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Chapter Twelve: The Shadow Nose
Cody sat on the couch, staring at a small cleaning machine as it removed dirt from the floor. It looked like the bastard child of a Dust Buster and a lobster, and Cody thought he could hear sucking noises.
"Ace, what exactly is the difference between a hot dog, a wiener, and a frankfurter?"
Ace was sitting at his desk, scribbling something on a piece of paper. "I don't know. I'm not a sausage-ologist. At least not that I can remember."
"Okay. I'll ask again later. Maybe it'll come back to you then."
"Only if my luck changes." Ace stuffed the paper he was writing into an envelope and sealed it. "What day is today?"
"I dunno. The day before tomorrow?"
"Fine. I'll just throw it in a mailbox and hope for the best."
"Writing another letter to yourself? Why bother? You can't write back."
There was a knock at the door. "Who is it?"
"I'm Henry the Ninth I am!"
Cody hopped off the couch and managed to paw open the door handle. John Reeso stepped inside, wearing a big poncho and a cowboy hat.
"Beunos dias, mi amigo pero!"
"The what what?"
Johnny walked up to Ace and held his finger right next to the clockworker's face. "I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you."
"Now that you mention it, doesn't Touched By an Angel sound a bit like a code name for a Vatican cover up?"
"Yes it does. I'm stilllll not touching you."
"Fine. Keep it that way. I remember how much it stung when you tried to get that bullet out."
"Yeah, that was fun."
"Not on this end."
"If you say so. Still not touching you. Hey, do you remember that one time when you, me, and Mitch stole a cement truck? You said you were gonna make it lay eggs."
Ace shrugged. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"Damn. Cause I was so drunk I can't remember how that turned out. And if there's a cement druck out there having little cement truck babies, we should probably keep an eye on them. Oh, what about that wind-up multimedia gizmo? You made it out of the repair spider."
"Don't recall that, either... hey... did you say repair spider?"
"Yeah, you were always taking that damned thing apart, putting it back together again different. Most of the time it fixed stuff. But you also made it guard your door, chase rats, dumpster dive, record people talking, and one time you made it dance. 'I'm just a love machine, and I don't work for nobody but you.' That was funny as hell. You can't dance worth shit."
"So what's the last thing I did with the repair spider?"
"I dunno, that's why I asked. If you mean the last thing I remember, that was the multimedia gizmo. The only non-electronic TV and stereo on the planet, I'll bet. But that was maybe three months back."
Cody walked over. "What huh? What do you mean huh? Every time you say huh, something odd comes up."
"That's not ALL my fault."
John pointed to the lot behind the store. "That's where people put the bottles they want recycled. Mostly beer of course. Soda bottles are usually plastic."
Ace nodded. "I wrote myself a contingency letter. It said that where I was when I was writing it, I could see many bottlenecks. I think it might have been literal. Somewhere around here, where those boxes of bottles can still be seen, is probably something important. Another clue."
"You know what this reminds me of? An escape game."
"A what game?"
Cody started sniffing the ground. "It's this thing on the internet where you are stuck in a room and have to solve absurd, unrealistic puzzles to get out of the room. You've been leaving yourself clues so obscure that it's a miracle even you can figure them out."
"Thanks for the confidence booster, asshole."
"Glad to help."
John was pacing around, scratching his head. "Any obvious marker, an x marks the spot, would get anything buried dug up again. By kids or hobos or something. You wouldn't make it obvious."
"You're right. The best way would be for the machine to be totally secret and-"
Where Ace had been standing a few seconds earlier, the ground began to vibrate and a crack. With a wet tearing sound, a spinning spike popped from the ground and slowed down. Ace looked on, somewhat stupified.
"...and it would be designed to recognize and come to me."
The machine had a large, elaborate drill on the top, which had slowed to a stop. The rest of the machine looked to be nothing but a 55 gallon barrel with shopping cart wheels on the sides.
"John, how are we going to move this thing without anyone seeing us?"
"All I can think of is that we wait until dark."
"I don't think that's an option. People will see us."
"If they ask, we could just say we're testing a contestant for a robot Tournament. Like BattleBots. That's your usual excuse. You know for someone who spends most of his time covered in grease and fiddling with screws, you have a special aptitude for kidding the public."
Cody pushed the drill-machine with one paw, and it rocked slightly. "Maybe that's how you were able to stun the nurse at the hospital long enough for us to slip in."
John turned to look at Cody. "Wait, that was YOU? You guys got the better of Emily Filero?"
"I didn't catch her name, I couldn't tell you. I was too busy worried about getting carted off by the Humane Society and given a humane injection that would make me humanely dead."
"Nurse Filero is a no-nonsense, stubborn as nails ice bitch. After Rodney the Periscope, she's my greatest nemesis."
Cody looked up, as confused as a dog can look. "Your nemesis is that guy on the high school swim team?"
Ace looked from the man to the dog and then back to the man. "Can I interrupt this farce?"
"Why? It's just getting interesting."
"Look, does Mitch have a car, a truck, or even a motorcycle with a side car? Something we can use to move this thing around?"
"His main form of transportation is a pair of chrome in-line skates you gave him for some holiday I'm pretty sure you made up."
"I shall take that as a no."
"You should take it as a tax write off instead. You get bonus miles."
"Okay, first, that makes no sense. Second, I don't want bonus miles. They are a sham and a scheme designed to lure you in to the credit card program because they are always blacked out except for remote and unpopular corners of the Third World and consequently the only way to get the credit card people to do what you originally thought they would do when you signed their fucking paperwork is send metal umbrellas with hands to kidnap their families and hold them for ransom."
"Speaking from personal experience?"
"Not that I know of, but it's the most logical plan I can think up right now."
"Just checking. That's fifteen gallons of pissed off stuffed into a five gallon run-on sentence. I'm surprised you didn't pass out."
Cody scratched his ear with his hind leg, adding a slight shake to his voice. "Hey-ey, what about Drew-ew? Does she-ee have a car-er-er?"
"Just his dad's truck he borrows sometimes. That might work." John pulled out his cell phone and began punching in numbers. Ace looked at the phone, then licked his lips.
"You know, I could probably rebuild that sucker to hijack the phone system from anywhere in the world and run off of a windup spring, so you'd never have to pay for minutes or worry about low battery or signal again."
"And lose my precious electronic games? The price of power is too high, I say. Begone with your temptations, vile greasemonkey slash incu- Hi! Hey is Drew there?"
Ace thought he could hear a high pitched woman's voice on the other end of the line.
"Yes, Mr. Hudson. This is Johnny.... pretty fair, pretty fair. I was attacked by squirrels in the park. They obviously thought I was nuts. How about you? ... Really? I'm sorry to hear that. Have you tried rubbing it with lemon juice? ... Sure! If I ever pull a muscle trying to stretch the bounds of credibility, that works great. Unless I got cut or scratched there. Then it doesn't work so well.... Yeah, that's a good point. And how's the fair Mrs. Hudson? ... already? Wow, it isn't even Arbor Day yet. Send her my regards, would you? Thanks.... yeah, in fact, I did want to talk to Drew.... well, since you asked, you know that sculptor guy I mentioned? Yeah, the one who wanted Drew to be the model for that one thing? ...what? ...oh, okay. He's right here, I'll ask him."
John put down the phone, held a hand over the microphone pickup, and stage whispered to Ace. "Hey, captain wingnut. If you were a sculptor and you wanted Drew to model for it, what would you call it."
Ace's reply came so fast that it scared him. "Coleslaw is Fifty Cents Extra."
John brought the phone back up. "He says it's called Coleslaw is Fifty Cents Extra. And you thought I was crazy.... I think that's a bad idea. One time I tried to sneak in and look at his earlier work, Two Sparrows Mud Wrestling in a Kayak, and he killed me.... I got better. Okay.... yeah. Alright, see you around."
"You seem pretty close to Drew's family."
John covered the mic again. "We've met a few times. His father kind of likes my sense of humor and 'no sense worrying about what we can't control' attitude. His mother's harder to crack. Huh?" John uncovered the microphone. "Yeah Drew? That you? What's the word, Enemy of the Lumbar Vertebrae? ...I knew it. Hey, can you beg, borrow, or steal a vehicle and come down behind Convenio-Mart? ... Mac's here with me, and he found this big old truck engine, of all things.... He thinks he can get it to make hard candy.... I know, but it's gonna be funny as hell to watch. You provide the transport, and I'll bring the popcorn. Deal? ...yay! Alright, I'll see you soon. Drive safe and may the Force be with you."
John put the phone away. "We have an incoming transport. We just have to not look suspicious until then."
"Two men, a dog, and a Junkyard Wars nominee. Sounds easy enough. Hey, why the stuff about a car engine?"
"His mom sometimes listens on the phone extension. If he's not sure we can't be overheard, then he answers the question about what's the word with a word that starts with a vowel."
"And his mom doesn't get suspicious when you do this every time you talk?"
"She's suspicious of everything. But I often ask Mr. Hudson the same question, and I've put the question to her a few times. Because the meaning is all in the answers that Drew gives, and she sees the threat as coming from ME and MY question, she will never notice what's going on."
"What if she does?"
"Well, what IF she does?"
"Exactly. 'My son has been consorting with a scarred, tattooed crazy artist who turned my husband against me! I know he's been planning something because every time they talk on the phone, he asks what the word is and my son only answers with a word that starts with a vowel! And if you play a recording of his jokes backwards in the right order, it says he's a member of the communist party!' And that last bit is not an exaggeration... by much."
"Something tells me she'd get a visit from the nice men in the white coats who have the Really Good Drugs."
"That's a weird looking machine."
"Comes with the territory."
Drew and Ace shared the cab of the small truck, while John and Cody lay down in the back -- Cody's fur would have gotten all over the upholstery, while John insisted upon the back for some reason.
"Hey Ace? Or Mac? Or... well, whatever name you're using?"
"Ace will work. Whatcha need?"
"I've kinda wondered how you see the world. As a mage. A mechanics mage."
"The clockwork viewpoint? Are you just curious or do you want to join the club?"
"I guess just curious."
"Hmmm. Well, that's not an easy task. I think it's one of those things that has to be experienced instead of explained. And it's made worse by the fact that I can't remember any part of my life when I thought differently, so I don't have that vital element of common ground to translate what I know into terms that will make sense to you."
"Well, I'd like to try it anyway."
"Hmmm.... gimme a bit to think."
Ace tapped his fingers on the dashboard. "...first things first. You know the common scientific view that time is another dimension, at right angles to length, width, and depth?"
"It's bullshit. Forget it. The fourth dimension is the frequency of the vibration the particles in matter have. Solid matter is an illusion caused by all of these atoms have frequencies that are closely synchronized. If the frequencies are different, out of phase -- which is the fifth dimension, by the way -- then you can have two objects occupy the same three dimensional space in the same period of time."
"... I'm with you so far, but I'm not sure what it means."
"Well, that was the first part of a three part miniseries. Are you familiar with ESP? Telekinesis especially?"
"Sort of. Are you saying you just control and power your machines with your mind?"
"...yes and no. That's an accurate description, but I think the context we are talking in provides an incorrect assessment of the methodology. Let me go back to part one. Time, in essence, is the DIFFERENCE between two fields of differing frequency. When Einstein calculated that cosmic space turns around the fourth dimension, his equations meant that wavelength is accelerated, that is to say expanded or compressed, over vast reaches of space and time. Thing is, the acceleration he calculated manifests itself as the very data he began with, the Red Shift. In other words, all Einstein did to become famous was call the Red Shift by another name."
"...is that why nobody can understand relativity theory, even the people who teach it?"
"Hell yeah. The words are meaningless, and the numbers, however accurate, are also meaningless because they are used in the wrong context. And those people get paid to tell students that they have no idea what they're talking about. I should be so lucky."
"Uh huh... go on."
"The thing is, what Einstein was fiddling with was in the realm of light waves. What he never touched on is that sound waves have the same effects. Sound waves always come into play with physical matter... and now this is going to make your head hurt, because I have to jump to part two again."
"I should have brought some aspirin."
"No shit. The thing about ESP that I'm talking about is the old experiment where they had everyday people manipulate Random Number Generators. These things were essentially electronic computers wired to a series of lights. Most people could actually influence the machine through force of will to favor a certain light or set of lights. And magick, when you get down to it, is the ability to control reality through the force of will. What sets me and Mitch and John apart from the people in those experiments is that those people didn't know how to apply that ability correctly. Without a set of contradictory rules to distract our minds from the bullshit built into us by school and society, we have trouble making our thoughts coherent enough to impact the physical world. Without those rules, and of course plenty of determination, there's a part of us that says we can't do it... and that is the reality we end up making, the one where we can't change it with our minds."
"...like a Catch-22."
"Yes. Human society is saturated with such Catch-22 situations and double-binds. When you really think about things, though, and follow them through logically to the very end, you find out how absurd they are... and then you realize that such absurd things could not be possible without the massive force of millions of minds behind it. When you're doing magick, you cut right through all that. Up is down, life is death, hate is love, and Lies are True. Man is Woman, Woman is Man. All is One, My Will Be Done, and a partridge in a pear tree."
"But that would mean that all the physical laws we live by exist only because people believe in them. What happened before people came along to believe?"
"Physical Laws? Hehehe. These so called laws are not rules that the cosmos must follow. They are simply the consensus of present day scientists of what happens when you do X to Y. And they frequently get overturned. I know that people have said that flight, faster than sound aircraft, and space travel were all impossible, and in the end they were all wrong. And they were experts. Put not your faith in experts, Drew, for they desire naught but grant money."
"Anyhoo, that's Part Two. Now Part One again. The thing about time being just a difference in frequency, of high energy bleeding into low energy, that means that the past and the future are not exactly what people think they are. They think of them as different places, separate from the Now. Not so. What they are thinking of when they associate something, like a person or an object, with an event in the past, is History."
"Now here's the hard part, fusing Parts One and Two."
"What happened to Part Three?"
"It's taking a leak, it'll be along in a minute. The hard part is I'm going to be trying to take something that I feel is extremely basic, and explain it to you in the most expansive terms possible. Like trying to explain green as a color between yellow and blue on the visible spectrum. And even that's a bad analogy, because the words I'm using for the analogy already have set meanings that will make what I'm saying mean something much different to you than I intended... I think this is why most clockworkers teach by demonstration instead of lecture. So... everything in the universe can be described in terms of interacting frequencies, including life, personality, and the body."
"Wait... are you just trying to recreate these frequencies in mechanical contraptions instead of chemically powered cells and organs?"
"You could say that. Taking life out of carbon and putting it in iron. Or aluminum. Or even wood, but I don't think that's wise."
"Well, wood rots."
"But iron rusts."
"Rust is a surface chemical reaction with water and oxygen. Usually corrosion doesn't go any deeper unless seawater or acid is involved. The majority of the part would be intact and still contain the patterns I implanted. With wood it goes all the way through and the pattern degrades. Even if it doesn't kill the machine outright it can cause it to behave strangely."
"Oh yeah. That's Part Three. History is basically people associating a time and place with an object and/or event, right? Well, that pattern in and of itself is imprinted on the things people think about. That gives certain objects a certain power I can use. If I want, and in the past I obviously wanted to a lot, I can put some of my own meaning and thought into the object or objects I'm working with."
"And that's how you lost your memory."
"It's not lost, I just don't know what I made with it or why. And in any case... well, when you forget stuff like that, it leaves an impression behind. If I forget my memory of eating dinner, then there's a dinner-shaped hole there, a negative. like a mold. I can sometimes second guess what happens there, but you can't really be sure."
"Especially when the edges of that mold are parts of other memories you also used up."
"There is that. Still... I've been recovering a lot of forgotten stuff lately, skills and events mostly. I must have had a scattered number of memories I didn't use up in my work that just got knocked loose when I got shot in the head."
"Yeah. Pretty interesting that the bullet would just get stuck between the scalp and the skull like that."
"Yeah. I was lucky."
Drew chewed on his bottom lip. "Something Mitch says a lot is that when you're lucky, you should immediately find out who tinkered with your fate and send them a thank you note, because you may need them to do that again."
"...you think somebody was watching out for me?"
"Apparently Mitch thinks everything happens because somebody wills it. Chaos mages just spend a lot of time working on that. I don't know if I believe him yet."
"Hmmm. Well, he IS a chaos mage. He would know.... anyway, I've been kind of roundabout in my explanations, saying how the stuff worked and not how I saw things."
"I had kind of noticed that. Does it really require that much background?"
"I think so, even though essentially what I told you is a mix of actual practical techniques I use and filthy lies because the truth had no corresponding words. What I say about patterns of history, frequencies, and multidimensional space-time make sense when viewed at the right angle, but that whole view is built on another, more pervasive view."
Drew tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting. "...well?"
"It's all about parts and wholes. Parts and wholes. Anything can be divided into the smaller elements that make it up, and those can be subdivided, and those too. Plus you can combine groups of parts to make up new parts. Whole new parts to combine again. But... take a car. A group of parts. Engine, bumper, rear differential, oil dipstick, chassis, trunk release. Now, you can strip a car down, take away the bumper or remove a tire or something. But is it still a car? At what point does a car stop being a car and start being something you set up on blocks in a front yard for your three-legged dog to run around?"
"Probably once it stops running."
"But a lot of things can stop a car from running. It has so many parts and so many ways to break down. That's where the problem lies. If any one thing can cripple a car, does the car-ness reside in one of them, or all of them, or get concentrated in the first part to be removed or fail? That's the real paradox... well, for me."
"So... if the entire world is just parts, that means certain types of parts are interchangeable?"
"Yeah. That's how purely decorative parts in a mundane machine can have important functional abilities in a clockwork. So... any questions?"
"Just one. How the hell does a magick art developed in the 1800s involve the frequency of vibration of atoms?"
"There's a book. I don't remember who wrote it, but I remember what it was called. Occult Chemistry. Very old, involving the psychic perception and manipulation of quarks. Find it and read it, and all shall be clear. Who knows, maybe it'll give you an edge with that chaos stuff."
"Hmmm... I guess I'll hunt around for it."
"Highly recommended reading. I can't remember a single fucking page, but I remember it was good. And it had tomato soup on the cover."
"Okay, maybe that was just my copy. Except... huh. I don't think it was actually MY copy. I think it belonged to the guy who taught me."
"The plot thickens."
Ace grinned. "Yes, now we remove the plot from the stove top and stir in the potatoes."
"I like potatoes. Especially twice baked ones."
"Twice baked? What, were they not done enough the first time?"
"It's a recipe my dad does every now and then. You should try it. It's really good."
"I'm just saying, it'd probably be simpler to cook it once at a higher temperature and/or for a longer period of time."
"Let it go man. Just let it go."