally Sea and me.”

A kind soul had replaced the absinthe bottle and dirty glass with a ewer and a clean glass. I poured myself some water and sipped. “Thank you both so much. I was not myself for quiet a while.”

Molly laughed. “Indeed no, not for nearly three days.”

“Three days! Was I really out that long?”

“Yes. Although you were not out the entire time. You would occasionally thrash and say things that I could not understand – at least some of the time it sounded as though you were speaking in a different language. At some points, you seemed very hot and feverish; at others, you seemed cold, and shivered despite the blankets.”

“I had…strange dreams. My mind must have been telling me I have unresolved issues.”

“What kind of unresolved issues?” Molly wrinkled her forehead. She was a direct person, and I suspect she had little use for the addle-minded.

I considered. “I don’t really know. Authority figures? Guilt over something I did? I suppose I will have to mull that over more thoroughly.” I sat up. “You should get some rest, or return to Steamperk – any place but here. I’m feeling so much better now, and you must be exhausted.”

She smiled. “Perhaps a little peaked.” Rising, she gathered her things.

“Oh, Molly? I don’t suppose you saw Mr. Chisholm, the gentleman I was with in Steamperk the other day, ever again, did you?”

“No, he seemed anxious to disappear as quickly as possible. He is no great loss, though; he was a very bad tipper.” We both laughed at this.

“The richer they are…”

“…the tighter the grip on their money,” she finished.

I thanked her again for her kindness as she left. I was alone with my thoughts. Is there truth in fever dreams?

(Download from Calameo, here .)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Short Public Service Announcement

/begin rant

Appropos of nothing more than this evening's ISC chat regarding the merits of socialized health care: remember that the government creates nothing. Wealth does not come from "the government," money to purchase goods and services does not come from "the government," and health care does not come from "the government." Short of indentured servitude, all transactions are based on voluntary trade; both parties have to be better off. The one exception to this rule does involve the government: the government can use its power to confiscate and redistribute wealth.

So: "government health care" just means "redistribution of income" plus "inefficiency." Anyone who cares to is entitled to argue that more equal distribution of health care is worth the inefficiency and the confiscatory nature of (additional) taxation. I happen to disagree, but I respect honestly held opinions on the socialist side. But please don't insult our collective intelligence by saying that there can be equal access to health care without (a) confiscation and (b) the costs associated with a monopoly provider of services.

Relatedly, health care services are like any other normal good - as the price falls, people demand more. This implies some sort of rationing is needed. In most markets, we let price regulate the balance between supply and demand. If we have publicly-provided health care, then some other mechanism must do so. Generally this is done through lengthy waiting lists. If that is what a country desires, bravo. But again, please do not pretend that rationing does not occur one way or the other.

/end rant

Thank you, and have a pleasant evening.

Edit on 10/8/08 to add the following:

In thinking about this issue a little more overnight - a polite way of saying "stewing over the issue and remaining hopping mad" - it occurred to me that the apologists for socialism have now claimed somewhere around 80% of my after-tax expenditures as "human rights":
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Utilities
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Retirement

And I'm one of the lucky ones; for some, I imagine that figure is closer to 100% of after-tax expenditures.

I feel compelled to point out all the ways that socialism has been a miserable failure over the decades. Eventually, incentives or lack thereof play an important role in determining the economic path of a country (or smaller organizational unit). Qualifying to be a physician, for example, takes many years of training, and many aspects of the job are unpleasant, I would imagine. If physicians do not earn a suitable rate of return on their investment, fewer people will make the investment. (One sees an aspect of that even now, where rural areas often have trouble attracting enough medical professionals. I would guess that the non-pecuniary aspects of compensation, including the amenities available in urban areas, play an important role in where doctors choose to live.) A sufficiently coercive government could then determine who goes to medical school, who goes to engineering school, and so on...thus solving the problem of labor supply by restricting individual liberty. (An aside to the young lady who equated fee-for-service health care with "slavery" - I'm afraid you had that one backward, my dear.)

The sad part is that the people squeezed by these lurches toward socialism are the middle class. The poor are better off, certainly, by taking money from everyone else and providing the above-mentioned services for those who could otherwise not afford as much of them. The very wealthy - the football stars, the entertainment stars, the financiers, and so on - are worse off, but not by much. They can afford to subsidize health care for the poor, buy their own private health care, and still vacation in St. Moritz every winter. Those in the middle take it on the chin.

Thus endeth my sermon on the subject.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dark City redux

I came to on the concrete floor behind the store. I rubbed my head where the sledgehammer had come down – at least, that’s what it felt like. A bump the size of an egg was still there, but my skull seemed to be intact. They had taken my piece, as well as my cash, but had left me my lucky fedora.

Someone didn’t want me to find my client’s daughter, but I had taken the lady’s money. If I gave up that easily, I’d be out of business next week. I needed to find her, fast. And what was a “ponygirl” anyway? Things weren’t adding up.

I looked around – the store was enclosed by a high wall, topped with barbed wire. The store owners sure seemed worried about shoplifting. It appeared that the only way out was through the store again, but I found the hospitality inside sadly lacking. Fortunately, the goons who hit me and took my gun didn’t search too thoroughly. From an inside pocket I retrieved a small grapple – part of the private dick’s tool kit, and invaluable at times like these. Throwing it over the wall, I made my way carefully up the rope and over the barbed wire, thanking goodness for bloomers.



Having made my escape, I looked over the town. The place was deserted. From the subway to the diner to the high-rises to the brownstones – nada. Where could the population be? It was almost as though… no, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the city was empty. And only one person had the ability to empty a city so completely: my old nemesis, the biggest slumlord of them all, the man who started as hired muscle for a shakedown racket and stole his way into millions of dollars…


…Lucky Maranzano. I had helped send him to prison once before, but an appellate court he owned reversed the conviction. Now he was only a few feet away from me – holding my gun. “Nice to see you again, Jameson. On my turf this time.”


“I wish I could return the complement, Maranzano. Thanks for finding my gat, though.”

He looked at the pistol as though he didn’t know how it had found its way into his beefy hand. “Oh yeah, this little guy. I got plenty of guns, but I thought maybe it would be ironic or something if I killed you with your own gun.” “

I’m not sure that’s what ‘irony’ means. You see, something is ironic if it conveys the opposite meaning of what is intended or expected. Killing me with my gun is just…sad.”

He mulled that over. “Sad? Okay, I can live with sad. Geez, you learn something new every day, doncha?”

Comprehension finally came to me. "There never was a missing girl, was there, Maranzano? My client was another one of your stooges, pretending to be the mother of a missing child."

Moving his face to create a smile with no warmth, the thug replied, "Just now figuring that out, are you?"

We stood on the deserted street, not ten feet from one another. The wind whipped at my back and I could feel the temperature fall with the deepening night. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear alley cats snarl. At that moment, I never felt more alive – which, speaking of irony, was pretty ironic, considering my life expectancy could be measured in seconds. I closed my eyes as I heard the metallic click of the gun cylinder moving into place.

(To be continued?)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dawn Comes to Steam Sky City

A few weeks back, when Miss Gray and Mr. Volare had their treasure hunt and I ended up being bitten by zombies (I'm all right now, thank you, although every time I'm in a restaurant I can't help but check whether brains are on the menu), I was being driven mad trying to find the hidden jewels. After an all-night search, I paused to admire dawn arriving behind the Tesla tower. A very peaceful sight, is it not?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Even More Ta-Tas






Her Grace, Gabrielle Riel, in sarong - and hair, this time!

Sir JJ dancing with Lady Serra.
















The Baron offered to dance bare-chested if ten ladies each donated L$1000 to the cause. The women were pushing and shoving to get to the donation spot - it was an ugly scene. More than ten donated the requisite amount in about 30 seconds, and the Baron showed he was a man of his word.

Good cause or no, my top stayed on. There have to be some mysteries in life, no?