Ink Magic 7
Ink Magic (part 7)
I picked up my car which had been sitting in the parking garage since Saturday, and a half-hour later I was back in my dad's basement. I knew that wasn't the most prudent thing to do, especially since the old man had said the blob would be back, but I needed information.
Problem was, I didn't know how to go about getting information. After I cleaned up the reconstructed spider webs in the stairway with a broom, I spent a few minutes moving the desk back into place and tidying up. The old computer hadn't even become unplugged; it was still humming happily away on top of the desk. Say what you will about those old anemic, overpriced IBM desktops; they were built to last.
The computer had dragged the dot-matrix printer off the stand. The printer had landed badly, trashed, but single red light glowed in the depths of the wreckage like the eye of the Terminator, just to let you know it was still alive. I mercifully unplugged the old machine and the glowing eye faded to death. "Rest in pieces, faithful digital electronic output device", said I, holding the printer up by the cord. Then I ceremoniously dumped it into the trash can where it only half-fit.
Still puttering, I picked up the two by four, left lying by the book case when the monster dragged me across the floor. Half of it was still covered by dried spider webs. I took the broom and board out to hose them off but the spider webs didn't cooperate. After I had gotten my feet thoroughly wet and made no apparent impression on the webbing, I gave up and just left the broom and board standing against the house. I'd get back to them later. Or not.
Before I went back into the basement, I searched the house again for signs of sendings or specters or Limboids, or whatever you want to call those black-mercury monsters. I wasn't really relying on my eyes though; I was relying on the tattoo. It had warned me twice before.
Then I sat down in the basement at my dad's old desk, my feet now warmer with new, dry shoes, and read some more of his journal.
I've read that the Earth's core is made up of large quantities of heavy elements. The concentration of such elements would have to be greater than they are found anywhere else in the Solar System, but traditional science has no other way to account for the Earth's mass. However if my theory of dark matter is correct, then the extra mass would come from a dark-matter planet sharing the same space with ours.
The geography of this second planet is remarkably close to the geography of Earth, indicating that there are forces shared between the two kinds of matter. However, these forces would have to be temporary and infrequent because physicists have discovered no hint of them. Or perhaps the forces are such that they can only have an effect over geological time scales. This is one of the many question that must be left to others to study.
I skipped around a bit, looking for any reference to a third world, one that would correspond to the old man's Limbo, but there was nothing about it.
I did find some detailed instructions on how to use the graviscope. It occurred to me that if this hoodoo guy was watching me, I should be watching him. Or it. Or whatever.
With this inspiration, I flipped on the graviscope's master power switch and the machine slowly warmed to life. Following the directions, I typed a command into the desktop computer
gscop /i /local
Meaningless lines of symbols scrolled rapidly across the computer screen and another screen on the graviscope lit up with a fuzzy black and green CRT image. It was an image of the graviscope itself with me sitting at the desk.
I appeared as a faint green skeleton with a fainter outline of flesh. After a few moments of staring, I fancied that I could see my heart beating, a faint fluttering within the ghostly ribcage. The rest of the office was also bizarrely distorted, seen through the dimension of density rather than any optical dimension. The effect was something like a fuzzy green X-ray.
The computer joystick controlled movement along the x and y axes and there were separate dials for the z axis and for the three directions of rotation: yaw, pitch and roll. I carefully played with the controls to get a good look around the room but saw no sign of an invisible spy. Nor did I see anything when I examined the rest of the house.
The spy had last been seen at the tattoo shop, so I decided to try to find that spot. But the image grew more indistinct at distance and it was impossible to read anything like street signs. I quickly got lost and had to hit the button to reset to zero. After three long and tedious tries, I decided that I needed another plan of action, so I scanned the instructions for the program and found a way to enter coordinates manually.
I had topographical maps on my own computer, so I went upstairs, logged in, and opened my GIS program. In a few minutes, I had merged a topo map with a street map to find the latitude, longitude, and altitude of the shop. Then I went downstairs and, following the directions in Dad's journal, hit escape which brought up one of those old-fashioned dialog boxes with the borders of the box drawn using text characters. I entered the three numbers and hit Return.
The screen showed a room filled with sharp objects. That's the only way I can think to describe the way it looked. There were shelves of objects with sharp edges and corners and plane surfaces. Green skeletons with faint penumbral bodies wandered around among the shelves, occasionally picking up a sharp object to examine it. Suddenly, I realized that I was in the electronic store two shops down from the tattoo parlor. Pretty good accuracy.
After getting oriented to the front door I slowly, methodically, moved out the door and down the street to the tattoo parlor. As I went I was not paying much attention to the ghostly skeletons until I noticed one passing through another. Startled, I stopped to watch the skeletons for a while. It didn't take long for it to become obvious what my father had noted in his journal. There seemed to be two sets of skeletons, each ignoring the other and even passing through each other. It was a remarkable dance of spooks.
One set of skeletons was human. The other was distinctly not. And the inhuman skeletons were of several different types. Now that I was paying attention to the screen, it was surprising to me that Dad had not come to the two-worlds theory even sooner. It seemed obvious.
Inside the tattoo shop, I found two ghostly skeletons --one human and one inhuman. Ah hah! The inhuman skeleton must be the hoodoo that the old man saw. But as I watched, it became clear that the inhuman skeleton was interacting with the human skeleton. They were in the same world. But which world were they in?
Of course --the tattoo chair would exist only in my world, the world of bright matter. The human was clearly lying in the tattoo chair while the inhuman skeleton did something to him with a sharp object. A surge of fear gripped me. Had the hoodoo found a way to cross over? Was he torturing the old man to find out where I was?
But then I realized that I had gotten it wrong. The human wasn't being tortured. The human was lying quietly in the chair. And the inhuman skeleton was giving him a tattoo.
That's the name of the actress I met in Madrid. I mentioned her here
Finally, after two weeks of dealing with my cell-phone company (international calling was disabled for my phone) and the time zone difference and the fact that Ramata moves back and forth between two cities with two different phone numbers, I was finally able to get in touch with her and ask if I could use her real name.
I'll be getting to the Ramata story next week, hopefully.
She's a sweetheart.
things that annoy me about Stargate
I thought the Stargate move was cool and it's a great idea for a series, but there are several things about the show and movie that have annoyed me, and you all, as my loyal blog readers, will now get to know what some of those things are.
First, the movie. What was with the gay costumes they had all those young boys wearing? I'm not talking about the young boys that hung around with the evil alien --that was obviously going for a creepy effect-- I'm talking about the young boys in the village that helped fight the battle. The main one wore this bare-midriff outfit that would have been sexy on a girl, but on him it was just creepy. It looked to me like the kind of outfit that a gay pedophile costume designer would create.
In one episode of SG1, Samantha Carter gets the drop on a bad guy and then gives up the gun rather than shoot him. The man she couldn't kill was a member of another SG team who was taking over a primitive culture and acting like he was a god. At the time Carter spared his life, the man was in the process of torturing several people to death, including a member of his own team, and was probably going to kill all the members of SG1. By pulling the trigger, Carter could have saved several innocent lives. Instead she gives up the gun to save a guilty life and let the innocents die.
Now if she had been just a normal character, that unwillingness to kill might have been believable. But Samantha Carter is supposed to be a military officer, trained to kill. The show goes out of its way to demonstrate that she's just as good a soldier as a man. Failing to pull the trigger was a gross dereliction of duty and should have gotten her court martialed. But instead of court-martialling her, Jack O'Neill makes some comforting noises about how killing is bad anyway.
Both Carter's actions and O'Neill's reactions are clear cases of the writers failing to write in character. People who don't believe in the military and can't overcome their prejudices, should not be writing actions and lines for military characters.
In an episode of Stargate Atlantis, the SG team encounters a civilization that is trying to create a drug that will make people immune to the Wraith. At first, the SG people help them with the drug, and then it turns out that the drug not only makes people immune, it also poisons wraiths. At this point, the SG people decide that it is too dangerous to use the drug and they pull out of helping the civilization.
But the issue was complex. The Wraith were going to come to the world anyway and murder almost everyone on the planet. The danger of the drug was that it would cause the Wraith to murder everyone instead of just almost everyone. But at the same time, it could kill a lot of Wraith. Is it really better to turn belly up in hopes that your enemy will spare a few of you than to fight back, knowing that things will go worse for you if you do?
I can see either position on this, but apparently the writers for SG-Atlantis couldn't. Although they wrote sympathetic characters in the civilization, there was not one member of the SG team that agreed with them. Not only did no one agree with the idea of fighting back, the SG people were obnoxiously self-righteous about it, abandoning the people with a smug attitude that "if you are going to be so unreasonably, then we won't help you." There were sympathetic characters who wanted to fight back, but these characters were not portrayed as simply having a different view, they were portrayed as tragically unbalanced.
Then, to drive the point home, the writers had the civilization start to give the drug to everyone without testing and then had the drug turn poisonous, killing off millions of people that it was originally intended to save.
In effect, the show was a despicable morality play about the danger of defending yourself. Let the SG people or the police take care of you. See all the bad things that can happen when you try to defend yourself?
Also on Stargate-Atlantis, when Atlantis is invaded by another civilization, John Sheppard, a freaking pilot, turns into an unstoppable marine/commando/ninja, wreaking death and destruction on the enemy. Now, I like unstoppable marine/commando/ninja characters as much as the next guy. They make for fun action movies. But you have to make it believable; you have to give the character some kind of special background, or special powers or special equipment to explain how he can do what he does. Sheppard was just a pilot with an assault rifle and a motion detector (the motion detector might have explained part of his success if the bad guys hadn't had a motion detector also).
In the event, his special power turned out to be the stupidity of his opponents who didn't think about looking up when their motion detector showed them that Sheppard was nearby but they couldn't see him. That's just poor action writing. The concept was a good one, ruined by writers who don't understand action or by a star who insisted on being the hero that saves the day even when it wasn't appropriate.
And probably part of my dislike is that Joe Flanigan is just not very believable as a tough-guy. He belongs in romantic comedies, not in adventure shows.
The same episode had another scene with stupid action-writing. Teyla Emmagan gets into a knife fight while in the middle of an important mission. The situation is urgent, but Teyla is in no hurry to finish the fight. She just toys with the other woman; when she gets an advantage she steps back to let her opponent recover. Meanwhile, lives hang in the balance, waiting for her to finish up her leisurely battle.
Then, to add insult to injury (for me, the viewer who expects rational behavior from fictional characters), Teyla gets her opponent helpless and then turns her back on the woman and walks away without even disabling her. Let's get this straight: in an effort to kill you, this woman has planned and carried out a military invasion, risked her life sneaking around after enemies that have already killed a dozen people on her side, challenged you to a knife fight and resolutely spurned your efforts to get her to see reason. But now, you're so certain that she's going to have a change of heart after you spare her life (yet again) that you are willing to risk the lives of your friends and potentially condemn the entire galaxy to extermination by the Wraith (because your friends are the only people with the access to technology that might save everyone). Yeah. Teyla needs to get out of the action business and take up needle point or some other activity that other people's lives don't depend on.
Then, because things couldn't get any worse in this script, the woman, sure enough, has just such a change of heart. She helps save the man she attacked earlier, and all is forgiven. And later the leader of the SG team is talking about ways to help reduce hostilities with the civilization that invaded them. All we have to do is be extra nice to them and then they will start being nice to us.
I expect the SG-Atlantis team to go on like the later Star Treks, constantly escaping by sheer dumb, improbable luck from the consequences of their own inane pseudo-pacifist doctrine.
Oh, yeah. And don't forget to submit your Storyblogging entries by Saturday. The next Storyblogging Carnival is also over at BOTE
God or not addendum
I've been remiss in not pointing out a couple of good posts over at Back of the Envelope about the entries in the God or Not carnival he hosted. See here
don't hurt me, Oprah!
Man. Did you guys see the spanking
that Oprah gave James Frey over that fictitious book that he sold everyone as real? I'm beginning to wonder if this is really the new thing in pseudo-auto-bio-graphical literature after all. I thought I was ahead of the crowd with my emotionally-true story
about the spa visit, but now I'm afraid that I took a wrong turn and the rest of the parade is going down another street without me.
Is Oprah going to walop me with a public spanking like she did that poor Frey guy? Is some hotshot lawyer going to sue my butt off for selling fiction as non-fiction? Is my mug going to be all over the Sunday talk shows as the latest shame of America?
No, that would all be too good to be true. So I think I'm going to follow the example of my hero, James Frey, and come clean about some of the things in that story that were enhanced for pedagogical and literary reasons without actually apologizing for lying to everyone.
First, my ring doesn't really protect me from all temperature extremes. Second, my stomach is still hairier than my chest (sorry, Zantar, I know you didn't want any more information about that, but the truth must come out before I'm exposed by some hot-shot journalistic photographer at the local pool), and my "guide" didn't actually have any tentacles or giant rabid weasels.
There, I'm glad I got that off my chest before Oprah came after me.
UPDATE: Doh! If I had noticed that Michelle
had this story then I could have linked to her instead of that other blog and sent her a trackback. Hey, I know! I can link Michelle in an update and then still send her a trackback!
Rampage against muggers
After the events at the hot-springs spa, my "guide" drove us to the ruins of Volubilis, an ancient Roman outpost. I had a great time walking around unsupervised, trying to figure out what the features were. Is that pool a bath or a horse trough or a fountain? Why such a large doorway here? Is this a well or just a cellar? The only ancient sites I had ever before visited were some ruins of the various prehistoric peoples in Arizona. But those sites were all far smaller than this Roman outpost.
And to make the time even more enjoyable, my "guide" didn't walk too well, so she waited outside while I wandered around. The escape from her constant yammering was heavenly.
After the visit to the ruins, we started off for Asilah, a town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco near Tanger. The drive was a nightmare ordeal. My "guide" asked me to watch for signs (written in Arabic) for turnoffs that we needed. That just inflated my confidence in her without bound. At various intersections she would slow down to fifteen mph or so to try to figure out the signs. She would make frequent comments like "Oh look at those mountains! I wonder what mountains those are?" I kid you not. That is a direct quote from my professional Morocco-specialist "guide".
We stopped for a late lunch at a roadside stand. Pieces of meat, including a large pair of cow ribs, hung from hooks at the front of a booth. A high roof extended forward from the booth to a stone grill (I would call it a barbeque in the US). Prime rib, barbeque ribs, and rib steak: these are a few of my favorite things, so my "guide" tried to communicate to the guy behind the booth that I wanted a big, thick rib steak. Her professional-Morocco-guide method of communication was to speak loudly and demandingly in English and Spanish with lots of gestures until the guy gave up and called over a friend who spoke Spanish.
Then the man started chopping up the steak into cubes. I watched with horror as my beautiful thick steak was turned into stew meat. The barbarity! The sheer monstrousness! But I calmed my breathing and tried to be rational. After all, I was in a new place, I might as well try the local styles of cooking/destroying perfectly good steak. This wasn't as bad as eating insects, after all (although it was close). The guy put the mutilated steak into a sort of wire basket and stepped out to grill it. The smell was wonderful. When he finally finished, he set it down on a plate with a side dish of fresh diced onions, cilantro and some spices. I started in hesitantly, but soon was wolfing down one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Words can't describe the glory of rib steak, cubed and seared all around on the outside to a perfect medium-well red in the center. The cook must have salted it when I wasn't looking because the salt was perfect.
My "guide" had recommended the place, and I was feeling downright neighborly toward her for the next hour. Then she stopped to buy pottery. Mind you, I'm getting a deal on this trip, but I'm paying a substantial amount of money for a personalized tour. One doesn't expect on a personalized tour to have to stop for the entertainment of other people, and especially not for ones guide. Even so, I wouldn't have minded if she hadn't been so general a disappointment as a companion and guide. So I sat in the car feeling annoyed while my "guide" did her thing. To add insult to injury, she went for a cup of coffee before pottery shopping --while her client was waiting for her in the car.
She had done the same thing after the spa visit. She asked me if I wanted to stop for coffee and I said no, so she went over and ordered some coffee for herself and sat drinking it while I waited for her. That's my "guide". Throughout the trip it seemed that for my "guide", this was her vacation as much as mine, I was just paying for it. So here's the situation: I'm paying full expenses for myself and a companion on an exotic vacation, plus a significant extra amount for the woman's time; it is a mutual vacation where we are spending as much time doing what she wants to do as what I want to do --and I'm not even sleeping with her. What's wrong with this picture? Of course the picture would have been even more wrong, horribly, grotesquely wrong, if I had been sleeping with her [shudder
After my "guide" had enjoyed her coffee and bought the crockery we started off again for Asilah. On approaching the town, she started talking about the hotel I was about to enjoy for the night. She emphasized that the hotel was "moderate". It turns out that "moderate" means "$35/night range". That's what it would be in the US, anyway. It was probably less in Morocco. She started yammering about how on a previous tour one of her guidees had complained that the room smelled musty. My "guide" went on and on about the incident, how the guidee could have told her about it immediately, how she was upset that the guidee hadn't told her immediately, how she would by gosh durn have done something about it if the guidee had told her immediately, etc.
I knew my "guide" well enough by now to guess what had actually happened: it was a cheap hotel and the guest had not been thrilled about it. After an hour of nagging by the "guide", the guest had finally come up with a reason not to be thrilled, and the guide had harangued her for the next two hours about how she should have said something earlier. I pitied the fool.
When we arrived at the hotel, my primary thought was to get away from my "guide" for the rest of the evening. But she had this obsession with musty hotel rooms so she wanted me to go up to my room, then come back down and tell her if the room was musty. She would wait for the mustiness report in the lobby. I stood there for a moment digesting this suggestion. "How about this, if the room is so musty I can't stand it, then I just call the desk and get a new room?" No, she wanted me to report directly to her on the room mustiness. "OK," I countered, "How about this, if I don't say anything, you just assume that it wasn't musty?" That wouldn't work either because she was going to be waiting down here in the lobby for my olfactory evaluation.
I finally agreed to the odd request. As it turned out, the room was mustless and I duly reported same. That's when she shanghaied me to go for a walk. That was the reason. She wanted to go out for a walk and dinner and women don't go out walking by themselves in Morocco. In other words, I was going to act as her unpaid escort. And I wasn't hungry.
So I took her for a walk. She directed me toward what she really wanted to see: a condo she was thinking about buying. Then we wandered around this area with tiny streets for a while. We were the only tourists there; it looked like a sort of market place, but more for locals than for tourists. I guess that's the kind of thing your high-powered tourist goes looking for.
At one point we were walking down a mostly-deserted, dark, narrow alley when two men passed us. They got to the T and the end the one on the right motioned to the one on the left to go left. They split, one took the left branch of the T and one took the right branch of the T, so no matter which way we turned, one of them would be ahead of us. I thought this was odd behavior, so I asked my "guide", "You're sure they never have any muggers around here?" She assured me that I was perfectly safe.
Let me set the scene a bit more thoroughly: it's dark, the streets are narrow and twisting; the widest streets (never more than fifteen feet from storefront to storefront) had dim lighting and had small groups of people idling about, the alleys were dark and deserted. The only people I had seen walking fast for the last 45 minutes were the two men who passed us. Unless you count the third man who passed us a few minutes later.
Then, as we were approaching a gateway into what I would later learn was a deserted blind alley, one of the two men standing in front of the gateway gave a loud whistle and gestured urgently to someone behind us --you know, that "Hey get over here, we have someone to mug" gesture. I think the man who whistled was one of the two that had passed us earlier --the one that had gone right at the T and gestured for his friend to go left. There was a third man standing by himself on the other side of the gate, all alone, pointedly not looking at us as we passed.
Not that I'm a naturally suspicious kind of guy or anything, but I did try to start a conversation with my "guide" about the odd goings on. I was unsuccessful because, as was her usual custom, she would not let me get in three words in a row before interrupting me with an exclamation about the latest shiny object to attract her notice. The dialog went something like this:
me: Did you noti...
her: OH, LOOK AT THAT (loud until I give up trying to talk) blah blah blah (on for several seconds)
me: (when she takes a breath) You know, I...
her: BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah (on for several seconds)
me: (when she takes a breath) I'm a litt...
her: BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah (on for several seconds)
After several unsuccessful attempts to bring my concerns to the attention of my professional Morocco "guide", I found us already about thirty feet along the alley --a completely deserted dead-end alley. I looked casually back over my shoulder and there were five men following us: the three men who had been standing around the gate and two more that I hadn't seen before, although one of them might have been the guy that went left at the T. At that point I experienced a strong adrenalin rush and the conversation went something like this:
her: BLAH BLAH BLAH
her: blah blah?
me: There's five men following us.
My plan was to stand with my back against the wall until the men passed, but she (and I hate to admit this, you have no idea how much I hate to admit this...) did the smarter thing and just did an about face to walk back. There were people on the other side of the gateway, so by walking back, we got ourselves five to ten feet closer to a public area before we drew even with the men. There were several witnesses at that point, and in such a small town you have to figure everyone knew everyone.
Still, I didn't think there was any chance to get out of that alley without a fight. In fact I planned to attack at the first sign of aggression; better them surprised than me. The idea was just to cause enough pain quickly enough that they would decide it wasn't worth the risk and run off. I didn't have much hope of it working but I didn't have any better idea (Now as I write this it occurs to me that I could have tried just giving them my wallet, but I never thought of that at the time). I really thought the odds were, I'd be spending the rest of my vacation in the hospital --or dead.
The men split up to go past us on both sides and I couldn't guide the ditz to one side of the street to keep them all in front of me. She forged determinedly right down the middle. Whatever points she gained for the quick about-face were squandered on poor tactical sense.
Two of the men passed on my side. I had my head lowered to make it a smaller target for a sneak attack and was watching the men from beneath my eyebrows. I don't think they had any idea how close they came to getting kicked in the balls. Or maybe they did. In any event, they avoided eye contact and passed quietly on by. As we passed through the gate and back into the populated areas, my knees turned rubbery from the after-effects of the adrenalin rush.
The next day my "guide" gossiped to a policeman about what had happened (what little she had seen, anyway) and they assured her that there were no muggings in that area. It occurs to me that in a place that depends so much on tourism, there would be a strong incentive to not record crimes against tourists. After all, when you look for crime statistics, where do you go? To the police station, where you count reports.
It would be an interesting problem to try to find out how dangerous these tourist destinations really are without relying on police departments that have special interests in playing down crime.
The next installment of my travel series will get us back to Spain. See you then.
Clinton's legacy again
Dean quotes with approval
this passage from a Bill Clinton speech:
How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny? How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes? I say to you, all of you...there is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.
Let's leave aside that it obviously is
possible to love your country and despise your government and go on to Dean's comment:
To give the full context, he was referring to paranoid right-wing groups who said that the U.S. government was becoming oppressive, fascist, and evil. But I don't see any real difference between then and now, it's just the faces who've changed, the paranoid hatemongers who've changed.
There is a big difference between then and now. Then, much of the criticism of the government was non-partisan --based on complaints that the critics would have been angry about no matter who was in power. Now, most of the criticism is special-cased --only bad when Republicans are in power.
People criticize Bush for things that they never would have criticized Clinton for. Then, the things being criticized were the cause of the anger; now, the anger is pre-existing and the criticism is just a consequence of and a rationalization for the anger that is already there.
Yes, there were some crazies who accused Clinton for the murder of Vince Foster, and he probably did get some other bad raps among all the accusations. But Clinton and the first Bush presided over some troubling events and trends in our country for anyone who loves liberty more than he loves a false government-assured security, and Clinton's attempt (aided and abetted by the press) to associate these people with Timothy McVeigh was scandalous.
Let's not forget: during and just proceeding the Clinton years, we had Ruby Ridge, the Waco massacre, misuse of the IRS to attack political enemies, a grotesque level of enforcement of the EPA which effectively stole billions of dollars from American citizens by making their land worthless, the rise of the safety nazis, the war against drugs, the war against smoking, the war against drinking (in the form of hysterical drunk-driving laws), the assault weapons ban, Filegate, the effective character assassination of a special prosecutor by the president being investigated, the president blaming his political adversaries ("hate radio") for an act of terrorism (Oklahoma City) that they clearly had nothing to do with, the taking of property from people on suspicion of drug crimes with no due process, the loosening of export regulations that allowed the Chinese to vastly improve their capability to deliver nuclear weapons after the Chinese funneled illegal campaign contributions to the president with the direct participation of the vice president, and a large-scale military attack on another country without prior Congressional approval.
I think there was some reason to worry about the direction the country was going in at that time. After this speech, we had Elian Gonzales and Pardongate, which both tended to confirm our worries about the temperament, ethics, and allegiance of this particular president.